Movie: Poor Pretty Eddie
Aka: Heartbreak Motel, Redneck County Rape, Black Vengeance
Type of film: A rednecksploitation film mixed with a rape/revenge story (sort of) and with a dash of blaxploitation for good measure.
The Pitch: A famous black singer is driving through the Southern countryside when her car breaks down near Bertha’s Oasis. While waiting for her car to be fixed she gets mixed up in the weird, creepy and rapey activities of the locals.
This is a special edition of CHUDsploitation. Usually these are longer, and have more research, but last night I was so wowed by the majesty of Poor Pretty Eddie (at a screening at the New Beverly, hosted by the madmen from the Alamo Drafthouse) that I had to share it with you. Because I didn’t prepare this in advance like I usually do, we’re missing the Exploitation Elements section because I don’t have all of the proper icons, including Hixploitation and Animals Having Sex.
Chris Robinson never directed another feature after Poor Pretty Eddie (aka Redneck County Rape aka Black Vengeance) – why should he? This film is something like a masterpiece, an amazingly creepy, incredibly sleazy and shockingly well made bit of backwoods exploitation.
Liz Wetherly, a famous singer played by Leslie Uggams (a Tony winner and star of Roots!) finishes singing the national anthem at a football game and gets on the road. She has two weeks off and wants nothing more than to relax in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for her, she gets to the middle of nowhere and her car breaks down. She comes across Bertha’s Oasis, a ramshackle motel and bar, and finds none other than Ted Cassidy – Lurch! – slaughtering chickens. He takes her to meet the titular Eddie, played by Michael Christian, an actor who just blew me away.
Eddie runs the motel for Bertha, a fat, washed up singer played by Shelley Winters (!!!)… who he is also fucking. But Eddie has other aspirations; he wants to be a singer himself, and when he recognizes Liz he starts to think that she could be his ticket out of here. And that maybe she’s in love with him.
This movie starts creepy and gets downright sleazy right away. While the film really fits into the hixploitation genre, it seems to blaze its own path: celebsploitation. Poor bloated Winters is forced to play a scene where she gets out of
bed, coughing up a lung, and stumbles to the mirror, does a shot of
vodka and calls herself an ugly bitch. Slim Pickens shows up as the toad-like Sheriff who is always followed by some weird retard with a sligshot; Pickens hits on Winters and Uggams equally. Later, after Uggams is raped by Eddie (more on that in a second) Pickens engages in what might be the creepiest, weirdest victim interview ever:
Poor Pretty Eddie wouldn’t really fit in CHUDsploitation under most circumstances. On the surface it’s not quite as over the line as other films in the series, but what it lacks in explicitness Poor Pretty Eddie makes up for in mind-boggling fucked upness. When Eddie rapes Uggams (after dressing up in a rhinestoned and fringed cowboy shirt and performing his best Elvis impersonation for her), Robinson intercuts the excruciatingly slo-mo action (scored to a touching love ballad, by the way) with scenes of Keno breeding his dog (warning: dog boner is on display here!). And if that’s not enough, he includes leering close up shots of backwoods inbreds who treat the dogs fucking as a sport (and if that’s not enough, Keno initiates the dog fucking in the most tender, romantic way possible – he literally hurls the dog through the air into a pen). And wait, is that still not enough? After raping the shit out of her, Eddie places a tender kiss on his victim’s lips.
Another scene has Uggams going to the local Justice of the Peace – a fat, toothless redneck in a VFW hat and a dirty PBR t-shirt – and trying to get justice. He puts her on a chair in the middle of the VFW hall during a concert and makes her take her shirt off to show the bite marks on her breasts; there’s no nudity here, but the image of this black woman standing exposed to all of these leering white freaks is a racially charged one, and utterly and completely fucked up. You’ll be squirming with discomfort.
One of the amazing things about this movie is how it makes you feel bad for Eddie. Kind of. He’s a fucked up cretin, but he’s kind of a wounded delusional idiot. When Uggams ends up about to get mouth raped by some other dude, he rescues her… in order to whip her with his belt for trying to cheat on him. Later on he tries to marry her as well. Christian is a pretty magnetic actor, playing a psychopath with an almost Ted Bundy level of charisma. Eddie’s sympathy levels (pre-rape) may be helped by Uggams playing Liz as a fairly icy, rude person – until he forces himself on her, Eddie comes across like a desperate puppy dog more than anything else. It actually makes his rape of her more shocking.
The whole film is filled with a sort of pathos for even the worst characters. The site of Bertha being emotionally broken when Eddie decides to marry Liz instead of her is actually heartbreaking, and Winters ignores the fact that she’s in a truly low rent drive-in movie and sells the moment. Pickens actually bothers to give the sheriff (who tells Liz he can’t blame Eddie for raping her!) a shred of decency; he’s not your usual hixploitation lawman, getting off on the power he can abuse in his job. You get the impression that he’s proud of what he does and his position in this sick, weird backwoods community.
But I feel like the real star of the movie is director Chris Robinson. Working on an obviously tiny budget and limited schedule, he made a movie that’s often kind of stunning. He chooses fascinating, disorienting camera angles, uses startling insert shots and, as Zack Carlson of the Alamo Drafthouse said when presenting the movie last night, uses slomo in ways that makes Sam Peckinpah seem like Michael Bay. There’s a final slomo slaughter that’s just amazing, and stretches on forever. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen someone cough up their last bloody breath at what seems to have been shot at seven hundred frames per second. There’s a number of other tricks Robinson uses – a transition that employs a rear view mirror is simply jaw-droppingly good, and almost technically perfect, which surely must have been a challenge on a B movie in 1975 – and in the end Poor Pretty Eddie feels a lot like an art movie that wandered into an exploitation film.
If I have any complaints about the film is that it doesn’t quite live up to the exploitation premise. Uggams is raped and humiliated, but her revenge is muted at best. And the clash between casually racist hicks and this big city black star is downplayed a touch. Maybe it’s the civilizing influence of Winters and Pickens, although he’s not above delivering a ‘high yellow’ joke (when’s the last time you heard that phrase in a movie?).
Poor Pretty Eddie is exactly the kind of movie that makes me sit through hours of other exploitation trash. Not well known, probably rarely seen, the film is a complete hidden gem. It’s actually a remarkable work of cinema while also being an utterly insane, creepy film that makes you feel sort of bad for watching it.
Poor Pretty Eddie is out of print on DVD, but you can still get a copy cheap. You simply must own this film. Click here to buy it from CHUD.