LET ME DIE A WOMAN (1978, Doris Wishman)
Any number of Doris Wishman films could've taken this spot (A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER! BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL! The Chesty Morgan films! LOVE TOY!), but there’s just something that’s so deeply fascinating to me about LET ME DIE A WOMAN. In a way, it’s the ultimate (s)exploitation film - the unholy union of earnest trans documentary, mondo shock film with real surgical footage, uncomfortable whitecoater with a doctor who has an office in Doris’ Queens apartment, and whatever you’d call the decade-old Harry Reems softcore footage – all mashed together over the span of a couple of years by a woman in her late 60s. It's a film that unintentionally revels in contradiction - jumping from sympathetic scenes of real trans people talking about their lives to shock castration reenactments with chisels to softcore scenes with Vanessa Del Rio. Yes, it's deeply problematic, but it's also representative of everything that’s strange, wonderful, troubling and utterly confounding about Doris Wishman and sexploitation as a whole.
A gloriously scummy two-and-half hour epic mishmash of Tennessee Williams by way of Andy Milligan melodrama, early John Waters shock, and weird, deviant sex - all constructed on the framework of THE OLD DARK HOUSE and covered with vomit and other bodily fluids. It's shamelessly filthy and absurdly long, but by the time the horny gorilla shows up to give a queer subversion to the old 'bride and the beast' routine, you'll be a convert. Surprisingly not the only film I saw this year to feature characters finding new uses for cucumbers. Certainly not for everyone, but I adored every minute.
BIJOU (1972, Wakefield Poole)
Going to a screening of Wakefield Poole's BIJOU earlier this year might be the closest I've ever come to having a religious experience watching a movie. Coming a few years after Stonewall, but still before the APA removed homosexuality from the DSM, BIJOU still feels like nothing else almost 45 years later. It is, in the most reductive way possible, a gay hardcore film, but it's so much more than that - it's a film that I imagine could've been life-changing to see in 1972 (and even still now).Artistic, but not wanky (pun intended), Poole is able to convey so many different emotions and messages not through dialogue, but through in-camera effects, video and audio juxtaposition, and, well, group sex and masturbation. It's a fuck film, sure, but it's the rare movie that can both get you off and make you cry.
1984 saw the release of two seminal coming-of-age teen comedies. One was a smash Molly Ringwald vehicle by the guy who gave us MR. MOM. The other was shot on video for under $2000 and made by “the worlds angriest gay man.” Enter BLONDE DEATH. I know that it's going to be on a few of these lists this year, but I had to include itanyways. James Dillinger's film is an angry, bitterly funny and aggressively queer shot against suburban malaise that might just be the one of the greatest SOV films to ever be unleashed on the world. Much like the earlier work of John Waters (DESPERATE LIVING is a good point of reference point here), the film is full of what Dillinger described as "raunch with intelligence" - it's tasteless, but not just for the sake of being so. In short, it's the sort of film that I always wanted but never got from HEATHERS. Big shout out to Joe, Annie, and Zack at Bleeding Skull and Warren at Verboden Video for rescuing this one from obscurity. Essential and revelatory.
CONQUEST (1983, Lucio Fulci)
I watched a lot of Fulci films for the first time this year, and, though CONQUEST wasn't my favorite of them (those would be THE NEW YORK RIPPER and LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN), it's the one that's stuck with me the most. A deeply confusing film from a man who made a lot of them, CONQUEST plays out like a third generation tape dub of an ATOR film that's been left in the backseat of a car for a couple of weeks. With a visual style that can only be described as 'fog machines and a van mural smeared with Vaseline,' Fulci constructs a fever dream of zombies, dolphins, topless witches, lazer arrows, and wolfmen, while Claudio Simonetti's driving synth score and the wonky English dub contribute to the film’s already queasy atmosphere. My boyfriend is still mad at me for this one.