Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (5 Stars)

"I wanted to make a movie that I could get into, so it had to have girls with big tits, and it had to have chainsaws" (Fred Olen Ray, 2014).

"Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" is a low budget film noir horror comedy that was made in 1987. It was shot on a budget of $50,000 over a period of five days (two weekends), fitting the schedule around Fred Olen Ray's day job, which was working as producer for the film "Moon in Scorpio". The budget could only be kept by borrowing the sets from other films. For instance, the Mayan temple from "House 2" was used, and the sarcophagus from which Linnea Quigley emerges is the coffin Grace Jones used in "Vamp", easily recognisable because Grace Jones' head is carved on the lid. Other scenes were filmed in the film studio's office and Fred's own house. The one small room that they had in the studio was redecorated between shots. The lead actor, Jay Richardson, says that it constantly smelt of paint, because they had no time to waste and had to shoot scenes while the paint was still wet.

The disclaimer is only partly true. Yes, the chainsaws were real, but they weren't handled by seasoned professionals. The actors were putting their own lives at risk by using the chainsaws. For instance, the two chainsaws held by Linnea Quigley had to be started before she entered the sarcophagus. They were so heavy that she could hardly hold them, and the fumes in the enclosed space were suffocating. As she admits, if she had slipped when she came out she would have killed her fellow actor, Gunnar Hansen. Her dance scene, the Virgin Dance of the Double Chainsaw, was shot in one take, because she was too weak to repeat it.

Let me backtrack and explain the plot to those of my readers unfortunate enough to never have seen the film. Shame on you! Los Angeles detective Jack Chandler has been hired to find a girl called Samantha, who has run away from her parents. He finds that she has joined a cult that worships the God Horus by using chainsaws to sacrifice male victims. The hookers in the film's title never have sex with their victims. They just lure men with promises of sex so they can cut them to pieces.

The detective and the femme fatale.

This femme fatale is literally fatale.

How did this simple little film achieve cult status? Why is it remembered so fondly by fans of B movies today? Was it the revival of the film noir style, practically extinct in the 1980's? Was it the bare breasts? Was it the phallic chainsaws? Or was it just because the film was so good?

One of the reasons is that it was a perfect mix of actors, partly due to Fred's skill at casting, partly due to dumb luck. The most famous actor in the film was Gunnar Hansen, notorious for playing Leatherface in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". His appearance as the High Priest of Horus made film fans sit up and pay attention to the film. Linnea Quigley, who played the runaway girl Samantha, was also well known after starring in dozens of low budget horror films.

It was a stroke of luck that the unknown actor Jay Richardson was discovered and cast as the detective Jack Chandler. In an interview he says that this was his return to acting after a long break, but I haven't been able to verify this, because IMDB doesn't list him as an actor prior to "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers". Maybe he was a stage actor? I don't know. Whatever the case may have been, he was a true professional, an actor with staggering talent. His scenes were shot in a single take because he always got it right first time. After this he continued acting until 2006, making almost 100 films, many of them for Fred Olen Ray.

Another big success for the film was the casting of the still unknown actress Michelle Bauer, credited as Michelle McLellan, as the femme fatale Mercedes. This was her second film for Fred, and it was her breakthrough role. She was a former Penthouse pet of the month, and she had spent a few years making wrestling fetish videos. Her acting talent, particular in comedy roles, made her an instant success in the low budget horror genre. She's gone on to make over 130 films and enjoys immense popularity. Even though Linnea Quigley was the main actress, fans usually associate Michelle Bauer with "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers".

The film has recently been remastered and released on Blu-ray. Apart from the film looking perfect in itself, it's worth buying for the extra features alone. The disc is jam packed with documentaries and commentaries. It's a must-have in the collection of any film fan.

"Samantha, please tell me where the temple is".

"Are you sure this is the way?"

The members of the film crew were used as extras in the bar scene. At the front we see Fred's 10-year-old son, Christopher Ray, with a Martini and a cigarette. He's now a film director himself, having made films like "Two-Headed Shark Attack", "Mega Shark vs. Kolossus" and "Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus".

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