Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman (ADP Productions, 1966)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

An old episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ended up showing me a movie that at least had the salutary effect of reminding me that there are far worse films in the world than The Wackness. It was called The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman (though the entry on it deletes the second “Wild” from the title) and it begins with an opening scene that’s the cleverest thing in this film: a young blonde bimbo is being initiated into the secret society of Bat Girls and forced to drink a foul-looking (even in the washed-out black-and-white images of cinematographer William G. Troiano) brew that’s supposed to be the color of blood as part of her initiation. It turns out to be a liquid made mainly from strawberry yogurt, which would still be pretty yucky from my point of view but which the aspiring Bat Girl seems to like just fine.

Alas, it's all downhill from there as Batwoman (Katherine Victor) and her crew run up against a super-villain named Rat Fink (Richard Banks), mad scientist G. Octavius Neon (George Andre, t/n George Mitchell) and Neon’s hunchbacked assistant Heathcliff (Lloyd Nelson), who hardly even seems to belong to the same species as Laurence Olivier! They’re fighting over some nuclear-powered gimcrack invented by the Ayjax [sic] corporation — they were already treading on thin legal ice by ripping off the Batcharacters from D.C. Comics (who did indeed sue and force the withdrawal of this film from distribution, though it was later reissued as She Was a Hippy Vampire) and didn’t want to risk the legal wrath of the real-life Ajax corporation as well — headed by J. B. Christians, who in an utterly unsurprising plot twist turns out to be Rat Fink — he planned to “steal” his own invention because the U.S. government, fearing its potential national-security implications, wouldn’t allow him to patent it and therefore the only way he could make money from the great whatsit was to sell it to a foreign power.

The real villain of The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman is Jerry Warren, who produced, directed, wrote, edited and (under the far more impressive pseudonym “Erich Bromberg”) scored it — and came up with an indigestible farrago of super-hero and horror spoofery, girlie cinema (throughout the movie the Bat Girls. Clad in skin-tight pants and low-cut pullover tops, start dancing to the cheesy music of a rock band called “The Young Giants” at the slightest provocation and no matter what else is happening in the plot — indeed, these dance sequences seem to be so totally the whole point of this film I found myself wondering if Warren had shot alternate topless or nude versions), would-be noir scenes (the sequence of Rat Fink stalking Batwoman’s home has a certain appeal), clips from other films (including The Mole People, also a lousy movie but a lot better than this one!) and would-be “comedy” that was considerably less funny than the “dramatic” scenes (including virtually every sequence with Dr. Neon, who was pretty clearly intended as a parody of Dr. Strangelove even though he wasn’t disabled — probably Jerry Warren’s budget couldn’t afford the rental of a wheelchair), all edited together with so dogged an opposition to the very idea of continuity that the MST3K crew’s observation that the thing seemed to have been spliced together at random was for once not only amusing but accurate as critical commentary.

It didn’t help that they decided to show one of those dreadful high-school educational films from the same period, Cheating, as a curtain-raiser — Cheating, about the dilemma facing a high-school student who’s caught being slipped answers by a girl friend (two words since there isn’t a hint of a romantic or sexual interest between them) in a big test and is given a zero grade (as is she) and thrown off his seat on the student council, turned out to be a far more professionally produced and more entertaining movie despite, or more likely because of, the decision of its (anonymous) director to stage this character’s dilemma as all-out noir. The opening sequence, with the cheating high-school boy lying in bed in a darkened, half-shadowed room, haunted by the spectre of the teacher who caught him (represented by her disembodied head lecturing him in the half-light), achieves some of the pathos of Burt Lancaster’s introduction as he awaits the hit men who are to kill him in the opening scene of the 1946 film The Killers — and as ridiculous as it is for the makers of Cheating to equate having cheated on a high-school test with having double-crossed the Mob, its overwrought professionalism not only made it more entertaining than the underwrought amateurism of The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman, it inspired the MST3K crew to more and funnier jokes as well!