"What do you wanna watch tonight, Joe?", "How about that Mantis in Lace flick we read about on PopKrazy?", "Yeah, that sounded like a real stone gas, now where are those burgers? Did she just call 42? Joe, go see if she just called number 42...."
Only in the wild and woolly world of sixties American exploitation film could two men like William Rotsler and Harry Novak come together for the common purpose of making a buck, create pictures which rake the gutters for inspiration, and emerge with such oddly unforgettable guilty pleasures as Agony of Love (1966), The Girl With the Hungry Eyes (1967), The Godson (1971), and Street of a Thousand Pleasures (1972).
Novak set up Boxoffice International Pictures in the early 1960s and started out making cheap and profitable nudie-cuties like Kiss Me Quick and The Beautiful, The Bloody and The Bare (both 1964). Lots of producers were banging these out following the success of Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas, but Novak's were a different animal entirely, movies which seemed to exist in an alternate universe where where no plot device was too absurd. He knew that to stand out in a crowded field, you had to deliver something different, and Novak stuck to that philosophy throughout his two decade Boxoffice International ride.
Rotsler has a biography that must be completely unique in the the history of the motion picture industry. In addition to writing and directing a series of movies at BIP, he was a prolific science fiction writer (penning several Star Trek and Planet of the Apes tie-ins), an award winning illustrator, and a sculptor who helped create the entrance to the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. All of the Rotsler/Novak efforts which have been re-released on DVD by Something Weird Video exhibit a flair for the extreme tempered by a solid dose of camp which have helped them continue to appeal to cult movie audiences in the decades since their intial runs. But the most memorable of them all very well might be the one and only Mantis In Lace.
Released in 1968, Mantis in Lace is a post-Summer of Love hippie/stripper acid nightmare produced for the adults-only market. There's really nothing else like it, and after you see it, you'll never forget it. It stars Susan Stewart as Lila, a young stripper who picks up men at the club where she dances. They meet her after work and she takes them to an abandoned warehouse where she drops some acid, strips, has sex with them, then kills them while hallucinating. This happens again and again until the dim-witted detectives working on the case get her dropped right in their laps. Lots of 60's stripper footage will appeal to aficionados of vintage go-go, but the real set pieces are a series of psychedelic hatchet murders that really do have to be seen to be believed. It's during these segments that you really get to see the film's cinematographer, a young Laszlo Kovacs, show his stuff. As the acid kicks in, Lila starts hallucinating hard, and it's a heavy trip: her lover's faces change in multicolored light, transform into a bunch of bananas squishing in her fingers, a ripe melon cracking in two, or an overstuffed piñata getting split open with a bat. Then the total freak-out comes when she takes a screwdriver to his back and an axe to his manhood. The sound-editing stands out, and the result is some of the best low-budget bad trip segments in the annals of cinema (did ya' ever see the one in Skidoo? I'll have to tell ya' about that one someday!).
In the most memorable encounter, Russ Meyer stock player Stuart Lancaster is a curious psychologist who falls into Lila's web. He keeps a clinical distance, declining to partake in the LSD ("verrry interesting case," he muses), but lets himself get caught up by her advances while, ahem,... "analyzing" her. For the first time we actually start to feel sorry for the little tramp - seeing this creepy old shrink knowingly take advantage of her. The first victim was just a basically innocent hippie drifter. This shrink, however, is a world-class sleazeball. By the time she takes her final swing you're cheering this go-go getter all the way. The police "investigation" scenes, featuring sub-Z thesps Steve Vincent ("neighbor" in Angels for Kicks) and M.K. Evans (screenwriter of Weekend Lover), are present only to fill space between go-go dancing and acid-sex, stringing together something that resembles a backstory to the murders. They say things like "He was doing field research on the psychedelic generation by making rounds of the go-go palaces," and walk right through ground zero of the elusive drug-sex murders without ever copping a clue. Yup, they don't make 'em like this anymore,... actually, they NEVER made 'em quite like this. You're gonna want to check it out.