Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Cut: Andy Warhol's Bad

No, in case you're wondering, this is not the predecessor to "Superbad," which at least had some laughs and some decent acting.

Rather, this cheaply-made Warhol-produced black comedy, directed by Jed Johnson, is a grindingly unpleasant, nasty, sour, melodramatic farce that is so heavy-handed that it actually gets less interesting as it gets more shocking. It's the kind of movie John Waters was making at the same time, and while it certainly shares his early production values, it substitutes his giddy anarchy for glum cynicism.

Carroll Baker -- the former ingenue of Baby Doll and Giant, who was apparently in bad need of a job by 1977 -- plays Hazel, an electrolysis technician who supplements her income with a murder-for-hire business on the side. Clients call her up to get obstacles removed from their life, like immigrants, dogs or children. Her hired killers are usually women, ranging from a pretty blonde who has a talent for trashing bathrooms to a pair of tough-ass New York broads who enjoy both arson, group sex, and car theft. As the story begins, Hazel also takes on a strapping young male hit man into her fold (Perry King, who went on to become something of a pretty boy) who gets his kicks by laughing at TV news stories about murder, and who has been hired to murder an autistic child.

With the exception of Hazel's daughter-in-law and eternal doormat, Mary (Susan Tyrell) -- who has been deserted by the father of her child and is forced to hand over her welfare check to Hazel -- everyone in the movie is a monster who will stoop to anything to get ahead, which is pretty much the movie's own attitude. Mary is the only one who has a proper sense of horror at the goings-on around her, but she's also a glum, careworn, whiny sow. She's the closest thing the movie has to a moral voice. Naturally, she's something of a loser.

No doubt it's the kind of cult movie that would make audiences scream with delight at a midnight showing, particularly one scene where a baby is hurled out of a window and goes ker-splat on a city sidewalk, where a passing dog licks up the blood. Watching it alone is a different matter, where it's flaws become a little more pronounced.

Like Warhol himself, it's unaffected, unresponsive, indifferent, too cool to care. It's an insensitive spoof of insensitivity, thrashing around its own cesspool of burned-out, mid-1970s, post-Watergate, you-can't-trust-anyone, the-world-is-full-of-creeps, downtown boho New York attitude.

It's a piece of shit, really, but it's also the kind of movie that revels in the fact that people will call it a piece of shit; hence a title designed to beat them to the punch. No argument here.

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