A flashing memory of Hitchcock and Powell, "one of the last respectable hotels left in the city." The winsome runaway from Cleveland (Ayn Ruymen) in La La Land, she's introduced behind the curtains peeping at the carnal athletics of her roommate. She hopes to trade watching for doing and takes off with teddy bear in tow, the squalid inn presided over by her primly sinister aunt (Lucille Benson) provides a good starting point. Alice in Kinkland (the cupboard rodent is fed to the garbage disposal), with each room in the hallway opening into a new transgressive flavor—a Christ statue adorned with leather-daddy chains for the rotund reverend (Laurie Main), a sweat-box for the skeletal biddy (Dorothy Neumann), creaking floors and peeling walls for everybody. At funerals the concierge is a photographic artiste of sorts ("I try to capture the exact moment when the spirit leaves the body"), the mysterious shutterbug (John Ventantonio) keeps the darkroom and the basement furnace glowing red. In close proximity to Sisters and Pink Flamingos, Aldous Huxley's "most unnatural of sexual perversions" in Paul Bartel's feature debut. A jolly snapshot of Skid Row Los Angeles and a moist camp fever, tingling with bits of subterranean cinema: The plastic skin of the blow-up doll sprawls and bulges as it's filled with water, a syringe thrust between its legs turns the fluid crimson with blood. Multiple luminous fields in the seediest of settings give a master class in shoestring lighting, Hugo Friedhofer's score pours hot fondue over every scene. Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls signals the revelation, the joke is that no desire is as monstrous as the puritanical repression of it. "Goddamn weirdos are taking over the country!" With Stanley Livingston, Ann Gibbs, Charles Woolf, and Len Travis.
--- Fernando F. Croce