Friday, May 31, 2013

Suburban Roulette

Adultery with Jiffy-pop hairdos and webbed-weave lawn chairs, all filmed on location in the subdivisions of scenic Wooddale, Illinois.
 Herschell Gordon Lewis made a lot of weird, crappy movies, but Suburban Roulette is a different kind of sordid trash -- basically, it's The Ice Storm, but thirty years earlier on a hundredth of the budget. You know as soon as screen darkness and silence give way to the montage of split-levels and a faux-Sammy Davis Jr. theme song ("Let's swap partners/Here's the game/Subur-ban rou-lette") hit the screen. It gets even better once the ultra-snarky female narration kicks in: "They do things differently in suburbia and it's the differences that make suburbia what it is. Remember: It's Monday morning -- it takes a couple days to get everybody back to the right house."

Suburban Roulette pulls into focus with the Fisher family moving to their new suburban home, in hopes that the change of scenery will do them good--or, as Mr. Fisher tells Mrs. Fisher, "No more booze for me and no more boyfriends for you!" This should always be pronounced with your only child standing directly between the two of you and looking utterly unphased by the discussion.

As you can imagine, that doesn't last long once the Fishers fall in with their neighbors, the Elstons and the Conleys. The Elstons are the real fun couple in the neighborhood: disdainful tramp "Mattress Back Margo" and her husband, leering blond stud Ron. But they've got the only pool in the subdivision and they know how to have a good time. Or, as Margo purrs to Mr. Fisher, "I'd like to invite you to our house next Saturday. I assure you we won't have hamburgers." And so the swinging begins.

Martini-fueled pool parties abound, as Ron starts banging the lacquer-haired Mrs. Fisher in unoccupied bedrooms while Mr. Fisher sweats a lot and passes the time getting wasted with self-loathing lush Fran Conley. Mrs. Conley resembles later-era drinky Judy Garland in full housewife drag, which may be why the Conley's eldest son is already a vicious little queen at age 12. He already snitches Scotch and orders the other children around in games of  "Let's play mommy and daddy... Now I've just come home from work. First you make me a drink, then you make you one."

Mrs. Fisher keeps asking Ron if he loves her. Ron is that guy who you knew was a sleaze, but who you were still attracted to, who'd smoove you and after a few poolside cocktails (or greyhounds and a record collection) you'd find yourself thinking maybe he really liked you after all... 

Afterward, the narrator smirks: "By now Bert is just sober enough to feel sorry for himself" and take a few swings at Mrs. Fisher, rant and then cry, while she pats her disarrayed beehive and rolls her eyes.
Throughout, Mattress-Back Margo hangs around suburban kitchen in showgirl outfits, wears dangling diamante earrings and Liz Taylor coiffures to backyard barbecues, sips her drink, looks bored and humps anything who comes within a three-foot radius. As she points out, "I'm sorry, sometimes my pendulum just swings the wrong way."
"But it never stops swinging, does it?"
"No. It never does."

Vickie Miles aka Allison Lousie Downe, who plays Margo, exudes jaded sexuality -- not surprising, given that her previous films included Bunny Yeager and Blaze Starr, The Beast That Killed Women and Pagan Island, as well as her leading role in Goldilocks and the Three Bares, billed as "the first nudie musical." But it is surprising that this was Downe's last acting role -- previously she had written the screenplays for Lewis' Blood Feast and his brilliant She-Devils on Wheels. A true Renaissance woman. 
This was also the last film of Tony McCabe aka Ron, who died in a car accident shortly after shooting. It's too bad: The guy had some actual talent for making crappy dialogue sound real and a sleazy, amoral character charming and attractive.

It doesn't take long for the Elstons to break out with the toy roulette wheel, the key parties, the blindfolds and begin spouse-swapping in earnest. Then we've got hangovers and a lot of people saying "I have to talk to you." Followed by "All of the beautiful dreams we had, well, they just aren't going to happen. We've got four kids to take care of and we'll never get out of debt." There's bullet bras and boxer shorts on ugly bedspreads, there's strip poker and shag rugs, there's a fistfight under the sprinklers, there's too much other trash to list here.

 Suburban Roulette closes with the title card admonition: "This story is fictitious. If you know of any resemblance to any living person, please keep your mouth shut." I. Wouldn't. Dream. Of. It.

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