There is a certain kind of character often found in genre B movies and she is the ass kicking, large chested, confident woman. The most iconic example of this is probably Tura Satana’s character, Varla, in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Female characters like Varla may appear on the surface to be little more than titillation for a predominantly male audience in films that are generally grouped under the banner of ‘exploitation’ but the sexual politics at play and the underlying subtexts are more complex than this simplistic assessment. One only needs take a dip in the vast ocean of femminist and post-femminist critiques of these films and their characters to realise that they have a lot more to offer than mere titillation.
Following in this, I would say, grand tradition comes Bitch Slap, directed by Rick Jacobson. Although the film does not perhaps reach the heights of classic exploitation such as Faster, Pussycat!, I Spit On Your Grave and They Call Her One Eye, it at least aspires to follow in these film’s footsteps and present women not as weak secondary characters but as strong and independent leads.
Gender politics have moved on though and I would argue that strong female characters of this ilk are not as uncommon as they were in the 60s or 70s and therefore do not need to be so overstated. Also the reliance on constantly sexualising the leads (despite the appropriation of this by the characters for their own needs) further problematises their positive characteristics. It is not so much of a surprise to have a dominant and confident female character in modern cinema as it was in the 60s and female characters can achieve this without the use of their sexuality. This is really only a minor criticism but it also is an important point to make, as without an understanding of the history the film taps into, Bitch Slap might just appear sexist and crude and nothing more.
The film does have a lot of fun with the sexual politics that it is referencing, including the use of a ridiculously oversized gun (pictured above) which has some pretty blatant psycho-analytical symbolism.
Bitch Slap is a film in which the makers are entirely aware of what they are doing and they do it with bombastic flare and obvious delight. At one point Hel is even seen reading a book entitled ‘Slutty Bitches in Post Feminist America’.
The film is called Bitch Slap… everyone is aware of the film they are making.
Luckily this self awareness never slips too far into awkward winks at the camera even though some sequences are obvious ‘fan-service’. The film is more about recapturing a moment in film rather than just shamelessly sending it up.
The film stars a trio of beautiful female leads, Julia Voth (Trixie), Erin Cummings (Hel) and America Olivio (Camero) who all fit the mould described above but each have unique roles to play. Hel is the brains, the intelligent one who leads the group and the mastermind behind the plan to steal $200 million. Camero is the muscle and Trixie is the pretty and sweet, but a little dumb, stripper who finds out the location of the treasure.
The Location is a deserted trailer in the middle of the desert where the three spend the bulk of the film. As the three search for the treasure, bicker and deal with unwanted guests we are treated to a multitude of flashbacks from various different time periods, including one that states ‘3 hours ago’ followed by one that states ‘3 hours and 4 minutes ago’.
It is in these flashbacks where things get increasingly ludicrous. There are laughably bad CG backdrops, totally implausible settings and a convoluted and a ridiculous plot that all comes to a head in the ‘present day’ scenes.The problem with critiquing these hokey elements is that the bad dialogue, poor plotting, over-the-top acting and terrible effects are not a mistake, the cast and crew didn’t fail in these areas, they succeeded in what they were attempting to do and it is all incredibly effective.
The cast and crew, as mentioned above, are aware of the genre they are working within and the films that they are paying homage to. In doing so it is perhaps necessary to include those elements that are not necessarily good qualities in the original films but elements that fans expect.
Does this excuse the elements that would otherwise make for a terrible film? Perhaps, but even if it doesn’t those elements are a lot of fun to watch. Bitch Slap is hell of a lot of fun from start to finish with insanely ludicrous action scenes, stupefying dramatic scenes and a lot of slow motion sequences that focus on women in little clothing. The subject matter is morally questionable (as is the aforementioned slo-mo) but the film never actually strays into any particularly shocking areas and overall the film is quite light hearted.
If you’re a fan of classic exploitation cinema or the title and marketing in any way appeals to you then you will most likely find something to like in Bitch Slap. I had a great time watching it and felt the only let down really was the soundtrack which seemed to be filled with pop metal tracks that over-dominated the action scenes and were not to my taste.
I was lucky enough to attend the UK premiere of Bitch Slap, held at the Prince Charles Cinema in London where they put on a whole day of films to celebrate. This really helped put the film in context and I can highly recommend double-billing Bitch Slap with a film such as Faster, Pussycat! to add to the fun.
You can see the wonderful poster for the event below.
Bitch Slap is released on DVD in the UK on the 19th of April and embedded below is the red band trailer for film.