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Well. Firstly…spoiler alerts, so if that’s gonna be a problem, take a U-turn.
Now. Before I delve into the campy schlockfest that is Roger Ebert’s, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, let me just say that if you’re looking for a film that has everything…really, everything you can think of (girl groups, musical numbers, murderous transsexuals, nymphomaniac porn stars, girl-on-girl action, boy-on-boy action, sex scenes, drug usage, legal battles, assault and battery, infidelity, paraplegics, attempted vehicular manslaughter, superheroes, occult references, gory violence, T&A, A&T, and a host of other acronyms)…then this is it. About the only thing you won’t find is any reference to the original Valley Of The Dolls, as some legal issues arose and forced the directors to change the character of Anne Welles (the original’s protagonist) to Susan Lake who assumed the position of main character, Kelly,’s aunt, thus obliterating any potential link to Jacqueline Susann’s story.
Now that you know THIS IS NOT A SEQUEL, prepare to be taken on a journey that will leave you reeking of cheap, sexually-transmitted aftershave and “marijuana cigarettes.”
The barest of plots centers around Kelly Mac Namara, a plucky stoner who enjoys singing with her rock band, the “Kelly Affair,” which consists of her two friends, sassy Petronella “Pet” Danforth and introverted Casey Anderson. They’re managed by her boyfriend, Harris, who’s charming in a stoned-schoolboy kind of way. Anyway, they decide to take a road trip to L.A. Why? I can’t remember. “To make it big,” I suppose. Oh! And to meet Kelly’s aunt Susan whom she’s never met and is extremely wealthy and plans to include her in an inheritance of some sort.
So, the main creeper of the film is Porter Hall, Susan’s square financial advisor. He hates the group because…well, I guess he hates hippies since he’s square, his motives are never made too clear but presumably he wants the piece of Susan’s inheritance that she’s decided to give to Kelly. Anyway, Susan shuts him down and encourages her young niece to become a success. She introduces them to the second creeper of the film (and to be considered a creeper in this film, let me tell you…is a rare distinction), Z-Man, who’s based on Phil Spector and is nearly as off-putting. Anyway, these girls are at a swingin’ party full of booze, boobs and bizarre guests (including a toothless senior and a man whose head, I recall thinking, resembles a gourd of some kind). What really stuck out to me though were the fashions, the hair, the make-up…all of it, taken over-the-top and I must tell you…I did NOT want it to come back down. That, coupled with the bubbly musical number by the suddenly re-named “Carrie Nations” (formerly known as “The Kelly Affair”) combined to form a richly resplendent retrospective of the 70’s.
We also meet nympho Ashley who develops a crush on the alienated Harris and some man-whore named Lance Rocke who Kelly becomes involved with. Also, Pet meets Emerson, a waiter who’s working his way through law school and is probably one of the most (or only) decent characters in the whole film. Casey has words with Porter, but also meets Roxanne, the slightly shady lesbian fashion designer who complements her figure and practically eye-rapes her.
So…then Kelly smokes some weed and has casual sex with people. Harris experiences doubts about his sexuality after an (apparently) disappointing stint as Ashley’s personal man-dildo, and feels even MORE alienated. Pet “makes it” with some prize fighter with roid-rage who assaults Emerson with his car and Casey…sleeps through everything thanks to the titular “dolls” of the film, uppers and downers.
Towards the film’s end, we see a rather quickly strewn-about cornucopia of increasingly improbable situations and equally improbable (albeit hilarious) dialogue. We see Harris’ failed suicide attempt which leaves him a whiny paraplegic, instead of just whiny. We see Casey getting preggers but taking care of it real quick as the following scene of a cracked egg in a frying pan so brilliantly illustrates. We see Pet growing a pair and telling the prize fighter to stop before she “cuts him.” Next, in no particular order, we see Z-Man’s boobs, a laughable action scene, Harris struggling to not be paralyzed and then half the cast dies. No seriously.
During the gory ending I couldn’t help but think that whoever thought up this screenplay. *Ahem* ROGER EBERT, must have been in the throes of a rather sexy fever-dream or hopped up on INSANE amounts of illegal substances. Either way, I was absolutely enamored by the whole thing and can understand why this film’s done as well as it has, becoming a cult classic and garnering ten times its budget. I laughed, I cried…well not really…I did furrow my brow in confusion a few times though, and that’s nearly the same thing, so…there you go. This was a technicolor tapestry of campy, kitschy excellence. It’s like ambrosia salad or a mystery meat-laden gelatin mold…a product of its time that, despite being a tad unsettling in appearance and certainly difficult to digest, is ultimately too full of character to trash. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls never takes itself too seriously, and neither should the viewer. As a serious piece of storytelling, it’s laughable and lacks depth, but as a piece of entertainment (which is what I gather it was mostly intended to be), it shines brighter than sequins, rhinestones and all manner of tawdrily terrific tinsel.
Let’s finish with some of my personal favorite quotes…
-“You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!”
-“You’re a groovy boy! I’d like to strap you on sometime!”
-“C’mon, Casey. The principal’s supposed to hit me with a coupla caps of acid.”
-“God only knows what they were up to in there… and furthermore, Susan, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that all four of them habitually smoked marijuana cigarettes… reefers.”
-“Step into my web said the spider, etcetera.”
Poetry. Sheer poetry. I expect you readers to use these quotations frequently and unapologetically in your daily interactions AND interjections…after being cut off on the highway, at the grocery store when they won’t take your coupon for kitty litter, before engaging in a drunken tryst with some random stranger…really, these can be interchangeably switched for whatever the occasion and that’s the real beauty of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls…it’s tackily trashy timelessness.
Now get lit and go watch it!
So in honor of the twentieth anniversary of my favorite childhood tv show Sailor Moon, a show I credit with keeping me sane whilst being teased by the jerk-faces I went to school with, and with teaching me that there’s beauty in everything…even monsters, but especially in feelings that I was told were “girly and wrong for me to indulge in” like friendship and gentleness, I wanted to highlight some of the great parts of Sailor Moon throughout the year in little articles and blurbs here and there. This is the first, and for this edition I wanted to showcase the oft-forgotten monsters-of-the-day. Though typically dispatched by Sailor Moon after being roughed up by her team within the span of five minutes, their lines, antics and aesthetics are some of the most memorable, well for me anyway (meanwhile, you’re like…’how do you even remember their names?’). So anyway… ever the champion of underdogs everywhere, I decided to list my top picks for most original and just plain fab monsters. Because…at the heart of every monster…is a diva!
NUMBER 1! Binah
From the very first season. One of the rainbow crystal carriers and a mousy-looking artist whose transformation into one of the Dark Kingdom’s warriors seemed to include a complementary fashion makeover. Either way, the white feathers and angelic motif provide a stark contrast to the bitchiness of Miss Binah. Her main line of defense included drawing objects into reality, which she mostly used to draw rocks and such…had she done what I would have and drawn a rocket-launcher instead, I’m certain she wouldn’t have been bested by Sailor Moon and turned back into Ugly Betty. Still, a lovely design. Ethereal yet evil.
NUMBER 2! Murido
I’ve always had a thing for dolls. I just love them and the creepier-looking the better. Murido starts out as a sweet, fairytale princess-type character and transforms (accompanied by eerie calliope music) complete with a 360 degree rotating head into a glam cross between Harley Quinn and Bride of Chucky. I just love the whole twisted fairytale theme, from sweet princess to evil queen in two seconds flat, with an army of animatronic woodland critters which she commands with her (I’m assuming poison?) apple. Maybe not the most original, but certainly a disturbingly eerie pastiche of other common tropes, spiced up with a dash of b*tch.
NUMBER 3! Reci
She’s lovely. She’s cherry blossoms. She’s kabuki. She’s…a tree. Sort of. Racy’s character design was another masterful stroke of contrast. Beauty, but also beast. She was a fierce Cardian who nearly destroyed the Sailor Team altogether by sealing them inside of trees… moving on.
NUMBER 4! Amaderasu
Another Cardian named after the Japanese Sun Goddess. She drew her powers from the sun and whatnot…obvs. I loved the orange on blue color scheme that was utilized for her. If there was a fashion show scene in Avatar, Amaderasu would be TURNING. IT. OUT. And also, using babies as human shields. This is what I love about Sailor Moon…it was so colorful!
NUMBER 5! Ryuax
I must admit, I have a thing for Arabesque fashions. Always have. So when harem pants came back in style, I seriously contemplated buying a pair until I realized how ugly they were. End of tangent. Seriously though, I love what the character designers did with this monster. She was a cross between 1920’s art deco and Arabian Harem Queen. Plus, those nails.
NUMBER 6! Chikuon
I’m a sucker for masquerade masks and anything with a cat-eye. Chikuon…well, honestly I can’t really remember what she did, but I remember thinking it was so awesome watching Sailor Moon go toe-to-toe with a snooty French noblewoman, or a monster that looked like one. If a gramophone were to somehow become personified by way of dark magic, I really think you could find no one to do that specific job better that Chikuon. But seriously, did the person who created her really believe that of all objects, a gramophone, given life would be able to defeat a bunch of super-powered, hormonal Japanese teenagers? I mean…at least choose something that’s hazardous. Like…a lighter, say. Or a thumb tack.
NUMBER 7! U-Tahime
The Songstress Daimon. I seem to recall, she was charging up to perform her ultimate vocal attack but forgot the words to her friggin’ song and got wiped out as a result. Still, the character design was on point. I detected 1960’s Motown diva mixed with…a Vulcan or something else with pointy ears. Elegant, poised, shrill…a perfect representation of Diana Ross…no just kidding, I love Diana Ross.
NUMBER 8! Mizugeiko
Honestly I can’t even recall what this one did…but her Geisha-inspired design was FIERCE!
NUMBER 9! U-Ikasaman
This shady, shady b*tch trapped all the Sailor Senshi inside playing cards because she CHEATED!! And it was up to Chibi-Usa and Hotaru to stop her. But when they did, she still wouldn’t let everyone go. What a heifer! But of course, Sailor Moon broke out her wand and dusted her. I must say, out of all the monsters, she was one of the more colorful ones and the “Playing Card Queen” look they gave her was indeed, a perfect fit.
NUMBER 10! Atsugessho
Having worked as a make-up artist at a department store, I can safely say that most of the women I worked with looked like Atsugessho…only overweight and much more dour. Either way, an overly-made up monster of a woman with a powder puff of doom and acid spittle who flew into a b*tch rage after Usagi refuted her claim that make-up is what makes a man fall in love with a girl is a winner in my book. Or a drag queen. Same difference.
And there you have it. You might say I have too much time on my hands, FALSE! Well…not completely I guess. Either way, these monsters were a part of my childhood and, in a childhood where you’re sometimes made to feel monstrous yourself just for being who you are, I came to sympathize with them a bit. Plus, they were campy as all hell…it was like RuPaul’s Drag Race…For Youngsters…the ANIME! And all the creativity that went into designing these outlandishly costumed characters (all of whom were, I believe, created solely for the anime), must be applauded and appreciated as a piece of hard work that contributed to one hell of a great show. There was nothing I looked forward to more during the miserable year of my life that was fourth grade than getting up extra-early at 6:30 in the morning and watching Sailor Moon and Co. beat the crap out of everything…in a positive way. So, thanks to character designers: Kazuko Tadano, Ikuko Itoh and Katsumi Tamegai and to Naoko Takeuchi herself, for creating such an amazing series.