BONNIE’S KIDS (1972)
Starring: Tiffany Bolling (Ellie), Robin Mattson (Myra), Steve Sandor (Larry)
Director: Arthur Marks
Music: Carson Whitsett
Viewed: Streaming, Amazon Prime
Transfer Quality: Excellent! Top quality restoration and transfer
Larry: You mean to tell me that God made two of you?
Ellie: God had nothing to do with it, darling.
Hot, oversexed, devious, and cruel would aptly describe the sisters, Myra (Robin Mattson Candystripe Nurses, Phantom of the Paradise) and Ellie (Tiffany Bolling The Candy Snatchers, Kingdom of the Spiders), but Bonnie’s kids aren’t the only morally bankrupt denizens of this twisted and superficial world of predator vs. prey. Virtually every character that appears on screen is on the make in one way or another. Even the camera is a lecherous creep, shamelessly panning up and down the contours of every female figure and implicating the viewer along the way whether we like it or not. This feature is gratuitous, but why would you expect any less of a film that was a major influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
There are some magical moments in this movie, which makes its impact on Tarantino easy to figure. For example, the arrangement of shots in the opening scene is quite brilliant in its portrayal of teen innocence that’s just slightly askew. It’s difficult to describe how well done this scene is, but director Arthur Marx (Bucktown, Monkey Hustle) employs some great visual storytelling techniques here that set the deliciously cynical tone for the film. An ice cream truck, headlights glowing in the distance, blares its syrupy looped tone made even more unsettling by its incongruity with the nighttime scene. Something is off balance, and it creates a sense of foreboding that subconsciously prepares us for the nihilistic excess that will occupy the rest of the film. As the ice cream truck jingle continues, we see two high school couples making out in a convertible. While the ominous vehicle slowly rolls towards the make out session, Myra skillfully rebuffs the advances of her boyfriend as he presses his luck trying to unzip her dress. In the meantime, the truck passes without incident and the camera moves away from the action in the car to zoom in on the front window of the house where Myra’s stepfather, the tightly wound Charlie (Leo Gordon, Riot in Cell Block 11) is playing cards with his buddies.
Myra leaves her friends and enters the house where things get intense quick. Charlie’s buddies take turns teasing Myra and him about what they’d do with her and her older sister Ellie if Charlie wasn’t around. Myra quickly reveals herself as no innocent as her sexual teasing of the older men shatters any presumptions lingering from the opening scene. Later, as an undressing Myra is ogled at through the bathroom window by his departing guests (and then by the local police!) Charlie, who’s planning a trip to Montana to be with his terminally ill father, is in his bedroom chugging down a bottle of Seagram’s. Things continue to devolve as the drunken Charlie catches Myra on the phone talking sexy to her boyfriend. The out of control stepfather unleashes on Myra in a violent rage, and initiates what most certainly will end in sexual assault. It’s at this precise moment that Ellie enters and from quick back and forth we infer that she too was molested by Charlie. No sooner do we piece it together than Ellie blasts Charlie twice in the chest with a shotgun, leaving him dead. And so it begins…
The hallmark of the great morality exploitation film is that it titillates the viewer with precisely the vice it purports to condemn. At first I thought this was going to be one of those kinds of movies, but the ambiguous principles of each character left me wondering if anyone could be described as the morally righteous hero in this story. The way this film ends (and I’ll leave it for you to watch) only led me to further abandon all hope for humanity. However, when I wasn’t catching myself sinking into depression or contemplating the reason for my own existence, I actually found this film quite difficult to pause.
It’s also cool to keep an eye out for the connections between Bonnie’s Kids and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. From a “Bonnie” whom we never see on screen, to Eddy and Digger (Alex Rocco, Timothy Brown) as the inspiration for Vincent and Jules, to the flirty banter and surreal showcase dance scene with Ellie and Larry (Steve Sandor) ala Mia and Vincent, it’s obvious that Tarantino was mining the gold nuggets embedded in this film. Even the shot composition at the diner scene with Eddy and Digger seems strangely familiar.
Check it out…enjoyable to say the least, but you might find yourself craving a shower by the end of it. (DC)
NW: Nate Wilson DC: Devon Cahill HR: Heath Row MA: Matt Average