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Friday, May 13, 2011

Pets (1974) review

google images; yet another example of a poster that barely breaches what the film is really about. Somewhat deceptive, this was a regular practice during those times.

PETS 1974

Candice Rialson (Bonnie), Teri Guzman (Pat), Joan Blackman (Geraldine Mills), Victor Stackman (Ed Bishop)

Directed by Raphael Nussbaum

The Short Version: Irrepressibly trampy film gleefully immerses itself in debauchery in a suitably slimy tale of a beautiful societal castaway experiencing both submission and dominance on a lascivious sexual excursion meeting various unsavory characters along the way. If you're an "animal lover", you need PETS on your shelf.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity and images of a sexual nature***

Bonnie, an abused runaway, escapes her brutal brothers clutches and ends up with various sleazy characters on her journey through the seedier side of America's underbelly. On this road to nowhere, Bonnie becomes both a slave to her sexual desires and to the dominating and commanding hands of various social and psycho-sexual outcasts seemingly breaking her spirit along the way.

This obscurity from the sin-sational 70s is what trash flicks are all about. It's movies like this that truly define the most unforgettable decade in cinema history. One of many sexploitation pictures that were very popular at the time, Nussbaum's movie (based on a play) is told in a similar fashion to another sleaze classic, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974). That film was unraveled in an anthology style format with the killer being the sole linking device.

For PETS, there's a similar approach with the character of Bonnie traveling from one dank, socially deviant situation to another. Some of the characters overlap, but it does give off that vignette vibe. Trash fans won't have to dig around too long to find something of interest here. Nudity and sex are the order of the day irreverently guided by a deeply permeating aura of salaciousness. PETS also mirrors THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS in another way--virtually everyone possess lecherous, or licentious intentions. Pat is a cruel butch of a woman who lies, steals and even tosses a small dog to its doom over a cliff. Geraldine is a controlling, domineering artist who happens to be a lesbian. She's also not above killing a man if it means keeping Bonnie to herself. Then there's Victor, the wealthy owner of an art gallery who has a chip on his shoulder regarding the fairer sex and a slight bit insane.

"The only help a man needs from a woman is in bed and that's where she should be kept...not trying to run the world!"

It's this latter portion of the movie that mirrors another 70s sleaze epic, Alan Rudolph's TERROR CIRCUS (1974). In that film, Andrew Prine keeps women in cages, or chains them up, tortures and treats them like animals. For PETS, Victor keeps women in cages in a sexual circus sideshow that also includes actual animals such as wolves and even a tiger among his malevolent menagerie. By the end, Bonnie has had enough of this long and torturous trip she has undertaken. Comfortably and confidently embracing her sexuality, she escapes both Victor and Geraldine's clutches. Releasing all of Victor's animals from their cages, this is symbolic of Bonnie's own release--she's now free to be her own woman--free to explore the wide open space of an oppressive world without the constraints of being controlled by others.

The films title is also symbolic of the films characters. Nearly everyone is, or has been a 'Pet' of some kind at some point, or other. Domination and submission are the pictures main focal points. Pat is a hateful woman who uses people to get ahead. A grim irony of the films title is that Pat hates pets, showing her disgust for dogs on two different occasions, the second being the most despicable. Geraldine, the artist is also a controlling individual who wishes to keep Bonnie under her thumb. The films title takes on a more literal meaning during the last half when the dark side of Victor's "art gallery" is revealed. At this point, the movie sinks into a pool of perversity wantonly drowning in violent deviancy. Ending in ambiguity, once Bonnie is finally free of her "bonds", the look on her face upon picking up a young man on the highway leads one to think that she will now be the one enjoying and controlling the company of PETS.

"....but I know in the end...somehow I'm gonna find...the peace of mind that I've been searchin' for...."

google images; this one is much more accurate in depicting what the movie is, but makes the nastier, latter portion of the movie as the main thrust of the plot

Like many other 70s road pictures (PETS is more of a 'road to discovery' picture), the onscreen action is often accompanied by a somber ballad that audibly tells the story of one or more characters. PETS has a ubiquitous and melancholic tune entitled 'Searching'. Sung by Terri Rinaldi, the song crops up intermittently throughout the movie and successfully conveys additional details about Rialson's character. So many memorable 70s movies had signature songs that acted as storytelling devices; it's an intrinsic part of 70s cinema and an art totally lost on the motion picture decades that followed.

With a movie like this, such an image can conjure up all sorts of dirty thoughts

The late Candice Rialson had a relatively brief career in exploitation movies, but she accrued a healthy fan following from her roles in such notable movies as CANDY STRIPE NURSES (1974), HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) and MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS (1977). PETS (1974) is her debut lead role and what an impression she makes here as Bonnie, the young and not so innocent societal castaway that's dominated and tormented by a variety of scuzzy perverts over the course of the films 100 minute running time. Bonnie flirts with being the dominant figure in a scene wherein she rapes a bound (and married) man who had initially planned to have his way with both Bonnie and her butch friend, Pat. It's not till the end that Bonnie frees herself from the bonds of others. Incidentally, the trailer for PETS contains some shots from this sex scene that aren't in the film and also an alternate shot of Joan Blackman firing a gun.

It should also be mentioned that the DVD presentation for this astonishing relic is less than stellar, but all the snaps, crackles and pops add to the experience. The opening of the film is in particularly bad shape, but this clears up a lot after the credits are finished. Damage is briefly apparent a few more times throughout the picture. 70s movies such as these curiously benefit from such celluloid maladies. Colors and audio are strong, though. Those with a fond predilection for exploitation movies containing a high sex and sleaze quotient will find what they're looking for here. 70s trash completists and PET lovers will surely want this in their collection.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD


Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent review Brian of this intriguing obscurity. I've been interested in this title after reading about it in Stephen Thrower's book NIGHTMARE USA, and then subsequently reading a review of it the fourth volume of DVD DELIRIUM. Alas this is never likely to get a UK release so I may have to import the Code Red DVD, along with their disc of THE VISITOR.

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Shaun! It's quite good. You know, I've had that NIGHTMARE USA book since it came out and I've done little more than skim through it, I'm ashamed to admit.

Samuel Wilson said...

Your point about original songs is well made. It was an easy way for low-budget films to enhance themselves but truly original theme songs composed for film really do seem to have vanished on all levels of filmmaking. Don't know exactly why.

Anyway, Pets sounds like something I'd get a kick out of, like the good old Something Weird discs of old. Thanks for reminding me of it.

venoms5 said...

No problem, Sam. It's an extraordinary movie. dfordoom's Cult Movie Reviews also did a write up on the film as well. Last year, I believe.

Code Red is certainly a great DVD label with some promising titles on their plate in the near future. I'm glad they decided to stick around.

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