[Open spoilers warning - BEWARE!]
I rented “Beyond the Vally of the Dolls” for the first time this weekend, after many, many years of hearing it spoke of, either being reviled or celebrated as a camp classic. I kind of liked it. It’s definitely kitschy, campy and I have a feeling it was already quaint & dated when it was released. I viewed it along the lines of an ''Austin Powers" movie, only funnier because the film-makers weren’t trying to do parody, but honestly thought they were being 'hip and with it." The early party scenes with the Strawberry Alarm Clark are pretty groovy. And I’ve a hunch this is where somebody got the idea for the ‘Josie & the Pussycats’ cartoon. It was certainly a lot more fun to watch than the original “Valley of the Dolls” which was pretty dreary and dull IMO.
But then there’s the last 15 or so minutes of the film. Say from the time Ronnie invites Lance, and the lesbians over for some peyote. I can only imagine that Roger Ebert & Russ Meyer took a break from writing the script at that point in order to binge on massive amounts of LSD. Because the film goes from being a ridiculously heavy-handed morality play / soap opera, into an incoherent thriller that makes no sense.
Ronnie, who has spent most of the film trying to seduce the main heroine Kelly away from her stalwart hunky good-guy boyfriend Harris is suddenly putting the moves on Lance, the gigolo. So Ronnie swings both ways, OK, I’ll buy that. But then out of the blue he reveals himself to be ---- A WOMAN! Or a she-man, or a female trannie, or…something. The film really doesn’t make it clear. Ronnie just has breasts. Lance makes fun of ‘him’ and gets his head cut off. Then for no apparent reason, Ronnie is killing off the nazi butler, shooting Roxanne, and stalking Kasey around the house. Kelly & the rest of the Pussycats – er, ‘Carrie Nations’ – come to the rescue and the film becomes a ludicrous thriller. Ronnie gets ‘his’ just desserts, and Kelly & Harris (her previously crippled boyfriend, who all of a sudden can walk again) are having a slow-motion stroll through fields of dandelions.
And I just went ‘whaaaaa???’
Even worse than that insane plot twist is the hamfisted narration at the very end - the overly somber voice over a series of flashbacks to the various characters of the film that spells out for us what we the audience were supposed to think about each character. (Doesn’t Ebert tend to carp about that in his own reviews? “Show, don’t tell?”) But the synopses of the characters tended to raise more questions than they did shed light:
“Susan - so impossibly good that she made the goodness around her seem insignificant.” (paraphrasing)…What?
And “Kasey & Roxanne - Although their love was not truly evil, evil did result from it.” Um, yeah. How did evil result from their love? They were the innocent victims of a crazed killer. The flashback seems to allude that the ‘evil’ referred to means Kasey’s trip to the abortionist. But she wouldn’t have needed to go there if Harris didn’t date RAPE HER - an act that Harris doesn’t get punished for (even Kasey dismisses it as OK, because it assured Harris he wasn’t a fag).
But if nothing else, the movie was worth it for one of the single best lines of TRULY, TRULY BAD dialogue - “You’re a groovy boy! I’d love to STRAP YOU ON some time!” I so want to use that as a pick-up line the next time I’m out at a bar.