“Manson Family Values.”
Despite a title which seems to be echoing a certain Sam Peckinpah film, this is a Western only in location, being set firmly in the present day. Las Vegas waitress Sandy (Renet) tries to kill herself after being dumped yet again, and a friend introduces her to the gang of women led by Grace (Bishop), who occupy a ranch in the desert near the Mexican border, take no shit from any man and ride across the border to a town to blow off steam when necessary. This also lets Grace pick up drugs which she both sells and uses. The only rule is no men on the ranch, except for Monti (Chaney), a former stuntman devoted to Grace. When that gets broken, the man responsible is branded on the forehead as a warning, which sets in motion a train of events that end where the film begins – with Sandy and another man, driving through the desert, trying to escape from the pursuing banshees.
There’s an aura of Faster, Pussycat here, with a roaming gang of women, outside the law and terrorising anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path – here, the most obvious victim (except for the branded guy) is a poor Mexican who sets up house on the trail they use to cross the border. However, it’s the opposite sex – and the treatment thereof – which ultimately leads to their downfall. Certainly, I can see echoes of Varla in Grace, though Bishop is a mere fraction of Tura Satana, and that’s probably the film’s main weakness – as the axle round which the wheel turns, she doesn’t have the presence to make for a believable “queen bee,” to whom others gravitate. However, it’s undeniable she’s a dark anti-hero, with the film not stinting at all from depicting her intravenous drug use, and it’s refreshing to see a film with such a flawed character at its focus.
Some bits of trivia worth noting. This was subsequently released in some territories on a double-bill with Ted V. Mikel’s vaguely similarly themed, but vastly inferior, The Doll Squad. Lon Chaney Jr’s last film before he died, and his voice is incredibly raspy – perhaps a relic of his battle with throat cancer. Though Adamson denies it, many sources say that some footage for this was apparently shot at the Spahn Ranch, later to be home to the Manson family, while they carried out the Tate-LaBianca murders – the movie was released the same month authorities raided the ranch. I’m sure any similarity to this story, of a gang held together by its charismatic leader, until it disintegrates in a killing spree – not to mention the guy with a cross etched into his forehead! – is purely coincidental. But it’s decidedly spooky, none the less.
Dir: Al Adamson
Star: Jenifer Bishop, Nesa Renet, Lon Chaney Jr., Geoffrey Land