By Mariko McDonald | October 29, 2004

Twisted, even by ‘70’s standards (yes, that is saying something), “Poor Pretty Eddie” is a real forgotten gem in the realm of exploitation cinema. Marked by artful composition and better than average performances rather than flat out gore it somehow manages to be compelling and sleazy all at the same time.

Simultaneously belonging to the “rape revenge” and “hillbilly hell” subgenres, “Poor Pretty Eddie” tales the story of Liz Weatherly (Uggams), a black singer of some repute who unwisely decides to head South in search of a little R&R. When her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, she arrives at a tiny motel run by Big Bertha (Shelley Winters in perhaps her best role of the period next to Mama from that same year’s “Cleopatra Jones”) and her boy toy Eddie. Eddie, a cut rate Elvis impersonator offers to fix the car, but quickly develops an unhealthy fixation on Liz, inspiring Bertha’s jealousy. Deciding that Liz will be his ticket to fame he decides to make her his girl whether she likes it or not, becoming increasingly psychotic as the picture progresses.

Although not traditionally a “horror” film, the level of humiliation heaped on poor Liz because of both her sex and her skin colour is stomach turning. Between Eddie, the racist dimwitted Sheriff and a whole town of rednecks, Liz becomes a prisoner, slave to the will of whatever sick torment the deranged Eddie can come up with. While not as disturbingly graphic as other offerings in the same genre (“I Spit On Your Grave” for example), Robinson instead employs evocative use of extreme slow motion during the scenes of violence to make his point. This, accompanied by equally slowed down audio tracks raises these scenes to the level of the surreal and ultimately, more horrific.

Also elevating the picture above most of its ilk are the actors, particularly Uggams and Winters. At once strong and vulnerable, Uggams’ ability to portray both the seething rage and soul crushing victimization her character feels really helps to lend credibility to her plight. Winters by contrast is a hammy delight in what is ultimately a bizarro universe send up of her character in “The Balcony” , which apparently inspired this film. Christian is also good at chewing the scenery just enough to still be scary and anyone who grew up watching “The Addams’ Family” will get a kick out of seeing Ted Cassidy (the original Lurch) go toe to toe with Ms. Winters.

Sadly, perhaps because it straddles the fine line between art and trash so precariously the film has dropped off the radar almost completely. Alternately titled “Black Vengeance”, “Redneck County Rape” and “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Poor Pretty Eddie” is definitely worth a second look for aficionados of ‘70’s grindhouse celluloid, if you can get your hands on it.

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