The Playbirds (1978)/ Massage Parlor Murders! (1973)
Tonight's presentations have lots in common:
1. Lots of girls of ill repute getting offed one by one Ten Little Indians style by a mysterious killer.
2. Both actually have at least one massage parlor employee biting the dust
3. The motive for the killer in each film is exactly the same. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say the killer in Playbirds and Massage Parlor Murders are almost identical
The Playbirds (1978)
I chose this flick because I'd heard so much about the tragic and interesting story of actress/model Mary Millington, yet had never seen her in anything. Mary was becoming a veterinary nurse when she met David Sullivan who catapulted her to fame via nudie magazines and films, including Come Play with Me which still stands as the longest-running film in British movie history. The tragedy came when Mary got wrapped up in drugs, came under UK law enforcement scrutiny and committed suicide.
Yes, it's depressing, but so is this movie. It has that bleak feel that only the 1970s can muster.
The film begins with a skin rag photo shoot - perhaps the most explicit scene of the film - and then it's on to the glorious credits where we see the seedy side of England.
It's a really cool walk through the streets of London (?) with blocks and blocks of sex shops. The background title song is what can best be described as Disco Lounge.
We're following the model (from the start of the film) on her walk home...
The actress is Pat Astley who was in a ton of 1970s sexploitation films; if a British film required a small role with almost no lines with nudity, chances are, Pat was in it. She appeared in "Are You Being Served?" and the video nasty Don't Open Till Christmas, then dropped off the face of the earth in 1984. According to IMDb, she was last seen working in a shop in Lancashire.
Astley is fixing herself a cuppa tea when an intruder wearing a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap wrestles her to the ground and strangles her. Then he leaves his calling card - a number in lipstick (the number "2") upon her forehead.
The police have arrived, and take note of the deceased's connection to Playbirds magazine.
At left, the gruff Chief Superintendent Holbourne (Glynn Edwards). In the center is Mary Millington as Sgt. Lucy Sheridan. Next to her is Inspector Harry Morgan (Gavin Campbell).
It's time Superintendent Holbourne and Inspector Morgan pay a visit to Playbirds headquarters.
What an amazing office, with a magnificent view of the dreary landscape. That's Playgirl's Hugh Hefner, Harry Dougan (Alan Lake). Lake also has a rather tragic story, committing suicide after the death of his wife, Diana Dors.
The officers arrive at Dougan's spectacular office and question him on some articles in Playgirl of an occult nature. But they're interrupted by an appointment...
(Sorry for the blur - a necessary evil) It's a girl named Lena (Suzy Mandel) who strips for Dougan to get a job posing for the magazine. Mandel regularly appeared on Benny Hill, and made an appearance in the recent Double Feature selection Confessions of a Driving Instructor. One of her last roles was on The Love Boat. Suzy Mandel was as big a name in England as Mary Millington, but quit acting to care for AIDS patients, and even earned a nurse's license.
Sgt. Sheridan (Millington) finds a dead girl in a parking garage with the number "3" written in lipstick on her forehead; while Holbourne and Morgan come upon a girl in a dilapidated horse stable with "1" on her forehead.
All three victims are linked: (1) they have all been a Playbird centerfold, and (2) they are all somehow associated with horse racing: one had riding lessons, one was on a rocking horse in the magazine, one found in horse stable.
The coppers get a little help from their state-of-the-art computer system. Just put in a bunch of punch cards and presto - Morgan has a theory:
The killer is acting on three unholy forces: sex, witchcraft, and horses.
WTF? Apparently horses are a big part of ancient paganism, occultism, yada yada yada. Pretty weak if you ask me, but I'm willing to go with it.
Holbourne and Morgan put Lena (Mandel) under surveillance. Given that the past three centerfolds have been straight up murdered, this is probably a good idea.
Morgan follows her around - including a satanic Playbird photoshoot - and starts to develop an affection for lovely Lena, in a Travolta-Thurman kind of way.
Unfortunately, Morgan provides the worst protection ever, as Lena is quickly killed by the killer in a deerstalker. She's number "4" in case you're keeping count.
This is getting ridiculous. Time to "think outside the box". Morgan has a plan - the most insane plan ever...
Morgan decides they need to get someone on the inside - a policewoman who can become the next Playbird centerfold. She'll have to be able to protect herself, but more importantly, she'll have to be willing to take her clothes off. Morgan and Holbourne hold an audition!
A few policewomen disrobe, but they're not to Morgan and Holbourne's liking. Finally, a full 53 minutes into the film, Sgt. Lucy Sheridan (Mary Millington) at last plays a part.
She's aware of the risks, and is more than willing to disrobe.... it's for the greater good.
Morgan and Holbourne are smitten. She's just the girl for the job.
Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous that two detectives could hold auditions for policewomen to strip. There's a strange vibe to this film: where a scene like this would be perfect for a British comedy like the Carry On or Confessions films; Playbirds is a pretty grim and serious film. Are we supposed to take this seriously as well?
Sgt. Lucy is quickly put to work starting from the bottom up (no pun intended) at a massage parlor. There she makes friends with Foxy (Erika von Jump in her only acting role) who can get her an introduction to Dougan (Alan Lake).
Foxy invites Lucy to "come back to her flat for a drink and a chat". As you might expect, they are soon making sweet, sweet love. Sgt. Lucy is really taking this undercover work seriously!
When Morgan checks in on Sgt. Lucy at Foxy's flat, he finds it's been ransacked and Foxy has become victim number 5.
Since foxy is neither a Playbird centerfold nor affiliated with witchcraft or horses, I wonder how she wound up a victim.
Scotland Yard is really desperate to crack this case. All their newfangled computer equipment has thus far been ineffective; thankfully, the data has finally given them a lead: a jockey for one of Dougan's horses is a sex offender.
Spoiler alert: It's a red herring.
Morgan picks up another suspect - a Bible waving madman named Hern (Dudley Sutton) who protests outside the sex shops. He spouts a bunch of Old Testament inspired condemnation, but none of it makes sense, and Scotland Yard lets him go.
Spoiler alert: Remember this guy.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Lucy has really thrown herself into her undercover role. She's already slept with Dougan and is now posing for the Playbird centerfold. Such dedication!
Morgan and Holbourne attend a pool party at Dougan's Playbird mansion. These cops have such a tough job: holding nude auditions, accompanying centerfolds to satanic photoshoots, and now attending a naked pool party.
Among the nude guests is Sgt. Lucy - deep undercover, of course.
Interesting trivia about this scene: Alan Lake throws one of the girls (Diane Foster, who's not even listed in the IMDb cast) into the pool. The poor girl hit the bottom of the shallow end and had to be hospitalized. The people jumping in to help her, and the ambulance were not scripted and included in the film.
After this, there's a long boring chase through the grey English backstreets. Morgan and Holbourne finally catch the guy - an MP named Ransome (Alec Mango), and seemingly a pointless red herring time fill. I suppose the director felt a little action was needed.
The next scene is hilarious. It's another satanic photoshoot for Playbird; the fire beneath the cross is stoked by a mysterious hooded figure who runs off. The flames ultimately consume the poor girl as the photographer looks on in horror.
Why is this funny? Because, the girl's screams are obviously dubbed and don't match the actress' (Gloria Brittain) expressions in any way. You hear blood curdling screeches - you see a woman who looks at the camera as if to say, "What the hell am I doing here?" We seem to be witnessing a nude model in the act of rethinking her career choices.
So, here we are. Just over five minutes left of the movie and they haven't a clue who killed these six women. As much as I love to look at this awesome computer equipment, it hasn't help them much.
But wait. Morgan notices a pattern in the data - it's a man named Hern. Holbourne gives him approval to track down one last lead, but adds, "Five pounds says he didn't do it."
So, are we about ready to see this whole thing resolved in predictable fashion? Get ready for the worst ending ever...
At Sgt. Lucy's flat we see the true killer coming upon her while she prepares for a bath. It's the religious fanatic from earlier - the one I told you to remember.
So, if this was a normal movie, this is what would happen: Hern would attack Sgt. Lucy and Morgan, who we just learned is hot on his heels, will save her in the nick of time. Or, she subdues Hern herself and when Morgan arrives she says something cocky like, "Glad you could make it."
Instead we get this...
Sgt. Lucy dead in her tub. Credits roll. Insert titular Disco Lounge soundtrack.
Pretty depressing, especially considering Mary Millington would really be dead shortly thereafter. Ultimately, I suppose we can presume that Investigator Morgan will get has man and Holbourne will lose his five pounds.... but was it necessary to have Lucy killed? I mean, the whole point in having her act as decoy was because she was a highly trained professional - she would be able to handle whatever physical threat that came at her.
And what was the point with all the occultism? And the f***ing horses?
Oh well. We got to see Benny Hill babe, Suzy Mandel, naked, and a lot of Ms. Millington as well. Plus, there was loads of ancient computer equipment at Scotland Yard to marvel at. It's so politically incorrect, it would never make into theaters these days, which is kind of refreshing in a strange sort of way. All in all, The Playbirds is fast paced with lots of T&A, and packed with enough 70s decor and scenery to keep you interested - despite the nonsensical storyline. Gilligan recommends.
Massage Parlor Murders! (1973)
I had a good feeling about this from the very first scene. It had me literally laughing out loud - not at its inherent badness, but because it was genuinely funny. Irving (Chester Fox, the director of this film) is brilliant as a Woody Allen type nervously seeking some illicit delights at a seedy massage parlor.
The girl compares him to Clarke Gable (which he thinks is a joke) then talks him into $20 to take her top off. He doesn't have that kind of money, but shells it out begrudgingly... it makes for a amusingly awkward scene to say the least.
Finally, she asks for $30 to make him feel good, and Irving says the hell with this. He can't go through with it.
Girl: Irving, was it the thirty dollars?Cut to title screen. WTF? Is this going to be a serial killer movie or a Woody Allen comedy? I'm anxious to find out if we can have a happy blending of both!
Irving: Oh, no, no, no. To heck with the thirty dollars. I feel like an idiot. I feel ridiculous about the whole thing, but I've tried it and it's not for me, and that's all there is to it.
The title sequence is overlaid with glorious xylophone music worthy of a 1960s bachelor pad royale. I'm in heaven.
And check out the sets....
We meet Detectives Rizotti (George Spencer - note that the title sequence spells his character's name as Rizetti) and O'Mara (John Moser) who have just left their favorite spot for a break from the action - the massage parlor.
After a long day's work, they head home. O'Mara to his bachelor's den, popping open a nice cold can of Rheingold and watching his shitty TV.
Rizotti heads home to his wife, Mrs. Rizotti (Marlene Kallevig) who dutifully pops a cold can of Budweiser for her hardworking detective husband.
Little does she realize, Det. Rizotti is a regular at the massage parlor -The Venus Paradise, fresh from a rendezvous with the chick in the middle, Rosie (Chris Jordan).
Is The Venus Paradise a high class establishment or a seedy whorehouse posing as a massage parlor? Check out the front desk and form your own opinion...
At least it's got dimmer lights and a thermostat. Oh, and a Scotch tape dispenser as well.
While Rizotti and O'Mara are enjoying themselves a cold one, a mysterious customer strolls up to their favorite parlor. He takes Rosie to a room and then murders her.
Rizotti and O'Mara are called to the scene. Rizotti is pretty upset - his favorite whore has been murdered. But this killer has messed with the wrong stereotypically hard-assed Italian cop and his stereotypically subservient Irish partner.
O'Mara pays a visit to Gwen, Rosie's roommate. Check out their cool pad. I am enjoying the settings in this movie altogether too much.
Speaking of cool settings...
I always dig a street shot of vintage NYC. I spy a Ciao Manhattan movie poster, an Adam's Apple (?) poster and an uber-cool polyester shirt/plaid pants shop window.
Here's what's happening: Gwen showed O'Mara Rosie's daily planner; therein, they found a schedule with a certain guy they refer to as Mr. Creepy (George Dzundza, who you will no doubt recognize because he has been in half a million things - including Basic Instinct and The Deer Hunter). Rizotti and O'Mara commence following him.
The two follow Mr. Creepy in their badass Plymouth Fury, blowings wisps of exhaust as it rolls. Naturally, they give Mr. Creepy an old-school roughing up in a back alley... but then a call from yet another massage parlor...
A black cop is there to warn them: "The girl was smothered. Acid thrown all over her. It ain't pretty." (pic here; unfortunately, no way to make it SFW). Rizotti whips out a map trying to figure out where the closest massage parlor is located. It's 1973 NYC; I'm sure there were plenty.
Rizotti goes out on the town interviewing street urchins, and the audience gets to see some amazing marquees and street shots of NYC a few years before it was at its absolute dingiest . Above: Blood Farmers, Blood of Dracula's Castle and Frank Langella in Trap which is more commonly known as Deadly Trap (also starring Faye Dunaway).
Above: The Cincinnati Kid, 5 Card Stud, 5 Fingers of Death, and 7 Golden Men.
Rizotti passes in front of an adult theater advertising The Swingin' Stewardesses and The Young Seducers.
"Man, there sure is a lotta sick weirdos in this town," thinks Rizotti.
A nice shot of a street magazine rack featuring a Penthouse, Gallery, Ball, Playboy, Jet, and Consumer Report.
Well, it's been a long day. Rizotti returns home, and the missus is there to quickly hand him a Budweiser. Livin' the dream.
After a pointless, yet decently choreographed car chase (yes, there was a fruit stand toppled), Rizotti and O'Mara head to a seedy establishment to talk to the owner - a guy who supposedly knows all the sick bastards in town.
While there, the owner shows them the oddest peep show on the planet. Words fail me. Let's just say it involves a fat guy in a leotard, a topless chick and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and leave it at that.
Yet another massage girl has been murdered. This crime scene is hilarious as the victim clearly moves her eyes from left to right.
The girl is wearing a medallion. Must be clue... the guys track it back to Brother Theodore...
You may remember him as the creepy neighbor that moves in in The 'Burbs; a thick German accent and over-the-top delivery make this a rather comedic moment, albeit a bit too long.
So, O'Mara and Gwen are falling in love. And while I'm not much interested in their romance, I am, once again, enthralled by the exterior shots. For the picture above I took the liberty of combining a pan down shot from the Burlesk marquee to the couple walking below it.
Down the street, Serpico is playing at The Forum, flanked by shoe stores and West World and Deadly China Dolls.
After a O'Mara-Gwen love scene, we get to listen in on a conversation between some massage parlor gals. The girl, second from right sounds exactly like Rhoda Morgenstern. Among the topics: the film Shaft's Big Score.
Sadly, the girl on the far left becomes the next victim. Rizotti and O'Mara are stumped. Massage parlor girls are dropping like flies, and they can't come close to figuring it out.... but then, while at Mass with the wife, Rizotti has a revelation!
Of course! He's a religious nut! (I told you the killer in Playgirls and this film had a lot in common). They haul ass to a religious bookstore and uncover The Seven Deadly Sins, two decades before 7even (of course, it actually made sense in that film) and then, just as fast as lightning the duo haul ass to make sure Gwen is okay. Lots of fuzz guitars and bass thumping music in the background.
Well crap. They're too late. Gwen has already been offed. O'Mara is pretty upset, but Rizotti tells him to shake it off. In fact, they just go across the street and have a drink...
I wonder if any NYC residents out there recognize some of these locales. Here we see a smiling O'Mara, cheered up by his veteran partner.... ol' Gwen is already a distant memory.
Meanwhile, they laugh and have drinks, the killer is back at work...
We finally get to see him (Bill Buck) and we've come full circle back to the massage parlor room and girl from the very beginning of the film.
Fortunately, she's not as defenseless as O'Mara's quickly forgotten lover. She pours rubbing alcohol on him, then he catches fire from a candle (or ashtray, I couldn't tell which). When our two detectives arrive, Rizotti hilariously begins pumping the burning man full of lead.
Admittedly, the best thing about this film is the setting: the tacky decor, the 70s fashions, the amazing street shots, etc. Although, I must admit, I liked Rizotti - George Spencer obviously missed his calling as TV detective.
There was plenty of T&A, but most of it involved dead women, so no thanks. And the plot itself was beyond repetitive. I was also a bit disappointed it didn't maintain the quirkiness seen at the start of the film. Still, the film offers enough eye candy to keep things interesting, plus a groovy soundtrack and a car chase to boot. What more can you expect from a film called Massage Parlor Murders? Gilligan recommends.