"Now, uh, did ol' Eddie, uh, I mean the rapist...did he bite ya on the titties?"
-Sheriff Slim Pickens, good-naturedly conducting a post-rape questioning of the assaulted woman.
Two weeks before her next concert, popular black jazz singer Elizabeth "Liz" Wetherly (Leslie Uggams) gets in her car and drives until she finds the most rustic, backwoods, middle-of-nowhere place where she can clear her head and relax. When her car breaks down before finding an ideal spot in which to chill out (cue ominous banjo music), she ends up at "Bertha's Oasis," a decaying motel that would give Tennessee Williams hives, run by its namesake, a boozy, washed-up, fat and aging former entertainer (played to great effect by Shelley Winters), and her questionable staff that consists of somewhat-slow handyman Keno (Ted Cassidy, best known as Lurch from the classic ADDAMS FAMILY television series), who really loves his dog, and delusional, talentless Elvis impersonator Eddie (Michael Christian). Though openly bitchy and hostile to him, the starstruck and awkward Eddie takes a sweaty shine to Liz and hopes to wow her with his "talent" and thereby get an entry into showbiz. The attention Eddie shows to Liz does not sit well with the already racist Bertha (who has been in a long-term sex thing with him and will do anything to keep him because she knows he's the last dick she'll ever get) but her efforts to steer Eddie away from putting his cream in Liz's coffee amount to naught as Eddie sabotages Liz's car and, mistakenly under the impression that Liz fancies him, rapes Liz while a tender country song is heard on the soundtrack. The heinous act is tastefully interspersed with footage of good ol' boys watching a pair of hunting dogs fucking and, thankfully, the rape is shot in a surrealistically slo-mo fashion with no nudity. From that moment onward, Liz finds herself trapped in what amounts to a creepy David Lynchian version of Hooterville as translated into the hicksploitation genre (yes, there is such a thing, but that's a discussion for a whole other post).
At first, Liz seems nothing more than rather annoyed at having been violated, a state of attitude and composure that persists until it becomes clear that there is likely no way out of the forgotten redneck limbo. As the narrative progresses, the audience is "treated" to more of Liz's abuse and humiliation at the hands of Eddie, who thwarts her escape attempts, keeping her as his captive and more or less sex slave, the local sheriff (Slim Pickens) and the local justice of the peace (an exceptionally grubby-looking Dub Taylor), and it seems like our heroine may be losing her mind thanks to the perpetual horrors she endures as her chances of ever finding her way back to civilization appear slimmer with each passing moment. Things finally reach an insane and apocalyptic conclusion that reads like what would have happened had Sam Peckinpah — complete with signature slow-mo and guns-a-blazin' action — directed an installment of HEE HAW.
If any single image could sum up the sordid tone of POOR PRETTY EDDIE, this would be it.
Also known as REDNECK COUNTY (a much better title that communicates exactly what the film's about) and BLACK VENGEANCE, POOR PRETTY EDDIE is one seriously fucked-up and nasty piece of work and I intentionally left out describing the majority of the film's incredibly lurid content so you can witness it for yourself, but by anyone's estimation of such things, this flick is definitely one of the sleaziest pieces of cinematic vileness ever unleashed. Violent, insane in a very inbred way and toxically charged with casual race-hate, it's also surprisingly well-made for an unmitigated piece of utter trash. It has visual flourishes that are quite artsy and it conveys a sense of claustrophobic, white lightnin'-soaked hopelessness that places the viewer right there alongside the protagonist as she languishes in a nightmarish southern netherworld where no one else finds any of its horrors to be in any way out of line with the daily routine.
The performances are all far better than anything to be expected from a hicksploitation film, with my girl Shelley Winters leading the pack.
Once a glamorous young starlet, when middle age and its attendant poundage got the better of her, Winters wisely chucked the young hottie roles and embarked on a career reboot as a completely convincing horrible, fat old cunt who lived up to all the negative connotations of that particular extreme pejorative, most notably seen in her Oscar-winning turn as Rose-Ann D'Arcy in A PATCH OF BLUE (1965). I love Winters in sleazy, villainous parts, and as Bertha she's simultaneously pathetic and loathsome, in many ways providing the wretched center around which the story's events revolve.
Also of note is Michael Christian as Eddie, a man of almost seismically-detectable worthlessness whose Elvis fantasy and weird musical performance would be laughable were it not such an obvious precursor to Dean Stockwell's creepy crooner in BLUE VELVET (1986). At first merely uncomfortably awkward, Eddie is slowly revealed as a seriously deranged sociopath who is protected by the ways and culture of his backwoods home, with even the local authorities (such as they are) writing off his weird behavior and crimes as jes' some harmless good ol' boy funnin'. What lays just below his surface is a volatile sociopath whose demeanor can switch from a childlike and sincere need for kindness and approval to staggering acts of violence and cruelty in the blink of an eye. Christian is very good here and I would like to check out some of his other work.
Surprisingly, her character's plight notwithstanding, Leslie Uggams is easily the weakest element in the film. She at first portrays Liz as something of a bitch, but after the first rape occurs she acts like nothing much more serious than a purse-snatching took place, only occasionally registering umbrage with a slight bit of post-traumatic freaking out, and later still she kind of drifts from one scene to another with little protest over her treatment by all and sundry, which, when all things are considered, is incredibly unlikely, trapped among twisted hillbillies or not. By the end of the film she's kind of zombified, only springing to vengeful life during the final two minutes. But whatever the deficiencies in Uggams' performance, which I'm certain is largely the fault of the script, we still root for Liz and want to see her get the hell out of that alternate-universe Mayberry post-haste.
Bested only by MANDINGO (1975) and GOODBYE UNCLE TOM (1971) and only a notch more severe than FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977) in terms of films that will absolutely send black folks into a full-on state of homicidal apoplexy, POOR PRETTY EDDIE can be read as DELIVERANCE for black people, and as such I fucking loved it. However, the DVD print that I watched looked like it was transferred from an old VHS tape (which I'm willing to bet was actually the case) and features the kind of washed-out look I remember from the much-rented used copy of PINK FLAMINGOS I owned back in the mid-1980's. Occasionally-dodgy sound is also on hand and I had to keep turning up the volume to catch dialogue I couldn't quite hear. Also, in some places the print is so murky that I could not discern exactly what the hell was going on. The film just ends abruptly; no "The End," no credits, no nothing, just an immediate return to the disc's menu, which consists solely of PLAY MOVIE and SCENE SELECTIONS options. Hopefully a distributor with more on the ball than 905 Entertainment will eventually release a crisp print (provided one still exists) with some much-needed extras, including commentary or even just the goddamned trailer, ferfucksakes!