theironcupcake’s review published on Letterboxd:
"If Ted had stayed home today, this wouldn't have happened!"
The greatest way to treasure Doris Wishman is to know how much you'll never know.
There is a natural tendency for viewers to want to analyze films' meaning by breaking them down brick by brick. A film like Bad Girls Go to Hell may seem to demand such interrogation. But what if the simplest answer is the right one? Occam's razor: events in the plot happen because they were easy enough to shoot in a day or two for pennies on the dollar. It's just that easy!
Will we ever understand why Doris Wishman liked to think of a title first, then create a film to go with it? Why is Meg/Ellen's tale of woe (Gigi Darlene) a proto-Groundhog Day cycle of torment? Does it matter that this is all so much less coherent than the later Indecent Desires? (I've wondered if some of Bad Girls' abrupt cuts are the results of New York censors; The Sex Perils of Paulette, also from 1965, ran into such trouble.) Everyone notices the foot fetish present in all of Doris's work, but how about the frequency with which you'll see a man beating a woman with a belt (which is to say it's in several films, not only this one)? What's the deal with Bad Girls' pussycat painting in the bathroom scene? And like Meg or the frisky gal in the header image above, Della (Dawn Bennett), does every woman in America REALLY own the same style of translucent black lingerie?
Much like the shot seen in the opening credits montage, a still which was used for the poster despite not being visible in the actual film, you have to accept that there may not be any answers, that this is all a surreal hodgepodge. Doris's work has the identifiable stamp of an auteur, but she didn't know from cameras; that was cinematographer C. Davis Smith's responsibility. And who was employed to edit the film under the pseudonym "Ali Bendi"? An excellent question; perhaps the director's official biographer, Michael J. Bowen, could tell us. Performers probably can't provide us with much more info than that; as I've mentioned before in a previous review, when I spoke on the phone with the delightful Alan Feinstein (who plays Meg's husband, Ted) in January 2016, he was amused that I would want to discuss a project that he barely remembered, aside from being paid $25 for a single day and most notably that he was told to just hang out for some time in the shower with Gigi Darlene when that scene was filmed. He didn't recall any script pages on set, but lines wouldn't have mattered since they never needed to match for Wishman's trademark unsynced dialogue anyway.
Furthermore, as I pointed out in my most recent write-up of Double Agent 73, the 1986 interview of Wishman for the "Incredible Strange Films" issue of the RE/Search film journal highlights some of her most old-fashioned notions, i.e., her total lack of technical awareness and her confounding rejection of feminism. Can we actually apply a feminist reading to any aspect of Bad Girls Go to Hell, the story of a woman who endures the horrors of multiple sexual assaults and is seemingly punished for the transgression of killing her first attacker, considering that the film was made by a woman who didn't understand what the term "feminist" meant? It's still worth noting, though, that in speaking to interviewer Andrea Juno, Wishman expresses pride in what she has accomplished and even seems to recognize the unique position she was in as a filmmaker in a business run largely by men:
"How do you feel about your work?"
"Well, I think I'm good!"
"And do you like your films?"
"Yes, otherwise I don't make them. I have to think they're marvelous, great, and wonderful, otherwise I don't get involved. Of course they may not always turn out that way, but I have to feel that. It's a challenge, it's exciting, and I enjoy what I'm doing, and that's very important."
"Your films are good, and tastes are changing..."
"Well, I don't know how good they are, but..."
"They are, because they reflect a creativity that's spontaneous and naive and uniquely affecting - qualities you usually can't find in the midst of a $20 million budget. I think people are really craving that now."
"You really think so?"
"There's a small but growing community of people around the world who realize that almost all big budget films like Star Wars are sterile. It's obvious that a corporation made this film, and..."
"Doesn't have that personal touch."
"You're also interesting in another dimension - it took a lot of courage to do this on your own."
"It's not easy, but I guess most things that are worthwhile aren't that easy."
Right now, what I find myself most appreciative of in Bad Girls Go to Hell are the little details. Notice, for example, that Wishman voices two characters, helpful Tracy (Darlene Bennett) and also the wife (Marlene Starr) of one of the many sadists whom our heroine encounters. Or the fact that at the 6:29 mark, you see a menorah high atop one of the shelves in Meg and Ted's home. And when Tom (Barnard L. Sackett), the detective investigating Meg's crime, enters his mother's (Gertrude Cross) apartment, he comes in through the shuttered doors connecting the living room to the kitchen! How wonderfully weird!
And I think always of Wishman's cast primarily in terms of just needing to earn a living. Alan Feinstein is one of the luckier ones; he found employment in mainstream acting roles (mostly on TV) for decades and now teaches his profession both at an LA studio and online. But our leading lady, Gigi Darlene - whose biography was chronicled by the good folks over at the Rialto Report - acted in films by Wishman, Barry Mahon, Joseph P. Mawra and other NYC directors for pay, not passion; the German-born Darlene did whatever was necessary, including dancing/stripping and sex work, to stay afloat in New York. And then of course there's the most enduring appeal from the entire Wishman filmography, Darlene and Dawn Bennett (the former inspired Gigi Darlene's choice of acting name), the Queens-bred twins whose striking presence and disappearance from the industry haunted me for years until, once again, Rialto Report solved the mystery. Similar to Gigi Darlene, the Bennetts never moved higher up the ladder above Wishman roughies; I can't imagine what Criterion Channel subscribers would make of their 1966 film My Brother's Wife, in which Wishman has the sisters playing (identical?) cousins and lovers, necessitating some uncomfortable fondling on a couch. Again, anything to grab a few bucks.
I'll let Lisa Marie Bowman's review for My Brother's Wife sum up the Wishman sexploitation experience:
Much like David Lynch and the filmmakers of the French New Wave, Doris Wishman built the foundation of her own unique sensibility on B-movie material. The cinematic world of Doris Wishman is one where weak men can't resist duplicitous women and where everyone — regardless of innocence or guilt — is left punished at the end. In Wishman world, all the men speak in hard-boiled dialogue and you can tell whether a woman is a good girl or a bad girl by what color lingerie she's wearing. Personally, if I had a time machine, I would love to go back to 1960s New York and audition to be a Doris Wishman bad girl.
Seriously, bad girls have all the fun.
Maybe they really do.
"Oh, Meg, please don't nag. Now, let me see you smile! There, that's my girl."