For better or for worse, Russ Meyer’s penultimate feature film repeated both the virtues & the failures of his previous film, Up!. With script contributions from a pseudonym-masked Roger Ebert, the film feels in its first 15 minutes as if it might be one of Meyer’s finest works, a vibe spoiled early on by irreverently-treated sexual assault. The film starts with Meyer-vet Stuart Lancaster playing an omnipotent narrator from Small Town, America giving a tour of “beautiful people driving terrible cars & living in squalor . . . all oversexed.” After a brief prologue in which an escaped Nazi general has vigorous sex in a coffin with an Atari-playing religious radio host (the Atari feels anachronistic in Meyer’s universe until she tweaks its controls like nipples) while the pair sing “Give Me That Old Time Religion”, Meyer assaults the viewer with a trademark rapidfire montage of America’s dumps, boudoirs, and radio towers, this time with a welcome return to the pastel voids of his early “nudie cuties”, particularly The Immoral Mr. Teas. I could’ve ridden the wave of that eccentric intro forever, but it promptly crashed on the jagged shores of pointless sexual assault & the fun was over.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens‘ conflict centers on an otherwise-loving husband who can only perform sexually when engaging in anal intercourse. This plot was reportedly concocted by Meyer when his then-girlfriend (and Ultra-Vixens star) Kitten Natividad introduced the aging director to anal play, a practice he found most distasteful. At first the conflict plays as if the husband is being shamed for working instead of attending to his wife’s sexual needs, a classic Meyer plot. As he crunches numbers in the living room, his wife masturbates with a comically oversized vibrator in a cacophonous attempt to drive him mad. This is an absurdly well-executed example of Meyer’s war of the sexes set-pieces . . . until the husband forces himself on his wife despite her protests. I’m not sure that Meyer realized the full impact his work’s depictions of sexual assault had on his otherwise playful atmosphere. I’m actually not sure that he had much of a grasp on “normal”, healthy sexual behavior at all. That doesn’t make watching it play out any more amusing, though.
It’s no surprise, then, that the husband’s spiritual quest to save his marriage by learning how to “look a good fuck in the eye” is not nearly as interesting as the film’s more general detailing of an oversexed, underserved Middle America. Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens has such an uncomfortably surreal view of the world’s garbage men, lingerie salesman, and barroom strippers that they could, with a little tweaking, easily pass for characters in a Werner Herzog or Harmony Korine feature. There are some obscured touches to the film (for example, a coward bleeds yellow; a black man bleeds white; a gay man bleeds pink, all for reasons unknown) & Meyer became increasingly adventurous in his onscreen sexuality, depicting here an extensive pornographic use of a double-ended dildo as well as close-up shots of the head of a penis. Since these weird touches are mixed with the film’s homophobic caricature & clueless depictions of sexual violence, though, it’s impossible to commit to Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens‘ sexually-adventurous charms wholesale. Much like with Up!, Ultra-Vixens features some of Meyer’s best moments when considered in isolation (I particularly like the caveman line “I don’t eat pussy. It’s un-American.”), but they’re poisoned by his most vile tendencies, resulting in the ultimate mixed bag of failure & fascination.
It’s probably a godsend that Ultra-Vixens proved to be Meyer’s last theatrical release (he would later attempt to cash in on the home video market), despite the film’s promise/threat of a The Jaws of Vixen follow-up. Regardless of Ultra-Vixen’s recognizable charms as an over-the-top mess, it’s an ultimately exhausting exercise. Not only is the film exhausting in itself but as yet another assault from a director who had been hammering at the same themes for two solid decades, it was also exhausting in the context of his career at large. The movie concludes with a very touching scene of Meyer himself packing up his camera equipment & calling for his Kitten to pack it in, seemingly conscious that it would be his last outing as a feature film director. Just as with his career as a whole (if not just his post-Beyond the Valley of the Dolls work), Ultra-Vixens portrays Meyer as an eccentric character with an overly voracious love of gigantic breasts & a limited understanding of the nature of women & romance that sometimes clouded his more admirable achievements as an intensely-focused artistic eye with a masterful command of the editing process. Even though it’s far from his best film, it’s an appropriately fitting, but complicated end to a bizarre, near-unbelievable career in Hollywood.