I’m generally curious about vintage sexploitation films as a genre, the kinds of nudist novelties that were made obsolete in the 1970s when hardcore pornography creeped out of stag parties and into public theaters. When digging through the back catalogs of sexploitation greats like Russ Meyer & Doris Wishman, however, I find myself clearly divided on which half of the sexploitation era tickles me and which I can barely stomach. Following Meyer’s debut The Immoral Mr. Teas in 1959, the first half of the 1960s was dominated by “nudie cuties” – a wave of kitschy, oddly innocent nudist films you almost wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch with your mother. Things took a dark turn in the back half of that decade, however, when nudie cuties were supplanted by “roughies” – vile black & white crime thrillers that intend to titillate through softcore simulations of sexual assault. I usually suffer through roughies as an ill-advised completionist’s obligation when boning up on the works of directors like Meyer, Wishman, and Ed Wood; they’re uniformly grotesque. I was shocked, then, to recently discover a roughie that I found just as adorable as the nudie cuties I’m usually searching for in those directors’ catalogs: the 1968 lesbian girl gang thriller She Mob.
The titular “she mob” is a gang of ex-con women who hire a gigolo for an afternoon lay, then hold him for ransom against the wealthy businesswoman that keeps him as a house pet. Their leader, Big Shim, is a tough-as-nails lesbian in leather bondage gear, whose gigantic bullet bra doubles as a lethal weapon as she wages war against the fine folks of suburban America. Her underlings are swinging-60s delinquents, cartoonish exaggerations of femininity who immediately launch into one of three activities the second they wake up: masturbation, go-go dancing, or pillow fights. As you can imagine, not much happens in this softcore novelty; it’s mostly a hangout film as the gigolo waits to be set free by his girlfriend/employer. The climactic action before that rescue mission is a forced-feminization fantasy sequence where the girls dress up their captive boy-toy in lingerie, declaring “He thinks he’s such a man … Let’s see what kind of woman he’d make!” They then take turns lashing him with a whip. Besides that indulgence in light bondage & crossdressing, the sex in the film is about as tame as the plotting; it mostly consists of actors wriggling on top of each other in the nude. Still, the forced crossdressing angle is strikingly kinky for the era, and you can practically hear Ed Wood panting in the background.
That femmes-in-charge power dynamic just works for me – both as a subversion of the usual sexual assault eroticism of roughies as a genre and, frankly, as just plain erotica. It’s like the difference between Russ Meyers’s godawful biker gang roughie Motorspycho! and his all-time-classic girl gang thriller Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. The one where men torment female victims is gross, and the one where women torment male victims is hot stuff; those are just the rules. Beyond that, She Mob scores a lot of easy cool points in its proto-punk filmmaking aesthetics. The opening credits read like a xeroxed zine. All on-screen sex is intercut with close-ups of characters’ profuse sweat and heavy breathing. Masturbation scenes leer at performers’ breast surgery scars. And then there’s the scene where Shim gores her captive victim with the points of her bullet bra like a charging bull. It’s all effortlessly punk-as-fuck, just as much as it is generally effortless. The gender dynamics subversion at the core of its eroticism is a huge part of that proto-punk energy, and I think it helped clarify exactly why roughies don’t usually appeal to me. I usually avoid the genre at all costs if I can help it, but find me another dirt-cheap novelty picture where women kick the shit out of men while modeling complicated underwear and I am there (especially if the men get to try on the underwear).