I have been to literally dozens of funerals in my life. I’ve probably been to more funerals than I’ve been to weddings. And I have been going to funerals since I was just a kid. So we’re clear, I didn’t seek funerals out and skulk around morgues or anything. My family simply had no problem with accepting that death is as much a part of life as birth is, and we should respect that whoever is in the casket is gone now and show that respect to the deceased and their family by being there and bearing witness as they’re interred in their final resting place. Going way back in my family’s history, when someone would pass on their body would often be kept in the house for viewings and so on. In fact, the house I occupy right now has had quite a few corpses hanging around in it from time to time. I’m surprised the place isn’t haunted (wait…did you hear that noise?).
It’s always interesting to me, then, when I hear from parents who won’t take their children to viewings and/or funerals. I’m not a parent, so I have no skin in the game on this, and certainly my opinion is not going to be fully informed because of that. But I would like to think that, were I a parent, I wouldn’t have a lot of trepidation about bringing my kids to a funeral. For the level of permissiveness I have seen from some parents toward their scions, to not acclimate them to the concept of death is just odd to me. It’s not the sort of decision I would get in an argument over, and I get where some parents are coming from with it, so I don’t fault them, per se. And now you know where I stand on kids and funerals. Onward and downward…
Lindsay Finch (Mary Wilcox) likes to attend wakes, and, once all the other mourners have left, she enjoys kissing and fondling the corpses being viewed. Mortician Fred (Timothy Scott) espies Lindsay’s secret, and he lets her in on one of his own: He (and several compatriots) are also necrophiliacs, and they often convene at his mortuary to desecrate corpses together. Meanwhile, Lindsay meets cute with art gallery owner Alex (Lyle Waggoner) while attending his brother’s wake, and the two soon form an amorous relationship. But Alex can’t figure out why Lindsay won’t consummate with him.
Jacques La Certe’s Love Me Deadly (aka Secrets Of The Death Room) is simply bizarre just on its face. To a genre film lover, this type of film should be on all sorts of favorite movie lists. But it’s not, and there are reasons for that, and we’ll get to them later. The instant this plot is put forth, it is almost impossible to not think of Joe D’Amato’s sleaze classic Buio Omega (aka Beyond The Darkness), though that movie was initially released about six years after this one. Both films deal with necrophilia, but more than that, they deal with characters who cannot let go of people who were in their lives, so they turn to necrophilia to satisfy their passions. Further, necrophilia represents a form of possession for these necrophiles of the most intimate kind, and since the corpses cannot object or defend themselves, this is also a violation of the people the deceased once were (there’s a reason it gets lumped under “Desecration of a Corpse” in most law books). Lindsay’s issues go back to her deep connection with her father (Michael Pardue). While it is never shown or even implied that their relationship was ever in any way incestuous (in the flashbacks throughout the film, Lindsay’s father is only ever shown as coddling toward his daughter), incestuous is exactly what their relationship became after her dad died. I mean, as well as necrophilic.
Lindsay knows that her desires are not culturally (or legally) acceptable, so she indulges them in secret. Also, the filmmakers hold back on showing her getting completely naked with a dead body, intimating that she has not taken her psychosis to the next level. It’s a quasi-chaste version of necrophilia, watered down for some level of palatability. Conversely, Fred not only indulges totally in the act, but he kills to acquire his play things. To some extent, Fred can be seen as a cult leader, the other necrophiles in his sect following his lead. When the group gets together, they not only want to have sex with a corpse, they want to mutilate it as well. They scratch them, whip them, and stab them, indicating a more sadomasochistic (read: deviant) angle to their obsession). There is also the implication that the cult is satanic in nature, though religion is never overtly brought up even once. Nevertheless, they behave like a satanic cult from the movies. They wear dark robes and nothing else. They look like filthy hippies. They act in unison, as if performing some sacred ritual. The idea for a sort of support group for necrophiliacs is interesting, but the only two who are in any way distinct are Lindsay and Fred, and they are separated by the line that Fred will cross and Lindsay (up to this point) will not.
La Certe and company do a nice job of editing the film, especially in their use of transitions. The film flows quite fluidly between present and past via cutting on action and form cuts. The best example I can think of is after the scene where Lindsay first stops by Alex’s gallery to find out about an upcoming showing (and by extension to stalk him). As she walks away, La Certe places the camera at street level, showing Lindsay’s legs strolling down the street from the knees down. We then cut to the same angle on a younger Lindsay in a flashback segment (which are almost always differentiated by being monochromatic). The third cut maintains the same angle, but we’re back to the adult Lindsay. Not only that, but she is now dressed for one of her little outings and about enter a funeral home. It’s as smooth a piece of transitional montage as you can get.
That said, much of the rest of the film doesn’t rise to this same level, and I feel that a lot (though not all) of the blame can be placed at the feet of the screenplay (co-written by La Certe). There are very upbeat (even risible) montages, replete with jaunty, television-level music, and they are inserted at the most awkward of times. Furthermore (and most infuriating for me), once the cult is introduced to us, they play almost no part whatsoever for much of the film. There is little to no consequence to pretty much every action the characters make (including and especially murder), and these are simply some of the dumbest people on the planet, if they can’t pick up on the sledgehammer-subtle hints being dropped about what’s actually going on. And did I mention that Lindsay is borderline infantilistic, to boot? But again, it’s only when the writers need something to pepper the story up. All of these wild inconsistencies effectively kill what could have been a fun, sleazy piece of cinema. To be fair, Love Me Deadly isn’t entirely horrible, but it never reaches for the brass ring that it needed to if it was ever going to be a contender for greatness. Consequently, I’d classify it as semi-stiff (cue rim shot).
MVT: I have to admit, it took a set of stones to produce a film like this in the early Seventies, and especially to do so in America. So, credit where it’s due; that this film exists at all is something of a miracle. But that it doesn’t live up to its own premise is something of a sin.
Make Or Break: The Make is the scene where Fred kills a male hustler (played with more than appropriate levels of histrionics by I. William Quinn). It’s actually a pretty graphic and disturbing scene, and the degree of discomfort is only accentuated by Quinn’s nudity, which provides a squirm-inducing vulnerability for the proceedings.