Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sexy Cat (1973)

As I’ve stated before, I was fascinated with monsters and special effects as a child (let’s face it, I still am).  Aside from the paper monster action figures I used to construct (okay, they were drawings I used to cut out), I also made monster hand puppets.  Make no mistake, however, I was no Jim Henson, although I like to think that he would have appreciated what I was doing.  My puppets were made from small brown paper lunch bags.  I would draw some monsters (a werewolf, King Kong, et cetera) on the bags in crayon, replete with fang-filled maws, and then spend hours playing with them.  The advantage these had over the cutouts was that they were 3-D.  The disadvantage was…well, there was no disadvantage.  They were fun, and for the youngest of six children in a household where money wasn’t exactly flowing, they were another way to be creative and invent toys that simply didn’t exist and/or weren’t profligate like they are today (I would have been like a pig in shit had I been able to lay my grubby little hands on actual action figures of Sanda and Gaila from War of the Gargantuas).  I suppose that today enterprising kids can just design something on their computer and 3-D print it, and half of me envies that.  The other half of me is a little disheartened by this, because I feel that the lack of tactility, the remove of technology, robs the process of some of its magic (sort of like practical effects versus computer generated effects).  Who knows?  Maybe I’m just old and cranky (actually, there’s no maybe about it).  The point is, I got more enjoyment out of my makeshift, paper bag hand puppets than I did from Julio Perez Tabernero’s Sexy Cat.

Comic strip artist Graham hires private dick (in more ways than one) Mike Cash (German Cobos) to find a way to prove that unctuous weasel Paul Karpis (Beni Deus) stole his character (the titular feline) and made a ton of money that rightfully belongs to him.  Graham is then conveniently killed by a woman in a black leather catsuit (just like his creation).  With a live action television series for the character underway, the principals are knocked off in creative ways that mirror the plots of the fictitious storylines.  But Mike has to earn his twenty dollars per day, so I guess somebody has to eventually get to the bottom of all this.

At first blush, Sexy Cat appears to be Spain’s answer to films like Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella (there’s even a Barbarella poster on Karpis’ wall, seemingly from Jean-Claude Forest’s comic and not Roger Vadim’s film).  At this time in Europe (late Sixties, early Seventies), films featuring comic book characters (especially those of the antiheroic persuasion) were flourishing.  Films like Kriminal and Satanik featured protagonists who, like characters such as Fu Manchu and Fantomas before them, were criminals.  The major difference with the older properties is that the villains got top billing, but they weren’t the heroes; guys like Nayland Smith and Inspector Juve were.  This changed in 1966 after the Batman television series debuted (there may be a few examples from beforehand, but none I can think of off the top of my head).  My guess is that, since Europe didn’t have as robust a tradition of costumed heroes to draw from (again, very few spring to my mind at the present, but then I never lived in Europe, either), they instead turned to the wealth of costumed villains that they did have, while maintaining the kitsch of the Caped Crusader’s program and the loungy attitude prevalent in many films the world over.  Sexy Cat is in imitation of these later characters and their stories in more ways than one.  Sexy Cat is a murderess who dispatches her victims in sadistically creative fashions (a Venetian dagger, a coral snake, and so forth), and she wears a tight, sexy leather catsuit (hence, her moniker, I assume, though she does also resemble Marvel Comics’ Black Cat character to some degree).  But it’s the differences that are key.  First, the eponymous character only exists in this film; there was never an actual comic strip featuring Sexy Cat (that I know of).  Second, the character in this film doesn’t exist either; She’s a person dressing up like Sexy Cat to do nefarious deeds, more in line with the giallo tradition than the costumed antihero one.  Which brings us to the third difference: Sexy Cat in the film has no purpose other than to kill people.  She has no grand scheme or elaborate heist she needs to pull off.  She’s essentially a slasher in tight clothes.  The movie, then, is little more than a whodunit with nothing very interesting to tie any of it together (but I’ll get to that later).

The use of Pop art in the film also mimics the fashion of the time, and, for me, this and the metatextual angle that comes along with it are the interesting facets of the picture.  The film opens with paintings of Sexy Cat and various murder implements/victims (they will be seen again in the film when an artist displays them for Karpis, providing another link between art and reality; we’re watching credits produced with art that a character in the film produced for a fictitious television program [that we may be watching]).  The colors are bright and flat with no shading, and the shapes are delineated with fat, black outlines, accentuating the falseness of the images (they reminded me of stained glass on canvas in some ways).  These credits are interrupted twice with live action smash cuts, first to a wigged and masked skull cackling and then to an extreme closeup of a very fake eyeball with a skull reflected in the iris and the sound of a woman screaming.  This is an attempt to link the artifice with the actuality, to undercut the “real” world of the film with the elements of the comic book one.  It’s the essence of Pop art, this creation of “art” from common/trash/low culture images/elements.  The same can be said, to some extent, of the television series over which everyone is getting whacked.  Yet more than that, I like the idea of life imitating art and the intermingling of the two.  The comic strip character begat the television series that begat the murderer, and the three interact with each other as reflections on one another.  The comic was a commercial endeavor.  The television show is a commercial endeavor.  The murderer takes the fictitious character (from both the strip and the show) and uses her methods in real life.  That said, I thought of Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga several times while watching Sexy Cat.  Both are adaptations of comics.  Both have metatextual components.  But the former actually succeeds in blending the different mediums and saying something about art and reality, whereas the latter just goes through the motions, again accentuating its imitation status.


All that aside, this film is hollow.  The narrative is structured around Mike interviewing various characters (some of whom he bangs, some of whom he doesn’t), and the interviewees giving out explanations and information so convoluted as to be nonsensical.  In between, we get sequences of Sexy Cat killing people and Lieutenant Cole (Mariano Vidal Molina) gesticulating and pitching epic fits of overreaction (the latter are actually kind of fun).  The problem is there is absolutely no weight to anything that’s going on.  Mike meets an actress from the television series, and they immediately sleep with one another.  After being set up to make us think she’ll play a large part in the story, she’s killed.  Mike has an interview scheduled with a character who should have important information (and who, we can assume, would likely sleep with him), but she never gets to give any of this information up (to either Mike or the audience) before being killed after proving through the brevity of her time onscreen her worthlessness to the film and its story.  In fact, that’s pretty much the purpose for which every female character in this film exists; to die violently so the camera can leer at them.  There’s nothing especially wrong with that under certain circumstances (I can vaguely recall the personalities [slim as they may have been] of most of the victims in films like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street), but here they’re nothing more than warm bodies turning cold.  Worse, the ultimate reveal of the murderer’s identity and motivation is not only dumb but is obvious three seconds after the culprit first appears onscreen in civilian identity.  The supposed ingannation is transparent, like Mike’s libido (the only thing he seems any interest in getting to the bottom of, barring, possibly, a bottle of hooch).  Like so much else about Sexy Cat, its resolution only made me think about other, better films with similar themes.     

MVT:  The Pop art, self-reflexive bits intrigued me.  Their execution bored me.

Make or Break:  Mike interviews a woman who used to have the rights to the Sexy Cat property, and the woman talks and talks and talks so much that it finally dawned on me that everything being said meant nothing about anything, and that this applied to the rest of the film, as well.

Score:  5/10

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