Color, 1972, 94 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Jacques Lacerte
Starring Mary Wilcox, Lyle Waggoner, Christopher Stone, Timothy Scott, Michael Pardue
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Shriek Show (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Though the topic of necrophilia in horror films was first broached openly in the classic Italian horror film The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, but it wasn't until the '70s that films could really exploit the full sleazy potential for it. Case in point: Love Me Deadly, a wild, indescribable, and sometimes very shocking Southern California oddity about a woman dealing with the conflict between leading a normal life and indulging in taboo carnal communion with the dead. Plus it stars Lyle Waggoner just before he hit it big on TV's Wonder Woman and started his legendary Star Waggons business, so celebrity sleaze fans take note.
Blonde, well-off Lindsay (Beast of the Yellow Night's Wilcox) has some serious issues. She spends her free time dropping in at funerals so she can grab a quick smooch or maybe more with the deceased when she thinks no one's looking, but when funeral director Fred McSweeney (Scott) catches sight of her in action, he decides to invite her to join a secret sect of necrophiliacs in the neighborhood. Definitely damaged goods and still hung up on her messed-up relationship with her father (Pardue), Lindsay tries to go straight by finding romantic prospects with Wade (The Howling's Stone) and art gallery owner Alex (Waggoner), but she's unable to respond sexually to anyone who's breathing. Plus her morgue-happy friends keep killing off anyone in sight for their regular get togethers, which means Lindsay's prospects for happiness look even darker than before.
A lurid mixture of soft pop music, ascots, turtlenecks, red candles, and surprisingly extreme sex and violence, Love Me Deadly is truly one of a kind and must have provoked some very vocal responses back in the drive-in days. The gloves come off early on when we first see Fred in action picking up a hustler (played by I. William Quinn, the enigmatic future star of the harrowing hardcore shocker A Climax of Blue Power) and taking him back to the morgue where he proceeds to splay him out nude on a table and embalm him alive. Needless to say, it's not something you'd see in your average horror film of the era, and not surprisingly many prints over the years have been significantly edited. Obviously the film isn't as extreme as some of its successors like Beyond the Darkness or Nekromantik, but the juxtaposition of languid, sunny paperback romance atmosphere with jolting scenes of gore, extended frontal nudity, and corpse lovin' still creates a potent effect. The hyper colorful look and dreamy atmosphere also feel like this was probably a major influence on The Love Witch (along with The Velvet Vampire, which would pair up nicely with this one), especially
Following the film's discreet release on VHS from Video Gems back in the '80s, Shriek Show first released Love Me Deadly completely uncut on DVD in 2008 featuring a great transfer from the original negative, two theatrical trailers (noting this is "A Film about Necrophilia (A Sexual Attraction for Corpses"), a gallery of video sleeve art and B&W stills, and a welcome audio commentary with producer Buck Edwards in conversation with Greg Goodsell. It's a valuable slice of exploitation history as Edwards is no longer with us, and he chats quite a bit about scouting the idyllic locations (some less than legally), his issues with inexperienced director Jacques Lacerte (a high school drama teacher and stage director), and casting the film through some unorthodox methods. Code Red packaged the same transfer as a standalone and then in a double feature set with The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse in 2011, both featuring "Maria's B-Movie Mayhem" wraparounds (but the latter dropping the commentary). A cut bootleg DVD from Synergy is best avoided altogether.
For the film's Blu-ray debut in 2018, Code Red touts a "brand new 2K scan of the original camera negatives of the uncut version from the original 35mm negatives (unlike the other label who has one 35mm edited print. This Code Red version is authorized by the rights owner." As expected it features quite a bit more detail, the removal of some visible squeezing, a more careful color grading job with flesh tones and blood appearing far less orange than before, and more image info in the frame. Most surprising is the cult scene around the 58-minute mark, which is framed much lower with a lot of nudity now on display that was matted out before. (Check out the comparison grabs below for the fourth image.) The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds fine with no significant issues. Extras include the Edwards commentary, the "Maria's B-Movie Mayhem" viewing option, and the theatrical trailers (squeezed and heavily interlaced here), with reversible cover art featuring the familiar DVD art on the front and a really lurid poster design on the back that even pilfers a little bit from The Pit and the Pendulum.
Code Red Blu-ray
Shriek Show DVD
Reviewed on June 30, 2018.