Viewed from a rational perspective, the hard-to-classify exploitation flick Poor Pretty Eddie is pure trash, combining showbiz ennui with murder, rape, and stereotypes. Viewed from a more adventurous perspective, watching Poor Pretty Eddie is like patronizing an all-you-can-eat buffet with nothing but junk food—everything might seem tasty at first, but indigestion is sure to follow. The loopy plot begins with African-American pop singer Liz Wetherly (Leslie Uggams) taking a break from the celebrity grind. Unwisely venturing alone into the Deep South, Liz experiences car failure near a roadside motel/restaurant, so she walks onto the property—even though it looks like a junkyard—to seek help. First Liz meets hulking handyman Keno (Ted Cassidy). Then she meets handsome but smarmy Eddie (Michael Christian), the kept man of the facility's owner, Bertha (Shelley Winters). Despite many red flags, Liz sees no choice but to stay until Eddie and Keno fix her car. This draws her into a sordid situation.
Aging and overweight, Bertha runs her place like a fiefdom and builds her life around Eddie, even though she doubts his loyalty. Sure enough, Eddie lusts after Liz and rapes her the first night she's in the motel. Liz confronts Bertha with this information the next morning. That’s when things get really ugly: Bertha’s okay with Eddie using Liz as a plaything so long as that keeps him docile. When Liz seeks help from local authorities—grotesque rednecks played by Dub Taylor and Slim Pickens—her nightmare escalates.
Even with this potboiler of a plot, Poor Pretty Eddie wanders into tangential weirdness at regular intervals, notably Eddie’s inept, Elvis-inflected performance of a country song. Furthermore, certain scenes include trippy intercutting and superimpositions, vignettes of gruesome violence are rendered in loving slow-motion, and the overarching aesthetic is surpassingly vulgar. In the most extreme sequence, shots of Eddie raping Liz are intercut with shots of rednecks forcing pigs to have sex, all to the accompaniment of a folksy love song. Oddly, the film’s performances are not as gonzo as the storytelling. Winters does her usual share of screaming, but she also imbues her pathetic characterization with a measure of pathos. Similarly, Christian’s portrayal of Eddie has a disquieting little-boy-lost element even though Eddie is unquestionably a monster. As for Uggams, she works a straightforward exploitation-flick groove while tracking a victim-turns-violent arc, lending Poor Pretty Eddie a touch of blaxploitation attitude.
All of this makes for a strange vibe, and not a pleasant one; Poor Pretty Eddie is fascinating in that old can't-look-away-from-a-traffic-accident sort of way. Weirder still? The film’s producers, capping what appears to have been a wild production experience, released Poor Pretty Eddie in several different versions under multiple titles, including an almost completely re-conceived and re-edited cut bearing the name Heartbreak Motel. After all, it’s better to recycle trash than to simply throw the stuff away, right?
Poor Pretty Eddie: FREAKY