Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971)

          This low-rent Floridian exploitation flick presents an offbeat pastiche of crime, gore, melodrama, and same-sex relational dynamics. Yet Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things isn’t quite as weird a viewing experience as you might imagine. Instead, it’s alternately droll and tedious and unpleasant. Scenes of two male criminals bickering at each other like an old married couple approach camp, even though the conflict between a repressed psychopath and a slovenly thug is quite grim; drab sequences of cops searching for clues chew up screen time without adding much; and bloody murder vignettes, often tweaked with solarization effects, repulse in typical grindhouse fashion. Cheap production values, some shoddy performances, and ugly cinematography add to the generalized sleaziness of the piece. While Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things tells the creepy story of a dysfunctional relationship triggering a string of murders, it’s exaggerating to say there’s a real movie in here somewhere. Nonetheless, the filmmakers exhibit a small measure of curiosity and imagination, even if they lack skill.
          Paul (Abe Zwick) and Stanley (Wayne Crawford) killed someone up north and fled to Florida, where Paul put on women’s clothes and assumed the identity of Stanley’s “Aunt Martha.” The idea is to create the illusion of a quiet suburban existence until they can slip back into society as themselves, but problems emerge. A pesky neighbor tries to make friends with the reclusive Martha, and Stanley is too undisciplined to maintain the ruse. He refuses to cut his hair or ditch his counterculture wardrobe, he slips out of the house on a regular basis to chase local chicks, and he treats Paul/Martha like a nagging spouse. Stanley’s sex life is of particular interest, since the filmmakers make a point of showing his inability to go all the way with compliant lovelies, and they also show him in bed with Paul/Martha. Therefore, the dreadful things of the title come across as manifestations of Paul’s jealous rage. Things get extreme during the climax, which involves a C-section, sadomasochism, and a van covered with pastel-colored peace signs.
          Is Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things yet another wrongheaded movie presenting the stereotype of gays as deviants? Yes and no. Somehow, the picture is simultaneously a misguided attempt at telling a serious story, an unfunny pass at comic material, a transgressive spin on familiar B-movie tropes, and a vulgar blast of sex and violence. As such, it’s uncommon without actually being special.

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things: FUNKY

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