When collaborating with producer Roger Corman, writer Charles B. Griffith often infused B-movies with an offbeat brand of social satire. When operating beyond Corman’s influence, however, Griffith frequently succumbed to lesser impulses. And so it goes with The Swinging Barmaids, a befuddling exploitation flick revolving around sexy women who sling drinks at a joint called the Swing-a-Ling. The movie is perplexing because it has aspects of respectable filmmaking, inasmuch as nudity is kept to a minimum and lip service is paid to workplace issues. The barmaids fret about grabby customers and sore feet, and one barmaid notes that she’s been able to put her boyfriend through medical school by letting drunks objectify her. Yet The Swinging Barmaids—a misnomer of a title, since none of the women sleeps around—isn’t about the plight of put-upon women. It’s about a nutter who gets off by killing them and photographing their corpses.
The Swinging Barmaids gets darker and darker as it goes along, which is saying a lot seeing as how the picture opens with an uncomfortably lengthy real-time sequence of a dude stalking and slaughtering a busty blonde. (This first victim is played by sex-movie queen Dyanne Thorne.) Once the plot gets moving, B-movie stalwart William Smith joins the mix as the lead police detective on the case, though he doesn’t do much of anything until the grim climax. Receiving most of the focus is curvy waitress Jenny (Laura Hippe), the one with the boyfriend in medical school. Griffith’s script gives Jenny a fair amount of dimension, at least compared to the non-people one normally encounters in this sort of picture, but Griffith’s efforts are not sufficient to create any sort of emotional involvement.
In lieu of proper drama, the picture becomes a ticking-clock scenario while the killer works his way through other victims on his way to Jenny. Even scenes of the killer covertly interacting with the barmaids once he talks his way into a job as a bouncer at the Swing-a-Ling feel like filler between murders. Regarding those murders, they’re rendered in a fairly restrained fashion, excepting the nasty opening kill. So even though it would be a huge stretch to describe The Swinging Barmaids as worthwhile cinema, the picture isn’t as relentlessly hateful as the usual women-in-peril grindhouse offering.
The Swinging Barmaids: FUNKY