Bad Girls Go to Hell

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Doris Wishman

REVIEWED: 11-17-97

Maverick sexploitation filmmaker Doris Wishman's 1965 cheapie Bad Girls Go to Hell is a sexual nightmare that unfolds with the insouciance and inspiration of a child's drawing. A comic-book variation on Sade's Justine, it's the tale of Meg Kelton (a darkly Monroe-like GiGi Darlene), a sexually neglected Boston housewife who must flee to New York after she accidentally kills the janitor who raped her. There her melancholy innocence is violated, again and again, as she is taken in by seeming Good Samaritans only to be exploited by leering, lecherous men and women.

Wishman's Freudian and feminist subtext strains against her erratic style -- the film is shot in a wobbly black-and-white vérité, the sound (including a tip-top jazz score) is entirely dubbed, and the narrative is punctuated by the requisite fishnet disrobings and panty-clad cavorting, but also by cuts to such extraneous objects as potted plants, Buddhas, city traffic, feet, and the inevitable lingerie. The effect is claustrophobic, hilarious, surreal, and surprisingly moving, and the ending, in which the nature of this particular hell is finally revealed, is chilling. Bad Girls is like a collaboration between John Cassavetes and Ed Wood, with an archly knowing Hitchcock looking on. There's a revelatory refinement in Wishman's crudeness, a canny sophistication in her puerile sensationalism -- if this film is indicative of the rest of her many features, she's indeed a '60s filmmaker worth reclaiming.

--Peter Keough

Capsule Reviews
Bad Girls Go to Hell

Other Films by Doris Wishman
Nudes on the Moon

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