Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Back in my dating days, I had what I call my "Taste Test Films" (two such films, in fact: Robert Altman's 3 Women and Andy Warhol's BAD). These are films for which my appreciation is so intensely personal and self-defining that I used them as a gauge in determining the compatibility of my tastes with those of potential partners I felt I might be getting serious about. Both films are so completely my aesthetic, humor, and world view, I reasoned that if someone didn't "get" these movies and their appeal to me, they likely wouldn't "get" or understand me, either. Similarly, if you were the kind of guy who appreciated the idiosyncratic allure of these films (spanning the rather broad spectrum between acute human empathy to outrageous black comedy), it was a pretty safe bet that you'd be my kind of fella.
3 Women is such a thoughtful, intriguing film that most anyone I was interested in was likely to find something to like in it, but Andy Warhol's BAD (directed by Jed Johnson, but a delirious mash-up of those camp/trash geniuses, John Waters and Paul Morrissey) was definitely the litmus test.
Carroll Baker as Hazel Aiken
Perry King as L.T.
Susan Tyrrell as Mary Aiken
Charles McGregor as Detective Hughes
Bridgid Polk as Estelle
Hard-as-nails Queens housewife Hazel Aiken (a perpetually pissed-off Carroll Baker) operates an electrolysis business ("Six-Hundred and Fifty hairs an hour!") out of the home she shares with her ailing mother; ineffectual, unemployed husband; and whiny daughter-in-law (Susan Tyrrell) and grandson. To make ends meet and subsidize her cache of furs, jewelry, and perfumes, Hazel also runs a dial-up, all-girl hit squad. The dispassionate efficiency of her bloody all-female enterprise is compromised when circumstance necessitates the reluctant taking on of a slow-witted punk (Perry King).

Strange as it may seem, Andy Warhol's BAD reminds me of a simpler, gentler time in America. Back when there was really such a thing as a "counter-culture"; back when movies designated as "underground" or "independent" actually were; and back when standards of morality and decency were observed by enough members of the population that they could be burlesqued in a film like this. Today we live in a country where ignorance is rewarded (thank you, Jersey Shore), bad behavior is commonplace (Arnold "The Sperminator" Schwarzenegger), and nobody denounces the hamburger for posing as steak (calling all Kardashians). Andy Warhol's BAD, once thought outrageously offensive enough to warrant an X-rating, is positively quaint and remarkably moral in comparison. You can't poke fun at tacky, suburban aspirations towards upper class chic in a world that can't distinguish class from trash.
French Provincial Luxury- Hazel, enjoying the fruits of her labor
Viewing this film feels like having front row seats to the end of an era. You just can't make a film like this anymore. When the lowbrow and sleazy becomes the cultural standard, there's nothing left to satirize. It used to be that you had to seek out underground films from Warhol or John Waters to enjoy comically amateurish performances and flat, monotone line readings. Now, you need look no further than the multimillion dollar multiplex crowd-pleasers from Michael Bay and Vin Diesel. Andy Warhol's BAD tries very hard to be nasty and mean-spirited - the ever-present TV is forever spewing out bad news, people perform the most heinous atrocities without batting an eye - but the entire film is kinder and more humane than any 10 minutes of The Bachelor.

Hit-girls, Marsha (l.) and Glenda (r.) flank the misanthropic Estelle as she plots revenge on a neighbor.
Estelle: "I'm telling you, people stink. All they do is eat, fuck, and watch TV!"
Marsha: "I know. The more you smell, the more they stink."
Estelle: What's that supposed to mean?"

To her credit, Carroll Baker held no illusions about Andy Warhol's BAD providing her with any kind of American film comeback (It was her first American film since leaving the country in 1965). Quoted as recently as June of 2011 on working on the film:
"It had nothing to do with film-making, it had nothing to do with any other experience I ever had. It was like working on the moon. But he (Warhol) wanted me, he cast me in it, I wanted to do it, and it was such a big hit in Europe."     Carroll Baker  New Journey Journal

Baker's level-headedness serves her well in Andy Warhol's BAD, for she creates in Hazel Aiken (the role was originally offered to America's Ethel Mertz, actress Vivian Vance) one of cinema's most memorably twisted villains. Devilishly deadpan in her single-minded belief that she is just doing what has to be done ("I like to help people!"), if Beaver Cleaver's mom was an avaricious sociopath, she'd be something like Hazel. A woman so lacking in decency she cheerily accepts calls in her kitchen for contract killings and views Polaroids of gruesome slayings as if they were vacation slides. The only remotely competent person amongst a menagerie of slackers and oddballs, Hazel's near-constant exasperation finds amusing subtext in Carroll Baker; an Academy Award nominated, Method actress, working alongside Warhol's "actors"... many of whom sound as if they learned their lines phonetically.
(Substantiating my theory that big budgets sap the imagination of indie-filmmakers, John Waters, with a budget more than ten times that of Andy Warhol's BAD, mined similar material in 1994's Serial Mom, but it wasn't half as funny.)
Mary - "What kind of a grandmother are you? Having baby-killers in the house with a baby? She'd kill any baby!"
Hazel - (Indignant) "She would not! She's only does what she's paid to do. You wouldn't pay her, so she wouldn't do it!"
Mary - "You're crazy! You're really not all there!"

All-girl hit squads were a camp/pulp staple of 70s exploitation flicks (and, my personal fave—the 1967 James Bond spoof, Casino Royale) but the women in Andy Warhol's BAD are something else again. These girls don't kill for kinky thrills, they seem to do it just because they're bored. Funniest by far are Marsha and Glenda (real-life sisters Maria & Geraldine Smith): the Laverne & Shirley of Murder Incorporated. Armed with thick New York accents and a canny sense of comic timing, their scenes are among the sharpest and off-the-chart hilarious in the film.
Dressed to Kill
Looking like models in a Laura Mars photo shoot, Marsha (brandishing the stiletto) and Glenda lie in wait for their next victim.

Andy Warhol's BAD is a darkly comedic satire on the banality of evil; a topic that's fascinated me since Rosemary's Baby (1968) posed the provocative notion that a harmless group of elderly New Yorkers could unleash the living Devil into the world. We movie fans find it reassuring when our monsters can be  easily identified—usually as crazily hateful maniacs and criminally unbalanced psychopaths. Perhaps that's because it's so unsettling in real-life to be offered evidence on a daily basis (most of which we prefer to ignore) that unspeakable evil is often perpetrated by the so-called "normal" members of our society.
Hazel Aiken's cockeyed ethical standards, which are played for absurdist laughs (a proud capitalist, she willingly kills man, woman, or child for a fee, but draws the line at vulgar language and keeping stolen property in her home), underline what is so scary about most truly evil people: they consider themselves to be the most normal of all.
All In A Day's Work
Amidst the trappings of middle-class domesticity, Hazel gets a call for another contract killing
Hazel, with all her pragmatic speeches about personal responsibility, work ethics, and doing what has to be done because nobody else will do it, reminds me a lot (too much, actually) of the fear-goading political candidates, flag-waving radio commentators, and defenders of family values who cloak themselves in "normalcy" to rationalize philosophies of hate.
The 1965 film The Loved One, which satirized the L.A. funeral industry, was promoted with the slogan "The motion picture with something to offend everyone!"  Twelve years later, Andy Warhol's BAD promoted itself with the New York Post review quote: "A picture with something to offend absolutely everybody." The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Hazel - "You're really sensitive, aren't you? Well I can't afford the luxury to be sensitive because I have to do everything myself!"
I find it interesting to note that today, neither of these films, which had their battles with the censors and were met with much hand-wringing over the declining state of the world, is really very offensive at all. Indeed, in failing to in any way glamorize the lives and behaviors of its principals, Andy Warhol's BAD is, as I've indicated above, very moral in its view of the world. It presents the characters as the bottom-feeders they are, and even throws a bone of hope to the audience when the lunkhead, played so nicely by Perry King, reveals that as bad as he is, he isn't prepared to do anything for money. 
What's ironic are the number of safe, family-friendly entertainments of yesteryear (classic films, Warner Bros. cartoons, TV sitcoms) that, due to blithely accepted attitudes of sexism and racism, I consider to be blisteringly offensive today. (One example: an entire episode of the "feminist" 60s sitcom That Girl actually attempts to extract laughs from the far-from-hilarious plot point of a husband breaking the jaw of his loudmouth wife with an ashtray.)
Talk about the banality of evil.
"Looks aren't everything."
Oh, and for the record, both of my "Taste Test" films have been officially retired. I showed them to a fellow I was dating who not only loved them as I did, but, on a single viewing, opened my eyes to insights and jokes contained in both films that I had never seen before. Understandably, I couldn't let a guy like that go. That was 16 years ago going on 17, and we still get a kick out of re-watching these films together. Even after all these years we can make each other laugh just by uttering the raging Estelle epithet: "O'Reilly O'Crapface."

Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. 2 of my favorite films and you wrote about them brilliantly!

  2. Thanks very much, Kevin. You're very kind. If you're a fan of both "3 Women" and "Andy Warhol's BAD" (I'm assuming), then you must be a pretty exceptional person, indeed. We could use more of you! :-)

  3. OMG. The best! A favorite moment...when Hazel is done dreamily caressing her fur coat, I love the way she shakes it out briskly before returning it to the hanger in the closet. Back to business! Go Carroll--that's method acting at its best.

    I know this movie by heart, line by line, obsessively...starting with "Tab? Why does it always have to be Tab?" "Because if you don't finish it, I wanna be able to..."

    1. Well, Angelman66 you prove yourself to be a true fan of the arts by the broad scope of films you have told me about that you enjoy.
      That moment you cite with the fur displays exactly the kind of eye that makes a true film fan, I believe. The ability to capture the small moments of brilliance in places you don't normally expect to find them. That's like the cineaste's quest!
      And the oh, so quotable dialog! This film is rife with hilarious throwaway gags (you're the only one to ever bring up that "Tab" line! It's great!)
      Thank you. I really get a kick out of reading your comments.

  4. It's a shame they cast Carroll Baker who is really one of the all time worst actresses. Baby Doll was incredible but watching her in anything else has been pure torture. Not to say I watched this movie expecting some kind of tour de force performance but at least someone like Sylvia Miles (Heat) knew how to make her performance fun and really worked it. Elia Kazan was some kind of miracle worker.

  5. I landed on this page for "BAD," a few months ago and should have commented then but time did not allow. The fact that this was one of your dating "Taste Test" films told me I had found a friend. So back then I promised myself that I HAD to return and explore your blog. So here I am.

    I, like some others, know this film backwards and forwards, line for line. I won't go into them to prove this, just know that it's so. It's to difficult to pick a favorite line or scene, this film is luxurious in that sense but I have to say "I only can relate to smoking... " has fallen out of my mouth 100's of times.

    There are two things I have wanted to discuss for years. The first is the seemingly misplaced scene nearer to the end of the woman with the autistic child, Ingrid, in her bathroom, towel-on-head, cucumber slices on her face (then eaten) "I'm feeling very funky tonight..." I love it! the first time I saw the movie I thought it was dropped in from another film. It just happens and then cuts "the Howard Hughes sponge bath." I've often thought about what kind of wonderfully perverse film could be built on that scene alone. Okay... got that out of my system.

    Second item: "And he wouldn't call you on a WATS line" Hahahahahaha, it's so old school and surely it's humor must perplex younger viewers completely.

    Oh and I have one last thing.. a question: Whatever happened to the finger in the ketchup bottle? Ponder that!

    Now I must get to work devouring your blog... I can't even believe some of the films you have written about. "The Love Machine!" HA! "Leave Her To Heaven!" Hell, the first two films you wrote about "Day of the Locust" and "Two For the Road" only cement my sense that I am amongst friends here. I'm sure this won't be the last you here from me.

    Thank you for YOU!

    1. Indeed you HAVE found a friend! Anyone who can quote passages of "BAD" is aces in my book. This movie is just loaded with one great, absurdist line of dialog after another.
      You are a true fan of this film to ponder just who would be the unlucky soul to have that severed finger pop out on their french fries order, or to consider the odd placement of the scene with the flat-voiced lady of leisure with the cucumbers. Excellent!
      Of course, the best is that you know what a WATS line is. I can't imagine anyone getting that line today (I remember when it was actually an expression I'd hear people use!)
      Thanks very much for the kind words and I'm flattered that,in happening upon this site, you feel you might stick around. Looking forward to hearing from you again!

  6. Here's a funny little anecdote that I meant to include in my earlier post...
    A few years ago, I clicked "Like" on a Facebook page for BAD. For some reason at that time the page was experiencing a flurry of activity and within 24 hours of that click a woman posted this comment:

    "My husband was the baby tossed out the window."

    It was like Christmas reading this simple statement. I can't even imagine going through life with that claim to fame. I wonder how many times his wife has considered saying, "That's what I'm going to do to you, if you don't SHUT UP!" during an argument? HA!

    Happy Friday!

  7. I was reading a very bad review of this film elsewhere on the internet and was directed here by the reviewer saying `for a completely different point of view on BAD, go here...' and was delighted to find your critique. Not only was it thoughtful and spot-on in it's insight, but I ABSOLUTELY TRIPPED OUT when, in the very first paragraph, you mentioned 3 WOMEN as well. THAT'S MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIE! I also love this one, SUSPIRIA, TODO SOBRE MI MADRE, PERFORMANCE, POINT BREAK and MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. I was just wondering, do you like any of those others films, too?

    1. Thank you very much! We share a mutual fondness for both "3 Women" and "Bad"...which means we're off to a very good start!
      I adore SUSPIRIA and especially PERFORMANCE, but the other titles I have yet to see! I've seen several Almodovar films which I enjoyed, and I've read a lot about MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, but POINT BREAK is such a surprise to see included in this group.
      The first time I became aware that there was a cult of camp fandom built around the movie was when a theatrical version of the film was staged (for laughs) a few years back in LA. Maybe I'm missing something?
      I'm pleased you enjoyed this post, and I will thank you in advance for steering me to check out these other movies. Appreciate your commenting!

  8. A towering classic. Defies criticism, as they say. Once described as a comprehensive, nearly Marxist deep structure analysis of the limits of capitalism, the Protestant Work Ethic, and American values. I prefer to think that the entire towering edifice of Marxist thought only came into existence in order to pay an elaborate, centuries-long tribute to this one great film.

    Can't add anything original or even worthy to your terrific appreciation of a film we both love. Just a couple of thoughts:

    Danny Peary, in the first volume of Cult Movies, stated that Mrs. Aiken was probably the only role that Shelley Winters ever turned down in her entire career. Sounds about right...

    The silent actor playing Mr. Aiken also played the lead in HG Lewis' cult gore film Color Me Blood Red, as a murderous painter who kills his models for their blood, which then he uses on his canvases.

    Lenny Bruce's daughter Kitty plays Carla, Mrs. Aiken's electrolysis victim, um, client ("The lip hurts the worst!"). Her other big role? As Donut, the overweight girl gang member in Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters, a favorite of Quentin Tarantino.

    Jane Forth, who starred in Andy Warhol's Trash, plays the woman who gets soaked by the splattering baby's blood.

    Brigid Polk, who plays Estelle, real name is Brigid Berlin. A well known member of Warhol's entourage, a scion of a socialite family, she took the last name Polk since she was handy with poking needles of amphetamine into various Factory members' gluteous maximus. She is now what is called a 'Fox News Geezer', watching the right wing propaganda channel round-the-clock and starting political arguments with anyone who will listen.

    Susan Blond, who plays the baby throwing mom, looks incredible, and went on to much success. Google her sometime.

    Susan Tyrell was once nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar. Only in the seventies.

    Everyone thinks Perry King is gorgeous. I could never stand him.

  9. Hi Rick
    Thanks for the extensive background information on so many of the film's stars. I had no idea Shelley WInters was offered the role, but that's a hilariously spot-on observation about her tendency to appear in almost anything (I wonder if she turned this down so she could appear in that awful JAWS rip-off "Tentacles"?)
    I'm glad to hear you're a fan of this film, and you've offered lots of fun factoids about so many of my favorites. I was a fan of Susan Tyrell before I ever saw her in this, her Oscar-nominated turn in "Fat City" (which put her in competition with Shelley Winters that year) is a favorite.
    I also hadn't known Brigid Polk had lost her mind for conservatism, but its weird how many counterculture types turned into conservative nutjobs in their dotage (Patti D'Arbanville comes to mind).
    Oh, and indeed, I'm one of those who think Perry King is positively gorgeous.
    Again, thanks for the informative comments and kind words. This is just the kind of contribution so many readers of this blog get such a kick (and education) out of. I appreciate your taking the time. Hope to hear from you again!

    1. Hey thanks Ken. Almost forgot! Last but not least:

      Jed Johnson, the director of Bad, had an identical twin in real life. Often called Warhol's boyfriend, he lived with him as well. He was killed aboard Flight 800, a TWA 747 that exploded off of Long Island 12 minutes after take-off in 1996. It is a crash that remains controversial to this day, with conspiracy theorists claiming a US military missile accidentally blew the plane up, with a subsequent cover-up.

      And Jed Johnson, for me, will always be part of a very select group of directors with a perfect batting average, since they only made one brilliant, more-or-less unforgettable movie. Other members of this One-Hit-Wonder pantheon include: Leonard Kastle (The Honeymoon Killers) Barbara Loden (Wanda) Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter) and Herk Harvey (Carnival of Souls)

  10. I am glad i saw this film which portrays the sleazy but real slice of life..The crudeness was done well and did have some shocking effective scenes...The actors seemed very real to me as well. It is like looking into the future of a society that is sick and demented...

  11. Hi Ken -- If I could magically manifest a deluxe Blu Ray collector's edition of any film, it would be BAD. A few years ago, it seemed that ownership of the rights, as well as the location of the original 35m negative, was a major mystery. Since Roger Corman's first company, New World Pictures, distributed BAD in the USA (barely!),there was a shred of hope that when Shout Factory licensed Corman's library for an ongoing series of remastered DVD then BD releases that BAD might be included. But knowing Andy Warhol's financial canniness, and the fact that his ex Jed Johnson directed, Warhol must've retained the rights to BAD. Recently I asked Pittsburgh's Warhol Museum if they had the BAD negative and never could get a clear answer -- who knows if anyone at the museum even knows. The best-available home video option remains a German DVD (you can disable the German subtitles) which looks to be taken from the out-of-print American Image laserdisc from 1992, which looked very decent for the era despite being "full-frame" instead of anamorphic widescreen. Any other DVD is best avoided -- meaning the execrable one from obnoxious "grey-market" schlock-peddler "Cheezy Flicks", who specialized in condescending "So Rotten It's Great" reissues of titles presumed to be in the public domain, all manufactured as cheaply as possible -- as if their lumping in this brilliant, wickedly funny classic with tired Z-grade junk like BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA, ELSA FRAULEIN SS (not to be confused with "Ilsa") & the Mamie Van Doren killer-tree snoozer NAVY VS THE NIGHT MONSTERS weren't offensive enough. As a side note, original movie posters for many of your favorites can be found at my webstore -- it's my pleasure to offer you & your readers 30% off any orders in April/May 2021 with discount code wgvip02 at checkout! And yes, BAD is amply represented in our "Classic, Cult & Exploitation" section!

    1. Hi There
      I marvel at what your gallery offers on Instagram account! Simply beautiful, hard-to-find or outrageously rare posters. And thanks very much for offering me and readers of this blog such a generous discount!!
      Your site is the only place I've ever so many foreign BAD posters.
      And I'm with you in wishing BAD would be released as a pristine Blu-ray. I think I have the rotten DVD copy you speak of (I have two, one that deletes the scene where Marsha & Glenda snatch the radio from a guy in a wheelchair). Never having seen it in the theater, my mind's eye vision of this film is forever blurry and washed out.
      You really know your stuff (as in the way you cite the designers of the posters on your site) and IH love knowing that you did some sleuthing about the elusive BAD rights.
      One of the encouraging things is that virtually every other month or so it seems a title I never thought would see the light of Blu-ray day manages to get a shock release (Glenda Jackson's The Triple Echo, for example), so I am always hopeful.
      Thank you, Westgate...your knowledgeable and well-informed comment is a marvelous contribution to this post. It's always nice to know someone besides me is rooting for this bizarre little gem.