Underground

Underground (1991) *****  “Most of the people who come here you can hardly call people,” says bartender Whitebread (credited as playing “himself”) of the clientele at the strip club that serves as the sordid setting of Bret Carr’s remarkable exploitation entry Underground. The fun begins when innocent bimbo Allison (Rachel Carr), fresh off the Greyhound bus from Nebraska, gets lured into a waitressing job, unaware that her new place of work doubles as a white slavery clearing house run by degenerate Rudy Gantz. Clement von Franckenstein delivers Underground‘s center ring performance as grime-dripping, gloriously potty-mouthed Gantz, the super-sleazy strip club proprietor who introduces himself to the viewer by unleashing a mightily sustained volley of hall of fame profanity worthy of Joe Pesci or Al Pacino as he makes a dishonest deal over the phone. The clearly psychotic Gantz spends much of the movie badgering his subordinates as he frets and mugs and arranges to rectify an unprofitable “paucity of pussy”, sending henchman Tony (Jack Savage, a poor man’s Alan Rickman) on thankless errands to procure fresh meat for his periodic auctions.

Underground is a real treat for trash aficionados, with roughly half its run time devoted to sultry strip routines, the amazing Debra Lamb being particularly praiseworthy in her balletic pole turns as “Fire Girl”. The film should please admirers of Katt Shea’s contributions to the erotic strip-thriller subgenre, especially Stripped to Kill, to which Underground bears a telling stylistic resemblance with its dark, cavernous nightclub and atmospheric use of colored lights, shadows, and smoke. Both films mythify the lowest of Los Angeles, recasting the city as a decidedly adult fairy tale universe of ogres, princesses, and spells as exemplified by juggling jester Whitebread when he says of Allison’s transformation into an LA temptress, “Hey, man. You got the magic. She ain’t the same virgin princess as last night. I think some prince fucked her and woke her up to reality.”

Bret Carr’s screenplay is just as nasty a joy as the dance routines in Underground. Other memorable lines include any number of Rudy Gantz’s utterances, such as when he barks at Allison, “I am not Dick Clark and this is not the fucking Solid Gold dancers. Now lose the top, you cunt!” Then, too, there is the appalling “Rat”, who, brandishing and licking a knife, waxes sentimental about a woman and laughs, “I loved her. All I wanted to do was cut her pussy and save it for my collection.” Even the scummy songs accompanying the strip sequences, several performed by Jean Stewart, contribute to the all-pervading perversion of the experience, with titles like “Clit Fingers” and “Panties Down”; references to bestiality and statutory rape; and such lines as, “Piss on the teacher! Shit on her desk! Rip all her clothes off! Scratch your name on her chest!” In sum, Underground is mandatory viewing for seekers after the obscene and extreme, a triumph of reverent, aesthetically piquant presentation of the female form and an LA-flavored highlight of what this reviewer likes to term the Kelly Bundy Era in movie bimbo fashions.

Tokyo Decadence

Tokyo Decadence aka Topaz (1992) ****1/2  One of the most shocking and frankly depressing films ever to emerge from Japan or anywhere else, writer-director Ryu Murakami’s Tokyo Decadence offers a chilly portrait of his country as an emotional dystopia of nihilistic sado-power relationships, sunglasses and blindfolds, rubber and plastic, sterile interiors and intimidating exteriors of steel, concrete, and glass that weigh upon the individual, in this case delicate call girl Ai (Miho Nikaido), still wounded after being jilted by a socially superior lover. Set in the ragged aftermath of Japan’s years as an economic powerhouse, the film is an exotic and more depraved cousin of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street in its message that soullessly transitory economic and earthly prosperity can come at a terrible price, at the national as well as the individual level. Japan, as depicted, is a place uprooted from tradition and morality, left to drift and divert itself in jaded, mutually degrading sadomasochistic pleasures, and Ai, as she moves from blackly absurd gig to gig, meets an array of men and women representative of the decline: gangsters, sluts, drug addicts, and a rogue’s gallery of self-loathing, degenerate johns who share what Murakami characterizes as the fatal Japanese misfortune of “wealth without pride”. Tokyo Decadence is an experience that, for better or worse, burns itself irreparably into the viewer’s memory, and is recommended more for the art house crowd than for exploitation audiences, its explicitness being more unpleasantly allegorical than erotic.

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