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Blood Orgy Of The Leather Girls (1988)

Directed by Meredith Lucas
Forbidden Cinema Archives VHS 

The back cover of Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls warns that there are “assorted dissections, dismemberments, castrations, disembowelments, tortures, knife fights, cold-blooded shootings, drug hallucination ‘freak out’ scenes, and philosophical digressions.” What the cover doesn’t tell you is that there are bowling trophies, a crossbow, an obsession with John Wayne, and an animation about the philosopher Thales. There’s also footage of a newborn doing what newborns do best—being born. In other words, Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls has just about everything you could want, except maybe a cohesive plot.

The movie opens with a long sequence of disparate scenes: bloody breasts, shadowboxing, a football game, a church, a “Wanted: Jesus of Nazareth” poster, a girl stuffing her bra, a velvet painting of Charles Bronson with a gun. It is a pastiche of different images and moods—experimental, but still narrative. It’s dirt cheap, ambitious, provocative, and magnetic.

We meet four disaffected students from St. Jerome School for Girls. There’s Rawhide, the horny one; Fleabrain, the brawny one; and Dorothea, the religious one. Sarah is the leader; she’s Jewish but has a secret shrine dedicated to Hitler. The girls shove switchblades in their bras, don their school uniforms, and pull on their leather jackets, which are appropriately scrawled with band names (Iggy and the Stooges, Crime, etc.).

Sarah laments in front of an array of Hitler glossies. “I hate life. I hate school. I hate my parents. Most of all, I hate every day that passes.” I totally said this when I was sixteen, as did every other sixteen-year-old in America. If you listen closely, you can hear doors slam all across this great nation.

A dough-faced detective explains that these girls have committed heinous crimes. “When the maternal and creative forces of women become corrupted by the brutality of the every day world, a force of incredible violence is unleashed. Its bloodlust insatiable.” In other words, watch out, these girls are pissed. They are raging against school, against religion, against society, and against the machine. They’re on the warpath, which is accompanied by a low-fi punk soundtrack.

Sarah and her crew beat up a guy wearing a shirt that says “Super Dad.” He’s much too young to be a dad, so the shirt is worn out of irony. The guy deserves to be beat up. His Valentine’s Day candy hearts scatter all over the pavement in a pool of blood. It’s artsy, sure, but it’s also symbolic. Also sad. I hate seeing candy go to waste, even if it’s bullshit candy that tastes like chalk. Then the girls beat up a car and also the guy in the car. But when someone perpetrates “the oldest act of male tyranny” on Dorothea, the girls really unleash their bloodlust.

“We can’t let the subjugation to continue. The time has come for a new way of thinking, a world without men.”

The girls capture, torture, and kill the guys who’ve wronged them. This involves a chase through a dilapidated house, a gun, an acid trip, and at some point a girl strips down to her bustier and cuts up a body to dispose of the parts. There’s a gripping showdown at the Ninja Academy, which involves a game of “ninja roulette.” This is just like Russian roulette, except a ninja plays it. And when I say ninja, I mean a dude wearing black jeans and a giant wallet chain. There’s also a special moment that involves a power drill.

With its budget gore, uneven pacing, and plodding dialogue it’s easy to dismiss Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls as a piece of gutter trash that doesn’t always deliver. There’s only a little charm in the cardboard sets and amateur acting. But the brilliance of this movie lies in its ambition. There’s experimental photography mixed with cheap shots of girls in panties. There’s raucous punk in one scene and 80s synth pop in the next. We see a milk jug of LSD on a kitchen counter and then we see girls go on anguished philosophical rants. Blood Orgy has a lot to say about women and society: Women are victimized, objectified, and infantilized. They suffer and wane under the patriarchy and they must follow impossible cultural notions of femininity. The movie explores the anger of young women who refuse to remain powerless. They flaunt their femininity to challenge their objectification. They escape the grasp of the white male hegemony and exact revenge—all it takes is a knife and a dick. Blood Orgy shares the same ambition, politics, and DIY aesthetic as Bikini Kill, but it came two years before riot grrrls came screaming out of Olympia.

In a quick break between murders, Fleabrain reads aloud a passage by Antonin Artaud, a French playwright who was best known for creating the “theater of cruelty.” He believed theater should be visceral and arresting; it should be an experience that disturbs the audience. This is what Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls tries to establish—a theater of cruelty filled with sexual violence, gore, and Nazi iconography. Director Meredith Lucas had an ambition, a vision, and a ton of ideas to share with the world. She went into crushing debt while completing this movie, and ultimately this led to her suicide. Her brother managed to get distribution on VHS and we have him to thank for it.

Update: It turns out that the director is actually Michael Lucas and there was no Meredith Lucas. There was no sister. There was no suicide. He believed a female director would better communicate the feminist message behind Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls. While his intentions were good, they were certainly misplaced. By posing as a woman, he was exploiting women, which was exactly what he was repudiating. Though I don’t agree with his choice, I understand it. As a man directing this movie, he would have been just another guy shooting gratuitous nudity and sexual violence. As a woman, his movie would have been taken out of that context. So posing as a reverse George Eliot seemed like the best bet. Questions of authenticity aside,  the movie is great. It is still ambitious; it still has something to say. It still explores the smoggy area where feminism and exploitation converge.

One final note: This movie is dedicated to Susan B. Anthony, who in many ways is the original riot grrrl.