In Louis Malle’s Elevator To The Gallows, there’s a scene of Jeanne Moreau walking down a Paris street at night. The depth of field blurs the background, so that Moreau’s face is the focal point. The image is a wash of neon, shadows, and Moreau’s eyes. The scene only lasts for a few seconds, but it’s the best thing about the movie. Stunning visual design provides a heightened sense of happiness. We see an attractive place. We want to be there. But it’s not possible to be there in real life. That’s the beauty of losing yourself in a movie.
The Love Captive has several moments like the one in Elevator To The Gallows. Only instead of being hypnotized by an elegant Jeanne Moreau on a Paris street, we’re hypnotized by a horny werewolf in a Greenwich Village basement.
A credit screen tells us that The Love Captive was shot on location at Manzini’s Museum Of The Macabre in Greenwich. At the same time, a scratchy LP plays Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain.” That’s all it takes for director/lunatic Larry Crane to destroy our expectations. It’s understood that this won’t be a standard black and white sexploitation movie, like Barry Mahon’s A Good Time With A Bad Girl aka people removing their clothes in front of a mirror for 60 minutes. When the opening credits end and sloppy beatnik jazz overlaps “Night On Bald Mountain,” there’s no doubt about what’s happening — the real world is about to die.
Jane exits a subway station and makes her way through the streets of Greenwich. A narrator utilizes the non-sequiter style of Coleman Francis in The Beast Of Yucca Flats (“People, all scratching like rats to find their own brand of happiness”). Jane enters a hotel room. The narrator says, “I bet she’s going to change.” When Jane takes her clothes off, the narrator says, “Yes, I guess I was right — she is going to change!” Jane leaves her hotel room. She passes Manzini’s Museum and sees a demonstration of naked hypnotism in the window. Jane pays for a ticket and enters the museum.
Houdini’s straight-jacket! Manzini’s fire-eating!! Dracula’s coffin!!! We see all of this and more, as Jane takes a guided tour of the museum. This is THE special moment in the movie, the point where reality takes a breather and the only thing that matters is what’s in front of us — a 10-minute exploration of an occult-themed tourist attraction in 1968. It’s incredible! It shouldn’t end! But it has to end. Because the narrator says, “When shades of night descend upon the Village, strange things happen . . . ” And then Jane gets locked in the museum and steals Houdini’s straight-jacket. And then a drooling werewolf wearing a velour shirt molests a nude vampire woman while Dracula, a hunchback, and erotique dancers watch.
That’s the first 30 minutes of The Love Captive. The last 30 minutes involve two cops playing an audio tape through a speaker that’s pointed at various hotel room walls (“We know everything about you, girlies!”), random sexual encounters, a woman named Sylvia who takes control of Manzini’s by sleeping with the manager, a lesbian who wears a strap-on dildo, a meta-reference to Olga’s House Of Shame, and the crucifixion of the nude vampire girl by Sylvia and Manzini. Jane reveals that she keeps a nude man chained in her closet. The end.
The Love Captive is equal parts documentary, gutter noir, and sexploitation — all unintentional. That’s why the overall mood is so great. Shot guerilla-style with a handheld camera, the movie floats from scene to scene without a sense of purpose. It’s a random assemblage of incidents that center around Manzini’s Museum, all involving some combination of sex, monsters, and neon signage. The post-dubbing is incredibly crude. Doris Wishman would make up for the fact that she couldn’t shoot live sound by placing ashtrays in front of people’s mouths. Larry Crane doesn’t care. In his movie, dialogue magically appears when mouths don’t move. The classical music provides a fake sense of depth, just like it does in Michael Findlay’s movies. But where Findlay dared audiences to sit through tasteless negativity, Crane provides a safe haven for perverts. The smudgy, dream-like atmosphere of The Love Captive is inviting. It’s almost like a Ron Haydock sleaze paperback come-to-life — anything goes, everyone is stupid, and nothing makes sense. All in the name of fun.
The Love Captive isn’t a perfect place to spend 65 minutes. Because in a perfect place, the boring sex scenes wouldn’t last so long. But this is as close to perfection as we can get in a movie about people having sex through their underwear at a fleabag tourist trap that specializes in fake Houdini artifacts.