Mantis in Lace
U.S.A. / 1968
Directed by William Rotsler
Starring
Susan Stewart
Vic Lance
Pat Barrington
Color / 87 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Something Weird Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
3
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
This is a truly bizarre movie that was originally released in two different forms: one a psychedelic serial killer film with sex, the other a psychedelic sex film with a serial killer. Take your pick; either way it's a very strange trip. Both versions have one thing in common, though: lots of tits and little sense. The cut presented on Something Weird's DVD as Mantis in Lace (though the film's title card reads "Lila") is likely the latter version trippy sex + killer based on the outtake footage that's included as a bonus feature. More about that later.
Susan Stewart stars as Lila, a mentally disturbed stripper at a seedy topless bar on the Sunset Strip. She routinely picks up guys at the club and takes them to an empty warehouse for a bit of after-hours wine, LSD, and shagging. Problem is, the acid freaks her out to the point that, mid-coitus, she's compelled to repeatedly stab her paramours with a screwdriver, then finish 'em off with a rusty meat cleaver. With bodies or pieces thereof continuing to turn up dumped in cardboard boxes, LAPD homicide dicks Ryan (M.K. Evans) and Collins (Steve Vincent) struggle to mount something resembling a semi-competent investigation. In between much pointless titty dancing footage the cops remain clueless and Lila continues her killing spree. Only through a lucky break are the detectives eventually able to stop this hallucinogen-fueled gore-gore girl, but not without gunning down an innocent man in the process. (Can't really blame 'em, though; the dumbass did shoot first.) That's the entire movie in a nutshell.
Well, maybe not the entire movie. There's an almost 10-minute interlude (Chapter 8 on the DVD you have been warned!) chronicling a sexual tryst between the bar owner and an auditioning dancer that has absolutely nothing to do with the story whatsoever; ditto a sequence in which two of the strippers (neither of them Lila) smoke a joint backstage. In fact, if one removed the blatant padding this Harry Novak-produced sleazefest could be pared down to about forty minutes' running time. The shorter the better, I say.
This is supposedly the "sexier" version of the film, so huge chunks of it are consumed with topless dancing routines. It would've helped immensely if any of these ladies could actually dance. (This is the '60s, though, so there's not an ounce of silicone in sight.) The acting is either terrible or nonexistent. The same can be said for the direction and editing. The music score, relying chiefly on an electric guitarist who seems to be making up stuff as he goes along none of it worthy of the term "improvisation", mind you lurches from quirky kitsch to agonizing irritant very quickly. The drippy "Lila" theme song, used a gazillion times, should require a warning label on the DVD to prevent mental injury.
    So is there anything good here? Aside from all the mammalian protuberances on display, the chief appeal of this tawdry grindhouse offering are the psychedelic "freak out" sequences that precede each of the murders. Lila, in the midst of her bad trips, sees images of a balding, half-naked old man clutching wads of cash in one hand and brandishing a bunch of bananas in the other. Whenever she chops up her victims she visualizes her cleaver (or in one case, a garden hoe) slicing and dicing cantaloupes and watermelons. It's obviously meant to signify a history of some kind of abuse suffered by the character but is merely amusingly ludicrous instead. The film would actually be more entertaining if it consisted of nothing but this kind of footage. (By the way, "Leslie Kovaks" the cameraman on Mantis in Lace is actually award-winning cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs.)

Something Weird has crammed this disc full of extras. As was the case with their Defilers/Scum of the Earth DVD, the featured film really isn't worthy of the lavish treatment.
Concerning the feature: This print of the movie itself looks and sounds a whole lot better than it has any right to considering it's 33-year old grindhouse shlock. This is accessorized with the original theatrical trailer, which almost looks as good as the remastered print itself, and an "alternative psychedelic murder sequence" probably shot for the "horror" version which is an even stranger (and cooler-looking) montage of surreal images signaling the doom of Lila's first victim. It includes shots of a naked Stewart being splashed with blood that are definitely not in the "Lila" version. Astoundingly, Something Weird also packs in over 100 minutes of outtake footage, not used in either version, which runs 12 minutes longer than the actual film! None of this footage has any recorded sound; long passages of music from the movie have been substituted instead. Much of it is composed of different takes of the same shots done over and over and later left on the cutting room floor. Some of its more bizarre elements (a sliced hero sandwich morphs into a bloodily cut-up hand, for example) should have been left in. There's also even more nudity and topless dancing footage, as if that seemed possible.
    And we haven't even touched the supplemental goodies yet!
    Archival Short Subject # 1 is a so-called "classic classroom scare" film from the '60s entitled LSD: Trip or Trap? This is the supposed straight stuff about the dangers of acid, produced with the cooperation of the Inglewood, California police department and straight out of the Sgt. Joe Friday handbook. It's actually quite funny until the photos of horribly deformed babies are trotted out to put the fear of God into ya. (Don't worry... it gets goofy again in fairly short order, and the generic, mostly inappropriate industrial film music is a gas.)
Archival Short Subject # 2 is an oddity called Alice Goes to Acidland. A young woman on an LSD trip babbles stream-of-consciousness nonsense over a supposedly "far out" psychedelic montage featuring plentiful nudity. She's then revealed to be the vegetable-like denizen of a mental ward. The solemn narrator at clip's end signals this was a thoughtful warning against the dangers of illegal drug experimentation particularly when the contraband is provided by a "known lesbian" but it's really just an excuse to show naked female flesh.
    Archival Short Subject # 3, Girl in a Cage, is a striptease clip we first saw on the late, lamented cult movie compilation show Reel Wild Cinema a few years back... only this time there aren't any black bars mandated by basic cable censors. In it, an athletic peroxide blonde strips down to her G-string in a bamboo cage while a cockatoo looks on approvingly. It's pretty dumb, actually, as the music used is virtually impossible to artfully disrobe to.
    And there's still more! The Something Weird Trailer Park includes coming attraction clips for The Curious Dr. Humpp, The Mad Butcher, and Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks. And like all the SW discs, the package is topped off with a gallery of exploitation art set to a series of drive-in radio spots. (In this case for a number of Harry Novak-produced T & A flicks.) These are always a fun feature and just icing on the cake. 10/25/01
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