Slobbering old dudes harassing nubile teenyboppers...there’s laws against it, you know. But what about the flip side social ill nobody likes to talk about: psychotic teenage girls terrorizing hapless middle-aged men? In Douglas Hayes’ Kitten with a Whip (1964), David Stratton (John Forsythe), a millionaire separated from his wife, wakes up one morning to find Judy Dvorak (Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas sexbomb mode) curled up like Goldilocks in his daughter’s bed with a stuffed monkey. Being a political candidate, Stratton’s first thought is that young Judy is part of a blackmail set-up. But Judy tries several other stories before she finds one Stratton will buy, that she is a runaway fleeing the advances of her mother’s new "gentleman caller," Barney the Slob.
Determined to do right by this scrappy kid, Stratton buys her new clothes and a bus ticket to her aunt in L.A. But, when he gets home, he finds Judy has beaten him back. He learns the truth that Judy Dvorak is actually a violent beatnik reform school escapee, and that she torched the place and stabbed a matron during her breakout. Now the cops are after her and she needs a place to lay low, and if Stratton doesn’t cooperate, things will get ugly. "You poke your finger at that dial, Mister, and that’s when I start screaming ’rape‚". And if he does help out, well..."We’re alone, we have the whole house to ourselves. You be Daddy, I’ll be Mommy."
Unbelievably, Stratton fights off Judy’s advances (may I remind you that this is Ann-Margret we’re talking about), but before we can ponder that for very long, Judy’s delinquent friends show up at the Stratton mansion ready to party. Mayhem soon erupts, and Stratton and the kids take a joyride to Tijuana for a night of black market medical treatment, strippers, car chases, and mindless cruelty.
Based on a novel by the Wade Miller paperback writing team, Kitten with a Whip was strong stuff for the early Sixties. With a not-too-subtle S&M subtext that’s truly shocking for a major studio job of the time. Ann-Margret says that the movie was originally even tougher before Universal watered it down.
This is Ann-Margret’s show. She digs deep into Judy Dvorak’s psyche, peeling back alternating layers of confused kid and sadistic hellion until Judy herself isn’t sure which is the real her. John Forsythe is smart enough to stay out of her way, perfectly playing the noble stooge and giving some great reaction shots as he’s busted again and again by Judy’s schemes.
At least John Forsythe’s David Stratton didn’t have the sexual revolution to deal with. In Peter Traynor’s Death Game (1976), asshole suburbanite George Manning (Seymour Cassell) tries to do the right thing when his wife is out of town and vixens Donna (Colleen Camp) and Jackson (Sondra Locke) show up one rainy night asking for directions. He lets them use the phone, loans them warm towels, and impresses Donna with his extensive collection of elevator music. And, sure, he tries to put up a fight when they strip down and come on to him ("No thank you. I’m a happily married man."). But then the Love Unlimited soundalikes kick in on the soundtrack and it’s time for some three-way hot tub humping, Seventies style!
George wakes up the next morning primed to write that letter to Penthouse Forum, only to find that the girls have decided to stick around and cook him breakfast...and play with his stereo...and try on his wife’s nightgowns. Pissed (though he didn’t mind their company the night before), George drives these troublemakers to the bus station. However, when he gets back he finds that Donna and Jackson have pulled the old Judy Dvorak number and have beaten him home.
Upon his return, they mace him and tie him to the bed. From there things get seriously evil as Donna and Jackson launch into a movie-long psycho spree/temper tantrum that includes putting on scary make-up, throwing George’s cat through a window, jumping on the bed topless, drowning a delivery boy in an aquarium ("You can’t do that! That’s murder!" George cries), and sloppy snack breaks. All of that happens before the girls’ private "trial" of George for statutory rape and subsequent breaking out of a handy meat cleaver.
These kinds of movies are only as good as the leading lady in the psycho role, and in Death Game we find two great actresses rocking out in scary fashion. Sondra Locke had a few pages of stuff to say about Death Game in her autobiography, The Good, The Bad, and The Very Ugly (ISBN: 068815462). Locke said the only direction she got from Peter Traynor was, when in doubt, break something or eat something. This explains a lot! Locke reports that leading man Seymour Cassell was so disgusted by the lack of behind-the-scenes professionalism that he refused to return for post-production looping so Traynor had a crew member dub Cassell’s entire performance!
Despite everything that’s inept and laughable about Death Game, it pulls off some genuinely creepy moments in the second half, since Donna and Jackson are not only complete maniacs but they’re having so much fun.
You can catch Kitten with a Whip on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" re-runs. Death Game has been released by several companies over the years, both under the aforementioned title and it’s more provocative handle, The Seducers.