Friday, November 3, 2017

#2,453. Scum of the Earth (1963)

Directed By: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Starring: William Kerwin, Allison Louise Downe, Lawrence J. Aberwood

Tag line: "Depraved. Demented. Loathsome. Nameless. Shameless. These are the Scum of the Earth!"

Trivia: The last scene (Kim walking into Craxton College) was shot at the entrance of North Miami Senior High School

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, Scum of the Earth is considered by many to be the first “Roughie” (a sexploitation subgenre that sprang up in the early-to-mid 1960’s, Roughies were notoriously misogynistic and featured scenes in which women were tormented and abused by men). While definitely more subdued than some of the subgenre’s later entries, Scum of the Earth is still not an easy movie to watch, and is an even harder one to recommend.

Photographer Harmon Johnson (William Kerwin) is the less-than-enthusiastic employee of Mr. Lang (Lawrence J. Aberwood), a pornographer who pays top dollar for pictures of nude women, which his young associate Larry (Mal Arnold) then peddles at the local high school. And when Lang’s customers start demanding even “harder” stuff, he has Harmon shoot the models alongside Ajax (Craig Maudslay Jr.), an egotistical, muscle-bound thug who is none too gentle when forcing himself on the unsuspecting beauties.

Though she’s made a lot of money working for Harmon and Lang, Sandy (Sandra Sinclair), their most popular model, wants out of the smut business. But instead of simply releasing her from her contract, Lang makes Sandy responsible for finding her own replacement, and the first young hopeful she stumbles upon is Kim Sherwood (Allison Louise Downe), a teenager trying to save up for college.

To lure her in, Harmon pays Kim $50 for a few harmless bikini shots, then sends her on her way. A week later, Kim calls Harmon asking if he has any more work for her, at which point he tells the naïve teen that she can make even more money if she’ll pose in the nude. Hesitant at first, Kim reluctantly agrees, and once the photos are snapped both Larry and Ajax threaten the poor girl, telling Kim they’ll show the pictures to her elderly father (Edward Mann) if she doesn’t pose for more.

Frightened and confused, Kim starts to model for Harmon on a regular basis, all the while hoping that Mr. Lang won’t pair her up with the brutish Ajax.

Scum of the Earth was released in 1963, the very year that Lewis and his longtime producer David F. Friedman revolutionized the horror genre with their gore-infused B-movie classic, Blood Feast. In fact, both films feature many of the same actors, including William Kerwin, Sandra Sinclair, and Mal Arnold (who was much more convincing as the middle-aged killer in Blood Feast than he was playing Larry, Scum of the Earth’s resident juvenile delinquent and a character not yet 18 years old). Of course, seeing as this is a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie, I use the term “actor” quite loosely; aside from the always-reliable Kerwin, the performances in Scum of the Earth range from mediocre (Arnold, Aberwood) to terrible (Allison Louise Downe is dreadful as the oft-maligned Kim). 

As for the film’s more “extreme” content, Lewis shies away from showing any sustained nudity (there’s one or two very quick breast shots, and nothing more), and spares us from having to witness Ajax’s cruelty (a late scene in which he pulls a woman into a motel room, beats her with his belt, and then rapes her is mercifully short, with most of the assault occurring off-screen). That said, Scum of the Earth has its share of objectionable material; at one point, Lang berates Kim, calling her “damaged merchandise” and “no better than the girl who sells herself to a man”, but the film’s most troubling sequence occurs when Kim walks into a neighborhood coffee shop and encounters Larry, who tries to embarrass Kim by showing her nude photos to some of his pals.

If you must see at least one “roughie” before you die, Scum of the Earth is the way to go; it’s not nearly as brutal as The Defilers, and is positively tame when compared to The Sinful Dwarf. But even without the nudity and graphic violence, Scum of the Earth is an upsetting motion picture, and don’t be surprised if you feel the urge to jump in the shower the moment it’s over.

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