Why is it that some of the key movies I frequently rewatch involve girls with bad attitudes, criminal tendencies and questionable morals? Is there anything sweeter than sitting with a group of drunken friends howling through Switchblade Sisters or Shanty Tramp? I think not. So here are 15 of my favorite bad girl movies.
Shanty Tramp (1967) (Joseph G. Pietro) Eleanor Vaill is jaw-dropping as Emily, a hyper-sexual vixen in a dirt-water Mississipi town. She cruises a black man (Lewis Galen) at a revival meeting and his mother warns him, “Daniel, you quit staring at that shanty tramp!” Emily heads to the local tavern for some drinks and dances with a few guys before a gang of bikers invade the bar, and an altercation with Emily’s dance partner causes a wild fight to break out. Her dance in the bar is sublimely spastic Tragically, Daniel hooks up with Emily later that night in a barn, and, when they are discovered in a compromising state by a racist posse, she cries rape. Emily skips out and leaves Daniel to face the angry mob, heading home to her shack, only to be raped by her drunken father. She stabs him to death and flees town with the shady revival preacher, while “The Saints Go Marching In” blares in the background. Just astounding.
Claudelle Inglish (1961) (Gordon Douglas) One of my very favorite movies. Based on an Erskine Caldwell (God’s Little Acre) novel, it stars (the always fabulous) Diane McBain as Claudelle, a poor country gal who gets jilted by her boyfriend and decides to take revenge by sleeping with every guy in town. But there is a stipulation- they have to buy her presents. A minister counsels her on her wanton ways and she responds by sashaying across the street to a dress shop and sleeping with the owner for a fabulous free frock. Her actions rub off on her unhappily-married mom (Constance Ford), who starts cheating on her dull farmer husband (Arthur Kennedy). It ends violently (and hilariously).
Kitten With A Whip (1964) (Douglas Heyes) John Forsythe plays a well-respected politician, whose family is away visiting relatives. He discovers a strange girl- Jody (Ann-Margret)- who has broken into his house, and tries to help her out. What he doesn’t know is that she has escaped from a juvenile facility after stabbing a matron. Jody ends up blackmailing him by threatening to ruin his career by claiming he raped her. She then throws a wild party at the politician’s house for her degenerate friends, and forces him to drive them all to Mexico. Ann-Margret is at her sex-kittenish peak in this trash masterpiece.
Sorority Girl (1957) (Roger Corman) Susan Cabot (The Wasp Woman) expertly plays a rich, vicious college student named Sabra, who intimidates others and even has a female lackey (Barbara Cowan) who submits to her every wish and her cruel corporal punishments. When Sabra is ousted from the sorority, she takes revenge on her club sisters. Roger Corman creates such a fascinating character study of this misunderstood mean girl, even showing the parental neglect that fuels Sabra’s fury, and all in 62 glorious minutes.
Girl’s Town (1959) (Charles Haas) Mamie Van Doren is the brash, gum-chewing bad girl named Silver who is sent to a female juvenile detention center run by nuns. She cannot abide by the rules and is taught a harsh lesson by the other inmates. One of the gals- Serafina (Gigi Perreau) has an unhealthy obsession with a pop singer (Paul Anka). The whole finale with the nuns racing to the rescue of Silver’s sister (Elinor Donahue) in a station wagon is a riot. Singer Mel Torme plays a hood (!) and there are snappy exchanges with Mamie Van Doren and the other girls like: “What’s that jazz for?” “It’s holy water.” “Holy water?” “It’s plain ordinary water with the hell boiled out of it.”
Teenage Tramp (1973) (Anton Holden) Kim (Alisha Fontaine) is a wayward girl who has fallen in with a bad hippie crowd. Her draft-dodger boyfriend even pimps her off to horny truckers on the highway. She shows up at her wealthy, uptight sister Hilary’s (Robin Lane) house hoping to cash in on an inheritance. Within no time she puts the move on Hilary’s artist boyfriend by stripping nude in front of him and jumping in the pool. Unfortunately the hippie cult finds where she is and descends on the house. Their leader Maury (David Sawn) is a Manson-like drug kingpin who tries to kill the sister by pouring liquor down her throat. Is that enough of a plot for you?
Hot Rods To Hell (1967) (John Brahm) Dana Andrews plays a square dad traveling with his wife (Jeanne Crain) and kids to their new home in the California desert, where they will restart their lives running a motel. They are run off the road by a gang of hot-rod hoods and he scolds them for their delinquent ways. That doesn’t go over well with the punks, especially the feral hellcat Gloria (Mimsy Farmer), and they scheme to corrupt the pretty, naive daughter (Laurie Mock). Jeanne Crain’s over-the-top hysteria in the car is a laugh-riot.
Pretty Poison (1968) (Noel Black) Anthony Perkins plays Dennis, a disturbed man released from a mental hospital and given a job at a small-town factory. He catches the eye of the beautiful nymphette Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) one day and tries to convince her he is actually a secret agent. She goes along with his delusions, but is secretly plotting to use Dennis to get rid of her controlling mother (Beverly Garland). Weld is phenomenal- the look of fiendish, near-sexual, glee when she is committing crimes with Dennis is absolutely chilling. A twisted gem of a film.
Girl Gang (1954) (Robert C. Dertano) When it comes to 50s exploitation bad girl movies many are familiar with The Violent Years– written by Edward D. Wood Jr. (Plan 9 From Outer Space), about a group of morally bankrupt high school girls who get their kicks robbing gas stations; holding up teens on lover’s lane; gleefully smashing up school rooms, and whose philosophy is: “So what?” Girl Gang is just as loony. A seedy Timothy Farrell is the pusher/pimp named Joe, lording over a group of young girls (all look 30) who commit stick-ups and steal cars for him. He hooks them on heroin to make them more dependent on him and turns them out as prostitutes. Despite the sordid subject matter, the movie is really very funny- a scene with the partying girls smoking reefer and jitterbugging while a hep-cat pounds away on the piano is a high point.
Mama’s Dirty Girls (1974) (John Hayes) Film noir femme fatale Gloria Grahame plays a sleazy mom, who, with her buxom daughters, roam the country marrying and murdering men for their money. Unfortunately, their new male target outsmarts them by trying to bump them off for cash. The film’s theme song includes these lyrics: “ I know a lady who acts real shady/She’s got two daughters who part the waters/And if they come around, you better leave town/Watch out for mama’s dirty girls/They’re going to get you!”
Teenage Mother (1967) (Jerry Gross) “Means 9 months of trouble!” screamed the ads for this exploitation classic about a high school sex-ed-teacher who comes under scrutiny when a student gets knocked-up. In actuality the scheming teenage temptress (Arlene Farber) is just faking her pregnancy in order to entrap her boyfriend into marriage. Typically the film includes an actual “birth of a baby” sequence to titillate (and horrify) its target audience.
Switchblade Sisters (1975) (Jack Hill) Joanne Nail plays Maggie, the new member of “The Dagger Debs” led by badass Lace (played by Robbie Lee– who snarls through her teeth the entire movie). But jealous Patch (Monica Gayle) is out to frame Maggie, which leads to an all-out war with a rival gang. Customized tanks, the Black Panthers and machine guns all play a part of the insane finale. It just doesn’t get better than this.
Freeway 2: Confessions Of A Trickbaby (1999) (Matthew Bright) A warped modern version of Hansel & Gretel with Natasha Lyonne as a bulimic bad girl who escapes from a juvenile prison with a 16-year-old lesbian killer (Maria Celedonio) and heads to Mexico for safe haven with Sister Gomez (Vincent Gallo!)- who is really a child pornographer and cannibal (not to mention a man). Matthew Bright is such an unheralded, subversively political director. His earlier film- Freeway (1996), starring Reese Witherspoon, is a deranged masterpiece.
Savage Streets (1984) (Danny Steinmann) Linda Blair plays Brenda, the tough teen leader of a gang called the Satins, who wrangle with a male street posse called the Scars and prank them by dumping garbage in their cars. The Scars retaliate by raping Brenda’s mute sister, putting her in a coma. So Brenda slips into a zippered, leather jumpsuit and armed with a crossbow and other weapons goes all Death Wish on the gang. Linda Blair made quite a few of these grindhouse greats but this vigilante/revenge action flick may be her best.
Pets (1973) Raphael Nussbaum) Candice Rialson is just sensational as Bonnie, a teen runaway who hooks up with an angry African American hooker (Teri Guzman) who likes to entrap married men, tie them up; rob their houses, and throw their pets off a cliff. Bonnie gets away from her and hooks up with a domineering lesbian artist (Joan Blackman). She then ends up with a wealthy psychopath (Ed Bishop) who keeps a collection of rare female animals in cages in his basement. Poor Bonnie gets caged herself, but spectacularly turns the tables on the creep in this outrageously bizarre film that’s like Candide on crack.