Help Wanted, Female (1968)
Directed by John Hayes (as Harold Perkins)
Starring Tony Vorno, Lucki Winn and Inga Olsen
67 Minutes/Black and White
Review/Photo Gallery/Video Clip
Straddling the generally untrodden line between nudie cutie and brooding roughie, HELP WANTED, FEMALE is an effective little film. Half T&A teaser, half budget-noir shocker, the film is wrapped up in an attractive, suspenseful package with a memorable central character. This is a interesting little twister with some surprisingly evocative moments, copious female flesh and real shocks to be had. The film has an undercurrent of absurd humor cradling its more brutal side, making its mean streak all the more venomous and unexpected.
Lovers Luana (Inga Olsen) and Jo-Jo (Lucki Winn, THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN) have got a pretty good racket going. Jo-Jo runs a Kung Fu studio at night while seducing businessmen and robbing them blind by day. Luana has a lucrative bump-n-grind business, visiting the homes of wealthy men and dropping her kit for cash. Her favorite client is Hefner-lite Mr. Gregory (Tony Vorno, THE HANG UP).
On this visit, Mr. Gregory has something a little different on his mind. While Luana drops her gear, Mr. Gregory drops a little acid. Under the drug’s influence he begins to tell her a sordid tale of his marriage to the wicked Barbara and their adventures with S&M, easy kicks and murder. Luana isn’t convinced, she’s been around the block and is used to the odd peccadilloes of her clients. As she sets out to leave, however, she finds evidence that Mr. Gregory’s story might be all too real and that she is in way over her head.
Despite moments of levity, occasionally unintentional, HELP WANTED, FEMALE is a mean little film. Luring the viewer in with stilted dialogue and interminable striptease routines that go on far too long, the audience is ill-prepared when the film’s vein of cruelty is punctured. The bulk of the film is told in flashback. Mr. Gregory regales an unbelieving Luana with how he discovered his wife’s love for a dash of pain with their pleasure. Luana is completely unphased as Mr. Gregory becomes more unraveled, describing the day the couple’s sexual games crossed over into murder. All Luana can focus on is the money she’ll be making from her visit to Mr. Gregory’s pad. Her amused disbelief in Mr. Gregory’s story makes the audience suspense stronger. As we see the cruelty Mr. and Mrs. Gregory unleash upon a young hitchhiker, we know Luana is in danger. The fact that she doesn’t takes the suspense to an uncomfortable level.
While there are violent sequences in the film, director John Hayes (who would later direct Vorno in THE HANG UP), wisely stays away from outright gore. The camera angles and lighting are suitably severe, making explicit shots of knives, bodies and blood superfluous. The sound design elevates suspense in subtle ways. The breezy lounge music creates an odd counterpoint to the on screen cruelty. Sound effects, like a shrieking tea kettle drowning out a victim’s cries, are inspired. Our imaginations paint a more horrible picture than the camera ever could. The aforementioned scene of the couple’s kidnap of a hitchhiker is extremely difficult to watch. The nudity of the actress (Joy Kahl, ALIMONY LOVERS), which was moments before presented to titillate, now renders her more vulnerable. This makes her attempts to escape more suspenseful and heart-sickening. The blasé way her plight is depicted by the camera is jarring and unsettling, and therefore effective in conveying the detached depravity of her victimizers. Kahl plays these scenes with a contagious desperation that is agonizing to witness. Just what the role calls for.
Any filmmaker worth a watch knows that in order to keep the tension viable, occasional moments of comic relief are a necessity. HELP WANTED, FEMALE certainly delivers. A scene between Mr. and Mrs. Gregory on the beach is played like a 50’s Italian art film meets WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S. While staying away from spoilers, this scene is on one hand absolutely ridiculous and completely essential to the film. Part arty farce, party Benny Hill, Tony Vorno is having a blast playing his increasingly unhinged alter ego.
Billed “Sebastian Gregory, as himself” here, Vorno is absolutely the star of this picture. While no one could blame the inexperienced supporting cast for occasional trouble finding their performances amid the film’s constantly-shifting tone, Vorno hits it right on the nose. He manages to be menacing, comical, sexy and dangerous with a twitch of his mouth and a flick of the eyes. Yet, he knows a T&A potboiler such as HELP WANTED, FEMALE needs an over-the-top lead to keep it afloat and doesn’t hold back from jovial gesticulation. When his co-stars emote low, he goes high. This viewer couldn’t help wondering what a career in mainstream films could have brought Vorno. Other than being the location manager on EASY RIDER (1969), most of his work was in the exploitation genre. While there is no shame in that, it’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to branch out. He’s got a face right out of a Steven Bochco police procedural and a hard-drinking cop vibe that would translate well to serious film.
The female cast all do their jobs well, despite being inexperienced in relation to Vorno. With a whopping three films to her credit, Lucki Winn is the best known of the actresses here. She appeared as Batgirl #14, the sarcastic one in the animal-print tights, in Jerry Warren’s absurdly bad THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN (1966). Later the same year she would take a small role, and show the world her magnificent body, in LOVE IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD for Lee Frost.
Also appearing in the Frost film would be Dianne Michaels who is terrific here as the icy Mrs. Gregory. Her cool stare and tendency to underplay makes her quite menacing in her own way. While the script and tone of the film would inspire other actresses to take quite a large bite out of the scenery, Michaels chooses to keep her composure. She is given little dialogue so she is left with those stunning eyes to convey the sinister nature of her character. She does this very well indeed.
Inga Olsen, in her only film role, is given the most to do as the money-hungry Luana. She has an interesting face, different than the usual cinema sex bombs, that is attractive, expressive and unique. While the dialogue she is given by the script is quite vapid, she delivers it well. Once Luana realizes the danger she is in, Olsen manages to very effectively display panic and desperation. I would have liked to have seen her develop as an actress in subsequent film work. Unfortunately that was not to be.
The film looks and sounds great. The performances vary but are competent and the suspense is well-executed and laid on thick. The film’s main drawback is the pacing. While the running time is a brief 67 minutes, it does take its time getting the motor running. With the early striptease scenes pared back, HELP WANTED, FEMALE would be a terrific short film. Once Mr. Gregory drops acid and the film gets itself into gear, there’s no looking back and you’ll be glad you stuck around.
HELP WANTED, FEMALE is a multi-orgasmic film, if you will. The action climaxes not once, not twice, but three times. Just as the film seems to be tying up its loose ends another strand breaks loose. As each climax recedes, the audience experiences release and relief, only to have the tension swell once again. This sort of audience “edging” is quite an effective device, well employed by John Hayes in many subsequent films. Denied a full filmic climax twice over, the final shocking moments are all the more powerful. Recommended!
HELP WANTED, FEMALE is available on DVD and for download from Something Weird Video. The disc also features the films RENT-A-GIRL and AROUSED.
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(Warning: Contains Spoilers!)
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