The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)
Directed by: Jerry Warren
Starring: Katherine Victor, Steve Brodie
70 Minutes/Black & White
In the wake of the blockbuster BATMAN film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Batmania ruled the world in 1989. There were posters to be plastered on walls, costumes to be worn for Halloween, mugs, lunch boxes, figurines, candies and comics to help relieve kids of their pocket money. During this commercial zeitgeist the Bat-vaults flew open and serials, films and knock-offs galore came spilling out. One of those knock-offs found its way into my 12-year-old hands as I slogged through Kohls Department Store on an otherwise torturous trip to the mall with my mother.
The box promised thrills galore as a hideous monster menaced a gun-toting, busty bat-masked woman. I didn’t know who this Batwoman was, but I was eager to explore her wild world. To that end, I settled in front of the giant VHS machine and popped the tape in ready to experience what the movie’s poster promised as Batwoman’s “thrills rip forth in wide wild adventure.” 28 years later I’m still waiting for those thrills to rip forth.
When the film spooled through the cameras to make this weird little footnote in Bat-history, a different type of Batmania was taking place. A re-issue of the first clunky, campy BATMAN (1943) serial made the rounds of college campuses, reigniting interest in the Caped Crusader. This renewed popularity gave rise to the now-legendary ABC series “Batman” (1966) which starred Adam West in a light-hearted re-imaging of the famous crime fighter. The popularity of the series was immediate and worldwide with local rip-offs springing up around the globe, particularly in the Philippines where no less than 5 rip-off films have been produced over the years.
Never one to miss a bankable trend, Z-movie maestro Jerry Warren quickly assembled what passed for a script, lied through his teeth about the scale of the film to secure his leading lady, rounded up a bevy of unemployed strippers, and unleashed THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN (1966) onto a Bat-hungry public.
Masked crime buster Batwoman and her gaggle of giggling “Bat Girls” are tasked with recovering an “Atomic Hearing Aid” from the evil clutches of Batwoman’s arch nemesis Rat Fink. You know you’re in trouble when an entire film plot can be summed up in one sentence. Indeed, THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN is a film where the backstory and its very existence are far more interesting than anything happening on screen.
The film begins rather well, mostly because the atmospheric opening moments were lifted from a different film entirely. A man is accosted in a dark alley by two robbers who then murder him when he doesn’t willingly hand over his money. Hiding behind some trash cans (for no discernible reason) are two Bat Girls who witness the robbery and report it back to their leader, the mysterious Batwoman. Having done so, everybody forgets about the incident and the film trundles on. Soon after, one of Batwoman’s girls is kidnapped while the superheroine and her girls pretty much do nothing about it. They are too busy swimming, dancing the jerk, and making out with random guys on the beach to be distracted by such mundane tasks as crime fighting. THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN swings madly from set-piece to set-piece, seeming to make a conscious effort not to advance the plot in any way.
The ineptness of the production doesn’t help matters. While the film does have a certain dopey charm, the static camera work and inane dialog can be a chore to get through. Some scenes are just plain embarrassing to watch. In a rare moment of attempting to move the plot forward, Batwoman engages in a séance to try to discover the location of the stolen “Atomic Hearing Aid.” Her occult explorations are stymied by an over-eager Chinese spirit who keeps interrupting. Rather than speaking Chinese, the voice simply repeats “ching-chang-choy” over and over, crossing the border from ineptitude into racism in a trek that makes Mickey Rooney’s “yellowface” performance in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S seem positively sympathetic. Scene after scene of vapidity unravel before the viewer with no end in sight. Indeed, THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN may well be the longest 70 minutes of your life if you go into it looking for anything other than a mindless romp.
With the right frame of mind, there is fun to be had with BATWOMAN. No, her crime fighting technique won’t “rip forth” and “thrill” you, but the bargain basement Beach Boys music, period dancing, and mod costumes are a lot of fun in small doses.
Heading up the cast is the rather formidable Katherine Victor. The bulk of Victor’s on-screen résumé consists of films directed by Warren, much to her stated regret. In later years she would lament her involvement in these films and the damage they did to her budding career. Quite a good actress, Victor’s steady performance (even under a ridiculous costume) is the only performance that doesn’t inspire cringing from the audience. Initially, Victor refused the role of Batwoman, having experienced Warren’s cut-rate filmmaking style too many times before. Warren managed to woo her with promises of a bigger budget, color photography, and her very own “Bat Boat.” Whether or not Jerry Warren actually meant these promises to materialize I don’t know, but the film looks like it cost $15.75, it is in monochrome, and Batwoman stays on dry land throughout.
Batwoman’s crime fighting surrogates, the Bat Girls, were supposedly cast on the spot when Jerry Warren passed by a strip club that had been raided, leaving the young women without work. Most of the non-speaking Bat Girls seem to be have made their one and only film appearance in WILD WORLD. Of those with speaking roles, watch for Lucki Winn (in leopard tights) who would go on to appear in the far more interesting nudie-cutie sleazefest HELP WANTED, FEMALE (1968). The lovely, Marlo Thomas-esque Suzanne Lodge is the “main” Bat Girl, although her role would be truncated when the director thought she was getting – to quote Katherine Victor – “too big for her britches.”Shortly after the release of the film to theaters and drive-ins, National Periodical Publications (known as DC Comics to us mere proles) slapped Jerry Warren with a lawsuit for breach of copyright. DC’s Batwoman character first appeared in July 1956 in Detective Comics #233. Presented as wealthy heiress Kathy Kane both she and her niece Betty (who would become the first “Batgirl”) were added to the mix to refute notions that Batman and Robin were shagging each other by introducing female love interests for them both. While the Katherine Victor character is clearly not meant to be the same person tasked with keeping Batman hetero, the name and costume were close enough to DC’s property to bring suit.
A protracted legal battle followed with Warren emerging triumphant. Though he won in court, he was not in much of a mood to tempt fate again and quickly re-titled the film SHE WAS A HIPPY VAMPIRE, slapping a new scene on the head of the film recasting the Bat Girls as some sort of crime-fighting vampire cult. By this point, however, the film had been forgotten and languished in obscurity for two decades before being resurrected by Rhino Home Video in the late 1980’s.
Interestingly, another buxom Batmovie was produced in 1968 in Mexico. THE BATWOMAN remolded the heroine as a caped wrestler who fought crime on the side. Just as daffy, but far more competently made than the Warren film.
THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN got a new lease on life when it was riffed in an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (MST3K). This exposure raised the film’s profile significantly and is, to this reader’s mind, the ideal way to experience the movie. On its own merits, THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN is a rather dull ride, but with a group of friends (or with MST3K’s Mike and the Bots as surrogate buddies), Batwoman and her girls are an amusing way to spend 70 minutes on a dull weekend afternoon.