Judge Brett Cullum explores the rich wonders of screen legend Pia Zadora.
Kady: Jess, the first time I ever had a paper dollar bill in my hand I was
twelve years old. I let one of the boarders spend the night with me. Maybe that
was bad, but the things I bought with that money was good, and I want more for
me and my baby. I want good things for us, and if that's bad then I wanna
Butterfly holds the distinction of being simultaneously honored by the Golden Globes as well as the Razzies with star Pia Zadora (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians) grabbing both awards for her performance as the femme fatale lead. The only way to recommend this Lolita flick is as a lark, it slips easily in to the same league as Showgirls or Mommie Dearest. It's a true camp classic, a terribly bad psychotic melodrama played by the actors seriously as if it could win them all Academy Awards. The tawdry script came from a novel by the same author who wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce. The whole thing revolves around the distasteful subject of incest, and it became a vanity project to showcase Pia Zadora's talent and body. Basically this is a way to honor the "Paris Hilton" of the '80s, a woman who found a way to get money to buy her fame beyond her talents. The movie is a joyride of badness, and it looks spectacular.
Stacy Keach (Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return) plays a poor caretaker of an abandoned silver mine out in the depression era Nevada-Arizona desert. One day his seductive daughter shows up claiming she wants him to help her get rich off silver in the mine. She says the wealthy son of the owner knocked her up, and so she's got a right to part of their fortune. The girl outright seduces her dad sexually, and he soon finds himself on trial for improper relations with her. Things get even more complicated when the father of her baby shows up (Edward Albert, Galaxy of Terror). He is followed by the caretaker's ex-wife, her current husband, and the owners of the mine. The film features Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), June Lockhart (Lost in Space), and Ed McMahon (Fun with Dick and Jane) in small roles. McMahon's presence insured Pia Zadora would become a favorite punch line of Johnny Carson, a project Johnny would never let his cohost forget.
The biggest controversy surrounding Butterfly was when Pia Zadora won a Golden Globe as "New Star of the Year" beating out Kathleen Turner for Body Heat, Rachel Ward, Craig Wasson, Elizabeth McGovern and Howard Rollins. The problem was her billionaire husband Meshulam Riklis had flown out members of the Foreign Press to Las Vegas for a lavish trip endorsing his then wife for the award. The crazy man also funded an elaborate ad campaign that featured ads in the trades and huge billboards all over Los Angeles. He had effectively bought the recognition for Pia Zadora, and everyone seemed to know it. Of course that didn't stop the Razzies, who went ahead and named her "Worst Actress and Newcomer" of the year for her performance in Butterfly. She would later win "Worst Actress" of the decade from the same organization.
Many fans of bad cinema have clamored for a DVD release of Butterfly, and amazingly this one isn't just a quick cheap bare bones affair. Money provider Meshulam Riklis, director Matt Cimber, actress Pia Zadora, and acting legend Stacy Keach all turn up in a featurette talking about the film and how it came about. There is a commentary track where Cimber is joined with Zadora and Riklis. Wisely the track includes a moderator who keeps things moving, and all the participants talk throughout the feature. It's amazing to hear how seriously everybody regards the film even decades after it became a pop culture punch line. They almost make you believe you are watching a lost classic of '80s cinema. Also included is the original trailer. The transfer looks fine even if it is somewhat soft, and the stereo soundtrack is tinny but works. Technically the presentation is clear enough to appreciate the badness on display, and in the end that's all Butterfly needs. Industrial Entertainment have provided royal treatment for the DVD, and it surpasses any hopes fans of the film could ask for.
Butterfly is entertaining for all the wrong reasons: the script has real clunkers it calls lines, the actors are trying hard to hang on to their dignity and take anything seriously, the costumes are completely inappropriate including Bob Mackie's wardrobe for Zadora, and the damn thing doesn't work on any level whatsoever as a drama about incest or the Great Depression. It also wins the distinction of one of the worst scores written by Ennio Morricone who also helped provide the cringe worthy theme song, "It's Wrong for Me to Love You" sung by Pia. The whole movie wants desperately to be the hot and steamy "sex and saxophones" genre that Body Heat did so much better that same year. But if you love bad films, or want to see Pia Zadora's butt and breasts, Butterfly is a great way to have a good evening giggling at the crap money can buy you. It's certainly far less painful than seeking out The Lonely Lady where you get to see Pia Zadora raped by the business end of a garden hose. This one is bad to the bone, but if you like that kind of thing it's a great DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Commentary with Actress Pia Zadora, Director Matt Cimber, and Producer M. Riklis
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