The world has ended. All that is left behind are individual beauty cults, groups of girls seeking safety and identity in numbers. Basing their bond on hair color and giving themselves strangely evocative gang names, the blond Phayrays (King Kong), the brunette Satanas (Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!), and the wicked, redheaded Tempests (as in Storm, the stripper) are constantly battling the brutish cavemen roaming the afterworld ruins and looking for potential dye job converts. Only one group tries to incorporate all follicle factions. They are the Superstarlets. The dark haired leader Naomi, along with her goldilocks lover Rachel are on a quest: they want to find a link to the past, Naomi's grandmother's long lost stag reel which she hopes will provide some insight into who and why she is. But if it's up to the fiery leader of the henna honeys, Jezebel, everyone will be dead or have red on their head. When a mysterious vixen named Valentine shows up, she throws a wrench into everyone's agenda. In this aftermath of austerity, there are no clothes. A reliance on the homosexual fashion industry (which is now extinct) and an inability to sew means that everyone in the brave new world surrounding Femphis is forced to walk around in skimpy lingerie. But Valentine knows where there are dresses to be found. And she is willing to play all sides against each other to see the various factions destroy themselves. It's bitches against broads, battling with gossip and guns, as we await the fate of those involved in the decidedly dark, self-indulgent society of Superstarlet A.D.
Superstarlet A.D. is a jaw-droppingly bizarre, outrageous exercise in kitsch and camp that proclaims itself a morbid, deviant comedy but actually plays more like a smart collection of vintage porn magazines come to life. Telling a detailed and intricate sci-fi Judgment Day story of femme fatale fashion victims roaming a desolate landscape in like hair-colored harems, this is gang warfare, Vogue style: a never ending power struggle between Mary Kaye and Maybelline for supremacy over the lipstick lesbian population of power babes. Sexy, sultry, and drenched in a heaving knowledge of smoker/exploitation films of the 1930s thru '60s, this ambitious, baffling stag loop for the new millennium creates a private, provocative universe of glam gals with firepower battling each other and bemused de-evolved Neanderthal men in the name of domination and dominatrix. The dialogue is arch and obtuse. Characters occasionally provide voice-over monologues that sound like Marshall McLuhan meets Penthouse Forum. The production design is wasteland chic. And the women are bountiful, beefy maidens of hot sexy death. But this is not really a trashy take-off on post-apocalyptic action films. Superstarlet A.D. is actually more of a meditation on pop, sexual ambiguity and the role that pornography and fashion photography have played in blurring the lines between genders and lowering feminine self-esteem. On one hand, this is a twisted tawdry treat filled with bodacious broads and blazing artillery. On the other, it's an insane statement on empowerment gone awry.
Director John Michael McCarthy cannot receive enough praise for the impressive look and visionary style he gives to this film. What he accomplishes with lighting, makeup, location, and a single 16mm camera is a lesson for all would-be auteurs to learn by. Every image is like a long lost still from a smut producer's press kit, and McCarthy creates comic book compositions (his origins are in comics) that are a feast for the eye and food for thought. He constantly references pop culture, social stigmas, and mainstream mantras to make his cracked commentary as recognizable as it is profound. While it's true he is treading ground already worked well by similar minded madmen like John Waters (Eat Your Makeup, Female Trouble), Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat), and Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising), McCarthy has a freshness born of nostalgia, of being a generation removed from the areas he's exploring which allows him to add a more modern sensibility to his homage. Not everything works here. The Sappho scenes have a strange staginess to them, the actresses so outrageous that it feels like we're watching The B-52's have sex. Also, star Kerine Elkins has a singing style only a crack whore could love (it does work within the confines of the film, but it is a chore to endure). And the movie has one too many endings. Once Naomi's vintage film is located and its contents revealed, there is a sequence of events that lead to a natural conclusion. But McCarthy just doesn't leave well enough alone. He lets the movie take yet another mind blowing meandering step into another realm before finally putting on the brakes, and this destroys the near perfect symmetry he had previously created. A little tighter editing and this would have been a startling cinematic revelation. As it stands, it's a stunning work of art that needs to be seen to be believed.
The DVD treatment of this disc by Troma is really outstanding. They give Superstarlet A.D. a beautiful transfer, making sure that the monochrome portions of the movie look absolutely amazing. The film occasionally veers off into color sequences, and they look equally good. But it's the black and white work here, highly reminiscent of German Expressionism that is just great. As is the sound. There appears to be some dubbing in the movie (perhaps as a further homage to exploitation films) but nevertheless, the voices are clear and the music wonderfully evocative. The score sounds like The Residents crossed with Windham Hill and garage punk. It suits the movie perfectly. Oddly, Troma shies away from the huckstering self-promotion they usually give their releases. After Lloyd K's obligatory goofball introduction, the majority of the material is turned over to an exploration of this fascinating movie. We get several interview features on JMM (as the director is lovingly referred to) and a couple of the cast/crew members. A few very nice galleries show some behind the scenes as well as artistic impressions of the making of the film. There is a long onscreen essay that discusses the film's origins and a nice collection of notes, journal entries, and interview transcripts of the Starlets.
But by far the most effective and insightful bonus is the commentary track by JMM, director John Michael McCarthy. It is nice to hear that this movie was not an accident, but a well planned out artistic statement about the dearth of viable popular culture in the new millennium. JMM has some very strong views about independent films, post-modernism, and the state of our world after the death of Elvis in 1977, and he shares them in-depth on this thoughtful track. He explains the connection between Superstarlet A.D. and Something Weird Video. He discusses his reverence for the works of exploitation pioneers like Doris Wishman and Harry Novak. And he points out the personal and professional pitfalls of maverick movie making in Memphis. This is less a behind the scenes and more a peek inside the mangled mind that conceived this brilliant, aggressive experiment.
Troma is to again be commended for being the bold, innovative studio giving movies like these a chance at a wider audience. Your standard Toxie lovers may find this a little too artsy—aside from the ample skin—but anyone looking for something provocative and perverted will discover Superstarlet A.D. fills that bra cup nicely. It's a truly remarkable movie.
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