/ Dyanne Thorne in Point of Terror (1971) /
Recently watched: Point of Terror (1971). Tagline: “Demons long locked in the depths of the mind come out to destroy the weak and believing!” I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend is accompanying me only semi-willingly).
Upon release this wildly tawdry exploitation curiosity was misleadingly and inexplicably promoted as a horror film (that tagline bears zero relation to anything that unfolds onscreen). And to this day Wikipedia describes it as a an “erotic drama horror film.” More accurately, Point of Terror is a shamelessly old-fashioned, down-and-dirty melodrama about adultery, murder and double crossing. The script - with its echoes of old film noirs like The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity - could easily have been written three decades earlier but it’s been tweaked for the swingin’ permissive era and the sexploitation-hungry demands of the drive-in circuit. The tone is pure soap opera. Everyone drinks too much and snarls bitchy dialogue at each other. There’s hammy acting, chain-smoking, poolside lounging, flashes of nudity and bed-hopping. In summary: irresistible!
Point of Terror’s campy lunacy is established immediately, with leading man Peter Carpenter wearing a fringed red ensemble, flailing around doing jazz hands while beltin’ out a musical number over the opening credits. Carpenter is muscular stud muffin Tony Trelos, a crotch-thrusting, hip-swiveling, tight-trousered and side-burned virile nightclub singer (think Vegas-era Elvis, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck or Tony Polar in Valley of the Dolls (1967)) employed at a Santa Monica cocktail lounge called The Lobster House.
From there, Point of Terror smash cuts to Tony asleep on the beach, tormented by a nightmare. Screaming himself awake, Tony encounters buxotic bikini-clad MILF Andrea Hilliard (Dyanne Thorne). It turns out he’s trespassing on her private beach. Hungrily ogling his rippling bronzed torso, the cougar-ish Andrea assures him it’s fine. Even better: Andrea is rich (ker-ching!), co-owns a record label with her husband and is enthusiastic to mix business with pleasure and sign-up this hunky new discovery. But Andrea has baggage: she’s trapped in a bitterly dysfunctional marriage to her invalid husband Martin (Joel Marston). Here’s a sampling of their ugly arguments: Martin: “Dirty bitch! You drink too goddamn much! It’s because of your drinking I’m in this chair!” Andrea: “Martin, I have a headache this big with your name on it!”
Tony invites Andrea to see him perform that night. (Note that The Lobster House’s stage is decorated with tinfoil - perhaps inspired by Warhol’s silver Factory?). “This is what I am and what I’ll always be / A drifter of the heart / Until love changes me!” Tony lustily wails, which makes Andrea go all misty and “tropical” downtown. (We always watch each of Tony’s cringe-worthy songs in their entirety! No cutting away!). In no time, the duo has embarked on an affair and begun production on Tony’s new album. (The “music industry” segments evoke Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Speaking of Meyer: Peter Carpenter made his film debut as a Canadian Royal Mounted Police officer seduced by Erica Gavin in Vixen (1968)).
Interestingly, Tony is portrayed as a grasping, amoral anti-hero. He takes his long-suffering girlfriend Sally for granted and brazenly cheats on her, and it’s implied he has a history of exploiting gullible older women to further his show biz aspirations. “I want to be somebody. That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” he explains for anyone who’s missed the point. “And I’ll do anything to get it. Anything!” Tony thinks he’s found his match in Andrea, but she is far more treacherous than he suspects! (To her credit, Sally warned, “She plays games, Tony! You’re just one of her toys!”). In no time, their relationship has soured (Tony: “Look, I’m not one of those beach bums you used to run around with!” Andrea: “No, they had a little class!”). But watch out, Tony: it turns out Andrea convinced Martin to kill his first wife so that they could be together. And another murder seems increasingly inevitable!
For trash enthusiasts, Point of Terror offers a cornucopia of riches. In an Eve Arden-style sidekick role, Leslie Simms (rocking a frosted blonde Tammy Wynette wig) steals every scene as Fran, Andrea’s perennially tipsy best friend. (I loved this exchange between the gal pals: Fran: “What’s he got to give you?” Andrea: “Kicks!” Fran: “He’s using you.” Andrea: “We’re using each other”). The gorgeously vivid nightclub lighting (heavy on the shocking pinks and greens) anticipates Italian giallo films like Suspiria (1977). The groovy early seventies clothing (Andrea’s crimplene dresses, Tony’s unbuttoned shirts exposing maximum tanned “chest meat”) are crimes against fashion. Andrea’s bouffant coiffures are like a tribute to the album covers of Nancy Sinatra (except when she opts for little girl pigtails, which are a tribute to Donna Douglas as Ellie May Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies). The sex scene in the swimming pool predicts the one in Showgirls (1995).
Best of all is director Alex Nicol’s equal opportunity lechery. Sure, we get to see Dyanne Thorne’s boobs, but we also get multiple crotch shots of Peter Carpenter in spray-on skintight pants. (The frequently shirtless Carpenter resembles a vintage Playgirl centrefold come to life). Most memorably, the camera freezes on a lingering glimpse of Christopher’s pert naked ass in a shower scene. Eyeing him up and down, Andrea purrs, “The view from here is marvelous!”
Point of Terror is viewable (for free!) on Amazon Prime. It's also available on Blu-ray and DVD via Vinegar Syndrome.