Directed by Richard Robinson with some help from cinematographer David Worth, and produced by porn mogul Michael Thevis who was hoping to use it to break into the mainstream, 1975's Poor Pretty Eddie (which has been alternately released as Heartbreak Hotel, Black Vengeance and the charming Redneck County Rape) follows the unfortunate exploits of a beautiful black woman named Liz Wetherly (Leslie Uggams), a jazz singer who soulfully belts out the national anthem at a sports stadium before heading out on vacation where her car breaks down in some backwoods burg deep in the south.
Since cell phones haven't been invented yet, Liz decides to walk to the nearest place she might find a phone and winds up at a roadside compound of sorts called Bertha's Oasis where she hopes to get some help, but instead finds a man named Keno (Ted Cassidy) chopping the heads off of some chickens (those upset by animal violence may want to know ahead of time that this isn't a special effect). Keno redirects her to the main office where she meets Eddie Collins (Michael Christian), a poor man's Elvis Presley who wastes no time at all letting Liz know what his intentions are. Not too impressed by Eddie's advances, Liz has no choice but to wait it out as her car isn't going to be fixed any time soon, but she is at least given a cabin to spend the night in. While Eddie is making moves on an increasingly freaked out Liz, his girlfriend, Bertha (Shelly Winters), an aging dancer, is starting to take notice and is none too happy about any of these recent developments. Things go from bad to worse when the town sheriff, Sheriff Orville (Slim Pickens), shows up with his son in tow and Bertha has them stay for dinner - and then things really hit the fan as Liz is used, abused and everything in between while Eddie hopes to make Liz his own, advance his fledgling music career and keep Bertha at bay.
Poor Pretty Eddie is a film that starts of weirder and only gets weirder as it goes on. From the melodramatic opening right through to the completely depraved ending (which involves a slow motion shoot out inspired by either Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch or Vibenius' Thriller: A Cruel Picture - you be the judge!), Robinson packs his film with an asylum's worth of depraved characters and seedy situations. Violent, exploitative, sexual degrading and frequently bordering on surreal, Poor Pretty Eddie works in Oedipus Complex psychology, deviant sexual behavior, racial tension and backwoods backwards politics to fill a cinematic bath tub of ugly the likes of which you've never seen before - but damn if it isn't entertaining.
Like a lot of low budget drive-in fare, there are some gaffs here and there and some oddball directorial choices. Throw in what appears to be excessive Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life product placement that pops up in everything from cases in the background to t-shirts worn by prominent characters in prominent scenes and things become even more bizarre (if PBR and Miller were actively involved in this is debatable as it's certainly an odd venue to choose for promoting brand awareness!). What makes this one what it is, however, are the performances. Michael Christian is great as Eddie, entirely delusional about his talents and his shot at fame and lead on by Winters' over the top hard drinking washed up sugar momma. Their relationship alone is reason enough for sleaze hounds to want to check this one out, but throw in Slim Pickens as a sexist perverted sheriff and a hulking Ted Cassidy as a scarfaced mongoloid and, yeah, you've got a pretty unforgettable cast of characters here portrayed by an incredibly effective group of people who may or may not be intentionally going over the top. The only sympathetic one in the entire film is Liz, who Uggams, a real life chanteuse, plays initially with a bit of arrogance only to be taken down more than her fare share of pegs by the time the end rolls around.
Very rough around the edges, this is a sleazy, slimy barrage of nasty set pieces, dirtbag characters, sex, violence and odd music - the whole thing is gleefully gratuitous and wonderfully bizarre, showing no regard whatsoever for political correctness or moral standing. Thank God then that it's survived and that we're able, through the magic of home video, continue to wallow in its filthy bath water.
Poor Pretty Eddie is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in 1.78.1 widescreen. The picture has been hit pretty hard with some DNR but is still a vast improvement over previous budget releases even if some of the fine detail has gone missing with some of the grain structure. Colors are sometimes a bit faded and skin tones look a bit waxy. This probably makes it sound bad, right? Well, it's not the most film like transfer you're ever going to see but in terms of how it's looked in the past this release is a big step up. It could have been better but those who are familiar with the picture's history on home video will be pleased, and just check out the restoration demo in the extras to see how much has been done to get right of print damage, dirt, debris and scratches. Not a reference quality transfer, nope, not at all, but better than it's looked in the past by quite a margin.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track, the 5.1 mix advertised on the packaging is nowhere to be found and no lossless option is provided. This is a fairly limited mix in terms of range and if you listen for it you'll pick up on the occasional pop here and there, but the levels are consistently well balanced and you won't have any trouble understanding the dialogue. The film's score sounds decent and if this isn't a track that will floor you, at least it gets the job done without any serious problems.
The best of the extra features is a commentary track with film historian/preservationist Joe Rubins and the film's cinematographer, David Worth. Anyone with an interest in this quirky picture would do well to give this track a listen, as Worth's memory is quite sharp and he's got some interesting stories to share about his time working not only on this picture but on other interesting and oddball cult titles like Bloodsport and more mainstream fare like Eastwood's Any Which Way You Can. Worth cut his teeth on this picture, his first as a cinematographer, so he discusses what a learning experience this one was while Rubin keeps him busy and on topic.
Additionally the disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer, an interesting essay on the history of the film (which includes input from different participants, including Uggams, and information on the film's alternate version) by Temple Of Schlock's Chris Poggialli, the aforementioned restoration demo (roughly a minute long side by side comparison), a very small still gallery, menus and chapter stops. It should also be noted that this is a combo pack, so you also get standard definition DVD version of the movie that includes the same extras. Both discs fit inside a standard size Blu-ray case which in turn fits inside a cardboard o-ring featuring some admittedly awesome cover art.
A twisted and entirely unpredictable piece of backwoods hicksploitation horror, Poor Pretty Eddie will surely appall as many as it will entertain but that right there is half of its appeal. A rough and ready work of low budget horror that sets its sites on more surreal targets than most will expect, it's truly one of those films you just need to see to believe. They really don't make them like this anymore and if the film's Blu-ray debut won't blow you away, the movie probably will and it's never looked better on home video than it does here. Throw in an excellent commentary and a few other extras and this one comes highly recommended with the caveat that this really is politically incorrect drive-in fodder at its trashy, sleazy best.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.