Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Census Bloodbath: My Fair Lady

Year: 1983
Director: Ulli Lommel
Cast: Suzanna Love, Robert Walker Jr., Jeff Winchester
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Ulli Lommel and Suzanna Love are the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson of dumb early 80's horror movies. Their relationship is fascinating. Lommel was an acolyte of both Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Andy Warhol and seems to have learned nothing from either of them. Love is a DuPont heiress who was married to him from 1978 to 1987, writing the checks to fund several of the movies they made together. Over the course of their marriage they created 12 movies, previously intersecting with Census Bloodbath with the 1980 killer mirror movie The Boogeyman and its 1983 sequel Boogeyman II. That same year, they created Olivia, a movie inspired by a location scout for Boogeyman II, and that's what we're here to talk about today.

And doesn't that title just send a chill up your spine?

So Olivia (Suzanna Love, of all people) is a young London woman with a ridiculous Dick van Dyke accent trapped in a loveless marriage to Richard (Jeff Winchester). As a child, she witnessed her prostitute mother being murdered by a john, and now imagines her mother's voice yelling at her and demanding that she murder men. She does follow her mother's orders once, but then she quickly falls in love with a potential victim, American builder Mike Grant (Robert Walker Jr.), who is in town to discuss whether to renovate or demolish the London Bridge (yeah, that's what this movie is about, for some reason I can't possibly fathom).

Richard discovers the affair, there's a scuffle, and Olivia escapes. Cut to four years later, the London Bridge has been transplanted into the middle of Arizona, and Mike reunites with Olivia, now going by Ginny and working as a real estate agent at a set of luxury condominiums built along the Colorado river. Then it mostly forgets that it's a horror movie until the final 10 minutes or so.

Everyone, Olivia is very strange.

Olivia is barely a slasher movie. Hell, it's barely a movie. There are enough kills present that I don't regret its inclusion in this project, but the nods at a Psycho-esque psychological profile of a woman driven to kill (which is certainly the impression the poster wants to give us, at the very list) are just nods. I can't quite discern what kind of story Olivia wants to tell, but it's certainly not a story about a serial killer. It's a little bit about a woman caught up in the headwinds of male desire and patriarchal oppression and struggling to escape from that. But also not really? It's dumb, is what it is.

I will say this about Olivia: it ends very far from where it starts, so it certainly keeps you on your toes. There's a fine line between "weird" and "bonkers" and the film doesn't cross over into the latter enough to be satisfying as a camp spectacle, but it's at least different. There's no movie like it. Because most movies have rising action, a climax, and then falling action. The narrative here is more of an omelet than anything, whisking together gratuitous sex scenes, the occasional kill, and lots of Olivia glowering in any direction she pleases.

You go, girl!

There is actually some good material in Olivia, and it comes from the place I'd least expect this movie to excel: the score. The composer here is Jerry Goldsmith('s son Joel), and he is turning in a score that feels very John Carpenter. And I don't mean he's joining the endless collective of slasher composers copying Carpenter's iconic 1978 score for Halloween. No, it feels very 2018 Carpenter, bizarrely ahead of its time with its penchant for sustained drones that sound like plaintive whale calls. The score is perhaps just as wide-ranging and unfathomable in its motivations as the movie itself, but it's lush. The sex scene that is scored by a synthesized harp that sounds like it's meant to be set behind a waterfall in a Fantasia movie is a particular standout. I'd actually listen to this score on purpose, and that's not something I've said about many a 1983 slasher movie.

Also, the lighting is somewhat atmospheric sometimes. And the acting, while certainly not good, is at least enough to get you through these characters' ever-changing journeys. But having sat through the entirety of Olivia, I really have no idea how to digest it. It just kind of sits there in my brain in one big lump. I've at least hacked off a piece and filed it under "remember this score," but otherwise I'm at a loss.

Their previous slasher The Boogeyman isn't exactly a masterpiece, but it's at least very clearly a slasher movie with a hearty body count, even when it turns into a peculiar Exorcist riff with John Carradine toward the end. Here they take a lot of the same ingredients (sexy murder flashback, vaguely supernatural events surrounding murder, etc.) and get really distracted by the London Bridge. Honestly, this might be more of a travelogue than anything, a full experience of what it's like to cross the bridge both in its original London home and at the real-life facsimile in Lake Havasu City, Arizona that somehow inspired this whole mess. I guess I'm grateful to this movie for that, because I had no idea we had a whole-ass London Bridge on this side of the pond, but I'd rather watch a documentary on the creative process behind deciding how this movie was going to be structured rather than the actual movie itself.

Killer: Olivia (Suzanna Love), but only sort of
Final Girl: Olivia (Suzanna Love), but only sort of
Best Kill: It's the only kill that's any good at all, but it's actually quite pleasing. Mike is brushing his teeth with an electric toothbrush and gets the device shoved through the back of his neck in what might be the film's only special effects shot.
Sign of the Times: Olivia's out-on-the-town outfit is a spray of hard-cut blonde bangs and the squarest sunglasses you ever did see.
Scariest Moment: When "flirting" with her, Mike forces his way into Olivia's house.
Weirdest Moment: Mike seduces Olivia with a sexy rendition of "London Bridge is Falling Down," emphasis on "my fair lady."
Champion Dialogue: "They've got nothing better to do than jump off the bridge."
Body Count: 4; only 2 of which are perpetrated by Olivia.

  1. Olivia's Mom has her head slammed into the bed which kills her somehow.
  2. Eric has a bottle smashed on his head.
  3. Mike has an electric toothbrush shoved through the back of his throat.
  4. Richard is stabbed to death.

TL;DR: Olivia is a scatterbrained, strange movie that doesn't really add up to much.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1139

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