MANTIS IN LACE
Sex and psychedelia merge in
this supremely silly late-sixties freak-out about an acidhead stripper on a
killing rampage. Stupid as shit, but fun nonetheless!
MANTIS IN LACE, or LILA (the actual onscreen title), from 1968, was one of
several exploitation pics produced and/or acquired by Harry Novak’s Boxoffice
International Pictures during the sixties and seventies. Novak’s ouvre
is hardly in the same league as those of better known exploiters like
Roger Corman or
Sam Arkoff, but many of Novak’s releases are worth a watch. MANTIS IN
LACE/LILA was one of his more notable offerings, with its irresistible swirl of
drugs, T&A and murder, and cinematography by the great Laszlo Kovacs (who also
DOP’d PSYCH-OUT and TARGETS that same year, and would go on to photograph the
legendary EASY RIDER the next).
Other Novak opuses of note include the LITTLE SHOP OF
HORRORS rip-off PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER, FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, AXE
and HITCH-HIKE TO HELL. Novak’s films have undergone a revival of sorts thanks
to Something Weird Video, who’ve commercially released several of his epics on
VHS and DVD. SWV’s DVD release of MANTIS IN LACE (“A Psychedelic Psycho Classick!”)
comes complete with three late-sixties shorts illustrating the horrors of LSD,
including the classroom scare classic LSD: TRIP OR TRAP.
Lila is a go-go dancer who lures a young man to her warehouse pad (which
she keeps for “things I can’t do anywhere else”) one night. There the guy makes
the mistake of turning Lila on to LSD. She has a bad trip and reveals her
innermost fears to her lover, most notably her hatred of fruit--then she freaks
out completely, believing she’s being molested by several men. Lila stabs the
guy with a screwdriver and subsequently chops him up with a meat cleaver,
thinking she’s slicing a large watermelon.
The next day two detectives become determined to track
down the murderer, who they think is a deranged man, while a middle aged lech
comes on to Lila. The lech accompanies Lila back to her pad, where she herself
initiates the LSD dosage. Once again the trip is a bad one: as the guy goes
down on her Lila hallucinates a doctor administering a syringe, and goes to work
with her deadly screwdriver and meat cleaver, afterwards commenting that her
dismembered victim “looks so funny like that!” The following night brings
another corpse, this one a sleazy man who Lila beats to death with a broom,
thinking she’s smashing a cantaloupe.
The hapless detectives investigating the murders finally get a break when a
real estate agent finds blood on the floor of Lila’s warehouse pad. The
detectives stake the place out, and so are present when Lila shows up with her
latest would-be victim, this time a swarthy guy carrying a gun...
You won’t find much in the way of great cinema here. The editing is
choppy, the dialogue clumsy and the acting strictly of the school play variety.
But such things don’t appear to concern director William Rotsler overmuch, as
he expends all his energy on the film’s primary reasons for being: nudity, sex
and violence! This is evident in the opening sequence, a go-go striptease
that’s photographed in the most leering and exploitive fashion imaginable, and
lasts several minutes longer than it needs to. There’s more gratuitous T&A to
come, including a mid-film sex scene (in which a talent agent “auditions” a
wannabe actress) that has no logical place in the narrative and appears to exist
simply to pad the running time.
Let’s not forget those psychedelic murder sequences,
with flashing red and blue lights and images projected on people’s faces. Other
trippy components include spinning disco balls and discordant shouting on the
soundtrack. It’s all just as silly as it sounds (although the killing scenes
are surprisingly harsh and impactful). For lovers of late-sixties goofiness,
the film is a real blast--or should I say groove?
One authentically good element is the cinematography by Laszlo
Kovacs. Kovacs was one of America’s finest directors of photography, and proves
it here with his rich, layered visuals. Kovacs’s bold use of multi-colored
filters is mesmerizing, making the acid trip scenes seem far more potent than
they deserve to be.
MANTIS IN LACE (a.k.a. LILA)
Director: William Rotsler
Producer: Sanford White
Screenplay: Sanford White
Cinematography: “Leslie” (Laszlo) Kovacs
Editing: Peter Perry
Cast: Susan Stewart, Vic Lance, Pat Barrington, Stuart Lancaster, Steve Vincent,
M.K. Evans, Janu Wine, John Carrol, John LaSalle, Hinton Pope, Bethel Buckalew,
Lyn Armondo, Norton Halper, Judith Crane, Cheryl Trepton