Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Las Sicodelicas (Mexico/Peru, 1968)

If you listened to the last episode of The Infernal Brains, you heard me and a couple of my pseudonymous associates discussing the Cantonese "Jane Bond" films of 1960s Hong Kong -- and, in particular, how those films stood out for their relatively non-sexualized depiction of the high-kicking contemporary action heroine. To see the absolute opposite of that, one need only look at lady spy films from pretty much anywhere else in the world during that era, and especially those from Mexico. 1968's Las Sicodelicas, a joint production between Mexico and Peru that was primarily shot in Lima with a combination of Mexican and Peruvian talent, although not technically a spy film, offers a good example. Of course, without the aid of English translation, Las Sicodelicas comes across as little more than a mod era fashion show. But, oh, what a fashion show it is!

Modelling the film's selection of lysergic, flower power inspired couture is what could be considered a sort of Valentines Day sampler of 1960s Mexican cinema's finest eye candy. Among these is Chicago born beauty queen Amedee Chabot, who left behind a string of bikini clad bit parts in American film and television for a career as a leading lady in south of the border genre fare during the late 60s. Also here is Elizabeth Campbell, another American, who won her pulp cinema immortality as one half of Las Luchadoras in the first three films of the Wrestling Women series. Isela Vega, a former model and singer whose enormous popularity as a sex symbol during the late 60s would lead to her winning a lead role in Peckinpah's Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, represents Mexico. And last, but certainly not least, we have Batwoman herself, Italian import Maura Monti.

Here the four starlets play a quartet of hit women working for the deceptively grandmotherly "Aunt" Ermentrudis (Tamra Garina), who runs a protection racket under the cover of a somewhat unorthodox funeral parlor operation (in that, among other things, the funeral services include our four femme fatales acting as skimpily attired cocktail waitresses for the assembled bereaved). Aunty's targets are wealthy men from all areas of business, whom, should they ever tire of paying, find themselves on the wrong side of Maura, Amedee and company, whose job it is to hop into their chauffeured hearse and blithely eliminate them in any number of darkly comic scenarios. Thus is a recalcitrant luchadore hurled from a plane, another man obliterated by an exploding golf ball, and another herded into an abandoned arena to have a private audience with an angry bull.

Las Sicodelicas being the type of film that it is, none of its titular foursome are given any sort of character notes beyond what would easily fit inside a fortune cookie. Campbell's Patricia is the butch one. Vega's Dalilah is a hard drinking rocker chick in love with a pop singer named Ringo (Jack Gilbert, whose band is portrayed by Peruvian garage rockers Los Shains). Maura's Mireyra is, I don't know, the one most likely to pop her top, I guess. And it falls to Chabot's Adriana to be designated the most virginal and relatively sweet-natured of the group, which leads to her falling ass-over-teakettle for the private detective Arsenio, who is played by Rogelio Guerra as one part bungling comic relief and one part bargain bin Michael Caine. This last development requires Chabot to constantly make puppy dog eyes at Guerra, something that she proves to be weirdly terrible at. It also results in a plot snarl for the Sicodelicas once Arsenio takes it upon himself to investigate their latest string of killings.

As I alluded to above, the costumes worn by its stars are an undeniable highlight of Las Sicodelicas, as well as the one aspect of the film that most lives up to its title. Chabot especially, being cast as the group's resident flower child, gets to model a particularly astonishing assortment of floral-themed ensembles, which at one point include a piece of head wear that looks like an overturned flower pot rendered in macrame. However, aside from that and the nods to Beatlemania in Los Shains' musical sequences, there's nothing all that counter-cultural going on. For one thing, the Sicodelicas, despite their name, don't do psychedelics, nor, in fact, do they appear to do anything harder than alcohol.

Furthermore, there doesn't appear to be any element of "sticking it to the man" in the Sicodelicas' various transgressions, with the motive instead being a combination of financial gain and the fact that the girls just really seem to enjoy killing people. As such, Las Sicodelicas, for the most part, comes across as an amoral romp with a sort of frothy, free floating irreverence, taking its license from contemporary youth culture without subscribing to it on any deep level. That is, until its conclusion, when an ill-advised decision is made on the part of the filmmakers to call the girls to karmic account for their crimes.

No one in their right mind is going to come to a movie like Las Sicodelicas with an expectation of seeing anything remotely gritty or hard hitting. But if you're looking for a vibrant example of 1960s Mexican pop cinema at its most cheerily sex obsessed and silly, you couldn't do much better. Director Gilberto Martinez Solares (Santo and Blue Demon vs. The Monsters), does, as will surprise no one familiar with his work, a merely workmanlike job, but it's likely he felt the combined appeal of his four female stars would be enough to carry him. And he was right. As highs go, Las Sicodelicas may be lightweight, but it's clear that everyone involved was enjoying the trip, and that's enough for me.

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