I’ll be honest, this is not what I was expecting AT ALL. When you’re confronted with a title like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, it doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but as I would discover as I happily choked back on the pleasures of comical disbelief, it does leave you open to surprises. This is quickly emphasised with an opening disclaimer that goes above and beyond the usual ‘based on a true story’ proclamations, instead decreeing: The chainsaws used in this motion picture are real and dangerous! They are handled here by seasoned professionals. The makers of this motion picture advise strongly against anyone attempting to perform these stunts at home. Especially if you are naked and about to engage in strenuous sex.
All-in-all, Some pretty sound advice.
Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a super low-budget affair that peddles trash like a mafia-run garbage disposal company looking to invade the turf of our most primal impulses. The opening disclaimer is a clear nod to Tobe Hooper’s indie horror masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which, while residing in another galaxy tonally, utilised its own shock-driven title to help rake-in an astonishing $30,900,000 on a budget of approximately $100,000. It even casts Leatherface himself, Gunner Hansen, as the film’s wholly ridiculous villain. As you might expect, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers wasn’t quite as successful. Costing roughly the same as its biggest inspiration, it didn’t receive a wide theatrical release, though with rentals, a ’20th Anniversary Widescreen Edition’ DVD, and various limited Blu-ray releases, it has certainly found an audience over the years, something that makes me very happy indeed.
On the surface, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is everything you would imagine. It is a movie about chainsaw-wielding nut jobs masquerading as barfly hookers. It is grainy aesthetics and sordid, neon-lit streets, a film with so many absurd plot developments that part of the fun lies in trying to figure out where it’ll take you next ― and by the way, good luck with that. Despite its title, labelling Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers ‘soft porn’ may be something of a push, but with the amount of senseless nudity on display, you’d be forgiven for thinking as much. You could even throw the word ‘fetish’ in there, particularly when bucketloads of blood collide with bosoms like waves crashing against the rocky shores, horror and titillation pouring unashamedly through the screen. This is B-movie acting, porn star extras and enough salacious sleaze to leave you sticky with delight.
But Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is so much more than the overtly lurid trash it so shamelessly flaunts. Far from the dull and fatuous wannabees flooding rental shelves in the late 1980s, it is the exploitation equivalent of The Naked Gun, driven by the kind of pseudo-noir that seems tailor-made for the suavely inane narration of one Frank Drebin, whose repertoire of deadpan expressions, a life-affirming beacon in a sea of seemingly acceptable madness, would prove a perfect fit in the zany world of the now-defunct Camp Motion Pictures.
Actor John Henry Richardson does an admirable job in the absence of Leslie Nielsen’s particular brand of comic genius. Our protagonist is named Chandler (as in Raymond), a sleazy private eye living out of the squalid Mark Twain Hotel — or ‘Hot’ as the half illuminated sign boldly proclaims. Chandler is the kind of cynical, straight-talking guy who orders a bourbon with a bourbon chaser, slinging crass similes such as “You could have knocked me over with a pubic hair,” as he glibly saunters from one potential suspect to the next.
Jack is looking for a nubile dame named Samantha Kelso, a teenage runaway who has fled her overly-friendly stepfather (a joke, like many more in this film, that would go down like an elephant in concrete boots in today’s hyper-enlightened society), making her way to Los Angeles at the most inopportune of times. You see, punters are dropping like flies on the sleaze-ridden sidewalks of downtown Los Angeles, and having found severed fingers next to a condom and a tube of lipstick, the cops are convinced that hookers are to blame, despite the fact that the chainsaw responsible for leaving limbs all over town weighs more than most of their potential suspects.
In your typical crime caper, this might have been resigned to a simple case of illogical detective work, but logic has no place in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. In fact, the more illogical and wide of the mark your suppositions, the closer you’ll be to finding the right path. If you’ve ever stumbled drunkenly in the wind, taking four steps forward and ten back in a vain attempt to locate something resembling a bed, you’ll be right at home. In this instance, there is the small detail of the deranged curb crawler currently in police custody, a big-breasted psycho who managed to knock off a couple of cops in the interrogation room after someone left petrol in the suspected murder weapon. Surely someone will have to answer for that one. Rookies!
Chandler drips with the kind of suave ineptitude you would expect from a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker production, and when he finally crosses paths with the strange looking man who’s been watching the film’s spate of murders with the staged contrivance of a Days of Our Lives character, he assumes that the massacres are the result of a racket which sells young body parts to the affluent elders of Beverly Hills. Naturally, he is well off the mark. In reality the man is the leader of a nefarious chainsaw cult that can be traced back centuries to its Egyptian roots — that would be before chainsaws existed — one which brainwashes hooker minions to stage elaborate sacrifices in an intentionally cheap, Mel Brooks-style temple which utilises clearly posted signs offering directions to all and sundry.
As for Samantha, she’s not quite as naïve as her mother made out. Not only is she sad to hear that her molesting father has been kicked out of her home (she was actually rather fond of him), she has secretly infiltrated the deranged cult in order to enact vengeance for a runaway friend whose severed head she found in the garbage. Being a big-breasted harlot, that doesn’t stop her from flirting with the seemingly irresistible Chandler, who covers up middle-fingered fights with his girlfriend by juxtaposing them with some spuriously affectionate narration. Rarely have the margins of love and hate been explored so sublimely.
Shot in an astonishing five-and-a-half days, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was directed by Fred Olen Ray, a Z-budget mainstay whose filmography includes titles such as Cyclone and Beverly Hills Vamp, though most will remember him for 1983’s supernatural slasher Scalps. On the subject of working within a tight budget in a 2007 interview, Olen Ray would explain, “Money is always a barrier. The more they give you, the more they expect, so you’re always caught short, regardless. I don’t think anything I’ve done was ever budgeted properly for what was expected of me, but that’s just the nature of the business, I guess. There certainly are films I did because there was a paycheque attached. It’s a working man’s world and it doesn’t pay to get too idealistic about things like directing low-budget movies if you have a family to think about. I usually try to find something that interests me in each and every project. It’s not really possible to phone it in. Making a film with no money or schedule is ten times harder than it is to make a big-budget show where you’re surrounded by a gang of super-talented people.”
Despite his limitations, Olen Ray would work with some pretty notable faces over the years, even teaming up with two-time Academy Award nominee Peter Fonda for 2010’s American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James. In line with its offbeat tone and exquisitely deranged plot, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers features a few recognisable cult stars of its own, including B-movie scream queen Linnea Quigley, fellow Nightmare Sister and ex-porn star Michelle Bauer and the aforementioned Gunnar Hansen himself as chainsaw cult honcho the Leader, here presiding over events with the kind of ironic nod one would expect from such a deliciously acerbic outing. Elsewhere, a penny-pinching Olen Ray had to think on his feet, many of our titular hookers actually real prostitutes brought in off the streets to cut costs. Who said his movies lacked authenticity?
Ultimately, this is the wonderfully deadpan John Henry Richardson’s movie. His character may come across as something of an asshole, but when it gets down to brass tacks, the absolutely priceless Chandler is only too happy to help the dainty delight that is Samantha, even while wreaking bloody vengeance on the bitches who mutilated her friend because, as he so eloquently puts it, “She’s a nice kid, so maybe I’ll let her stay around awhile. Besides, she’s got a great set of tits!”
Fellow scream queen Brinke Stevens was initially offered the role of Samantha but declined, adding, “I can’t be in a movie called ‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’! My mother will kill me!” Quigley, on the other hand, was rather proud of her performance, later claiming that, while she rarely allowed her parents to see her films for fear of their reaction, she gladly invited them to the premiere of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
I suddenly have a strong urge to seek out those other movies.