Mantis in Lace DVD

The Swingin’ ’60s – swingin’ a big butcher knife!

Producers Harry Novak and Peter Perry (who first got together for the sex/comedy/monster picture Kiss Me Quick) decided to make a feature that they could sell as either a sex show or a horror feature. Director William Rotsler (The Girl with the Hungry Eyes) shot two versions of this twisted tale, a shocker version with the title Mantis in Lace, and a sexier cut entitled Lila. Though sold here under the better title, this is actually the Lila version, uncut and transferred direct from Novak’s original negative. As such, it’s a good 10 minutes longer than any version ever released.

A go-go dancer (Susan Stewart) lures men back to her warehouse crash pad, where she makes out with them, trips on LSD, then butchers them – all to her theme song. The song “Lila”, sung by Lynn Harper, is credited to “Vic Vance” – actually actor Vic Lance, who plays Lila’s first victim, an annoying hippy. It’s unclear how much she remembers of her crimes, or how long she’s been killing, though she suffers from flashbacks. What we do learn is that she hates fruit, gets her lovers mixed up with fruit, and has to chop them up.

Russ Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster plays Dr. Ackerman, a psychologist who can’t stop analyzing Lila – until she stabs him, confirming his suspicions about her buried psychosis. The name “Ackerman” is probably a reference to Rotsler’s agent Forrest J Ackerman, better known as editor of Famous Monsters magazine.

As usually happens in movies like this one, the world’s dumbest detectives are assigned to the case. Homicide cops Sgt. Collins (Steve Vincent) and his partner Lt. Evans (James Brand, credited as “M.K. Evans”) are clueless, despite the fact she probably left fingerprints all over the bodies.

Though shot on a painfully low budget, the film is worth watching just for the crazy trip sequences. Also worth noting are Rotsler’s off-kilter editing and the “groovy” dialogue. Stewart isn’t a very good actress, but she’s darn pretty and has a fascinating weird accent which makes her sound a bit like Myrna Loy.

This 87 minute version of Lila has even more sex & drugs than previous video releases, and may contain scenes that didn’t even make it into theatrical prints. One additional scene shows nude dancers Pat Barrington and Janu Wine sharing a joint backstage. Another, obviously out of place scene, which brings the show to a screeching halt, features production manager Bethel Buckalew as the bartender who “auditions” a new dancer up at his apartment. Buckalew later directed a string of hillbilly sex comedies. Both these sequences have intrigued fans for years because clips of them are in the Lila trailer (included on the disc). The crystal clear transfer from negative shows off the fine cinematography by pre-Easy Rider Lazlo Kovacs, back in the days when he lent his camera expertise to dozens of trashy exploitation features.

Like other Something Weird DVDs, this one is loaded with extras. One section shows the more extreme initial acid trip/murder sequence – a much wilder example of somebody going ape with an optical printer – which ends with a suggestion of cannibalism! Another section preserves over 100 minutes of outtake footage, probably every bit of film shot by Rotsler. If one bothers to wade through all this raw footage (accompanied by reels of raw audio), you can see a few funny gaffs, as well as camera slates and a jumping piñata.

Shorts on the disc include a trip clip from the feature Alice in Acidland, and the bizarro strip tease short Girl in a Cage. Just to keep us on the straight and narrow there’s the typically doom-laden Sid Davis short LSD: Trip or Trap, which features the nerdiest pusher ever.

The DVD also has a gallery of ad art from Novack features, accompanied by exploitation radio spots. Rounding things out we have trailers for The Curious Dr. Humpp, The Mad Butcher and Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks.

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