Monday, July 3, 2023

"This Will Make You Relax. Now Just Relax." - Love Me Deadly (1973)

It is time to explore one of the most sensitive and still taboo-bursting films of the 1970's: Love Me Deadly (1973), a film full of necrophilia, male nudity, and, of course, Lyle Waggoner.

Some of your universe's critics fail to recognize the importance of Love Me Deadly. For example, reviewer lobianco writes, "A total disaster of a film you can't even laugh at." Reviewer eddie-96492 writes, "Beware - this movie sucks! Bored me to death." And reviewer merklekranz writes, "Even uncut and uncensored, this is a real yawn fest."

Read on for a fuller appreciation of 1973's Love Me Deadly...

The film begins at a funeral as the filmmakers zoom out of the face of a woman wearing a black veil. The veiled woman refuses to join the line of mourners viewing the casket until she is the only person remaining in the chapel. Then she walks up to the open casket, lifts her veil, and kisses the bearded corpse as the film’s theme song fades in on the soundtrack, a catchy tune apparently about necrophilia:

Love me deadly,
Kiss me deadly,
This very special love
Can never be.
Touch me deadly,
Hold me deadly,
Look in my eyes
And tell me what you see.
You won’t see love everlasting,
Ever bright and new for us to have and hold.
Love that is gentle,
Love that’s strong and warm for us alone to share.
Love must be cherished,
Must be all alone,
Or it will fade and die.
Yes, it will die.
And so will I.

As the song plays, the filmmakers show flashbacks to the veiled woman as a child fishing, picnicking, and riding in a car with her father (who, thankfully, is not the corpse from the opening, cementing the theme of the title song as necrophilia and not incest).

The film proper begins at a swinging early-seventies party. The veiled woman is Lindsay, and she is no longer wearing a veil. She hosts the swinging party, trading quips with her race-car-driving boyfriend before meeting another man in her upstairs bedroom. (The filmmakers cleverly mirror a shot of Lindsay walking up the stairs that features her cleavage with a shot seconds later of her male admirer walking up the stairs that features his open shirt.) 

The man gropes her breasts, then carries her to the bed. She protests that she needs to return to the party but he persists, so she scratches his face to force him to leave. Then she hugs a teddy bear and has a yellow-tinged flashback of her father pushing her on a swing that ends with her falling off the swing and receiving the teddy bear as a gift.

After the party is over, Lindsay, like many of us, scans the obituaries in the newspaper, circling the obituary of a 36-year-old man.

Meanwhile, the mortician from the funeral in the opening sequence drives to a gay porno theatre and picks up a young man named Billy Joe. The mortician is quick to ask if the young man has any family, and then drives him to the funeral home (Billy Joe charges fifteen dollars to “make it in the car” and twenty-five dollars to go home with a client.)

Still the same night, Lindsay dresses for a funeral and attends Morningside Mortuary for a viewing of the 36-year-old body. Alone at night, she strokes the corpse’s face, aroused, but seconds later she gasps in horror and stumbles back—directly into Lyle Waggoner. Mr. Waggoner is the brother of the corpse. She leaves as quickly as she can, but first she tells Mr. Waggoner that her name is Lindsay.

Not far away, the mortician brings Billy Joe into a medical room. “This is my office. I’m a veterinarian.”

While a bouncy country instrumental number plays on the soundtrack, the mortician has Billy Joe strip and get onto a table. The mortician straps him down. Billy Joe screams but no help arrives. The mortician injects his victim with a drug and then graphically inserts an embalming needle into Billy Joe’s arm. “You’re not kidding!” screams the young man. “He’s not kidding! You’re a maniac!”

In a disturbing sequence made even more disturbing by the victim’s visible male organ, the mortician cuts Billy Joe’s throat, inserts an embalming tube, and embalms the man as he dies.

The next day, Lindsay views Mr. Waggoner’s brother’s funeral from afar through binolculars. (For unexplained reasons, she wears a bright purple outfit.) When she sees Mr. Waggoner at the graveside, the filmmakers helpfully intercut shots of her own father with Mr. Waggoner, visually showing us that she is imprinting on Mr. Waggoner as a father figure. She stalks Mr. Waggoner at his art gallery but leaves before he can say anything to her. Then she returns to the funeral home in her veil and black dress to attend yet another funeral. (Here, the filmmakers highlight the mundanity of funerals, showing a smoking worker and a bored child before showing an uninterested Lindsay blowing her veil to make it move back and forth.)

After the funeral, Lindsay approaches the open casket, where the corpse is again a relatively young man, and she bends down to kiss him. However, the mortician interrupts her. “Beautiful, isn’t he,” the man says, and Lindsay runs away.

He catches up to her as she climbs into her luxury car. He confronts her: “I believe I do understand. I recognized you from the Baxter funeral on the seventh. I couldn’t help but notice your…affection…for the deceased.”

“You must be mistaken. I know no one named Baxter. Please, I don’t want to be rude.”

“The word is…necrophilia.” The mortician has Lindsay drive in the funeral procession through suburban streets. “We’re quite normal people. Just with different passions. Our drives and needs aren’t understood by many people, so we have to keep them secret. You’re not alone. In our group, we have several members who…who participate. Who enjoy together.” When they reach the cemetery, he says he can notify her if she cares to join them. He also takes down her name and address from her car registration, which she has perhaps unwisely clipped to the passenger visor.

Later, Lindsay receives a letter from the mortician informing her of a meeting at 11:30 tomorrow evening. It also says, “Bring a friend if you feel you would be more at ease on your first visit” because of course going to a necrophiliac orgy for the first time would be less stressful when accompanied by a friend or acquaintance.

Lindsay immediately calls Wade, the man who assaulted her in her bedroom, and invites him to dinner. “If you promise to leave your nails at home,” Wade (played by Christopher Stone, looking like a combination of Robert Redford and Peter Graves) quips, “I promise to be on my best behavior, all right?” When she hangs up, she tears up the necrophilia letter, but after her dinner date with Wade she returns home alone—only to drive to the funeral home, her urges and curiosity unsatisfied.

In a fascinating scene, Lindsay walks through a room full of empty caskets, with all the linings and pillows looking comfortable and inviting.

Eventually, Lindsay finds the room where the necrophilia enthusiasts wait, which happens to be the embalming room. The mortician introduces Lindsay to the corpse of Billy Joe, but she chickens out and runs away. The mortician chases her to her car in the parking lot. “What did you expect?” he asks. He adds, “I understand. It’s too public. You mustn’t let that upset you. A novice can’t be expected to appreciate total involvement. Perhaps I can arrange a more private time…in the future.”

Back at Lindsay’s house, Wade confronts her because he thinks she cheated on him by not being at home. She makes the excuse, “Somebody died.” She adds, “Trust me. Don’t ask any more questions.” 

The next day, a bubbly piano score accompanies Lindsay and Wade on a date to Lyle Waggoner’s art gallery. Mr. Waggoner takes an interest in Lindsay, making Wade a bit jealous and causing him to touch another female patron’s backside.

Later, the filmmakers enter a scene at a Japanese restaurant by raising a screen to reveal that Lindsay is now dating Mr. Waggoner’s father figure character, and they are double-dating with Wade and a young woman who appears to be about thirteen years old. 

After a montage of Lindsay and Mr. Waggoner dating, the filmmakers present a scene at an outdoor restaurant where Lindsay is distracted, presumably sexually, when a hearse drives by.

Eventually, the couple spends the night alone on the floor in front of a fireplace. Before they can make love, Lindsay pulls away. “Every time I touch you, you turn off,” Mr. Waggoner says. “Now what is it?”

She doesn’t explain, but she does kiss him, so he asks, somewhat oddly, “Anybody ever tell you what a hot, passionate broad you are?” Later, he says pointedly, “Maybe I’m a little odd or something. With me, it’s got to be a two-way thing.”

After Mr. Waggoner leaves, Lindsay gets a call from the mortician and she drives to a more private opportunity to satisfy her necrophiliac urges, unaware that Wade has spotted her car and follows her. After the mortician leaves Lindsay in a room with the sheet-covered corpse of another relatively young (though out-of-shape) cadaver, Wade sneaks through the funeral home.

Wade stumbles upon one of the mortuary workers embalming a corpse, and when he asks where Lindsay went the worker stabs him with the embalming needle. Wade falls to the floor, dead, and Lindsay, alerted by his screaming, runs to the room.

Of course, the mortician and his cronies tie up Wade and hoist him toward the ceiling on ropes tied to his wrists. Here, the group of necrophiliacs reveals itself to be not just a harmless group of people who  copulate with corpses but, in fact, black-robed Satanists!

Suddenly, Lindsay wakes up in bed. It was all a dream—not the necrophilia part, but the Satanist part!

When Mr. Waggoner comforts Lindsay, he asks her to marry her, and the filmmakers cut to the wedding ceremony and then to their bedroom on their wedding night. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Lindsay still can’t make love with a live human man. “You knew I had difficulties,” she whispers to him.

“Lindsay, we are married!” yells Mr. Waggoner. “Look, I don’t want to hurt you. You’re my wife. I just want to make love to you.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to make love. I just can’t!”

He puts on his robe and leaves the bedroom. She cries and says, “Give me time.”

After a wordless scene set in Mr. Waggoner’s art gallery in which Lindsay appears to lose a sale for Mr. Waggoner (thought it is difficult to tell what is actually happening with the actors’ pantomiming), the filmmakers present a driving scene in which Mr. Waggoner sees an oblivious Lindsay driving to a funeral. He follows her in his own car. Instead of confronting her, he waits for her to get home to ask her where she spent her day. She simply brushes him off.

The next day, Mr. Waggoner arrives home to find Lindsay gone and an Irish maid vacuuming the house. Although the audience has never seen the maid before, it turns out she took care of Lindsay and her father after her father passed away. The maid, Miss Pritchard, says, “After her father…well, when she was in school, I took care of this great house all by myself. Afore she could drive, it was all right for me to take her to the graveyard every other day. Now I’m supposed to clean this great house in two days a week.”

“But why?” Mr. Waggoner asks. “Why the graveyard?”

“That’s where she is, I reckon. Oh, tain’t natural, Mr. Martin, to mourn the dead forever. I told her it weren’t right. That’s when she moved me out of this house.”

Mr. Waggoner asks what ceremony Lindsay frequents. When he drives there, he finds Lindsay literally dancing on her father’s grave.

When she sees Mr. Waggoner, she screams like a child. “This is not your place!” She climbs into her car and drives away. The camera zooms in on Mr. Waggoner’s face to reveal a bright tear in his left eye.

The next morning, Mr. Waggoner finally confronts Lindsay about her peculiarities. The scene takes place in a breakfast nook. When Mr. Waggoner asks Lindsay to take a seat next to him, the camera moves toward both actors and a shadow slowly covers Mr. Waggoner’s body. An inexperienced cineaste might consider the shadow to be a mark of incompetence on the film crew’s part, but a more sophisticated viewer would realize the shadow of the camera is a potent metaphor for Lindsay’s inability to see Mr. Waggoner’s body as anything but dark and foreboding.

Lindsay admits nothing except her desire to fire her maid. She storms off, leaving Mr. Waggoner to complain that they’re living like children. Then he signs for a registered letter to Lindsay from a funeral home. As a responsible person, he gives the letter to Lindsay rather than opening it and reading it himself.

However, before Mr. Waggoner goes to his mother’s dinner party, leaving Lindsay at home, he reads the now-open letter inviting Lindsay to an event at the funeral home tonight at 10:00. He leaves dinner early so he can follow Lindsay to the funeral home, just like Wade. 

Interestingly, the event taking place at the funeral home involves the group of necrophiliacs dressed in black robes and holding candles, just like in Lindsay’s dream. Mr. Waggoner walks in on a nude Lindsay straddling a corpse in the embalming room.

Unfortunately for Mr. Waggoner, he is attacked by the mortician, who stabs him with a surgical knife. 

Later, the mortician gives Lindsay an injection as she lies on her bed. “This will make you relax,” he says, adding, “Now just relax.” He reveals, ironically, that the murder can give her everything she’s wanted. “I brought Alex home. He’s across the hall in his room. And I’ve prepared him for you. He can be yours now. Always. Forever. Now sleep. Sleep.”

As she rests, she flashes back to her father’s death, which she caused as a seven-year-old by shooting him with either an antique flintlock or a double-barreled shotgun. 

In the film’s finale, a groggy Lindsay walks in on the mortician slicing up Mr. Waggoner’s corpse. As he begins to cut off Mr. Waggoner’s finger, for unknown reasons, Lindsay hits the mortician over the head with a small statue. Then she climbs into bed with Mr. Waggoner’s body, snuggling with it as she remembers putting her teddy bear into her father’s casket and kissing him.

Love Me Deadly is a good example of a film that works hard to integrate its two personalities, as it is both a taboo-bursting exploitation film where necrophiliacs embalm victims alive for possibly Satanic purposes as well as a sensitive relationship drama about a traumatized woman unable to come to terms with her unusual desires. The casting of the film is perfect, with an excellent Mary Wilcox torn between swinging Christopher Stone (and by extension various corpses) and staid, conventional Lyle Waggoner (choosing to appear in this necrophilia drama just one year before leaving The Carol Burnett Show). The film's ending, where both sides of her personality come together, is a satisfying conclusion to the tragic affair.