Also known as The Dark Side to Love.
Also known as Gretta.
Also known as Erskine Caldwell’s Gretta.
Also known as Carnival of Fools.
Also known as “The Case of Gretta Connors,” which is part of…Night Train to Terror.
Of the three stories within that film, The Nightmare Never Ends and this one were actually fully complete movies* that may be better in their chopped down form, but let me tell you, this movie is completely beyond insane for so many reasons that don’t make it into Night Train.
It’s also based on Erskine Caldwell’s book Gretta, but when I say loosely, I mean loosely.
Pre-med student Glen Marshall falls for Gretta (Meridith Haze, who is great in this movie and I wished had done more than just this role) the first time that he sees her in an adult film. He starts to hunt her down, not knowing that she’s a woman kept by George Youngmeyer**, her Hollywood producer sugar daddy pimp husband after he bought her back when she was selling popcorn at the carnival.
Well, Glen gets her. She thinks that she’s a mermaid and won’t leave the bathtub, so Youngmeyer asks Glen to visit, make love to her in front of him and then he’s allowed to take her home.
But Glen gets more than he bargained for as Gretta is a sexual beast that is only happy when a man is making love to her. Otherwise, she’s selling your TV set, bringing in a piano and parading in front of your mother naked. She is not the kind of girl you take home as they used to say. She’s a fantasy woman for Glen but removed from the fantasy male gaze of pornography she remains the fantasy male gaze pornography object which is perfect in ten-minute onanistic blasts — pun intended — but potentially exhausting in real life.
Other than her sex addiction, Greta is only turned on by the adrenaline that comes from putting herself in near-death situations, along with a club of others who have survived death. This coterie has some real maniacs, including Federico Libuse, Contessa Pacelli and Prince Flubutu, who we are led to believe is Jimi Hendrix.
After surviving the deadly sting of a claymation Tanzanian winged beetle, Glen decides that no sex is worth all of this. He tries to get back with his normal former girl and back to his normal life but she tells him that there’s no way that he can ever be free from Gretta.
I mean, Youngmeyer did warn him that Gretta lives “in the fourth dimension.”
There’s a new problem, though. Gretta has overdosed and Youngmeyer takes him to her funeral. Lost, he makes his way back to the club where he first saw her playing piano and it turns out that Gretta is still there, but now she has become a he, the piano playing noir tough guy Charlie White. She hasn’t left the suicide club either, as now Glen has to survive a homemade electric chair and is forced at gunpoint to get in a sleeping bag and be in the path of a deadly multi-ton wrecking ball.
So can our protagonist get the man he’s in love with to be the woman he’s alternatively afraid of and sexually attracted to again? Will he have to break into her wedding The Graduate style and do some kung fu? Why is Gretta glad that Chopin is dead?
There’s even an ending that speaks to Yordan’s theories on love. Or whatever he saw it as.
Death Wish Club is an astounding piece of moviemaking. It’s very David Lynch without trying to be, which is the best kind of film, a movie that’s near occult-level weird because the people making it were all very damaged or just had no clue how humanity behaves because they came here from a parallel planet where this is how men meet women.
This is the kind of movie that I love.
You can watch this on Tubi.
*Scream Your Head Off was unfinished, but later was put together as Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars and man, it’s crazy as it gets.
**I love the theory that The Bloody Pit of Horror advances that this character is pretty much writer Phillip Yordan, who may have never fallen out of love with Cat People actress Simone Simon and just treated the rest of his wives like Youngmeyer, who believes that “one-sided love is the only emotion.” Yordan was quoted as saying that he married his first three wives “…and supported them in a lifestyle none of them experienced before they met me. That’s all I had to offer.” For more about Yordan, check out our piece on another of his absolutely bonkers films, Savage Journey.