Polyester in Blood: An Ode…of Sorts to Doctor Gore
“Hey, Kid! Wanna chikn’ biscuit?” the greasy man smiles as you slowly start to back away, even though you are a little hungry. Then again, you’re also 35 and not sure why this man with combover-like hemlock and a gold pinky ring shaped like a fertility symbol is offering you food or calling you kid. “It’s your loss, champ!”, you hear him say as you walk further and further away. Maybe there’s a nice, clean Howard Johnson’s up the road with some sanity and fresh coffee. But do you go to the well-worn sanitized path to Ho-Jo’s and java not littered with ashes from a waitress whose love life is as comforting as a widow woman’s miscarriage?
Like a light from the bowels of the Inferno, a sign sporting a red-nightie-wearing cutie from the Mamie Eishenhower-era and font straight off a pack of Winston’s beckons you. The Paper Doll Lounge. The old-man-tears and social disease gnawing at the hem of one’s new nylons pall is a siren song you follow, despite every good sense your poor mother, whom you still need to call, goddammit, raised you with. Entering the smokey dive, your ears are hit with the sound of heart-welted-midwest-honky-tonk music. Ever see a paunchy truck driver silently weep in his half-empty mug of Schlitz? Well? You have now.
Soon, the scene is fully set. The golden hue of the cocktail you’re sipping looks like amber with stemless cherry swirling in the red carnival glass. Loose morals swim around as the gent sidling next to you starts to lightly loosen his lilac-splashed-in-yellow-in-paisley tie. His prominent, nearly bulging eyes and questionable hairline twin instantly with the food offering schemer that you were speedwalking away from a few minutes ago. The greasy man, but how could he have changed clothes so fast? He went from Tilt-O-Whirl tramp to a (strong) cologne wearing a three-piece suit and a pick-up line for every occasion.
Either way, you don’t trust him or this den of oily iniquity and quickly pay your tab, tip the bartender, take a lesson from Lot’s wife and leave without looking back.
The world that our nameless, genderless protagonist just fled from is strongly akin to the one in the 1972 horror oddity The Body Shop aka Dr. Gore. It’s a seedy, mind-dented film that combines the Frankenstein mythos, complete with a hunchbacked assistant, a castle, and the resurrection of the dead via body-part-collage, and a tonality that is flat out bizarre. Is it a horror film? Is it a comedy? Sexploitation? Much like a re-animated corpse put together with loose stitches, Gorilla Glue, and a dream, Dr. Gore is all of these things and more.
Directed by J. G. Patterson Jr. and starring the man under the nom de plume, Don Brandon (billed here as “America’s No. 1 Magician,” which screams ballyhoo and bless him for it), Dr. Gore opens with a keyboard refrain of what sounds like a slowed-down version of “What are little girls made of?.” This will appear again and again throughout and given that the man credited with the music, as well as sound and special effects is none other than cult film directing legend William Girdler, it’s no wonder that it is one of the best things in the film. This is the man that gave us such titles as Asylum of Satan (1972), Abby (1974), Grizzly (1976), and the thoroughly bonkers The Manitou (1978), so having Girdler involved was definitely a win. (Granted, maybe not in the traditional sense, but in a world up in continual flames, who needs tradition?)
Patterson as Don Brandon plays the film’s protagonist and noted plastic surgeon, the curiously named Dr. Brandon. Via a radio news broadcast, we learn that his wife, a pin-up model and former beauty pageant winner, has died in a car crash. This is set to the visual of a unnamed man aggressively throwing bits of bread at some poor ducks in a small pond. If ever a quack would be translated to, “What the hell, dude?!?,” it is here. At Brandon's wife funeral, we hear him note in the voiceover, “Goodbye my darling…but not for eternity!”
Faster than you can say “...secrets of eternal life…,” the Doctor, along with the assistance of his poor and often abused hunchbacked assistant, Greg (Roy Mehaffey), dig up his deceased wife, and back at his laboratory located in an impressive and beautiful estate, soon begins his unholy experiments. To invoke another, though significantly more charismatic mad scientist, one Abner Devereaux, once said, “...Of course things malfunction! Every new piece of equipment has a shakedown period.” In other words, a first you don’t succeed, try try again! After the corpse, which is, no joke, wrapped partially in tin foil, catches on fire, Brandon and Greg keep trying. Though now, resurrecting his former model wife isn’t enough, as he intones, “We’ll be together again except this time, you’ll be perfect.” Cause we all know how gut-crushingly hideous pin-up models and pageant queens tend to be. Woof woof, ladies!
Doc Brandon assures poor Greg that someday, he can help make him normal and even have a mate of his own. I’m not sure if I would trust a horny serial murderer who chain smokes while trying to shock new life into expired flesh, but life clearly handed this poor mute man an incredibly dodgy hand. Speaking of dodgy, the Doctor is in and he is now on his quest to piece together the perfect mate. He woos a bikini-clad beach bunny while his own torso is laid bare in all of its Hai Karate cologne-meets-Pall-Malls glory. Unfortunately for the comely lass with possible father issues, she gets halved, providing the mad man “...the perfect torso…”.
Up next on his sanguinary-to-do list, hands, since, “...the delicate feminine hand that brings out the true femininity.” How is the gore, which is actually pretty sticky and meaty and hence effective, the least gross thing here? When a man talks about women’s hands with that kind of breathy desire, he’s got one thing on his mind and it is not rolling dice. (Unless by dice one means balls.) Heading to the amazing Drawbridge Steaks & Seafood restaurant, we are greeted with the honky-heartache-twang of Bill Hicks & the Rainbow, who are good. We witness a date going awry between a young couple, which means that courtships not only happened at this establishment but that the house band is Bill Hicks & the Rainbow. Usually, with this brand of country music, the hookups happen more where peanut shells litter the floor and chicken wire protects the band from fired-up rednecks with names like Shorty, Cletus, Tawney Lynn, and Missy. So I love the juxtaposition between musical genre, steaks, and middle-class folks attempting romance while poor Bill Hicks (NOT the legendary comedian, natch), is crooning about how his “...heart has just died.” Life has gifts, folks, but one has to sometimes dig a little deeper for them. Also, one of the musicians in the Rainbow looks like a svelte Mark David Chapman.
This place gets strangely even more fantastic when an actual magician comes to the stage, complete with chintzy-read-fabulous synth-organ music. Meanwhile, sensing the young lady on the dull date, Ellen (Jeannine Aber), Brandon bugs his eyes out at her while hypnotic music swells. Curiously, this does the trick with her throwing her date’s dinner on him and walking off with the Doc. Even curiouser, while leaving, an attractive older woman who knows him hits on Brandon and he blows her off. How is this man such a magnet for trim? Is it the hypno-eyes?
The man is so suave, that even though he is only carving up poor Ellen for her hands, he still feels the need to take off her panties. Things don’t go full tilt “Cold Ethyl” here, but the implication is certainly sordid, which is everything one should want with a film titled DR. GORE. The process continues until the duo’s hard work comes to fleshy-female-fruition…a monster is made! The blonde and curvy Anitra, played by former Miss Speedworld of Charlotte Metrolina, Jenny Driggers. According to the April 18th, 1972 issue of the Statesville Record & Landmark, “...Miss Driggers just finished making a science fiction movie that will be released in May and entitled 'Anitra'.” One cannot help but be curious about this film’s journey from a sci-fi flick called Anitra to The Body Shop and then ultimately, Dr. Gore.
This monumental occasion of man tampering in God’s domain is cemented with the line, “I’ve done it! I’ve done it, Greg! She’s alive.” It must be noted that the Doctor is a dick to the unfairly maligned Greg, who sheds a tear. Brandon rants that he wants to protect Anitra from all “...the evil people” and forbids his long-suffering assistant to see her. I guess murder, mutilation, hunchback abuse, and misogyny are excluded from the “evil” category? How is he a plastic surgeon and not a politician? (*rimshot*) Hey-oh!
There are some overly long scenes of Brandon teaching brainwashed Anitra, whom he describes as a “...simple newborn child…,” that she’s a woman and he’s a man. Yet, Mark of the Devil was the film where the audience was given barf bags! The ick-factor continues as he “...teach(es) her how to live and how to think…” This is some Ted Nugent-branded level of proto-incel-ism. Can we go back to Bill Hicks & the Rainbow and limb severing?
It gets worse, with the film literally going from a scene where he shows Anitra a children’s book, explaining what an elephant is, straight to a romantic montage including shots of them holding hands in the woods, canoeing, and making out while she’s in a see-through negligee. That said, there is a great shot of the Doc holding on to his lit cigarette midst-make-out-session. But the super-creepy honeymoon comes to an end when Anitra makes her way to the lab and immediately hugs Greg, exclaiming jauntily, “You’re a man!” Brandon walks in on the scene and despite the fact that his loyal servant looks kind of terrified and not at all scooping on the newb-brained child-woman, the Doctor reacts sanely and calmly, realizing the tremendous error of his ways.
Just kidding. He throws acid in Greg’s face and then murders him with an axe. Jesus. How I wanted this film to turn into a ghost movie where the hunchback gets his revenge from beyond the grave and then ascends to heaven where he is greeted by busty Las Vegas showgirls. At this point, the film should be just re-titled again as Doctor Dick. Keeping on brand, he schedules a maintenance man to come by and clean the furnace. Does he hide his creation or at least stay on the premises to make sure another incident doesn’t happen? Hell no. He has things to do and leaves his bikini-wearing monster lounging on the couch and reading a comic book. The super-Southern worker comes in and is greeted by her dazzling smile and loud happy shout of “You’re a man!” This cat is so Kentucky-fried-awesome, responding with “You’re certainly not.” She tells him that “...A woman is made to be loved” and not believing his shit-kicker luck, smooth talks with “C’mon baby, let’s go for a ride in my truck.” Already, this man is one-million percent more worth of hot-dumb-loving than Dr. Murder Jerk.
But heartbreak is omnipresent as a sunset in these parts, with our working-class man drowning his sorrows at, yes, yes, yes, The Paper Doll Lounge. In a piece of stunning trivia, this very real place is STILL around, decades later in Charlotte, North Carolina. Currently it’s still an “adult establishment” and now offers wings and Football along with, I’m assuming, titties ahoy! Probably still a better time than Appleby’s, wings included. Our true hero of the film is sad and rambling about how he was gonna marry her, but she was gone by the morning. The Doc is now, either incarcerated or committed to a correctional-institution-looking asylum. He’s gone wholly delusional, trying to woo the young washerwoman scrubbing the floor outside his cell. A silver-haired, mustachioed pimp daddy that works at the same place comes up and slaps her on the ass, then asks her out for a date of “...beer and watching some wrestling.” This is what science calls a REAL MAN.
In an ending that has all the warmth and comfort of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, we see Anitra, still wearing that same bikini, walking down a country road. How many days or weeks have passed? We never find out but we do see one spectacular Gorp pull over as she greets him with a line like “...You gonna haul my ashes?” Fellas, if a woman comes up to you with that pick-up line in a dirty bikini in the middle of nowhere, run like hell. The best-case scenario is that she will only try to bite your wang off mid-fellatio. Alas, there is no best-case scenario for Anitra, who apparently is doomed to wander the sticks of North Carolina, presumably getting banged out by randos while catching weird and wooly strains of various STDs’, like some nudie-mag revenant who lost every single deal with the Devil.
Jesus wept…but you won’t when you watch Dr. Gore!
This is not a good movie, but the reality is, one does not view a film called Dr. Gore or even The Body Shop to experience something well crafted and emotionally genuine. It’s the sweet-sweet carnival lure, primed with crimson red viscera, Grand Guignol-style murders, and ripe, comely flesh primed for the taking and mutilating. So the real question is, does it succeed on that level? It’s about half and half. There are genuinely great movies that deliver on all the Grindhouse delights, like I Drink Your Blood and even arthouse movies masquerading in exploitation clothes, ala most of Michael Findlay’s filmography. Dr. Gore is more in the middle. It’s goony, gross, and certainly watchable, with a faint but undeniable appeal, against all better judgment.
Something Weird Video, a company near and dear to many a deliriously demented cineaste (like myself!), released a Special Edition of this title back in 2002, complete with many a great extra, including the Herschell Gordon Lewis introduction for this film back in the 1980s. I love HGL so much, not just for his personal contributions to outre cinema, but for being able to read this film to filth in such a classy way, by noting, “...Don’t look for highly sophisticated filmmaking.” Damn straight. This particular release has been long out-of-print, but hopefully, some enterprising boutique label will, ahem, resurrect it. This is regional schlock of an entertaining order. With a handful of beans and threads of a script, Patterson and company did what so many only dream of doing and that is making a movie that will be viewed by more than just a blind-eye parent or a bored lover, but by willing, paying strangers. It’s bloody. It's breasty. It's brain-bent, but it is also a rough-hewn document of a time, place, and type of cinema that can never be accurately replicated again. For that alone, it warrants a little heart and a respectful nod.
Especially for poor Greg and the velvet-tongued furnace cleaner. Vayo con dios, my ill-fated dudes of heartbreak.