You might not be familiar with the term 'Z-Movie,' but if you grew up in the 90's, chances are you've seen one. They're the beyond-low-budget monstrosities that teased you from the walls of the mom-and-pop video store. Usually, the films themselves could never live up to the pictures on the videotape boxes (because this was way before your fancy 'Digital Video Discs' and 'Blu-Rays') but occasionally you'd find something truly unique. 'WEIRDO FLICKS' will clue you into some movies which 'unique' doesn't even begin to describe...
'The Dark Side to Love' (aka 'Death Wish Club') - 1984, Directed by John Carr
This was quite a strange little flick. I first saw about 20 minutes of it in the anthology horror film 'Night Train to Terror,' which was basically awful. It was one of those lazy clipshow horror films from the 80's, strung together with a lame subplot. I can't even remember the other two segments, but the one from this film was by far the most interesting.
So, it was very strange to find out that this isn't actually a horror film. It does have some elements of horror, namely the bizarre Russian roulette game the sadistic rich characters play, but beyond that, it's kind of a mystery/suspense/romance/comedy? I guess?
It's the story of a 'college student' (played by a 40-something man) who falls in love with a possibly-insane adult film actress who is the pawn of a deranged millionaire. The film is also narrated by the millionaire, even though he only has a minor role (interesting decision). Basically, the millionaire guy wants unrequited love, so he takes the girl under his wing and 'makes her a star' in the adult film world. The college boy sees one of her movies and seeks her out, only to have said millionaire threaten him. In addition to the films, she makes a living playing piano in a jazz band.
Then, she goes insane and thinks she's a fish for a while. Yep. Normal stuff. For some reason, the millionaire decides that the college guy is the only one who can help her, and somehow he does. But, they get too close for the millionaire's comfort, so he enlists them in his 'Death Wish Club,' probably to get rid of them, but it's unclear. The club consists of other millionaires who come up with games of death to play, like letting a poisonous bug loose in a room and seeing if it stings anyone.
Apparently, once you join the club, you can't leave, because various members kidnap the college guy and the girl (Gretta) and force them to play more rounds. Somewhere along the way, Gretta and the guy have a falling out, and he goes back to his previously unmentioned fiancee.
Then it gets weird.
The millionaire finds the boy again, and tells him Gretta is dead. After the funeral, however, they go back to the nightclub she played at (and which the millionaire owns) and the college boy finds out that Gretta killed herself because of their breakup. Or, supposedly, because the new piano player, a high-voiced man named Charlie White, looks strikingly similar to Gretta.
Turns out, Gretta only ATTEMPED suicide, but then went into a split personality, and the millionaire needs the boy's help again. For the most part, however, they just let Charlie do his thing, which is being sleazy.
Believe me, even if this gives away most of the film's plot, this is only second to the barrage of oddball characters you are hit with. It's almost like John Waters doing a crime-noir type thing. There are lots of bizarre jokes throughout, and confusing plot turns. Overall, though, the film is very good, especially considering the budget.
Strangely, the director PUT TOGETHER the awful horror anthology I saw. You'd think he'd have a little more respect for his own work. Also, the script writer did another oddball flick I liked quite a bit called 'Bloody Wednesday,' and 'El Cid' which is a huge classic of the early 60's. Talk about a change of style.
Sorry, but this one's insanely out-of-print, but you might be able to find a used copy somewhere. It also looks like a reissue under the original title, 'Gretta,' is being planned.
VHS photo by Toby Hudson.