“Blonde Death”: A transgressive no-budget frenzy of sex, drugs and violence

By on April 6, 2016

Remember that guy in high school who had a score to settle with all the phonies, bullies, and hypocrites of the world? The intelligent, sensitive kid who had peeled back America’s Norman Rockwall veneer and gone mad with outrage?

Now imagine that instead of doing something boring like killing his parents or OD’ing behind a gas station that guy got his hands on a video camera and left us with Blonde Death (1983), a forgotten blast of no-budget nihilism that ranks with best underground films of the 80s.

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Self-described “Anarchist” James Robert Baker only made two movies before abandoning film to write equally transgressive novels. His first — a short about a Mouseketeer turned bondage pornographer called Mouse Klub Konfidential (1976) — scandalized the inaugural San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and allegedly prompted critic Michael Medved to declare total war on Hollywood.

Following this promising debut Baker spent six years as a frustrated screenwriter before adopting the pseudonym James Dillinger for his only feature, a DIY black comedy the L.A. Weekly referred to as “a cross between Badlands and the John Waters film of your choice.”

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Produced at West Hollywood video space EZTV for less than two thousand dollars, Blonde Death tells the story of Tammy Lynn Beaverdorf’s rapid transformation from virginal teen to death-tripping speed freak. Tammy’s a “teenage time bomb” with an itch to scratch, bursting with soon to be shattered dreams of an idyllic summer after her family moves to California from Mississippi.

Unfortunately her father Vern is a creep who drunkenly reminisces about how his little girl used to “dress up in her real mama’s stiletto high heels and walk all over his face” and her stepmother Clorette is the embodiment of everything mean and hateful squirming beneath the skin of Christian fundamentalism.

“They filled my mind full of crazy thoughts, like running nude through a K-Mart or sittin’ on Richard Gere’s face…”

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Soon after their arrival Tammy is abandoned at home for a weekend of diet pill abuse and half naked dancing to The Angry Samoans’ greatest hits. After obliviously rebuffing the advances of a persistent, one-eyed lesbian she falls in with a pair of hunky prison escapees and the three form a doomed ménage à trois, hurtling towards oblivion and determined to take half of Orange County with them.

What follows is a frenzy of sex, drugs, and violence climaxing with a massacre (illegally filmed inside Disneyland!) that makes Jonestown look like a minor bout of food poisoning.

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One of the most genuine expressions of Punk aesthetic ever put on video tape, Blonde Death mixes 20th century pop culture and vicious satire in a gleeful “FUCK YOU!!!” to the conservatism of the Reagan years. It’s a left-wing revenge fantasy where death is preferable to suburban mediocrity and paranoia will kill you if the cops don’t get there first.

Although suffering from an occasional infatuation with its own cleverness Death screams by at a pace that ensures its sporadic flaws are long gone before the viewer ever has a chance to process them. It’s cheap champagne on a malt liquor budget, introducing the violent anti-authoritarian themes that Baker would pathologically revisit in the cult novels that followed.

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James Baker stopped making movies after Blonde Death and saw his writing career end in 1993 with Tim & Pete, a novel which was accused by one critic of being “an apology for political terrorism” which “effectively advocates the assassination of the entire American New Right.”

His relentless misanthropy made it progressively more difficult to find a publisher and this further marginalization resulted in depression that culminated with suicide in 1997 at the age of 51.

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Sounds amazing, right? Well you’re in luck, dedicated seekers of psychotronic cinema, because after 30 years deep underground Blonde Death is finally being released on DVD, VHS and streaming later this year as a collaboration between Verboden Video and Bleeding Skull! Video.

It’s a movie which has waited long enough to take it’s rightful place in the pantheon of transgressive cinema, still disturbingly relevant in today’s political climate and a potent reminder that satire remains one of the few weapons the bullies of the world are unable to defend themselves against.

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Promo materials from ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

About Travis Box

Aries. DJ, vinyl enthusiast, and film programmer from the City of Hate. His writing credits to date include several hundred submissions to Penthouse Forum, still largely unpublished.
  • Jason Pankoke

    I think EZTV is also where they filmed interiors for Dark Romances and Cards of Death which both came later. Would love to see this!

  • JohnnyHaze

    Yes, both had interiors shot there, in the “loft/attic”, upstairs in the back of the building, which has long since become another (unrelated) business.

    I was often there in those years. My colleagues and I edited various projects at EZTV, and kept our video equipment there. Our camera was used on several EZTV shoots, as well.

    EZTV still exists, in a different part of L.A. County:

    http://www.eztvmedia.com/

    Jason: How did you know about EZTV?

  • Jason Pankoke

    Sam Oldham, who worked on several of those projects after he moved to LA, is from where I live:

    http://www.micro-film-magazine.com/cublog/?p=8878

    I started to get into the back story of Cards of Death after the VHS came out from Bleeding Skull. I was surprised to see Sam credited on the back cover. That inspired me to rent the old Dark Romances VHS from a local video store (now RIP) and I saw the EZTV credit on both movies.