In 1967, 20th Century Fox got serious about Jacqueline Susann's weepy bestseller "The Valley of the Dolls" and produced a serious-minded, unbearably bad adaptation. It's become a camp cult classic. Three years later, desperate to woo young viewers, the studio recruited boobmeister Russ Meyer to create the not-quite-sequel "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" and got a manic parody of absurd proportions. It too has become a cult classic.
The boundaries between camp and kitsch, between unintentional and intentional hilarity have now fully been blurred with 20th Century Fox's synchronized release of both "Dolls" films in two-disc sets dubbing them both as "cinema classics."
While the hot pink casing for "Valley of the Dolls" is some indication, it may help to watch the 48-minute featurette "Gotta Get Off This Merry-Go-Round" before seeing the movie for an instruction manual and how to properly appreciate Mark Robson's film. Taken on its own merits, "Valley of the Dolls" is an embarrassment. The overlong tale of three women (Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke and Sharon Tate) who make it big in Hollywood only to enter a horrible spiral of drug use, adultery, cancer, abortion, pornography, suicide and more is characterized by overwrought acting (Duke's performance could be perfectly paired with Faye Dunaway's "Mommie Dearest" work in its manic intensity) and surface-deep melodrama. The dialogue is awful -- my favorite utterances by Duke's character are "I'm not nutty, I'm just hooked on dolls" and the immortal "Boobies, boobies, boobies -- nothing but boobies" -- as is the film's obvious pride in its instantly dated brashness.
Of course, all of the things that are so wrong with "Valley of the Dolls" are also why certain audiences find it so enjoyable. The film's enthusiastic gay following -- just in case you didn't understand the pink case -- gets a voice on the features, particularly "Merry-Go-Round" in which folks like Bruce Vilanch and Ted Casablanca explain, in very entertaining fashion, while the movie has been reappropriated. Casablanca joins Parkins for an adoring and catty commentary track. The materials on the second disc range from obviously campy -- like karaoke to the film's silly songs -- to more standard -- screen tests for the leading ladies.
"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" comes in a corresponding blue case, though it's got plenty of camp appeal for straight and gay viewers alike. Written by the one and only Roger Ebert, "Beyond" is the story of an all-girl rock band -- Dolly Reed, Cynthia Myers and Marcia McBroom, cast in large part because Meyer appreciated their, um, aesthetic attributes -- that movies to Los Angeles and soon becomes involved in a similar morass of sex, drugs and, ultimately, homicidal maniacs. All of the edges of the envelope that "Valley" pushed, "Beyond" obliterates. The movie begins in near innocence -- despite Meyer's love for bouncing breasts -- and ends with beheadings and a crazed Nazi bartender. At first, it's hard to tell if "Beyond" wants to be taken seriously, but by the time one main character utters the line, "You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance," there can be no doubt.
With Meyer's recent passing, Ebert dominates the bonus materials, mostly located on the second disc. While only Parkins was willing or able to show up and discuss her role in "Valley," the entire cast of "Beyond" is happy to show up and talk about their wacky adventures on what has to be one of the strangest films ever released by a major studio (with an X-rating, to boot). The extras cover everything from the movie's music -- written by Stu Phillips, who did the "Knight Rider" theme and many of the songs for The Monkees -- to which of the actresses had the best mammaries. There's also an entire featurette dedicated to the lesbian love scene between Cynthia Myers' Casey and Erica Gavin's Roxanne.
If there were any gaps in knowledge, there are also two commentary tracks, one with Ebert alone and another with five members of the stars.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times