Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Roommates

Fans of 1970s drive-in starlets won’t want to miss THE ROOMMATES, an unusual mixture of frothy sexual hijinks and brutal serial murders. In addition to the five main “roommates,” all of whom have sizable cult fanbases, director Arthur Marks (BONNIE’S KIDS) finds small parts for Connie Strickland (BLACK SAMSON), Uschi Digard (CHERRY, HARRY & RAQUEL), Lindsay Bloom (H.O.T.S.), and Juanita Brown (CAGED HEAT). As with Marks’ later production, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, THE ROOMMATES has an offbeat story structure that keeps the audience on edge. With so many characters to develop, relationships to explore, and (later) murders to exploit, THE ROOMMATES certainly never drags, and its charming cast of gorgeous women deliver very good performances in and out of their clothes.

College babes Carla (SUGAR HILL star Marki Bey), Heather (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE’s Pat Woodell), Beth (WONDER WOMEN’s Roberta Collins), and Brea (THE ABDUCTORS’ Laurie Rose), along with Heather’s teenage cousin Paula (THE STEWARDESSES’ Christina Hart), are spending the summer banging around Lake Arrowhead. Sitcom dialogue by Marks and John Durren (DEVIL TIMES FIVE) establishes the young women as vivacious, smartmouthed, and ready for a good time. Collins, a terrific comedienne buried in exploitive sexpot roles, is really funny here and trades banter well with everyone, including director Marks in an unbilled cameo, but particularly Bey.

After a rambling first act that gets its locations and sprawling cast in a row, Act Two tips the so-far breezy narrative on its side with the bloody murder of blond Alice (Strickland) by someone dressed as Father Guido Sarducci. Marks, a former PERRY MASON producer, has no shortage of red herrings, ranging from dirtball biker Socks (Durren) and his old lady (Paula Shaw) to teenagers Harold (Greg Mabrey) and Arnie (Gary Warren Mascaro) to an uptight motel clerk and a succession of dudes young and old, black and white, serious and insouciant, rejected and satisfied involved with the main starlets.

More murders ensue. Anyone who spots a clue in the opening titles and has a passing familiarity with PSYCHO will guess the killer’s identity, though Marks’ staging of the killings and the stars’ reactions to them are more important than the mystery. A string of serial killings (investigated by former Lone Ranger John Hart, trying to put the execrable BLACKENSTEIN behind him) is no match for hormones, as the various couplings continue.

THE ROOMMATES is never believable, but it’s consistently interesting with the actors’ strong personalities compensating for any plot and dialogue deficiencies. Yes, the film is overstuffed (Roger Corman did this type of film better with three women, rather than five), leading to some awkward story turns and transitions, but it’s entertaining enough and an appropriate bookend with THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, which told a similarly tawdry tale with more sleaze.

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