Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Arousers, The (1972) [filmed in 1970]

... aka: Kiss from Eddie, A
... aka: Sweet Kill

Directed by:
Curtis Hanson

Former 1950s teen heartthrob Tab Hunter, still looking very handsome here in his early 40s, stars as Eddie, an outwardly respectable high school phys ed teacher who is tormented by both his impotence and some childhood trauma involving his mother (which is left obscured by the filmmakers). Because of his good looks and friendly demeanor, Eddie seems to attract all sorts of neighborhood women; many of whom are young and beautiful. Unable to make love to them or become intimate enough with them on a non-sexual basis to open up to them about his past, he simply murders them. Triggering this behavior though is the accidental killing of a young woman who gets a little too aggressive and dies after Eddie pushes her off and she hits her head on a table. He hides the body in some hatch on the roof and afterward something snaps inside of him and he moves beyond the stage of repression and voyeurism to full blown murder, as well as necrophilia (which is handled with some subtlety here); apparently the only way he can 'get off.' Might explain why he's been paying a local hooker (played by 70s drive-in favorite Roberta Collins) to dress up like his long gone momma and "play dead" while he undresses and gropes her. Seems like pretty seedy stuff, and this is pretty seedy stuff; but it's done with more thought and care than many others in this genre and I liked it.

Despite what some reviews state, I actually preferred the way the filmmakers decided to handle all this. Instead of a bunch of heavy-handed dialogue blatantly spelling everything out, giving a direct explanation to Eddie's behavior or visualizing of all Eddie's dirty deeds, we get more suggestion than anything else. The opening scene is a childhood flashback of a woman stripping naked, taking off her earrings and lying down in bed while a pair of kids tennis shoes are visible behind a barely opened curtain. That's the only real glimpse we get of Eddie's childhood, but it's enough to raise a few questions. Is his mother a whore/prostitute? Has Eddie always been voyeuristic and/or not right in the head? Was there incest involved? Nothing is explained in a cut-and-dry way, but we know that Eddie refuses to talk about any of it, even when directly confronted about it by the one woman in this film who does care about him. That person is Barbara (Nadyne Turney), who lives in the same apartment house as Eddie. She's not quite the looker the other women in this movie are, but is patient and wants to help Eddie. He's gone on quite a few dates with her but nothing even remotely sexual has happened between them. Barbara questions why and wonders whether he's not attracted to her or if something else is going on.

Originally titled Sweet Kill and actually filmed in 1970, the title was later changed to the more exploitative-sounding The Arousers (with a new poster to match) a few years later. There are several instances of nudity that seem needlessly tacked on, and I see here in the trivia section that executive producer Roger Corman had the director go back and film these scenes so the film could be sold on the drive-in circuit as a sex film. Though unnecessary, I didn't feel these newly-added scenes (which are brief) were too detrimental to the overall film and they tried to tie them into the 'voyeuristic' aspect the best they could.

It's obvious what would attract former teen idol Hunter to this kind of role - The Arousers was an opportunity to branch out, possibly open up new opportunities for himself as an older actor, and also a chance to prove he could handle heavier drama. In any case, he does an effective job in his part and is well-supported by Turney (who's very good here) and the rest of the cast. Popping up here in smaller roles are veteran actress Isabel Jewell (in her final role) as his landlady, as well as future horror star Angus "Tall Man" Scrimm (billed as "Rory Guy") as her husband. Neither have much to do other than complain about some awful smell coming from upstairs... The lesser-known cast members also did a fairly good job in my opinion.


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