Proto-Matthew McConaughey: I want to tell something. I think you’re attractive. Now that’s the God’s honest truth.
Disturbed Girl: Thanks (laughs demurely)
Proto-Matthew McConaughey: No, I mean that. I’m serious.
Disturbed Girl: Thanks for saying that (laughs demurely)
Proto-Matthew McConaughey: You don’t see many attractive people down in this part of the world.
Yes, that’s a sample of dialogue from the 1973 films Pigs, also known as Daddy’s Deadly Darling. This strange piece of celluloid slipped through my net back in the day, so I’m happy to rectify this situation more recently. You might like the upbeat, keep-on-truckin’ theme song that gets this little beauty started, especially the western twang. You know how western twang goes so well with folk music. But that’s about all that’s happy here. Set somewhere in the southwestern United States in the land of scrub oaks, this film gives you two movies in one. The first narrative revolves around a former circus performer named Zambrini played by character actor Marc Lawrence. Lawrence is better suited to portraying the snitch in urban crime dramas, but the counter-intuitive casting works. His acting holds much of the movie together. Oh, and he feeds dead bodies and murder victims to the pigs that wander around in his yard. Not sure why. In narrative two Toni Lawrence plays a homicidal woman (Lynn Hart), driven to violence by the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. This was her first role. She isn’t bad given that she isn’t really given a lot to work with in terms of dialogue. Traumatized by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and the subsequent murder of her abuser, she now turns on any man who gets too close. And Jesse Vint gets honorable mention as the Proto-Matthew McConaughey Sheriff. These disparate narratives are brought together when the disturbed girl ends up fleeing the hospital to the country, ending up working in Zambrini’s café (yes, he runs a café in the middle of nowhere). Here the two form an uneasy alliance given their need to keep their respective proclivities secret.
The movie does a good job of painting a fairly accurate portrait of the dismal nature of certain portions of rural America. While those who are able generally flee these blighted regions, our protagonists have been forced to the margins of society, finding a brittle covenant with one another in this remote location. But these types of covenants often come with problems. Hence, much of the narrative tension revolves around the development and erosion of their relationship. Meanwhile, Proto-Matthew McConaughey can’t decide whether to kiss the disturbed girl or lock her up.
As my mind wandered through this labyrinth of neuroses, I couldn’t help but think about how many of the underground films from this period deal with sexual abuse, particularly fathers raping their daughters. It’s one of those themes that contemporary editors often ask writers of dark fiction to avoid. I get why. It’s triggering and very difficult to handle in a sophisticated, non-exploitative way. Following the meditative, sativa thread in this film, I was reminded of Freud, particularly the intellectual cowardice the otherwise brilliant psychanalyst showed when approaching sexual abuse. As his patients began recounting the horrors suffered at the hands of family members, he rendered these voices mute with a bunch of garbage about Elektra and Oedipal fantasies. These were not fantasies. They were people, primarily young women, who had been treated as sexual chattel in their own households. Now, is the proliferation of this theme in these movies simply a product of mimesis, of one director copying another, or was the pain of these victims still echoing in the mass culture? In other words, was the savagery of the 70s, in part, a reckoning with the abuse that was still highly prevalent in American households? I think this question bares further scrutiny. And does Pigs handle it with nuance? Not really. But then there is something to be said for these raw screams of rage.
For its part, Pigs does its job. The only reason I don’t give it a higher rating is that the female character is not given an immense amount of dialogue and is primarily reactive. This was a missed opportunity. But she does manage to make her feelings clear. If you are in the mood for some skullduggery accompanied by the screeching of pigs in the background, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.
Rating: 2.5 Hits