Monday, March 18, 2024

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!


Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Poster

(1965) Directed by Russ Meyer; Written by Jackie Moran and Russ Meyer; Starring: Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams, Ray Barlow, Sue Bernard; Dennis Busch, Stuart Lancaster and Paul Trinka; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ****

Billie, Varla and Rosie

“I like men with big appetites. Only, I could never find one to match mine.” – Varla (Tura Satana)

“I did this because it became difficult for films to be playing in drive-ins. People in Texas, Oklahoma, were busting me – a lot of problems. So, I started with the boys first, three tough boys… made a lot of money. Then I said to Eve, my wife, ‘Why don’t we do one with three bad girls?’ It laid an egg – just died, this picture. No one cared about Faster, Pussycat. Rejected the film… This wasn’t discovered until many years later. Became a big hit, mega hit…” – Russ Meyer (from DVD commentary)

Today’s offering is the movie that John Waters once called the greatest film ever made. While I don’t think I could quite make the same proclamation, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a damned entertaining classic of its kind, especially noteworthy for the many movies and filmmakers it inspired. Ex-WW II army photographer Russ Meyer catapulted to fame with his nudie cutie The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), before graduating to films with rougher content. Shot in the Mohave (California) desert where temperatures approached 120 degrees, Faster, Pussycat captures the stark beauty of the unforgiving landscape and its tawdry story in glorious black and white.


Varla, Rosie, Linda and Tommy

Three go-go dancers,* Varla, Rosie and Billie (Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams), wearing outfits that seem several sizes too small, drive to the California desert for burning rubber** and general debauchery. Their revelry is interrupted when they encounter Tommy (Ray Barlow), a would-be hot-shot racer, and his fawning teenage girlfriend Linda (Sue Bernard). Varla, the group’s default leader, quickly cuts him down to size, and in an ensuing scuffle, breaks his back. The women leave his body on the desert sand, and kidnap Linda while they calculate their next move. Through an overeager gas station attendant (Michael Finn), they learn about an old disabled man (Stuart Lancaster) who lives on a nearby farm with his two sons (Paul Trinka and Dennis Busch) and a hidden fortune. They soon set their sights on the farm, scheming to find his money while seducing the brothers. 

* Fun Fact #1: The go-go dancing scene at the beginning was filmed at a real club, The Pink Pussycat, in Van Nuys, California, complete with leering patrons. 

** Fun Fact #2: Lori Williams commented that she lied to Meyer about her ability to drive when she was offered the part, leaving her with no recourse but to learn prior to filming.


It’s Tura Satana’s* movie all the way as the irrepressible Varla. Clad head-to-toe in black, with long raven hair to match, she commands our attention whenever she’s on screen. She’s the antithesis of the shrinking violet, making men and women alike quiver. She does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and with whomever (“I never try anything. I just do it.”). When she pounds Tommy to a pulp,** we never doubt for a second that she’s capable of virtually anything. Satana plays the role as if she was born to play it, with a potent mixture of wanton sexual energy and the omnipresent threat of violence. She was apparently so convincing in the bad girl role that co-stars Williams and Bernard,*** fearing for their personal safety, afforded her a wide berth. 

* Fun Fact #3: Meyers had a “no sex” policy for the performers during filming, which Satana proceeded to break. She argued with Meyers that she wouldn’t be able to continue with the shoot under his conditions, so they struck a bargain, where she confined the object of her amorous encounters to the assistant cameraman. 

** Fun Fact #4: As a practitioner of martial arts (including karate and judo), Satana orchestrated her fight scenes. 

*** Fun Fact #5: Satana claimed that she couldn’t get a reaction from Bernard, so she went out of her way to make Bernard hate her (“I scared the living crap out of that girl.”).

Billie and The Vegetable

Haji (Real name: Barbarella Catton) also makes a big impression as the group’s nominal second-in-command (and Varla’s enforcer), Rosie. Although it’s never expressly stated, it’s implied that she and Varla are lovers. When Varla makes the moves on Kirk, the older brother, Rosie becomes visibly distraught, forced to suppress her hurt and anger for the sake of her partner’s plans. Rounding out the trio is Lori Williams as Billie, the outlier of the group. While she half-heartedly plays the bad girl part, she’d much rather be dancing on a stage somewhere (less scheming and more dreaming). In one scene, she makes her intentions clear, biding her time for the right moment to jettison the other two. Unfortunately for Billie, she learns too late that no one leaves Varla without her say-so.  

Linda Gagged by Varla

As the diminutive Linda, Sue Bernard* presents a sharp contrast to the three statuesque women. Short and cloyingly sweet, she’s the embodiment of the wholesome, “all-American” beach bunny, happy to stand on the sidelines and cheer her boyfriend on, while sublimating her identity. She’s the polar opposite of the rough-and-tumble Varla, who refuses to define herself within the context of any man. 

* Fun Fact #6: According to Satana, Bernard’s mother insisted on micromanaging the production as it related to her daughter. Things came to a head when Satana threatened to leave the production after a week of shooting, unless the mother left. Guess who got their way?

The Vegetable, Kirk, and The Old Man

Faster, Pussycat features a strong supporting performance by Russ Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster as the bitter, wheelchair-bound Old Man.* Physically and mentally twisted after he lost the use of his legs from a train accident, he’s become a misogynistic misanthrope who blames women for his misfortune. The Old Man’s hatred for women is only matched by his disdain for his brawny, mentally challenged younger son, “The Vegetable” (Dennis Busch), whom he blames for killing his mother during childbirth. If The Vegetable seems to be modeled after Lenny from Of Mice and Men, his soft-spoken, reflective older brother Kirk (Paul Trinka) is analogous to George. 

* Fun Fact #7: “Old” is relative, as Lancaster was only 45 at the time.

Varla, Rosie, and The Old Man

It’s easy to see why audiences didn’t know what hit them when Faster, Pussycat debuted. Russ Meyer turned the tables on the usual depictions of men as the aggressors and women as the passive recipients of their violent acts. (Spoiler Alert) Even Linda, the damsel in distress, is forced in the end to step up and take action, instead of waiting for a man to save her. So, is Faster, Pussycat about women’s empowerment or is that merely window dressing to justify the main characters wearing revealing outfits and engaging in catfights? Knowing Russ Meyer’s usual modus operandi, he was obviously motivated by the latter, but the strong, independent women in the film were a serendipitous byproduct. Bucking the status quo, however, has its consequences. For all its counterculture posturing, Faster, Pussycat has a simple morality tale at its core, where only the virtuous come out on top.

Linda and The Vegetable

The film’s crisp black and white cinematography is perfect for a story told in bold contrasts and broad strokes. Like its antihero protagonist Varla, there’s nothing namby-pamby about it. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was made for drive-ins (ironically the same market it was created for, and where it bombed). Years ahead of its time, it transcended its exploitation origins to become something much more. Its DNA can be seen in John Waters’ anti-establishment antiheroes (particularly as embodied by Divine), or in the Stray Cat Rock series starring Meiko Kaji. Anything that represents a significant paradigm shift is likely to have difficulty finding acceptance at first, but Faster, Pussycat eventually captured its audience. Change was on the cinematic and societal horizon, and it was only a matter of time before filmgoers realized what they were missing.


Sources for this article: DVD commentary by Russ Meyer; “Go, Pussycat Go” making-of featurette (2004); Russ Meyer interview, by Jim Morton, Incredibly Strange Films  


  1. Excellent review, Barry!!
    I enjoy this film but I didn't know much about it so all of your fun facts were very illuminating!

    I haven't seen very many Russ Meyer films, but this one is definitely my second favorite, with, of course, beyond the valley of the Dolls being my first!

    1. Thanks, John! I definitely appreciate it much more than I did a dozen or so years ago when I saw it for the first time. I just had to catch up with its vibe. :)

      Russ Meyer's commentary was a hoot, by the way. He certainly has a one-track mind! ;) I've only seen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and this one, so I hope to see more soon.