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SCREAMING MIMI (1958; Just for the Hell of It).

When it comes to twisted psychological thrillers, this tawdry b&w gem was far ahead of its time -- combining a crazed killer, strip clubs, obsessive relationships, and the beautiful (albeit large-boned) Anita Ekberg. Its darker edges must have freaked out Columbia Pictures though, because they tossed the movie onto one-week-only double bills without much fanfare, and gave the flick a premature burial. But nowadays, it's just as weird and fresh and sleazy as anything currently churned out. For one thing, this pic doesn't waste any time in snagging the viewer's attention. During the first three minutes Anita is attacked by an escaped mental patient with a knife while she's taking a shower (shades of PSYCHO, which was released two years later), and from then on, the story gets really bizarre, kids. Anita is institutionalized after her assault, and her snivelling Doctor is immediately infatuated with this pneumatic, Swedish basketcase. While under his care, he brainwashes the traumatized dish, turning her into his virtual slave. Doc then ditches his practice, takes up residence as Anita's possessive agent, and gets her a gig headlining at the El Madhouse nightclub (run by aged strip-goddess Gypsy Rose Lee), where under the pseudonym Yolanda, Ekberg keeps the house packed with her extended erotic dances, complete with prop manacles. But let's not forget The Ripper -- a nutcase slasher who begins terrorizing poor, busty Yolanda. And what about the title, you ask? Well, a small, demented statue of a screaming woman (dubbed Screaming Mimi) is coincidentally owned by The Ripper's victims. Everything about this film is a little more kinky than you'd expect for a '50s B-movie. Even the obligatory hero (Phil Carey) who figures out the convoluted mystery, is a greasy, rather unlikable newspaper columnist -- not your standard romantic archetype by any means. It's obvious that director Gerd Oswald (who would go onto OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK episodes in the '60s) has a love for the lurid bits, because he lingers on them like a true deviant -- especially Ekberg's simmering dance routines (which undoubtedly gave Fellini such a hard-on that he cast her in LA DOLCE VITA and BOCCACCIO '70). And Oswald's stylish touches help divert attention from the dim dialogue and cringeably wooden acting (a prime example is an all-too-typical love scene that's lit entirely by a slowly blinking advertisement outside an apartment window). This psycho-drama is a four-star showcase for Anita's limited acting talents and unlimited bustline; but the High Pathos Award goes to Ms. Rose Lee who, though waaayyyy past her prime, valiantly struggles through "Put the Blame on Mame". Sure, the ol' gal can still move, but who in their right mind would want to see it?... All in all, SCREAMING MIMI is a terrific, noirsh thriller, laced with perverse tidbits and an uncompromising edge that sets it apart from the usual drive-in era drivel.

© 1995 by Steven Puchalski.