Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Savage Women


The Savage Women, by Mike Curtis
No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books

Taking the battle of the sexes to extreme proportions, this obscure Leisure paperback original is almost a masterful work of lurid sleaze, but not quite. While it’s definitely sick and sleazy, filled with graphic and sadistic detail, it comes off as a little plodding due to its repetitive nature.

It’s a super-hot August in New York City, and as the novel opens a group of construction workers are checking out an insanely gorgeous woman who waltzes by them, wearing practically nothing. She stops to let them check her out further, then propositions one of them. The guy, not believing his luck, follows her to a fleabag motel near 42nd Street. There the woman strips, but suddenly refuses to let the guy touch her. When he gets insistent, she beats the shit out of him with incredible karate skills…and then takes out a knife and hacks off his dick!

This crazy opening scene is just a preview of an equally-crazy book – plus the author informs us that the girl, so excited by her kill, brings herself to a quick climax with the “blunt side” of the knife! Another murder soon follows, with an equally-gorgeous blonde waltzing into a singles bar and letting a guy pick her up. She goes back to his place (which is total ‘70s Bachelor Pad, with quad stereo and varicolored lighting), strips for him, and suddenly tells him she’s into S&M. He lets her tie him up on his waterbed, and then she takes out a knife and slashes up the bed, nearly drowning him. Ensuring he’s still conscious to witness the horrific act, she then hacks off his dick.

Yes, my friends, beautiful women are using “sex to lure men to their death.” The blunt cover blurb sums up the entire novel, but it’s a bit misleading about the “sex” part. It occurred to me toward the end of The Savage Women that there hadn’t been a single sex scene in the entire novel! Instead Mike Curtis concentrates on the sadism, with various gorgeous women disrobing for their hapless victims and then beating the shit out of them before castrating them. Finally they carve “MCP” on the chests of their victims, for “Male Chauvinist Pig.”

After this opening brutality we meet our hero, Detective Mike Bass, a hulking muscle-bound Manhattan cop who makes Dirty Harry look like Columbo. In other words, he’s just like Ryker. In fact I couldn’t understand why Leisure didn’t just make this book another installment of the Ryker series, as Bass is practically Joe Ryker in all but name. Hell, even the editorial goofs, as are typical in the Ryker books where Ryker is accidentally referred to as “Blaze,” are repeated here, with Bass sometimes referred to as “Base.” 

But still, The Savage Women easily could have been Ryker #9, even following the Bizarro World Ryker backstory Edson T. Hamill created in Motive For Murder, with the background detail that Bass is a widow, his wife killed by crooks. My assumption is this novel really was an original work by an original author, or perhaps Leisure was trying to get away from series novels at this time – one can’t help but note how all of the Leisure men’s adventure series ended by 1976.

The few action scenes in The Savage Women occur in the opening, where we are introduced to Bass’s hilariously-aggressive police tactics. Posing as a bum in a subway station, in the hopes that someone will try to mug him, Bass ends up solo when his partner, Detective Joe Rexford, responds to a call; Rexford had been acting as Bass’s undercover assistant. No big deal, though, because when the expected thugs show up, Bass easily beats the shit out of all three of them, even tossing one of them down onto the tracks, where he’s fried on the third rail.

Bass is per tradition constantly hounded by his “stupid chief,” Captain Lou Hudson, but moreso because the captain is exasperated with Bass’s violent nature and how much it costs the city. Bass is moreso hounded by Winston Wells, a Geraldo Rivera-type reporter who constantly accosts Bass over his police brutality. In reality though Wells practically serves as Bass’s punching bag, constantly getting beaten up and tossed around by the irascible cop. Even Rexford, Bass’s younger partner, sometimes thinks Bass goes too far.

I’m making the novel sound more introspective (and intelligent) than it really is. One thing that can be said is that Curtis clearly isn’t taking anything seriously, which adds to the fun. However you sort of wish he’d put maybe a little more thought into it. Instead the novel is just one sadistic scene after another, with various girls picking up guys and taking them back to some slum where they can castrate them, with Bass trying to crack the case.

But Curtis even gets his own details wrong, in particular the women who make up the villains. We learn there are seven of them, each gorgeous and phenomenally-built, each with their own reason for hating men. They have banded together as the “WGM,” ie the Women’s Guerrilla Movement…but strangely their leader is a man. And what a man he is! Named Rodolfo Liston, he’s a tall, muscle-bound gay albino who prances around in a skintight leather outfit, a .44 Magnum dangling from his hip.

Who exactly Rodolfo is, where he came from, and how he got these women to listen to him are all things Curtis leaves unexplained. Instead the WGM regularly meets in Rodolfo’s secret hideout near the Hudson, where the women lounge about in various states of undress and excitedly gossip about their latest kills. Rodolfo will then have them draw lots to see who is the lucky winner who gets to make the next kill. Then Rodolfo will take one or two of the women into his private room in back for a blowjob while the other gals go about pleasuring each other!

And yet while all of this sounds like goddamn perfect sleaze, it all sort of gets monotonous, because Curtis keeps writing the same thing over and over: we’ll meet some dude while he’s going about his life, he’ll spot this super-hot gal who unbelievably enough makes advances on him, he’ll follow the girl back to some slummy apartment she happens to know of, and after he gets the shit beaten out of him the guy, half-dead, will witness his own castration before dying.

Curtis does slightly open up the narrative with the introduction of the Rapists’ Vengeance League, an offshoot of the WGM formed by Nancy, the most lethal of the group. The RVL’s goal is revenge upon the men who raped them, and this is carried out in several more arbitrary but graphically violent sequences. Soon they too begin passing out communiques, and create the same effect as the WGM upon the female population of New York; Curtis presents a city on the verge of outright sexual warfare, with hassled women and mistreated wives being inspired by the WGM and sadistically killing their male oppressors.

It’s interesting that throughout the novel the women are the aggressors. While most of the men the WGM murder are perhaps shady, or at the very least immoral, they aren’t deserving of such horrible fates. In fact one dude even gets second thoughts when walking away with a hot WGM lady who has picked him up, and tries to leave, but the lady bolts the door and murders him anyway. With the RVL murders of course it’s different, as they purposely track down rapists who have gone free again and again due to lazy, disinterested cops. Thus the RVL have an actual positive (if violent) impact on society, getting rid of serial rapists. It’s also interesting that Rodolfo, when he discovers some of his women have created the RVL without his permission, throws a hissy fit.

What doesn’t help matters is the lazy plotting. The hapless cops are unable to find out who the WGM are, and thus stand around and wait for the latest castrated corpse to show up. But then halfway through the novel Curtis suddenly informs us that Bass is friends with a “dyke” named Sydney who is into all of this feminist stuff. He goes to visit her, and sure enough he finds that she’s had interractions with the WGM, though she’s afraid to tell him much more.

About all the “detection” Bass does is go around various Manhattan martial arts schools to ask if any of the instructors have had a beautiful woman in their class, one who has advanced to a high level, given the apparent kung-fu mastery of at least one of the WGM attackers. This leads to several humorous confrontations with Kim Chung, a “malevolent little Oriental” who runs a Midtown karate dojo and who clearly doesn’t like cops. But the laziness extends here as well, with Kim Chung “perhaps knowing” of the girl Bass seeks, but not offering much more than that.

The sudden appearance of the RVL provides more chance to break the case, as once again Bass just happens to know a person who might help – he’s friends with a heavyset restaurant owner whose sexy sister Bass once saved from drugs and prostitution. This is Marcia, and Curtis delivers the laziest “romantic subplot” I’ve ever read in a novel, with the girl unmentioned until like page 100, and then suddenly Bass is asking himself if he truly loves her and etc. Not that this stops Bass from using her as bait, hooking her up with friends of Sydney’s who might be members of the RVL.

Marcia also provides the novel’s only sex scene, throwing herself at Bass due to her undying love for him (and remember she hasn’t even been mentioned until over a hundred pages in), delivering the romantic line, “Let me do you.” This leads to an explicity-detailed blowjob, after which Bass tells her to hurry up and get going, as she has to get to that RVL meeting downtown! Curtis writes the book as if he’s trying to hit every cliché he can, so it goes without saying that Marcia is soon discovered (comically enough, while trying to make a phone call to the precinct from the phone in Rodolfo’s back room…while the WGM are meeting like a few feet away!). I mean, do I even have to mention what happens to Bass’s partner?

It all leads up to a finale in which Bass is given carte blanche by Captain Hudson, who basically tells him to do whatever is necessary to stop the women. Bass leads a squad of cops in an assault on Rodolfo’s tenement building near the Hudson, but the sequence is pretty anticlimactic. For here we learn that Bass, that hulking rule-breaker of a tough cop, “won’t shoot a woman,” and thus tries his best not to kill any of these crazed women who have been castrating and murdering men all over New York. In other words, there is no scene in which Bass – or any of the other cops – engages any of the women in single combat; he and his comrades take cover out on the street and exchange fire with Rodolfo and his women, up on the top floor of the building.

In fact, Curtis really blows the finale. He doesn’t even bother detailing what happens to the few WGM members he’s cast a spotlight on, such as Nancy the kung-fu master, Maggie the waterbed slasher, Judy the karate expert, and etc. Indeed Curtis even confuses his female characters throughout, not to mention their specialities and skills – it seems like each of them at one point or another is a martial arts expert. At any rate while the women are shooting at the cops Rodolfo beats a hasty retreat, which leads to a one-on-one confrontation between him and Bass right off of the Hudson.

No surprises on how it ends, though Marcia does survive, telling Bass she wants to marry him, which surprised me. I figured that would be the last cliché in Curtis’s book, the death of the hero’s girlfriend. As for the fate of the WGM, we’re only informed that “a few” of them died in the assault, and the rest are going to jail! What about the sexual revolution they were about to sow? What about the other women around New York who were inspired to acts of violence by the WGM? None of it is mentioned, as if by stopping the WGM the cops have saved the city.

The Savage Women is written in a very rough style. I don’t mean the grammar or syntax or anything, as for all that it’s written well enough. I mean instead the words and descriptions. Women’s breasts are always referred to as “tits,” even in scenes from the perspectives of the women themselves. Also, the women of the WGM are almost always referred to as “cunts,” particularly in the few scenes from Rodolfo’s perspective. The tone of the book is just rougher than even any of the other Leisure novels I’ve yet read, which is really saying something.

I’m pretty sure “Mike Curtis” was a house name, but it definitely was at least a pseudonym; one other Leisure novel, the lurid cop thriller Midtown North, was published in 1976 under the name, and according to this site the author of that book was a guy named Myer Kutz. However I don’t see any acknowledgement from him for The Savage Women, so I guess it was by someone else…or maybe Kutz just doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

2 comments:

Johny Malone said...

The cover girl looks like Lisa Comshaw!

Joe Kenney said...

Crazily enough, I recently stumbled upon the discovery that the cover art (the portrait of the woman, at least) is lifted from a 1974 Penthouse Magazine ad for the Occult Arts Society!

You can see it here.