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SHANTY TRAMP is an extraordinary masterpiece of exploitation cinema. It is wild and lusty and out of control, and lurid in the best sense of the word. It is one of those films that, despite its low-budget and threadbare production values, literally jumps off the screen to engage you.

Emily Stryker (Lee Holland) is possibly the most crude, captivating bad girl ever committed to celluloid. She is a child-woman painted as a demon, equal parts hideous and alluring. Her entrance into the revival tent is as profane as if Lucifer himself dared enter a sacred house of worship. Emily is Lilith embedded in a contemporary trailer-trash icon. She is an archetype of pure, maddening evil.

Emily’s generous nude scenes, featuring some shocking full frontal nudity, come out of nowhere, and are, as such, almost beyond belief. The overt animal lust generated by this disturbed, depraved woman is palpable and highly unsettling.

Harvard grad Lawrence Tobin is simply perfect as the scenery-chewing, vitriol-spewing “Savage”, a true archetype of amoral 60’s anarchy. Read an exciting interview with this multi-talented actor right here!

Preacher Fallon (Bill Rogers, familiar as the lead male voice in many of Murray’s dubbed horror films) is a vivid depiction of elastic backwoods ethics, neither saint nor devil, perhaps merely a good businessman and clever opportunist (like our favorite producer… ?).

ST also has a surprisingly liberal and progressive racial subtext, picking up on the trend of such films as IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. However, here the dark forces win, and the black martyr is driven to his untimely death.

The cinematography, by Murray’s editor-in-residence J. Rafael Remy, is stark and evocative, conjuring up a skid-row noir quality which is haunting and hard to forget. There are even some arty transitional segways which, although not completely successful, show a certain integrity to the production which makes it even more endearing.

The script, by Murray’s wonder-scribe Rueben Guberman, is chock full of priceless, incendiary dialogue which, spouted by the sincere, nonprofessional cast, comes off as both hyper-real and highly poetic.

The score by Frank Linales is steamy, visceral, virtually avant-garde at times. There’s even an amazing theme song, sung by a woman, a bouncy little pop ditty with lyrics like, “I give my love, and all I get is money…”

The production is threadbare but gripping, the sound a combo of live sound and overdubbing, the sets real skid-row locations in downtown nowhere USA.

With overlapping themes of deception, rape, hate crimes and incest, ST seems obsessed, like its holy protagonist, with the debilitating evils of lust and rage.

The black martyr Daniel has a most interesting role, for he is surely good. Yet it is because he surrenders to evil (Emily), that he becomes targeted for death (via an exciting POV car chase that ends in flames), surely revealing a cynical morality at play.

What is most amazing about SHANTY TRAMP is its uncanny ability to be both highly exploitative, yet disarmingly progressive, often in the same breath. At times, it comes across as sheer, unadulterated “Corn Porn”. At other times, there’s a tongue-in-cheek irony, and knowing ideology, that seems almost profound. The dialogue ranges from lurid to lyrical, and many passages are rich with import and nuance.

Also amazing is the fact that the whole drama takes place in approximately four hours on a single hot summer evening, in sequences that often suggest real time, with inter-plot cross-cutting that echoes the work of D.W. Griffith. The effect, especially in the last reel, is dizzying.

SHANTY TRAMP is a remarkable, unique film, a good example of primal high art, full of lust and pathos and philosophic integrity, and makes one wish Murray & Co. had mounted many more original productions.





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