Scum of the Earth (1963) movie poster

(1963) director Herschell Gordon Lewis
viewed: 10/17/10

The B-side of The Defilers (1965) DVD, 1963’s Scum of the Earth, is another David F. Friedman “roughie” flick, this time directed by the notable Herschell Gordon Lewis (the “godfather of gore”).  Oddly enough, it’s an exploitation film about exploitation.  The exploitation of women for nudie pics, to be specific.  Ironic perhaps.

The “Scum of the Earth” of the title refers to the sleazy men who trick young girls into posing naked for photos and then blackmail them with the photos to go further and further into the production of sexploitation.  The film centers around the story of one particularly innocent and naive girl who is trying to get enough money to go to college and the photographer and model who connive to trick her in over her head.

The real baddies, though, is the main man behind the scenes, the operator of the whole she-bang, one of his other more unscrupulous photographers, and their he-man hunk who often stars alongside the women in the more outrageous works.  They are all unredeemable and all wind up dead.

The film itself isn’t nearly so racy.  While two years later in The Defilers Friedman has lots of gratuitous nudity, Scum of the Earth has mere glimpses of the women.  I assume this has to do with legal changes between the production of the two films and not so much the pure intentions of the film-makers, but I speculate.  While I seriously doubt that Friedman and co. were anywhere as unscruplulous as the photographers and producers depicted here, they certainly got a lot of flesh on film, from their early “nudie cuties” to the more violent and sexualized later films.

While I’d hardly consider Scum of the Earth a “must see”, it’s not a poorly-made film (obviously made on the cheap).  It lacks the really “out there” components of more satisfying exploitation film but has some pretty good bad acting from a couple of characters (though not half-bad performances from others) and a few moments of more hyped-up over-the-top sequences, namely when the producer berates the teenager for being a priss when it’s her own fault that she modeled and that she’s just a hypocrite.

And, as I said, the lack of ironic awareness of potential self-reflexive components seems a bit like a lost chance.