Director Freddie Francis should be no stranger to both horror and film fans in general. Not only the director of several Hammer films and the classic anthology Tales from the Crypt (1972) for Amicus, the Englishman was also an accomplished Hollywood cinematographer (The Elephant Man, Dune). In Girly he gets away from the gothic and delivers a satire of the modern.
The story of a bizarre familial unit composed of Mumsy (an exaggerated send-up of the classic British matriarch), her maid Nanny, and her two grown children Sonny and Girly. The family abducts “special friends” in order to inflict strict rules of behavior on them while the kid’s play sadistic games. This all changes with the arrival of “New Friend” (Michael Bryant), who cunningly pits the family against one another, trying to out-play them at their own rigged game.
The characters are purposely absurdest, they speak largely in nursery rhymes and trite morals. The dialogue accents not only the film’s explicitly highbrow aims, but adds a level of creepiness to the characters.
Not really a genre film at all, but more a dark comedy/allegory ala-Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (the film was actually adapted from a play entitled We’re a Happy Family) Girly was a complete non-starter when it debuted in the UK. In the States and future television screenings the film was retitled simply Girly. I don’t find it surprising that the film did not catch on with the average movie goer, but I do think it’s strange that the film has received almost zero critical attention over the decades since its release. With similar films like Lindsay Anderson’s If… (1968) becoming critical and academic darlings, it’s a wonder that a film with so many strong points and big ideas as Girly can be overlooked for so long.
It’s little wonder that the film had its title shortened to Girly. Not only is the original a mouthful but the real star of the proceedings is Vanessa Howard, who plays Girly with an unsettling mix of genuine adult sex appeal and infantalized line-delivery and mannerisms.
Arriving on DVD from Scorpion Releasing (who are quickly becoming my new heroes after this and their Doctor Death disc). For a “lost” film, Girly looks damn good. There is some softness here and there and some tiny flaws but when you consider the film’s age and history this is a pretty great transfer. There is a lengthy interview with screenwriter Brian Comport that is informative, expansive and peppered with some nice still photographs. Comport is affable and not afraid to talk about the production in a “warts and all” fashion. The only problem being Comport’s THICK accent and the supplement’s lack of subtitles.
The film’s not perfect (it moves slowly and repeats itself once too often) and it’s not for everyone (there’s nary a drop of on screen blood or nudity to satiate the more lizard-minded among you) but for a certain kind of curious film fan, Girly is well worth picking up. It is an example of a good film with moments of greatness that has been unfairly abandoned by time, audiences and academia.