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The title song is excruciatingly awful as is most of the muzak. As I mentioned, if not for Pat Barrington, this would be totally unwatchable. Ms. Barrington should have played the lead instead of playing the belly dancing stripper. She has attributes the other females in the cast do not possess.
The film starts as it means to go on, as stripper Lila (Susan Stewart) does a cute dance-act for a crowd who look like they're going to storm the stage any second. Not surprisingly given that she spends her on-stage time topless and her off-stage time in barely much else Lila is never without a strip-club habitual to take back to her warehouse love-nest, where she entertains men with a mix of stripping, music and the chance of a one night stand. When one of her boyfriends brings a new element to the party- LSD(the stuff dreams are made of') he gets more than he bargained for. Lila freaks-out on acid big time, stabs the guy with a screwdriver during their lovemaking, then chops him up with a meat-clever. Taking vast quantities of LSD, Lila develops the split personality of meat-clever favouring psychotic by night and happy stripper by day. Among the sleazes getting on the wrong end of various garden implements is Ackerman (Russ Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster) a psychiatrist doing field research on the psychedelic generation'. Ackerman's psychobabble bores Lila but what the heck he's taken back to the warehouse and hacked up anyway you look funny like that'. Discovering Lila's dismembered victims in cardboard boxes are two detectives whose investigation into the murders draws them to the seedy side of LA- giving Rotsler ample opportunity to shoot lots of vintage late-night Sunset Strip footage- (Topless, Bottomless,LSD revue'-proclaims a marquee). With its sexy, drug fuelled plot Mantis in Lace was no doubt the film for audiences who craved boobs and psychedelia from their movies back in 1968. Then' dialogue like what's your bag' and my law says groove baby' dates the film, but in the best possible sense and the ace cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs makes the groovy' Mantis in Lace worth a look. Alongside Hollywood's favourite way of depicting acidic experimentation (a thousand swirling light effects from hell) Rotsler and Kovacs offer up subliminal glimpses of LSD-inspired horrors like mad surgeons, chopped up melons(!), and disembodied hands terrorizing our heroine- made all the more effective by the fast editing from Novak's business associate Pete Perry . For the purpose of the trip scenes Mantis even invents its own medical condition in Banana-phobia, yes it seems that LSD brings out Lila's hatred of bananas, so while all her boyfriends have a jolly good time with the sex kitten all poor Lila sees is visions of a fat man in a mask waving the offending fruit in her direction- the symbolism of which I doubt even Lancaster's psychiatrist could fully explain. The irritatingly catchy theme song by one Lynn Harper is guaranteed to forever haunt anyone who watches the film (Lila-Mantis in Lace-and she has a pretty face'). Several versions of Mantis in Lace existed, and at least two remain in circulation. The version on DVD is Lila' the sexy version where the girls take their tops-off, while in the shorter Mantis in Lace the girls modesty remains intact and with the focus on Lila's meat-clever antics the film plays more as a Drive-In horror movie. Each version has dialogue and scenes the other doesn't. Unique to Mantis' is a sequence where Lila slices into a sandwich only to start imaging it's a human hand, while the Lila' version serves up a backstage oil massage scene designed to showcase the equally unnatural sight of Orgy of the Dead star Pat Barrington's bust, as well as an out of the blue sex scene between a would-be-stripper and the club's bartender- who auditions the girls the casting couch way. The man on top in the latter is actually Bethel Buckalew who later took credit for directing Novak-produced sex extravaganzas like The Dirty Mind of Young Sally and Southern Comforts (he wasn't behind the camera for any of those films- but that's another story). Nice as it is to see a sex film director, or even a would be one, prepared to do on camera what he would ask others to do, this bartender balling does seem like a needless diversion in light of the fact that the actions of these stock characters have nothing much to do with a film whose erotica is provided by strip-acts and whose sex scenes usually end with the men folk getting hacked-up. Although short on plot and not as explicit as the raunchy soft-core movies Novak's Box-Office International would turn out in the Seventies, the hallucinogenic and innovative Mantis in Lace probably constitutes Mr Box-Office International's finest hour (or five if you add the two versions, the 100 minutes of outtakes and the other DVD extras together). The cherry on the cake is the lead performance by Susan Stewart who whether she's playing sassy, vulnerable or downright evil dominates the film- it's a shame that nothing else in her career (which fizzled out with 1976's The First Nudie Musical) compares. When last heard of Stewart was working as a real estate agent, and hopefully isn't as handy with a meat-clever in real life.
I was expecting more from this one. It's very, very low-budget, even by films of this type. The main actress isn't anything to write home about and the lensing by stud cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs isn't that hot. It also drags in a big way. This feels almost like a short that was padded to feature length.
Film has none of the mind-bending visuals or stylistic flourishes of Rotsler's brilliant "Like It Is" which was also released in 1968.
Despite the slow pace and thin plot, the film is entertaining for fans of this sort of stuff. Director William Rotsler builds up a fabulous trash atmosphere, which benefits the completely trashy plot line. The film stars Susan Stewart, who perhaps isn't the greatest actress of all time; but she plays her part very well and gives the film the added benefit of some eye candy. She looks good without her top on. A lot of the film takes place inside a strip club, which is an excellent setting for a film like this. The comic relief comes from the two inept police officers, who spend more time coming up with silly theories and cracking jokes than they do actually investigating the crime. But then again, this wouldn't be much of a trashy thriller if it featured decent coppers! There are practically no surprises at all in the plot and it's always obvious what is going to happen - at least it is until the end when Mantis in Lace finally shows some ingenuity (but don't expect too much). Overall, this is a nice little thriller and comes highly recommended to fans of this sort of stuff!