Vampirism—an all-too-real affliction, driving people to feast on human blood. It sounds horrific, but it gets worse. There’s a type of vampirism called exploitation—an unsettling but sometimes pleasing meal of domination over the weaker, though not just that; the filmic record of human pleasure on the subject of domination. The mere word “domination” is exploitative, because we’ve tied it to human sexuality. Domination is one of the keywords of exploitation and exploitation is vampirism. Vampirism is horrific. And thus we have Uta—a film from born-again horror director Nick Millard, from his sleazy sexploitation days. A film that shows the director at his lowest in the days before he reached his highest—when his highest was the eerie mind-screw known as Criminally Insane. But more on that later…
Uta is one of those prostitutes that you joke about who isn’t doing it to go through college. No, she’s a hard woman who goes around screwing people mostly for the hell of it. Basically, she just runs around seducing guys, watching stripteases, and listening to club lobby music that seems to haunt her life, all the while waiting for her female lover to come back from the Caribbean. There’s something else haunting her too—vampirism. No, this movie doesn’t actually contain actual vampirism, but it contains enough sleaze and subliminal blips that it seems to be sucking your blood. There’s a bigger story here, and I think it’s encoded deeply, either through Millard’s intention, or through the tropes that made up sexploitation in the late ‘60s. It’s kind of difficult to describe in just one paragraph, and thus the reasoning for review is exposited. Let me try to explain…
There are a lot of scenes throughout this movie which I know are supposed to be softcore porn, but it’s hard not to read horror into. Scenes where Uta is reading a bit more than is being shown into what’s happening—she’s our eternal narrator. She talks about a girl doing a striptease (probably anonymously filmed, judging from the bouncy, secretive quality) and elucidates, “A lot of girls start out in Hollywood…that’s where they open up and become nice young flesh!” Chillsville. Then, Uta makes out with a boyfriend*, but the scene is dark and shot from the doorway of a hallway. She is biting into his neck. There is club music playing but if it wasn’t there we could’ve just as easily cut to a shot of Uta standing over the man’s dead body with blood on her lips. Later, Uta is walking through the woods, talking in third person. The camera is filmed as though someone is watching her from the trees but very definitively we learn there is no one there. Finally, when her lover comes home, they start making out, and we get a shot of Uta apparently writhing in pleasure, but the music and facial expressions correspond all too well to a lot of rape scenes I’ve seen in horror film.
Then there’s the general weirdness; Uta rubs her nail polish all over herself and even eats some. She watches TV and says, “It was so boring watching TV. It was like watching a movie.” A client oinks like a pig. A phone rings without any sound, even though she’s talking when she picks it up. We find out she’s superstitious and reads a horoscope, which tells her not to go out. She polishes some kinky boots in front of uncanny-valley paintings of children. The music from Criminally Insane comes in. A man overdubs what appears to be the word “ham” multiple times into the soundtrack. Uta apparently masturbates to herself, while eating more nail polish, as the piano music intensifies and slowly becomes sharp and whiny (I call it “spiny”) to the point of nightmare. It’s all small and barely noticeable, unless you install unto yourself the weirdo radar. And it’s all part of an inner sense of an almost dream-like horror, intangible but grounded more firmly in reality than any legitimate horror film.
But then we reach the ending. No doubt spawned by a glitch in the production of the DVD, the film ends with a scene that apparently takes place in a haunted grotto at night—the entire thing, ordinarily in black and white, is fed through a red filter, and all the sound is backwards. The music becomes a system of whistles and deep, hoary breathing. What makes this worse is that this is apparently the scene where someone (the police? A random hillbilly?) finds that Uta and her girlfriend have died in a car crash, I guess. All I know is that our mysterious friend finds the car, opens it, and sees the bodies inside. Then he leaves, scans the outside of the car, starts walking away, and suddenly comes back to show the final shot, which is that of a possibly severed hand lying out of the car window. The backwards sound tells us nothing, aside from maybe what seems to be “Karma fills the beetle.”** The red filter and the backmasking has to be a glitch in the DVD, as mentioned. Or is it? What if this is just an edit made by Nick Millard himself? What if the DVD is haunted? Nick Millard’s ghost, what do you want from me?!!***
Still, the secret story of the whole piece and the ending appear to separate entities. Let’s pick apart the former conundrum and leave the latter to posterity. We know from the fact that Uta touches herself to her own reflection, and from narrative details like, “I knew things when I was twenty that people don’t know when they’re fifty! I’m the grooviest chick around!” that our heroine is some sort of narcissist, as well as being a nymphomaniac. Additionally, the fact that she sleeps around despite being in a romantic relationship of sorts suggests she’s a sociopath, but it’s not just that—a lot of the impressions I got from the scene where she watches the girl striptease, where she seems to cast emotions onto the otherwise simply-sex scene gives me the vague idea that she’s a little bit of a nihilist, also. And that’s the key to it all. Uta simply has sex with everyone she knows because she knows nothing else. She is portrayed as learning about sex at a young age, and essentially making a career out of it. But she realizes her own situation and tries to mask it in the sugar-sweet seductive world of dirty talk and sleaze. She doesn’t want anything else. She says she “was never some small-town virgin”, but she’s denying this to herself. She’s a scared small-town girl in a big city, in this case Hollywood, which is to some the biggest city of them all. She’s hiding behind the big-girl façade not because she wants something, but because she is horrified of moving beyond small things. And ironically, it’s the small things that make her life infinitely weirder, and scarier.
The vampiric undertones come when we realize that someone out there is filming all this. Not just the director, but someone. We know they’re there. There’s that weird invisible man in the woods and there’s the guy at the end who finds the car with her body in it. Maybe they’re the same person. They could have a crush on Uta, and they stalk her to film her. Or maybe not. Maybe they’re just a sick person who films Uta because he somehow knows her pain. Someone who is following her from her old hometown, the small town where she grew up and that she longs to return to. An old friend, now a biographer in a story that will have no happy ending.
The scary thing is that Uta was probably a normal person once, just going after a dream. And she did something unspecified that made that dream into a nightmare. Now she can’t wake up as a result of desperately struggling to. Nick Millard is a horror film genius—even if he never knew it. As mentioned, he went on to make the little cult film known as Criminally Insane (which is criminally genius if you ask me), in addition to some obscure and mostly-reviled flicks like Death Nurse, Doctor Bloodbath, and Satan’s Black Wedding. The fascinating thing about the Millard filmography from Criminally Insane onward is that even though it encompasses almost ten films, they are all set in the same universe. At least, I like to think so. In fact, I’m working on an article about that as we speak. Check it out. It’s gonna be fun. ****
Uta, however, is no fun at all. Subconsciously terrifying and somewhat tedious (though more uncomfortable than anything else), it’s a film that can barely be suggested as a watch. Still, if you are a Millard fan and want to peer back through the portal of time, I can recommend it. Just remember that things are not as they seem, and that makes it fascinating. So perhaps it is worth a look after all.
* This is a softcore film. It doesn’t go past making out and boob-touching.
** Did Uta die because she went against her horoscope? Didn’t her lover get back a few days after she got her horoscope? I doubt the editors of the paper would print a horoscope that covered a whole month or even a week telling people not to go outside.
*** I am perfectly aware that Nick Millard is in fact still alive. Or so his ghost wants us to believe.
**** I’m currently awaiting a DVD-R of Cemetery Sisters (1987), which will complete my Millard collection. My collection excludes all of his softcore stuff that isn’t Uta, and his later stuff, such as the ultra-rare maybe-I’m-looking-for-it ‘90s flick, Dracula in Vegas. I picked up Uta halfway through the article on what I refer to as the Criminally Insane Canon if anything because of the title. My Cemetery Sisters copy is a trade from Mister T.L. Bugg himself, of the excellent review site “The Lightning Bug’s Lair”, which you should all check out at once.