With IM Global/Bombshell Pictures’ gleefully titillating feature Bitch Slap bowing today in limited theatrical release and via Video on Demand, this scribe sat down recently with the makers and stars of the film to discuss their ‘guns, boobs, and brawls’ opus and was thrilled to do so.
Why? In this writer’s estimation, Bitch Slap has set the bar in that sub-genre of film and now holds the heavyweight belt as the ‘Quintessential Guy Flick.’ This is fortuitous, not only for audiences with high expectations (the flick’s trailer and teaser art have been burning up the Internet for months) but also for the filmmakers, whose goal was to create ‘The Best Bitch Fight in Film History.’
Bitch Slap, which stars newcomer Julia Voth, Erin (“Nip/Tuck”) Cummings, America (Friday the 13th remake) Olivo, Ron (Children of the Corn III) Melendez, Kevin (“Hercules”) Sorbo, and Zoe (Death Proof) Bell (in a brief cameo, although her skill as the film’s fight choreographer is clearly on display), is described as follows: ‘A post-modern, thinking man’s throwback to the B-movie exploitation films of the 1950’s-70’s as well as a loving, sly parody of the same. Inspired by the likes of Dragstrip Girl; Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; Kung Fu Nun; and the pantheon of Blaxploitation films, Bitch Slap mixes girls, guns, outrageous action, and jaw-dropping visuals with a message… don’t be naughty!’
An ambitious project to be sure, particularly for a low-budgeted indie, but one which writer/producer/director Rick Jacobsen and co-scribe and producing partner Eric Gruendemann approached with sincere enthusiasm, although according to them there was initial trepidation as to whether or not they’d be successful in finding three femme fatales willing and able to go to the lengths their tawdry, tongue-in-cheek script required.
“The lead roles were obviously the most pivotal, although we didn’t have any ideas (as to the casting),” said Gruendemann, whose previous genre experience includes serving as co-executive producer and managing director of Pacific Renaissance Films, the company he founded with partners Sam (Evil Dead) Raimi and Rob Tapert. “A lot of people said early on, ‘How are you going to find hot women who can give these long soliloquies and do the action and who are willing to do what’s written in the script and will do it on a budget? You are asking the impossible.’”
Reflecting on the casting of the film’s triumvirate of Voth (as the down-and-out stripper ‘Trixie’), Cummings (as corporate powerbroker ‘Hell’), and Olivo (who here portrays the drug-running killer ‘Camaro’), Gruendemann says, “We recognize that we got very lucky, but also when we were writing, we had faith that we would find them, and we are incredibly thrilled with who we got.”
Jacobsen, who began his directorial career at the age of 23 by helming Roger Corman’s martial arts flick Full Contact, and whose television credits include “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Cleopatra 2525″, concurs.
“It was definitely lightning in a bottle,” says the filmmaker of their luck in casting Bitch Slap. “We needed beautiful women who could go there and embrace the fact that we were doing an exploitation film and not shy away from (directions such as) ‘Unzip that top a little bit more,’ or ‘Bend over a little bit further,’ (even though) it was all kind of done with just a wink and a smile in knowing that we were embracing what (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! director) Russ Meyer and those guys had done before – yet kinda trying to put a cool modern spin on it.”
“It was a huge task,” Jacobsen continues, “yet, the planets somehow aligned for us to the freakish point that when we were developing it, I said to Eric, ‘Our Trixie is a girl who has just come into town, is undiscovered and incredibly talented, but is hungry and willing to do it'; and that is exactly what we got with Julia Voth. She was in town for eight months, and this was her third audition.”
“This is my first film and acting job ever, and it’s been amazing,” chimes in Canadian-born Voth, whose previous work in L.A. included print jobs as a model for Guess? and who is clearly enjoying the reunion with her Bitch Slap co-stars the junket’s providing, given their banter. “I think this film for all three of us has opened doors that weren’t there before, especially for me.”
Cummings, who seems the ringleader of the film’s stars, given her sharp wit and alluring laugh (think Tura Satana but a lot cuter… and more approachable), agrees with Voth’s statement.
“It’s almost comical how this movie has created a complete 180 in my life and my career,” says the actress, whose substantial resume includes stints on “Cold Case”, “Dante’s Cove”, and “Charmed”. “I had done just about every play, short film, student film, and independent film that I could, and a lot of them never came out and a lot of them I never got paid for, and I thought Bitch Slap was going to be just another independent film that never saw the light of day. That’s kind of what it was for me, and I was just happy I was actually getting a lead role in something that was a feature. But now in the year and a half since I’ve done Bitch Slap, not only has my resume increased three times, but I’ve gotten ten times better representation, I’ve been able to travel around the world, and literally it’s really changed my career and my life, and it’s not even out yet! That’s what is crazy.”
As for whether Cummings, given her previous genre work, was predisposed to old-school exploitation cinema (namely, the films of Russ Meyer, which Bitch Slap wears proudly on its sleeve, or in this case its itty bitty tank top), “I hadn’t really seen any of his films,” says the actress. “I grew up in Pensacola, Texas, where they didn’t even have a Blockbuster, so I had to watch whatever random films were there, so I was watching sort of genre horror films, like Student Bodies.” A long pause. “It’s the best movie ever made.”
Again with her wit.
“But I don’t really have any shame in saying ‘No, I haven’t seen any of Meyer’s films prior to doing this,’” she conveys. “Our job is not to be familiar with exploitation films as a genre. Our job is to give a truthful performance.”
That truthful performance was assisted by the filmmakers’ hiring of stuntwoman and burgeoning actress Zoe Bell, whom they’d previously worked with on the television series “Xena” and horror fans know of from her turn in Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse feature Death Proof as well as her starring role in last year’s web series Angel of Death (she’ll next appear alongside Wesley Snipes in the upcoming flick Game of Death). Whew, that’s a lot of death! Given the content of Bitch Slap, Zoe’s inclusion was an astute call.
“Zoe was our first and only choice when it came to choosing a stunt coordinator who could coordinate ‘The Greatest Chick Fight in Cinema History,’” says director Jacobsen. “And she never let us down.”
“’Wow! No pressure, guys. I’ll see what I can do!’” Bell recalls of responding to Jacobsen’s initial and lofty decree, “but it was really satisfying to me. It’s the first thing of that size that I’ve coordinated, and it was made much easier by the fact that the girls were all so willing. You can’t make a movie like that without everybody being one hundred percent because that’s all you’ve got to work with, and they were really dedicated.”
Given the requirements of Cummings’ ass-kicking role (both she and Olivo throw down like MMA fighters), Bell’s assistance, as well as her own background in Jeet Kune Do and various weaponry (Cummings is trained in guns, knives, long bow, short stick, and hand-to-hand combat, among other things) undoubtedly assisted her in delivering. But what of the scenes which required more of a Sapphic touch? (Audiences can look forward to rather rousing moments between herself and her onscreen cohorts).
“One of our camera operators on-set was bisexual,” relates Cummings, “and here’s the thing: We all felt that if you are going to do a fight scene or a love scene or whatever you are going to do, you want to make it something that’s real, and to be quite honest, I want lesbians to watch this movie and go, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty hot. I want to be in the middle of that,’ and I want guys to watch this movie and say, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty hot. I want to be in the middle of that.’ So otherwise, what’s the point? Truth be told, look at Julia and America. It’s not the worst thing in the world to kiss them. I’d rather kiss a pretty girl than an ugly guy any day!”
Bitch Slap actress America Olivo is as enthusiastic as Cummings of the film, which has previously screened as part of the Toronto International Film Fest’s Midnight Madness track as well as being an Official Selection at both the Athens and Helsinki International Film Festivals.
“Within twenty pages (of the script), you either get it or you don’t, and I got it,” says Olivo, who’s a classically trained operatic singer and pop/Latin chart topper and who has graced the stages of Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden (among many others), all long before being burned up in a sleeping bag at the hands of Jason Voorhees in last year’s Platinum Dunes’ Friday the 13th redux.
“Bitch Slap did all of these fun things that I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do in my acting career as a cross-over artist from being a singer,” says Olivo. “I’d only ever gotten a few Spanish speaking roles or played a girlfriend or a mistress of someone being killed in the first five minutes. So it was fun to not only get to play a lead in something this grand but to do all of the sorts of things that men usually get to do in action films. I mean, the fight scenes and just getting dirty and the green screen work – the whole thing was just fun. This isn’t, though, what I thought I’d been doing with my degree in opera theatre!”
As our time runs short (it’s the holiday season and talk turns to everyone’s various travel plans), Cummings offers us this summation: “Bitch Slap is something different than the same bullshit that the Hollywood machine is churning out, and people wanted to be involved in it.”
Bitch Slap opens today for a limited theatrical run in Los Angeles at The Nuart (11272 Santa Monica Boulevard), in New York at The Quad (34 West 13th Street), and in San Francisco at The Lumiere (1572 California Street). Tickets are on sale for all locations through MovieTickets.com and for Los Angeles and San Francisco through LandmarkTheaters.com.
Visit Bitch Slap online at BitchSlapMovie.com.
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