BR: Female Bunch, The (1971)

October 12, 2020 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: Very Good

Label: Severin

Region: A, B, C

Released: April 21, 2020

Genre: Action / Sexploitation / Grindhouse

Synopsis: A jilted bride joins a horse-riding, all-female, man-hating gang but has second thoughts when murder comes into play!

Special Features: Making-of Featurette “The Bunch Speaks Out” (15:25) / Extended Scenes (2:03) / Trailers. Note: this title is a bonus feature that accompanies Severin’s “Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson“.




Included as a bonus feature with the stellar documenatry Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (2019), The Female Bunch began production under the title A Time to Run, and was technically Lon Chaney’s Jr.’s last film, in spite of being released after Adamson’s ignominious monster mash-up, Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Both were released in 1971, but it’s easy to say Bunch is a more dignified swan song for the troubled Chaney who became trapped in B, C, and Z-grade horror when he aspired to be a character actor.

Adamson’s Bunch is also notorious for being partly filmed at the Spahn Ranch where Charles Manson and his gang resided, and for employing a ranch hand while Manson plotted and committed the Tate-LaBianca murders.

It’s also a slightly infamous sexploitation riff on The Wild Bunch (1969), insofar as the ‘bunch’ is comprised of an all-girl, man-hating gang who rides horses, run wild in Mexican saloons, and are comfortable torturing and / or killing trespassing men, and gang members attempting to flee after a sudden morality realignment.

The strange aspect of Adamson’s part western, sort of girl bikers on horseback, and revenge drama, is that is actually works – especially when there are needless diversions (two obligatory drunken saloon brawls), softcore sex, and ridiculous dialogue which co-star and occasional Adamson stock company actor Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story) rewrote to suit his character (and perhaps give the actor a bit of dignity).

In his interviews for both the doc and the film, Tamblyn is very open about having walked away from studio productions in the 1960s and giving his emerging visual art top priority. Subsequent acting jobs were done for funds, fun, and misadvantures, and according to Tamblyn and most of the interviewees, Adamson was a decent, likeable character who made his movies quick & raw, and engaged everyone to help in various departments.

Bunch is sexploitation, but it’s also a rough & tumble indie film which is perhaps enhanced by the rough source materials Severin had to sift through, and reconstruct the cleanest possible version. Looking like a beat-up grindhouse flick – which it is – the splice marks and sudden smash-cuts and leaps in continuity add a grotty texture to the film, making it unfold like an artifact found buried in some dank desert cave where the odd rodent sharpened its claws and teeth on exposed rolls.

One-time actress Nesa Renet is Sandy, a poor girl stuck in Vegas doing cocktail waitressing in a dive bar because her shitty fiance gambled their elopement funds and bailed on his bride-to-be. Naive and hungry for love, Sandy (incredibly) falls head over heels for dive bar lounge lizard / wannabe Elvis archetype Scott (Don Epperson), who devours her healthy assets until a new opportunity patrons the bar.

Dejected and outright dumped by Scott, Sandy attempts a half-hearted pill overdose, but is saved by mother figure and go-go dancer Libby (Regina Carrol). Emotionally vulnerable yet hungry for a life changing experience, Sandy is taken to a remote ranch, and after passing a creepy initiation, is embraced by the female bunch. She learns to ride horses, be rude in cross-border saloons, and bond with fellow man-haters / whip-connoisseur Sadie (Aleshia Brevard), Sharon (Sharyn Wynters), Libby (Carrol), Dennise (Leslie McRay), and Pug (Megan Timothy).

Leader Grace (underrated Jennifer Bishop) uses her considerable funds to bankroll the gang, as well as support her heroine habit and do a little side dealing, but when Bill (Russ Tamblyn) sneaks into the ranch and has nookie-enookie with Dennise, his outrageous trespassing is rewarded with a cross burned between his brows; it’s a more immediate cruelty than the repeated taunting meted out to a Mexican farmer (stuntman & ‘additional continuity’ director John ‘Bud’ Cardos) squatting on Grace’s land who’s eventually left to watch his farm & livestock burn while bundled in barbed wire.

The film’s mean streak is counter-balanced by mashed breasts, lathered legs & bare bottoms in not exactly seamless inserts. The softcore material was cut in place of tamer footage where the clothed or strategically photographed actresses likely went through less raunchy foreplay. The nonsense almost works if not for some nasty coarse edits, and the fact the stand-ins have their faces completely covered by long hair. Whether by design or purely the fashion during filming, the brunettes have long buoyant manes which only becomes a minor issue when it’s clear the bulk of the female bunch are similar looking, especially actresses Bishop and McRay.

Adamson’s love of westerns (plus his personal connection via his father, actor & stunt rope maestro Victor Adamson) pays off with some great shots of dry, cruel landscapes, and the grim finale amid surreal mushroom rock formations in Utah. Cardos’ stunt skills and second unit direction also add energy to the bookend scenes in which Sandy and Bill’s pal Jim (Geoffrey Land) hide out in a cave after their getaway convertible is shot up by Grace from her private plane. (John Cassavetes’ longtime art director and production designer Phaedon Papamichael also handled some second unit direction.)

The clarity and detail within Paul Glickman’s cinematography is hard to judge because of the damaged print sources, but the loose quality adds to the film’s raw veneer, as well as a slight docu-quality from the grungy Las Vegas locations. Also of note is the great / overblown main title song by James Mendoza-Nava (The Brotherhood of Satan, The Legend of Boggy Creek) and effective theme variations which give continuity to Adamson’s aforementioned erotic digressions.

Chaney’s role is small but important, playing Monti, a has-been stunt Hollywood performer reduced to shining boots for Grace. She’s a boss whom he knows will never love him nor treat him with much respect. Monti’s emasculation by Grace, booze, and his self-loathing add both gravitas and tragedy to Adamson’s effective but contrived revenge western and flipped genders of villains and victims, but it is tough to watch Chaney, as the actor was in terrible shape, due to throat cancer and a vicious alcohol addiction.


Special Features

A making-of interview featurette gathers McRay, Wynters, and Tamblyn who reminisce on the production and Adamson’s eccentricities, as do Cardos, and art director Michael Ferris & propman R. Michael Stringer, the latter two summarizing the production’s side-bump with the Manson gang.

In a prior DVD release, Code Red bundled Bunch as part of a triple-bill with Piranha / aka Piranha Piranha (1972) and Tarzana the Wild Girl (1969), but Severin’s pairing with the Blood & Flesh doc is ideal precisely because it features the type of work Adamson produced – reshoots, recuts, retitling, re-releasing and all.

The short bits of extended scenes collated in a separate gallery are more scene extensions which may have been cut from theatrical prints for pacing (or dropped due to damage), but it’s a shame they only survive in standard definition, stemming from the film’s VHS release (itself taken from a similarly garish but less rough & tumbled print).


Original (and amazing) U.S. poster


French poster


British PAL VHS art featuring no one recognizable


Japanese VHS art


VHS release featuring bogus photo shoot with absolutely no one from the film


If the doc offers a humane yet fascinating window into an indie director-producer with a flair for sexploitation & genuine grindhouse grew, The Female Bunch should tease connoisseurs into tasting other Adamson work, and perhaps soften his reputation a little. The double-bill of Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson and The Female Bunch is also included in Severin’s gorgeous & limited Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection.

Stuntman & second unit director John ‘Bud’ Carlos’ work as director includes the cult classic Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), taking over the troubled Tobe Hooper shocker The Dark (1979), Empire Pictures’ The Day Time Ended (1979), and doing uncredited second unit work on Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969).

Most of the actresses in The Female Bunch had relatively brief careers in film & TV. Jennifer Bishop also appeared in Outlaw Riders (1971), House of Terror (1973), William Grefe’s Impulse (1974), Adamson’s Jessi’s Girls (1975), and Grefe’s Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), her final film. Leslie McRay had significant roles in Ted V. Mikels’ Girl in the Gold Boots (1968) and Bummer! (1973), and Susan Arnold became a producer, notably of Benny & Joon (1993), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), and The Haunting (1999).

Starting with Satan’s Sadists (1969), future wife Regina Carrol appeared in almost all of Adamson’s films, whereas in addition to Sadists, Russ Tamblyn acted in Dracula v.s Frankenstein (1971) and U.S. Vice (1976).



© 2020 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDBSoundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

Vendor Search Links:

Amazon Canada Amazon USA Amazon UK



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.