Girly (a.k.a Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly, 1970)

Welcome back to B-Movie Enema, my lovelies!

This week, we have a film from British cinematographer and director Freddie Francis – Girly. Now, this one was more commonly known as Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly in the United Kingdom. We’ll come back around to the utterly bizarre plot of Girly in a bit. First, we should talk about Freddie Francis.

Francis is best known for his work with Hammer Film Productions on films like The Evil of Frankenstein and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and from Hammer rival Amicus Productions on The Deadly Bees and Tales from the Crypt. But, in truth, Francis was a very keen cinematographer. He twice won Oscars for 1960’s Sons and Lovers and 1989’s Glory. Beyond those films, he has a ton of other significant films he shot like 1980’s The Elephant Man directed by David Lynch, Karel Reisz’s 1981 film The French Lieutenant’s Woman starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, and Martin Scorsese’s creepy as hell 1991 remake Cape Fear.

He also shot Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune, so… you know… they can’t all be winners.

It’s kind of funny that Francis would shoot these near masterpieces, yet, when he directed his own films, he mostly worked on horror films for Hammer and Amicus. I guess you can at least say that his horror films looked really good, but I do wonder what kept him out of the genres that he shot so well. While Francis survived until 2007, the final film he served as cinematographer on was, again, working with David Lynch on the 1999 film The Straight Story. The final film he directed was 1987’s Dark Tower starring Michael Moriarty, Jenny Agutter, and Carol Lynley, though he is listed as a co-director with Ken Wiederhorn. However, the last time he directed anything came nine years later with the Tales from the Crypt episode “Last Respects” starring Emma Samms.

Okay, so with that out of the way, Girly is about a movie in which a family plays a very strange and elaborate role-playing game. The name of the game? The Game. What’s The Game about? Well, the rules are not very well outlined. The only real rule is that you must play The Game. The names of Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly go to the mother, the nanny, the son, and the daughter, respectively. Part of this whole deal has the son and the daughter going into town and “Girly” being used to lure men back to the family’s house where they are basically sucked up into the game and forced to dress as members of the role play and act out roles.

I bet this one is gonna be bonkers.

Aaaand… sure enough it is starting off kind of bonkers. It’s six in the morning at the home of this really weird family and Nanny has awoken Mumsy as per usual. Mumsy asks where the “Dear Children” are so she can receive her “morning gifts” from them. We see the “Nursery” where the “Dear Children” sleep and, yeah, as Nanny explains to Mumsy that Sonny and Girly got up even earlier than six(!) to play, and they’re very likely making new friends. We shift to a British zoo where two “kids” dressed as school children are playing in the zoo. As it shifts back to the mansion where the foursome live, the camera pans across a lot of different things. For example the greenhouse appears to be in shambles. There are dolls and various other games and toys strewn about the various rooms.

I feel like this is going to be the epitome of arrested development.

Uh… Yeah. I suppose you can say that. So both Girly and Sonny are growing up, as Mumsy tells Nanny. They appear to not only be growing up, but also discovering all sorts of peculiar feelings they have growing inside them as Sonny feeds Girly a candy and she sucks his fingers.

Let it be known that 1) these actors are 22 (Vanessa Howard as Girly) and 17 (Howard Trevor playing Sonny), 2) I’m not sure that helps anything, and 3) yes, Vanessa Howard is hot. Howard played one of the many girls in the James Bond knockoff Some Girls Do. If you want to know more about that, go check out my episode of B-Movie Enema: The Series covering that one. In fact, I believe she is the only supposed “girl robot” that survives and ends up making off with Bulldog Drummond at the conclusion of that movie.

Sonny doesn’t just spoil his sister, who also maybe teases her brother for more spoiling, but they also kind of fight like siblings might when they annoy each other. Generally speaking, this movie is just kind of setting up how the characters interact. Sonny and Girly play and get a little mischievous (with each other). Mumsy and Nanny seem almost stupendously happy as if they are out of some ideal storybook. They don’t seem to say anything that doesn’t sound overly happy or supportive.

However, it does seem that Girly has knows something that Sonny doesn’t. She overheard Mumsy and Nanny talking about preparing a room. That means that The Game is about to begin anew. So, yes, they are looking for someone they can lure back to the house. They approach a man sleeping on a bench. They wake him up and Girly entices the man with a bottle of hooch. Sonny films the wino drinking the booze and playing with Girly on the playground. The wino would like to kiss Girly, but she rebuffs him by telling him that his new name is New Friend.

You know what I’m picking up just a taste of in this movie? Some of the Firefly family dynamic from Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses. While, obviously, Zombie went gonzo with his exploitation horror film, this movie does have the kind of archetype that Sheri Moon Zombie played with her Baby character. Girly is kooky. She’s crazy. She’s also enticing. She is definitely the honeypot to attract the new friends. She has no problem playing off her looks and overly girlish innocence and playfulness to be that lure. It’s sick, yes. It’s twisted, definitely. However, I would not be surprised at all of Zombie plucked this Girly character attitude and presentation for that Baby character.

Girly and Sonny bury their new friend in the sandbox in the playground. While he’s buried up to his neck, he tells Sonny and Girly, in so many words, there wouldn’t be anyone to miss him. That makes the pair of “children” quite happy. Soon, this new friend is brought home where he’s dressed like a school boy, like Sonny, and he has tea and pudding and cakes with the family. This guy, who claims his name is Soldier, is immediately picking up the peculiarity of this family. He wants to have a tea cake, but Mumsy says the rule is that he cannot have one until 5pm. She tells him, “If you don’t have rules, where are you?”

It’s probably pretty clear at this point that he’s not going to get anything off Girly. They’re just going to have tea, cakes, pudding, lemonade, and play games and pop crackers. After the five o’clock alarm goes off for the cakes, Nanny gets medicine from the cabinet. It’s time for everyone to get a dose. At first, he says he hates medicine. Then, after Sonny and Girly get their medicine, then he starts to demand where his medicine is. Mumsy says he will get his medicine in due time.

Soldier is now forced to play childish games in the yard with Sonny and Girly. He agrees to play one last game. I suspect he shouldn’t have done that. Sure enough, as the final game “Oranges and Lemons” goes on, Mumsy and Nanny hold Soldier down while Girly chops his head off.

Alright, now that one playmate has already been killed, it’s time to meet our next ones. Leaving a party that night is a woman with money and a man who is a prostitute. They get into the woman’s car, and Sonny and Girly are waiting for them in the backseat. At first, the prostitute is all like, “Where the bloody hell did you come from?!?” when Sonny makes his presence known, but he sees Girly and decides that they’ll go wherever these kids want to go. They play games all night long at the same park they got Soldier at.

As the woman begins to beg the prostitute to finally go home, he kind of refuses. He thinks the two kids are kind of spicing up their night/day/date. Sonny takes the woman by the hand and practically drags her to the top of the slide. There, the woman and the prostitute have a little bit of an argument and jostle about. This causes the woman to apparently fall to her death from the top of the slide.

This is something the siblings can work with. They blame the prostitute for pushing the woman. This is helped by the fact the prostitute is drunk as a skunk and is seemingly continuing to get drunk after the death of the woman. This is also something the kids can use to continue to get the prostitute to do what they want. Their return with the prostitute is celebrated by Mumsy and Nanny when they hear them playing outside the bedroom windows.

When the prostitute wakes up with a hangover, Girly brings him breakfast. It’s also stated, and it’s been brought up a couple times to this point, that the “friend” in room #5 is not allowed breakfast. Apparently, there’s something in that room we’ll discover later. Girly tells the prostitute, now named New Friend as per the usual when the kids bring someone home, that she bathed him to clean the blood off his body and Sonny burned his old clothes to get rid of any evidence. They give him a schoolboy outfit like Sonny’s. She tells him that she and Sonny saw him push the woman to her death, but he’ll be safe there with them. He’s going to have to learn the rules, and I am thinking that Girly has a way or two to help him learn. Mumsy, watching through a peephole, is quite taken by the spirit of this new friend of theirs.

It doesn’t take long for New Friend to find this all a pretty shitty situation. He’s instantly asked to help them build sand castles in Sonny and Girly’s sandbox. He starts to question things. What are the rules that they are always going on and on about? Why won’t they tell him about these rules? May he use the john? Oh, well, that last one is a request that he is granted and has a jack-in-the-box style gag waiting for him in the toilet. However, it does seem that Girly likes New Friend. She’s quite taken by how nicely he asked to go to the restroom. She tries to disguise that with how Mumsy likes well-spoken and mannered people.

Thanks to Nanny wailing on a gong, we find out that it’s time for dinner. New Friend plays along as best as he can. When asked what is cleanliness, he responds that it is next to godliness. When he reaches for bread to have with what appears to be pea soup, Mumsy stops him and forces him to ask for a piece of bread nicely. When she defers to the children, Sonny says that he can have a piece of bread when he sings a song. Girly suggests he sing the national anthem of Siam. When he cops to not knowing that, she teaches it to him in the most racist way possible.

Oh, give Girly a break. She’s got the emotional maturity of someone the age of Steven Crowder.

That night, New Friend gets a start when Sonny and Girly hide the body of the dead woman in his bed with a tag around her neck that reads, “Rule No. 1 – Play the Game.” Hearing them laughing out his door, he tries to lock the kids out of his room and escape through the window. Sonny knocks the door down with an axe (think Jack in The Shining – we’ll come back around to that in a bit). Mumsy punishes New Friend to do the shopping. It’s a light sentence, but it comes with a warning that he should simply follow the rules and not do anything stupid.

An even lesser sentence is Mumsy wanting New Friend to show her that he’s not a little boy. This seemingly frustrates Nanny who sleeps at the end of Mumsy’s bed. I… I feel like that’s about as lesbian-erotic as 1970 could get with Nanny shoving her crochet needles into her ball of yarn and angrily rolling over to go to bed. Girly wakes up claiming she’s hungry. She hears Mumsy in New Friend’s room and peeks inside. She does not take this new wrinkle in this dynamic well either.

The next day, Girly wears her shortest of short dresses so everyone is able to see her knickers as easily as possible. She also is poking around the cabinet where it appears the “poisons” are kept. She “poisons” the tea that she plans to serve New Friend. It’s time for him to go “shopping” which is not much more than playing shop with Girly and her impossibly short dress. She doesn’t seem to play fair by not giving him what he asks for from the list Mumsy and Nanny gave him. But before he can walk away, she pours him a cup of that “poisoned” tea. She forces him to drink the tea as part of the Game. However, it turns out to just be castor oil.

Mumsy tells Nanny that she quite likes New Friend. Nanny says it’s against the rules to fancy the friends. Mumsy reminds her that rules are for the kids and not for them. She also reminds Nanny that she is, after all, only the Nanny. Mumsy can do what she wants. She explains that New Friend is a murderer so it’s clear they can kind of keep him there out of the fear of him possibly going to prison. The next morning, they bring up the Old Friend in room #5. He’s been restless lately.

It’s not exactly clear how long New Friend has been at the house with his captors. It is mentioned that New Friend is full of vigor as it’s kind of alluded to that maybe he has had more than one night with Mumsy. While playing Cowboys and Indians with Sonny and Girly, New Friend tricks Girly and tackles her in a shed. She tells him that she thought he was making a run for it and that he really should not attempt it again or they might “send him to the angels.” She admits that she would not like that and he kisses her. It’s then quite heavily implied that he goes down on her and brings her to orgasm.

I think we should take a pause here and understand what was going on when this movie was released and how it was received by British audiences in 1970. Unlike in the United States, exploitation films and sexually explicit films were not well liked by “proper” British adults. These types of movies had a reputation for being mostly made for and marketed directly to mods and swingers. Those who were not part of a counter-culture movement in England were appalled by this type of subject matter. Those that would eventually bring the likes of Mary Whitehouse to the forefront of media watchdog power in the government had several issues.

The first was the finger sucking that Girly did when Sonny gave her candy. The screenwriter for this movie, Brian Comport, adapting a stage play for his screenplay, was aware of the far more implicit incest in the source material, but opted to only tease it in the film. Much like how it’s implied that Sonny and Girly are older than the way they act, the relationship between characters are just hinted at as part of their quirky strangeness. Sonny and Girly probably play doctor at night and it’s likely that at least Nanny has feelings for Mumsy. Even just being sort of implied is no bueno for the Brits in 1970. I would have to assume they especially didn’t like this scene above where it’s clear Girly is experiencing intense sexual pleasure from the prostitute. If I had to make a second assumption, the watchdog groups that would pass judgment on these things didn’t look past the surface. So they probably thought Vanessa Howard, a 21-year-old actress at the time this film was made, was playing a 12 year old. I don’t see that at all from her. She’s very clearly old enough to know what she’s doing. She’s just stunted. That arrested development leads to her probably experimenting with sex with her own brother.

It’s gross, but there’s a reason why she’s doing gross and inappropriate things.

This movie was an incredible failure at the box office. Freddie Francis maintained for the rest of his life that this was his best and very favorite film he ever made. I also mostly agree with him. This is a strange movie. This is endlessly entertaining as well. Yes, it’s titillating. It makes you feel uncomfortable whenever you look at Vanessa Howard and admire the way she looks, but it’s well made and you probably should be feeling that way for many reasons outside the obvious age issue. This should have made Vanessa Howard a star, but its failure at the UK box office made it easy for her to decide to retire from acting in 1972. Sadly, she did not know the film was a success in the United States and she likely would have had a career she was worthy of if she knew that and found her way here.

As I mentioned earlier, I firmly believe this movie turned out to be an inspiration for Baby in House of 1000 Corpses. While the film did disappear for many years, I have no doubt that Rob Zombie saw this movie in theaters or obtained a bootleg of it in the 80s or what have you. However, it was only in the United States that the movie could be obtained, even by way of bootleg. A British film festival celebrating Freddie Francis couldn’t even get a copy of it to screen.

But what’s more is that this movie is thought to be an influence on Stanley Kubrick and The Shining. Remember, earlier, I said that Sonny knocked down a panel of the door to New Friend’s room with an axe. It is thought, by some film analysts (and should not be taken as total gospel), that it might have played a part of that being added to Kubrick’s 1980 film. In the novel, it was a croquet mallet if I’m not mistaken. The whole “Here’s Johnny!” sequence featured Jack running around with an axe and it’s something we see Sonny do as well in this movie. While many movies could feature a similar idea or concept, this movie was made by a popular filmmaker who was likely someone who Kubrick admired. So… Maybe?

Enough of this interlude… Let’s get back to the movie. Girly is now Womanly (heh, losing her virginity joke!). It’s actually a good move for New Friend to do because he’s likely able to maybe manipulate the young-thinking girl who has not had any kind of experience with the intensity of love and sex. Even though she left New Friend by telling him he had better forget about what they did when Sonny seemingly got a little too close to where they were just having relations, Girly does yell at Sonny when he jumped out from the shrubs and startled her as she walked back to the house.

New Friend is starting to position himself by talking to Nanny and asking why she suddenly doesn’t like him anymore. She claims this isn’t the case, but it also starts putting a little bug in her ear that Mumsy is talking about how Nanny doesn’t like him and other things.

We also find out that the family is going to do away with the other captive from room #5 by making him play the Game. Apparently he’s tried escaping a couple times himself. Girly tells New Friend that if he starts talking about the two of them, she’ll put him in the sand pit and they’ll take shots at him while he’s buried up to his neck. However, she cracks a little bit when he cares for a cut on her finger. She tells him she doesn’t want to see him get hurt. She reminds New Friend that she, Sonny, Mumsy, and Nanny are a happy family and then she kisses him.

The next day, New Friend continues to rattle the cage he’s in by asking questions about the friend in #5. Mumsy tells him that curiosity killed the cat. When he’s a little too lippy, Mumsy says that bad boys are sent to bed. He asks who he will be sent to bed with. In a round about way, he creates tension between Mumsy and Nanny with this line of discussion. So he is sent to bed and he tells Mumsy that she can come visit him later.

It’s time for sentencing of #5. Mumsy says he’s to play the Humpty Dumpty Game. They will give him to the count of ten to get as far away as possible before Sonny begins hunting him. Sonny films the man trying to run and hide. There are traps and pitfalls set up as well, like a loose rung on a latter that could get him to a hiding place in a tower. This gives Sonny the chance to shoot him with his bow and arrow and kill him. The family then get together and watch what Sonny filmed, which is, essentially, a snuff film.

They also let New Friend watch just so they are aware of what will come to him if he breaks the rules. He also notices that Girly is not able to watch the movie without fidgeting and tearing up one of her dolls. When Girly leaves the room, he follows. Only Sonny notices that they’ve left and decides to follow. He waits in their room for when New Friend and Girly’s conversation is finished. Downstairs, Nanny and Mumsy argue over how typically they kill the friends in pairs. Sonny also overhears this. He tells Girly that New Friend is maybe trying to upset the house so he can rule the roost. He’s afraid that New Friend will rile Mumsy and Nanny up so much that they will do something terrible. He doesn’t want to wait around for a bothersome trial. They need to send New Friend to the angels.

Later that night, Girly tells Nanny that Sonny doesn’t like New Friend and he’s gone and broken the rules. She tells her that Sonny wants to send him to the angels. Girly says that Sonny told her that he heard Nanny say that she wanted New Friend to bop her booper like he did to Mumsy and that Mumsy will now come after her. As they get ready for bed, Nanny uses a crochet needle and acid to strike against Mumsy before she kills Nanny first.

However, just before Nanny plunges the acid-tipped needle into Mumsy’s neck, New Friend comes in and says his nightlight has gone out and he’s afraid of the dark. He then begins seducing Nanny. She decides to follow him to his room. On the way out, he sees the needle behind Nanny’s back.

The next morning, Sonny tells Girly that New Friend is going to be sent to the angels because he has information to tell Mumsy and Nanny. She asks him what he knows and she tells him to butt out of his business. So, she uses a mirror to kill him to protect New Friend. Girly avoids punishment aside from Mumsy telling her she needs to take better care of her toys. Mumsy tells Girly that New Friend was sent to bury Sonny and that he won’t be sent to the angels because Sonny was instead.

When New Friend realizes that Mumsy is cold to her own son being dead, he’s disgusted. It doesn’t help that he wants to know how Girly is doing, but Mumsy says that she didn’t want to break her Drummer Boy porcelain doll and that he wasn’t very nice, so it’s okay that Girly got rid of him. New Friend is worried about the sexual games he’s playing with each of the three women in this family. He thinks that maybe Mumsy would believe stories being told by Sonny and Nanny. But she says that he’s worried about nothing.

In Girly’s room, Nanny begins to close in on Girly with a pillow to suffocate her. Girly awakens suddenly. Nanny tries to say that she only thought Girly’s pillow looked uncomfy and wanted bring her a new one. You don’t have the below look on your face if you thought that was the truth.

Girly begins chopping firewood angrily and ranting about Nanny. Mumsy comes out to bring Girly back to bed. We find out that Nanny’s legs are under a pile of wood and Girly has personally halved the size of this batshit family. Mumsy goes to look for Nanny only to find Girly and New Friend in bed together. Oh… before she hopped in bed with New Friend, Girly cut off Nanny’s head and is boiling it in a pot on the stove.

There is one final act to perform… New Friend tells Girly that Mumsy told him that he won’t be needing his room anymore because she’s going to be lonely without Nanny around anymore. By implying that he will be staying with Mumsy, Girly goes straight for the final obstacle to her getting New Friend all to herself. Mumsy reminds Girly that families share and share alike. That means New Friend will be split between the two women. New Friend comes in behind them and hear them saying that maybe Girly should find Mumsy a new playmate. Mumsy suggests a younger friend because they may both eventually tire of New Friend.

Mumsy sends Girly off to the playground to find a new friend. She tells her to watch her step and Girly returns the sentiment as she skips away. Each of the remaining players recites the Humpty Dumpty poem, all plotting their own moments to do away the others.

This is a fantastic film. It’s, in some ways, uncomfortable at times, but all in very well designed ways. Why does this family exist in this exact configuration? Doesn’t matter. It’s possible that Girly and Sonny weren’t actually related. It’s possible that neither of them are actual biological offspring of Mumsy. They may have been captured as part of a previous version of the family and usurped roles of a previous Girly and Sonny. There’s some intention that they are looking for playmates that will last for a long time. The degradation of the mansion they live in would indicate that maybe this has been going on for a very long time. Or it could be a tip of the hat that they only care about their Game and the eventual slaughter. Either way, it works.

Something else that works is the sexual politics that New Friend uses to keep himself somewhat protected by more than just one character in the family. He is, after all, a prostitute himself. So while Mumsy uses rules as the matriarch of the family, Nanny is the warden of sorts, Girly is the lure, and Sonny is the killer, they are all using their tools and what comes natural to them to carry out the Game. New Friend uses something else that he happens to be quite good at to ultimately turn everyone against each other. Does he really plan to stay with either Mumsy or Girly? Hard to say. It seems that he was specifically trying to manipulate Girly and use her as an escape from the house. Mumsy would likely provide the most security. It’s obvious that he plans to kill Mumsy, probably that night, due to how it ends with him in possession of the acid and needle that Nanny was going to use against her. Girly might prove to be a little harder to dispatch. She’s got lunatic strength as we’ve seen in a few other scenes as she tried to hold onto her life and New Friend and the new stuff she was feeling all at the same time.

I agree with Freddie Francis. This is a very well made movie and probably his best film. He had a lot of creative control over this film too so he didn’t mess around with it. It’s funny, all that moral panic applied to this film by the nanny state in England at the time isn’t really protecting anyone from anything. It’s not a gory film. It’s suggestive as hell, but not overly offensive. Maybe you can say that it’s weird that Girly and Sonny seem to have something incestual going on, but it’s barely touched upon. Maybe you can say that Girly’s indeterminate age could be an issue, but again, the subtext is there that she is not as young as she acts. The movie excels at the character dynamics presented between the five main characters.

If this movie became a sudden sensation today, or if it was very closely remade or became a stage play again, I’m sure it would give Fox News and shitbag corners of YouTube weeks worth of content to capitalize on, but I think there’s a remake possibility with something sort of resembling this. Maybe don’t go as hard as House of 1000 Corpses, but something that could be kind of titillating but not overly explicit. Maybe there’s a form of this story that exists in a world where the ultra rich or ultra powerful have these weird familial bonds and dynamics. Either way, it’s a good flick and it’s something you don’t have to find a bootleg of or try to figure out if anyone has an out of print DVD or Blu Ray that they are willing to sell. Hell, you can watch it on Amazon video by way of renting it, but you don’t have to. The version I watched is in HD on YouTube right now to watch for free.

If you’re not one to get too wrapped up in some of the bigger questions of Girly’s actual age or incest, check it out. You’ll probably dig it. I’ll see you in one week’s time for a long overdue movie that I’ve wanted to cover for quite some time. I’ll be sticking to 1970s British exploitation with Psychomania.

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