Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Outside of one appearance on Adam-12 in 1969 and a handful of roles in the eighties, the bulk of Roberta Collins work took place in the seventies. While she is best remembered for her powerhouse roles in Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat, Vernon Zimmerman’s Unholy Rollers, Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive and her unforgettable turn for Jack Hill in The Big Doll House, there were other smaller but still memorable roles scattered throughout the decade for Roberta. Before I pay tribute to her more higher profile work later in the week, I thought it would be worthwhile remembering three of these often forgotten films, all shot in the same year of 1973.
Years before he won an Oscar and acclaim for works like L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys and 8 Mile, writer and director Curtis Hanson made his film debut with the strange proto-slasher Sweet Kill (also known as A Kiss from Eddie, and The Arousers) in 1973. Starring Tab Hunter and featuring a very effective score from Charles Bernstein, Sweet Kill is a short, cheap and slightly ugly nudie film that has moments that are downright disturbing, although finally its not a very successful picture.
Roberta is featured in two of the film’s best scenes as a prostitute Hunter has hired to act out some of his more deranged memories of his mother, and is billed in the closing credits as just ‘call girl’. Roberta, reminding me a bit of Carroll Baker in the early sixties, gives the films best performance and elevates Hanson’s depressing first work above just a rather cheap exploitation product.
Much better is Robert Vincent O’Neill’s incredibly goofy but undeniably fun Philippine Co-production Wonder Women from later in 1973. This Nancy Kwan vehicle focusing on a group of covert operating Kung Fu Girls is a trippy sci-fi sexploitation romp featuring Roberta as the most rebellious super lady, and a young Sid Haig in a smaller role.
I wouldn’t argue that the film, also known as The Deadly and The Beautiful, remotely resembles a good movie but it is a real kick and Roberta (who gets to talk smack to Kwan and shows off some karate moves) drips charisma and seems to be having a grand time.
The best of the three, although it features Roberta’s smallest role, is the terrifically engaging and tense TV movie Terror on the Beach, which premiered on ABC in the fall of 73. Pre-dating Wes Craven’s celebrated The Hills Have Eyes by four years, Terror on the Beach is a potent television film centering on a family being terrorized by a group of crazed hippies out for kicks. Starring Dennis Weaver, Estelle Parsons and Susan Dey, Terror on the Beach only suffers due to a slightly by the number script by Bill Svanoe.
Roberta has only a couple of lines but strikes a very memorable figure as the blonde member of the hippie group. Shot with style by Paul Wendkos, who elevates it above a run of the mill TV film at every point, Terror on the Beach still packs quite a punch and is well worth seeking out for fans of Roberta or TV movie buffs in general.