Reminiscent at times of Russ Meyer during his black & white drive-in period, crossed with a smattering of vintage Herschell Gordon Lewis-styled histrionics, Shanty Tramp is one of those films which makes it such a joy to be a fan of Sixties exploitation sleaze. Indeed, the film remains a virtual primer of exploitation requirements, and has retained its power to fascinate, repel, and excite.
Emily (ELEANOR VAILL, billed here as "Lee Holland") is the Shanty Tramp of the title, a sexy package of pure tease who struts around a small southern shanty town — to the musical accompaniment of "When the Saints Go Marching In"—offering her services to any man with a couple of bills. When she’s not arguing with her alcoholic Pa ("Find yourself a nice warm spot in the gutter and sleep it off!") or flirting with Brother Fallows, a revival house preacher, Emily drums up business at a grimy, roadside diner.
A tryst with a biker who won’t pay ("Shut up, baby, and put out!") quickly escalates into an affair with Daniel, a black man, which in turn leads to Emily crying when Pa catches them rolling around naked in a barn. As a lynch mob takes off after Daniel, Emily’s lecherous Pa rips off her top, whips her senseless with a belt, then puts the moves on her, telling her she’s just "a no good lousy tramp anyway," before Emily stabs him to death and takes off with preacher Fallows....
Directed by JOSE ("Joseph") PRIETO and starkly photographed in Florida by J. RAFAEL REMY, Shanty Tramp is propelled along by the mesmerizing performance of non-actress Vaill who, with her toothy smile and dreamy, far-away expressions, is unforgettable as Emily. After performing topless patricide onscreen, Vaill — allegedly a Miami substitute teacher—went on to marry OTTO SCHLESINGER, the bald, much older man who (as "Kenneth Douglas") plays her Pa in the film! Vaill is given ample support by BILL ROGERS who also appears with Vaill and Schlesinger in H.G. Lewis’ vampire opus A Taste of Blood. Tall, handsome, and possessing a deep, resonant voice, Rogers really brings the lecherous, money-hungry Brother Fallows to life.
But perhaps most shocking of all is that Shanty Tramp came from producer K. GORDON MURRAY who, despite earlier releasing some adult-exploitation pickups (such as Wasted Lives and Eve or the Apple), had by the mid-Sixties made his name virtually synonymous with family-friendly children’s films (and horror imports, many of which were dubbed by the above-mentioned Mr. Rogers). When the kiddie-matinee market began drying up, Murray quickly returned to exploitation — with a vengeance.
Shanty Tramp, like all the best exploitation cinema, has become a genuine relic; a time capsule of an era — and a social climate — which most Americans would probably prefer to forget. (Film buff footnote: Shanty’s assistant director was BOB CLARK, at the time a University of Miami student, who would go on to direct Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Deathdream, and, yes, Porky’s.)
From a 35mm "What-a-Bad-Girl!" print.
—John Harrison, Reel Wild Cinema
Starring: Eleanor Vaill
Co-starring: Bill Rogers
Other cast: Otto Schlesinger, Lawrence Tobin
Directed by: Jose Prieto