MANTIS IN LACE, or LILA (the actual onscreen title), from 1968, was one of several exploitation pics produced and/or acquired by Harry Novak’s Boxoffice International Pictures during the sixties and seventies. Novak’s ouvre is hardly in the same league as those of better known exploiters like Roger Corman or Sam Arkoff, but many of Novak’s releases are worth a watch. MANTIS IN LACE/LILA was one of his more notable offerings, with its irresistible swirl of drugs, T&A and murder, and cinematography by the great Laszlo Kovacs (who also DOP’d PSYCH-OUT and TARGETS that same year, and would go on to photograph the legendary EASY RIDER the next).
Other Novak opuses of note include the LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS rip-off PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER, FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, AXE and HITCH-HIKE TO HELL. Novak’s films have undergone a revival of sorts thanks to Something Weird Video, who’ve commercially released several of his epics on VHS and DVD. SWV’s DVD release of MANTIS IN LACE (“A Psychedelic Psycho Classick!”) comes complete with three late-sixties shorts illustrating the horrors of LSD, including the classroom scare classic LSD: TRIP OR TRAP.
Lila is a go-go dancer who lures a young man to her warehouse pad (which she keeps for “things I can’t do anywhere else”) one night. There the guy makes the mistake of turning Lila on to LSD. She has a bad trip and reveals her innermost fears to her lover, most notably her hatred of fruit—then she freaks out completely, believing she’s being molested by several men. Lila stabs the guy with a screwdriver and subsequently chops him up with a meat cleaver, thinking she’s slicing a large watermelon.
The next day two detectives become determined to track down the murderer, who they think is a deranged man, while a middle aged lech comes on to Lila. The lech accompanies Lila back to her pad, where she herself initiates the LSD dosage. Once again the trip is a bad one: as the guy goes down on her Lila hallucinates a doctor administering a syringe, and goes to work with her deadly screwdriver and meat cleaver, afterwards commenting that her dismembered victim “looks so funny like that!” The following night brings another corpse, this one a sleazy man who Lila beats to death with a broom, thinking she’s smashing a cantaloupe.
The hapless detectives investigating the murders finally get a break when a real estate agent finds blood on the floor of Lila’s warehouse pad. The detectives stake the place out, and so are present when Lila shows up with her latest would-be victim, this time a swarthy guy carrying a gun…
You won’t find much in the way of great cinema here. The editing is choppy, the dialogue clumsy and the acting strictly of the school play variety. But such things don’t appear to concern director William Rotsler overmuch, as he expends all his energy on the film’s primary reasons for being: nudity, sex and violence! This is evident in the opening sequence, a go-go striptease that’s photographed in the most leering and exploitive fashion imaginable, and lasts several minutes longer than it needs to. There’s more gratuitous T&A to come, including a mid-film sex scene (in which a talent agent “auditions” a wannabe actress) that has no logical place in the narrative and appears to exist simply to pad the running time.
Let’s not forget those psychedelic murder sequences, with flashing red and blue lights and images projected on people’s faces. Other trippy components include spinning disco balls and discordant shouting on the soundtrack. It’s all just as silly as it sounds (although the killing scenes are surprisingly harsh and impactful).
One authentically good element is the cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs. Kovacs was one of America’s finest directors of photography, and proves it here with his rich, layered visuals. Kovacs’s bold use of multi-colored filters is mesmerizing, making the acid trip scenes seem far more potent than they deserve to be.
MANTIS IN LACE (a.k.a. LILA)
Director: William Rotsler
Producer: Sanford White
Screenplay: Sanford White
Cinematography: “Leslie” (Laszlo) Kovacs
Editing: Peter Perry
Cast: Susan Stewart, Vic Lance, Pat Barrington, Stuart Lancaster, Steve Vincent, M.K. Evans, Janu Wine, John Carrol, John LaSalle, Hinton Pope, Bethel Buckalew, Lyn Armondo, Norton Halper, Judith Crane, Cheryl Trepton