Big Gay Horror Fan has always loved the underdogs – those grand folks who keep on trying, and despite public endearment, never quite make it to the top. For that reason, fairly obscure actresses such as Jenny Neumann (Mistress of the Apes, Hell Night), Cindy Fisher (Bad Ronald, Strike Force), Aleisa Shirley (Sweet Sixteen) and Deanna Robbins (Final Exam) – among many others – have a special place in my heart. My true favorite among all these lovely lasses, though, would have to be Cathryn Hartt. A respected stage actress and dramatic coach, Hartt appeared in a number of films and television shows during the 70’s and 80’s including The Seduction, Fantasy Island and even For the Love of Benji. She is, perhaps, especially in celebrity circles, best known as Morgan Fairchild’s sister, but as a vibrant and dedicated performer, Hartt is definitely deserving of a following of her own. So, in order to right this wrong and finally establish cultural equilibrium, I have compiled an annotated listing of Hartt’s most significant work for movie lovers, of every passion, to prosper by! Grab those ragged, celluloid covered shovels and dive in –and as always, viva la Hartt!!
Creature From Black Lake. 1976. IMDB lists this as Hartt’s, then using the name Catherine McClenny, first major film appearance. She has a nice co-starring role, appearing in two important scenes, as Eve, a goofily rambunctious, incredibly awkward, back-woods Louisianan waitress. Hartt employs a true sense of physical awareness and comic timing, something she uses to great advantage in most of her film roles. As for the movie, itself, -this is a grainy, pleasant, low budget affair with a true sense of atmosphere and a low key Southern charm. Two college researchers, from Chicago, head out into the swampy wilds to track down a mythical creature. Of course, none of the townspeople want to talk about the creature – at least on record or without monetary bribing. Jack Elam shows up as a blustering drunk who lost his trapping partner to the creature and Dub Taylor gives a naturally comic turn as an old timer who experienced the creature’s wraith on several occasions. Dennis Fimple, as the bumbling student and John David Carson (Empire of the Ants, Pretty Maids All in a Row), as his smart-ass partner-in-crime, play, nicely, off of one another –and their final confrontation with the creature, while not exactly horrifying, is intense and well-acted by the two of them. This is, ultimately, low radar, enjoyable drive-in movie fare and, as for aficionados of the Bigfoot myth and Southern Swamp features – well, they just may have found a winner.
Seniors. 1978. This t-and-a offering is actually pretty flat (and, no, I’m not referring to the bosoms, but the jokes!) despite the participation of Dennis Quaid and Jeffrey Byron (from early 1980’s 3-D Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn and latter day vampire soap, Port Charles) as graduating college students whom hatch a plan to stay on campus by pretending to be sexual researchers conducting a survey-experiment, charting the liberated female’s fantasies and desires. Hartt, still billed as McClenny, is one of the many girls who volunteers for the project. She has one of the better moments, as a kinky college girl, named Diane, who “struggles” to free herself from a set of ropes, while tied to a bed- and this scenario and Hartt’s appeal and talent help make her stand out as more than just one in an ocean of women in this weak comedy.
The Greatest American Hero. 1982. “The Price is Right”. In this episode from the aborted third and final season of this geek boy favorite, Hartt plays an obnoxious former classmate of series lead, William Katt. Here, as in most of her credits, Hartt vibrates with star power in her one brief scene, easily earning the wraith of the audience and series’ regular Connie Sellecca due to her over familiarity with Katt’s flustered Ralph.
Pink Motel. 1983. This one is actually kind of cute with a vignette style that ultimately keeps things interesting. The script, is sophomoric, of course, and while this is no California Suite (although was California Suite even a California Suite, really?!), the eclectic and talented cast commit to their material as if it were Neil Simon’s best and that keeps this flush baby from drowning on numerous occasions. Phyllis Diller (The Boneyard) and Slim Pickens are entertaining and bring some Old Hollywood pizzazz, as they play the bridge between the segments, the owners of the “Pink Motel” where everything takes place. The couples who check into the various rooms of the hotel are a teenage couple about to lose their virginity, two adulterers, an impotent football star and his date and two “swingers” with dates that they have picked up at a party. Hartt, at her most gorgeous, is part of the last equation. She and her main co-star, Christopher S. Nelson (son of genre icon Ed Nelson and star of Greydon Clark’s beloved Without Warning), do everything possible with their material, and with perfect comic timing, make some unoriginal jokes shine. Nelson is not afraid to make an ass out of himself (something he, also, proves in the Linda Blair cult classic Roller Boogie, making him an automatic BGHF favorite) – in more ways than one – and Hartt, given her most screen time in an wide ranging career, is a beautiful scene partner, reacting to and commenting on his actions, so that the audience knows that she thinks he is a buffoon, but he never catches on. The segment ends with an amusing twist that shows that the men, whom appeared to be controlling the situation, were not so dominant, after all.
Flicks. 1987. As sexy Star Trek like space officer, Hartt finds time for some flirty, topless fun with comedian Richard Belzer as Janette in this episodic venture’s ‘New Adventures of the Great Galaxy’ segment. This Amazon Women on the Moon style flick is genuinely bizarre with its light take on science fiction, horror and film noir (including a segment with Pamela Sue Martin teaming with an alien bug detective) but rarely reaches the comedy heights it reaches for. Although, it does feature the work of such respected artists as comedian Martin Mull and Academy Award nominated actress Joan Hackett (How Awful About Allan) and early behind the scenes mask work from the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns from Outer Space). An IMDB source claims Flicks was filmed in 1981 but never released until it made its way to video shelves in 1987.
Open House. 1987. This is a kind of grim, back of the lot type feature, but with genre veterans galore and an almost pornographic take on violence, it probably counts itself as the most viewed (possibly due to convention center bootleg copies highlighting star Adrienne Barbeau’s nudity) in the Cathryn Hartt oeuvre. Pretty real estate agents are being slaughtered in vicious ways and poor real estate mogul, Barbeau and her boyfriend, radio shrink Joseph Bottoms (Blind Date, The Black Hole), try to find out who is doing it and why. Besides, Barbeau and Bottoms’ roles, there is little character development and most of the agents are introduced, for the first time, upon entering the houses where they will soon might their demises. Still, there is something about the over-the-top nastiness of this enterprise that is almost cynically appealing and there is enough gruesomeness in the death scenes to satisfy most gore hounds. Scott Thompson Baker (Rest in Pieces) comes to a vividly, bloody end and 70’s starlet, Tiffany Bolling (Kingdom of the Spiders, The Centerfold Girls), also, makes an appearance. Hartt, meanwhile, plays Melody, one of the surviving agents, who in her enthusiasm to make a sale bungles her way through language and cultural barriers. She is comedic relief, and once again, makes very nice work of it. Her reaction shots, upon finding a murdered agent in the bathroom, is when director Jag Mundhra (perhaps best known for 90’s exploitation hit Night Eyes with Tanya Roberts and Andrew Stevens) , truly, begins his delightful excessiveness, as well. Her looks of horror are shown from every angle in juicy and melodramatic flare, and for any actress, a better genre film finale – even in a movie as badly enjoyable as this one – would be mighty hard to come by.
Be sure to check out Hartt’s IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0367246/
and until the next time —
Sweet love and pink grue, BGHF