THE REAL STARS OF ALLEY CAT
I kinda feel bad reviewing films like ALLEY CAT. I mean, we all know why films like this were made. Sure, you can say it’s a low-budget feminist take on DEATH WISH, or a non-existent-budget take on THE TERMINATOR, but I doubt this was movie was marketed to feminists or sci-fi purists. Like SAVAGE STREETS (featuring the suddenly-grown-up-in-a-D-cup-way Linda Blair), ALLEY CAT was only on videostore shelves for one target audience – namely the little boys who couldn’t push their way through the back room curtains yet. So instead of watching season pros like Traci Lords or Amber Lynn, the little boys here get Karen Mani, who you’ve never heard of before for a reason. With a face like Pat Benatar and a voice like Lily Tomlin during her I HEART HUCKABEES tirade, she’s only in ALLEY CAT for one reason. Okay, two reasons. Okay, three reasons. And only two are above the waist (at least in 1984 they were, nowadays they might extend a little lower). And lemme tell you something, for little boys in the black hole of sex we called 1984, Karen doesn’t disappoint.
Karen’s previous acting experience included the role of Bina in the “Raj Moves Out” episode of the hit 80’s TV show What’s Happenin’ (I ain’t makin’ this shit up), so anyone expecting the thespian moves of a young Kate Winslett will be slightly disappointed. But go in expecting an actress whose direct competition includes Wendy Jo Sperber and Mindy Cohn and you’ll be happy to learn that Karen holds her own, bringing all three emotions she learned from 80’s TV (pouting, flirting and…er, pouting in a flirty way) to her role as “Belinda Clarke.” Which, by the way, sounds frighteningly close to another film babe, Melinda Clarke, who absolutely rocked Return of the Living Dead 3 and Return to Two Moon Junction and every other film that started with “Return To”…sorry, I’m getting way off topic here. The long and short of it is, Karen Mani can’t act worth a damn, but she wasn’t hired for that. She’s got a wonderful full frontal shower scene early on, and another hot prison shower scene later where she gets hit on by a leering hot lesbian. So if you’ve ever wondered what Pat Benatar would look like in the shower if she had much bigger meat balloons and a voice like Lily Tomlin after two cartons of Pall-Malls, then brother, ALLEY CAT is your own personal CITIZEN KANE.
Okay, so even two great fully frontal shower scenes can’t carry an entire film (well, for me they can), so now we get to the weak part of ALLEY CAT. In other words, everything else. The basic premise here is that a bunch of street thugs mug Karen’s grandparents, and I use the term “thugs” loosely here because these guys look like they’d have trouble taking the cast of MAMMA MIA in a backyard brawl. Yet in the confusion of figuring out how to hold a switchblade without looking too much like an Alvin Ailey dancer, the Off-Broadway thugs somehow end up stabbing Grandma and killing her. This doesn’t sit well with Big Titty Benatar, who screams out “Love is a battlefield!” before vowing to personally see that every one of the street mime/thugs is brought to justice. At first, she goes through the proper channels, bringing them before a judge. But the judge is corrupt, or beholden to the Mummenschantz lobby group, so he lets the thugs off with merely a wrist slap. Then, when Karen protests vehemently, he throws her in prison!!! Looks like our little Pat Benatar stunt double has learned a valuable lesson - In real life, Hell is not only for children.
Well now, that’s gotta be one of the most shocking scenes in ALLEY CAT that doesn’t involve Karen’s tits, but we soon realize why it had to happen - it’s just a set-up, of course, for her obligatory prison shower scene, which again doesn’t disappoint. And it also lets us see how tough Karen really is – at least tough enough to beat up a couple of slightly hardened lesbian fashion models behind bars. So when she finally gets her freedom back, now she can go all I Spit On Your Grave on the thugs, one by one. I don’t think there’s actually a castration scene in ALLEY CAT, but every time Karen opened her mouth and spoke, my dick disappeared anyway.
Fortunately for Karen, none of the thugs weigh in over 130 pounds, and they're more concerned with landing that plum supporting role in RENT, so she dispatches them pretty easily with her clumsy karate and even clumsier gunplay. For those she really hates, she gives copies of her 1991 jump blues CD True Love and lets them live. This continues until she finally meets the Lead Thug (played by Tom Bismarck, whose done NOTHING else), whose given an unexplained scar on his face that’s supposed to make him look hardened and tough but really only makes him look like he hasn’t quite gotten out of makeup yet from the last Pirates of Penzance performance. During the “big fight,” Karen gets the best of Lead Thug by swinging weakly from a rope while wearing a nice fuzzy red sweater, which knocks down a bunch of Styrofoam crates and forces the bad guy up to the roof. The rooftop battle is even more amazing, since Karen gets off a massive roundhouse kick to the thug’s face, which sends him reeling backward…oh, only a few inches in the shot. But luckily, through the magic of a horrible edit, he’s suddenly shown mid-scream falling off the edge of the roof to his death!! And that’s that. Karen goes off to look for a voice coach, while the rest of us pray she lets those sweater melons loose one more time. She doesn’t.
And yes, the film really DOES end with one of those freeze-frame comedy ha-ha moments straight out of Police Squad. Swear to God. It’s wonderful. Stick around for the credits, too, where third billing after “Billie” and “Johnny” goes to the character of “Hooker.” And no, that doesn’t mean William Shatner.
Karen Mani made one more film, a cameo in Avenging Angel starring Betsy Russell, another babe who got me through some lean weeks in high school. In that film, Karen took off all her clothes without speaking one word, so it looks like someone learned a valuable lesson from ALLEY CAT. I, on the other hand, prefer to remember her this way. In all her bucktooth-poutin’, Tomlin-shriekin’, shower-latherin’, karate-kickin’, street-mime-shreddin’ glory. Karen Mani, next to Betsy Russell, Melinda Clarke and Chuckie Spradling, you are my Z-movie babe. I wonder if Shirley Hemphill ever got a piece of that.
A first here at Ted Danson on the Ceiling. A perfect 5 out of 5 Kari's. Find it.