It Came From the Basement: Jessi's Girls
By John Seal
March 1, 2006
Jessi's Girls (1976 USA)
Monterey Home Video (1984)
Synopsis: When a wholesome Mormon couple on their trek west are waylaid by bandits, the husband is murdered and the wife ravished. In true Old Testament fashion, the woman picks up a six-gun and sets out on a trail of revenge.
The film: Ah, wilderness! Our motion picture begins as a Conestoga wagon crosses the wastelands of the plains states, transporting God-fearing Seth and Jessica to the promised land: Utah, where Jesus once hobnobbed with the Native Americans. It's an idyllic trip for our hardy but dust-encrusted pioneers, who stop and take a refreshing dip in some cold, clear mountain water - water so clear, in fact, that we can easily discern the shapely contours of Jessica's unclothed and well-toned physique, which she hurriedly covers up on the approach of her husband. Though clearly not quite ready to start one of those famously big Mormon families, life is apparently pretty good for our newlyweds.
Enter, stage left, five motley villains of a decidedly swarthy demeanor. Accosting the distracted Seth and Jessica, they discover with displeasure that their victims are carrying very little in the way of legal tender - $55, to be precise. Ah, but some things are more valuable to a man than his money, and the creepy quintet tie up Seth, rape Jessica, and shoot them both for good measure before saddling up and heading for the hills. But they've made one fatal mistake: Jessica isn't dead, and, in the film's grimmest sequence, the hardy woman digs out the bullet, dresses her wound, and stumbles from the scene of the crime.
Though this is sparsely populated territory, a benevolent, apparently GPS-savvy God guides Jessica to her savior - a bearded wise man named Rufe, who tends to the soil and minds his own business whilst encamped in a rustic cabin that looks a bit like a ramshackle crystal meth lab. Happily, he's a kindly old codger, and when the exhausted and bloodied woman shows up on his doorstep he fulfills his Christian duty and takes her in. After nursing her back to health and reluctantly teaching her which end of a six-shooter is which, Rufe bids her farewell as she rides off, heart set on revenge against the men who put a crimp in her honeymoon.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, three women languish in the jail of a local sheriff. One is Rachel MacBride, a sexy Billy the Kid lookalike wanted for robbery and murder; another is lady of the night Claire, whose trade is illegal in these here parts; and the third is Kana, whose only crime seems to have been the wearing of an unfeasibly large sombrero whilst trying to prevent one man from shooting another. When the women are transported for trial to the nearest courthouse, an emboldened Jessica intercepts their wagon, kills the driver, and wings the sheriff in the left shoulder. In need of assistance in her mission to teach the Gang of Five a lesson they'll never forget, she frees the female prisoners, who promptly swear their allegiance to her. Released from bondage, The Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse cook up a plan to show those scummy men just how powerful sisterhood can be.
From a technical standpoint, Jessi's Girls is crudely edited and - unless the video mastering is to blame - seems to have been shot predominantly in unappetizing browns and yellows, lending the feature an unhappy resemblance to a badly bruised banana. Don McGinnis' loping musical score, composed primarily for acoustic guitar, seems at first blush appropriately elegiac but rapidly wears out its welcome, as the same cue is endlessly recycled throughout the film. As regards the story itself, Bud Donnelly's screenplay is short on sense and long on unlikely coincidence. While its easy to overlook Jessie's serendipitous encounter with Rufe, quite why she decides to attack a prison wagon isn't made clear, and the ease with which the female foursome bond and settle on a plan of action is far-fetched at best.
The Cast and crew: The name ‘Al Adamson' will send either a thrill of delight or a shudder of horror down the backs of hardcore film fans. Director Adamson, whose life ended violently at the hands of a burglar, spent decades toiling in the fields of low budget schlock. Amongst his filmography are such memorable titles as Satan's Sadists and I Spit On Your Corpse, as well as cut and paste jobs such as Horror of the Blood Monsters and Blood of Ghastly Horror. Compared to most of his output, Jessi's Girls is relatively mundane fare - but despite the protestations of longtime Adamson producer Sam Sherman, Al was never a good enough filmmaker to get a mainstream Hollywood gig. Though Tinsel Town's attitudes toward sex and violence were moving inexorably in Al's direction during the 1970s, he didn't have the skills or artistry to take advantage of the more permissive atmosphere. Adamson was, at best, a competent but uninspired filmmaker, and though Jessi's Girls is definitely one of his better efforts, no one would ever mistake it for anything more than the work of a journeyman.
Star Sondra Currie acquits herself well as the vengeful Jessie, and she was something of a ‘B' movie queen for a few years in the mid 1970s. Amongst her other credits are Policewomen, Mama's Dirty Girls, and Fugitive Lovers, as well as a slew of television shows. Ms. Currie is still working today and was seen most recently in the Hallmark TV movie Thicker Than Water.
Regina Carrol (Claire) died of breast cancer in 1992 after a long career working with her husband, Al Adamson. The couple made 13 films together. Carrol was never much of an actress, but she did stand by her man.
Rod Cameron (Rufe), was, of course, nearing the end of a long and successful career in westerns when he appeared in Jessi's Girls. Cameron's career began as a bit player at Paramount, but he became a familiar face to matinee goers during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he starred in dozens of bottom of the bill oaters. Cameron continued to work periodically after Jessi's Girls and died in 1983.
This was Joseph Cortese's (Baldry) first screen appearance, and he continues to work today. His most noteworthy performance in recent years was in American History X.
Biff Yeager (Link) got his career start with Adamson, and most recently appeared as Tom on Gilmore Girls.
Cinematographer Gary Graver has shot an amazing 174 films since 1966. He works in the erotic horror sub-genre these days, but is known primarily for his surprisingly lengthy professional relationship with Orson Welles, which was ongoing during the production of Jessi's Girls. Perhaps that's where Sam Sherman got the strange idea that Al Adamson was the next best thing to Martin Scorsese.
The balance of the cast and crew were part of Adamson's professional circle. They rarely worked on outside projects and, as a result, have long since retired from the biz.
Nostalgia value: Not much, unless you are a hardcore oater fan or are still waiting for a Hannie Caulder sequel.
The print: Ugly (see above), though free of major blemishes or cuts.
DVD prognosis: Unlike most of Adamson's output, there isn't a great deal for a marketing department to hang its hat on here: not much graphic violence, occasional but fleeting nudity, and next to no star power. Nonetheless, the Adamson name has some cachet amongst a certain masochistic subset of film fans, and a few thousand shiny silver discs could probably be shifted. If anyone is up to the job, it's Troma, who have already brought us digital upgrades of I Spit On Your Corpse and Satan's Sadists.