The Empty Oddity Of Doris Wishman’s Indecent Desires

What a strange film Indecent Desires is. There isn’t much to it. There is just a handful of undeveloped characters and even fewer locations. There isn’t really much of of plot either. The film sets up a premise and then just repeats itself over and over. A creepy guy finds a child’s doll in the garbage and brings it home. The doll has a voodoo-like connection to a random young woman who experiences whatever the man does to the doll. He alternates between fondling it and punishing it. He runs his hands over its little plastic body or whips it with his belt.

The woman the doll is connected to is Ann. Most of the film is watching the creepy guy molest Ann via voodoo proxy. Anne spends most of her time sitting around her apartment in her underwear. Her straight-laced boyfriend is on vacation somewhere and her boss is off on business so she spends most of her time just hanging out.

Ann has a work friend named Babs. What little dialogue there is in the movie happens between the two women. The voices are dubbed in after filming with no effort to reproduce any ambient sound. It’s all spoken closely into a mic which creates a strange dissonance between what you see and what you hear. The dialogue is weird all on its own without the mismatch. Babs sighs as she enters the room, “Oh Ann, I met the most marvelous man last night, Monty. He’s so, so continental.” Anne cautions Babs, “Well, just watch yourself, I don’t trust continental men. Especially if his name is Monty.”

It’s not clear if the the creepy guy (not Monty) knows that the doll is magical. There is a strange scene where he happens to pass Anne on the street and instead of seeing her, he sees a life-size reproduction of the doll.

He then goes home and has a fantasy about a sexual encounter with her. The fantasy doesn’t involve the doll but it features an exchange of POV shots where we see things from his point of view and then strangely we see things from her point of view even though it’s his fantasy. The implication seems to be that Anne may be experiencing the fantasy as well. Without much dialogue or development, much of the film hovers in an unresolved state of ambiguity. If it were done more deliberately it might foster a mysterious grouping of events that lends itself to interpretation, but it reads much more like a movie that is simply lacking substance and/or direction.

The film is very slow mostly due to its repetitive nature. Scenes are not inordinately long but they happen three and four times. We witness Anne being magically mauled in the living room and then a few scenes later we see her mauled again but in the kitchen.

The most dynamic and considered part of the film is the music. Different characters have different themes. The creep’s theme is played by a bizarre combination of oboe, harpsichord, Hammond organ, and what sounds like a bass parade drum. It’s unsettling, to say the least. Anne’s orchestration employs a conventional drum kit played with jazzy brushes, a marimba, and a trumpet with a mute. The music is front and center throughout the film shifting from creepy, to sexy, to casual and of course scary. At the climax of the film the complex orchestration is set aside and we are assaulted by kettle drums and trombones.

In the opening credits, the music is attributed to “music sound recorders.” Perhaps whoever wrote it wanted to remain anonymous, but there is no doubt that a considerable amount of time, effort, and money went into making the soundtrack.

The movie has no resolution, moral, or message. The creep finds Ann making out with her boyfriend and is so enraged he runs home and rips the head off the doll killing Ann. Anne’s eyes suddenly lose focus, she drops dead to the floor, and the movie is over. There is no explanation as to how or why this voodoo phenomenon happened. No one discovers the creep. No one learns a lesson the movie just ends.

Ann was played by Sharon Kent who made a carrier by appearing in nudie films such as Keyholes Are for Peeping, The Art School for Nudists, Some Like It Violent, and Carny Girl. It’s interesting to consider how her character in Indecent Desires mimics her real life. As a sexploitation actress, she was controlled by forces not seen on the screen. The writers, producers, and directors required that she be aroused on cue, or at least appear aroused just as the creep character demanded through his magical means.

Indecent Desires was directed by Doris Wishman, who also made her living in the sexploitation genre. She made one of my favorites “Nude On The Moon.” It is an exercise in hilarious absurdity. Astronauts go to the moon and find that it looks exactly like earth but no one wears any clothing. Of course, everyone also happens to be around 20 years old and beautiful, but that is never addressed. I highly recommend it. Most of Wishman’s films are lighthearted but Indecent Desires is her foray into a sort of noir horror thing. It is reminiscent of a Joseph Sarno production. Sarno, a contemporary of Wishman, always tried to insert serious emotional drama into his nudie films as if he were a student of Bergman.

Wishman may have intended for Indecent Desires to have a little more substance than Naked On The Moon, and with the bar set so low one could say she managed it, but Indecent Desires is still amazingly empty. It’s stripped down to a few stark elements that are never fully rendered or explored. In the end, the film‘s lack of substance gives it a little edge. It’s as if the film purposely undermines itself in order to draw attention to the emptiness of its intentions. It’s almost like an anti-film that removes the magic of cinema and replaces it with something meaningless yet still strange enough to keep you watching, or at least some of us watching.

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