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Flareup Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Given Raquel Welch’s fame at the time, it’s surprising that a movie like Flareup came and went without much notice. Most exploitation fans, or for that matter Welch fans, have never heard of this “woman in peril” exploitation outing: a colorful, time-specific look at obsession, stalking, and the effects of deep rooted feelings of unworthiness.

Warner Bros. certainly knew Welch’s pedigree; her earlier spectacles—Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. (both 1966)—pictures that, for the most part, were showcases for her fine face and figure. Accordingly, these attributes are on vivid display in Flareup—but not as much as you might think. Aside from a single two minute dance routine, Welch remains pointedly covered up—sometimes in short pants and knee-high socks, at other times in a button-up blouse and bell bottom jeans.

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Flareup tells the story of Michele, a free spirited Las Vegas Go Go dancer who becomes the target of her girlfriend’s crazy ex, Luke (Alan Askew). It seems that Luke, a man with a greasy bowl haircut and an extensive rap sheet, believes Michele instigated the breakup. After harassing and then gunning down his girlfriend on a street corner, Luke eludes police and sets his sights on tracking down and killing Michele, too.

Visually sixties bound (barrel curl wigs, hip lingo) but looking toward to the seventies (an acute awareness of misogyny and stalking), Flareup’s story is brought to life by a bevy of intriguing characters. There’s Lee (Kay Peters), a shrewd woman who makes her living performing before lecherous men but is really a lesbian—who wants to begin a relationship with Michele; Sailor (Ron Rifkin), the gay, heroin addicted bartender at the Pussycat Club—Michele’s place of employment; and Joe (James Stacy), a good natured and good looking amateur photographer/drifter who likes model airplanes and has a giant poster of James Dean on his wall.

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Joe also likes Michele. Fleeing Las Vegas for the safety and anonymity of LA, Michele rents a room in a cheap hotel and then, while applying for a Go Go gig at LA’s (real life) Loser’s Club, meets Joe. Although Michelle confesses that she has no relationship with her family and doesn’t like entanglements or responsibility, Joe charms her with his straightforward honesty. He also offers her a safe haven when, hot on her trail, that pesky killer arrives in LA looking to “finish the job” on Michele.

Director James (Gentle Giant) Neilson embellishes Flareup with a marvelous travelogue: vintage Vegas (Ann-Margaret at the Sands; Esther Holm as “Mame” at The Frontier!), Los Angeles locations (Griffith Park, Malibu Beach), and an insider’s view of the flourishing off-the-beaten-path world of cabaret workers and the people they serve. An incendiary, grand slam, twist ending is a self sufficient and empowering surprise.

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Josiah Howard is the author of four books including the seminal Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, Reader’s Digest and The Village Voice. A veteran of more than 100 radio broadcasts he is a regular contributor to Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014-15 made regular appearances on TV One’s award-winning documentary series Unsung. Visit his Official Website.
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