Don't Go Into The Lightning Bug's Lair #12: Don’t Scream, Doris Mays (1965)

I can see you haven’t heeded the creepy, crazy old man’s warning when he told you, “Don’t Go in the Lightning Bug’s Lair”, and I’m sure glad you didn’t because I have the second entry in my Halloween countdown to share with you. In the wake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, a number of films took a similar tact to try and cash in on the serial killer motif. William Castle even went to the well twice with his features Homicidal and Straight Jacket, both spins on the loose psychological theorizing that had tied up Hitch’s film so neatly. Castle wasn't the only one to see potential, and in 1965, John Bushelman, an editor with limited film experience, undertook a script from a first time screenwriter that took one of the major elements of Norman Bates’ mental problems and, by way of Ed Wood, filtered it into a film known as Day of the Nightmare. For the purposes of this list though, I’m going to talk about it under its alternate title which was used as it barnstormed around the country from drive in to drive in, and that title was Don’t Scream, Doris Mays.

Barbara Crane (Beverly Bain) is a happily married woman. Well, for the most part. She would like to spend more time with her husband Jonathan (Cliff Fields) an advertising artist who often has to spend many days in a row in Los Angeles working. At least she hopes he’s working. She’s beginning to think that he’s having an affair. Unfortunately for her, the other woman in his life isn't another woman that he is bedding down. That would have probably been preferable to the truth, Jonathan has two personalities and the other is a murderous woman named Doris Mays. As the cops, headed up by Detective Dave Harmon (John Ireland), begin to close in on Jonathan and his murdering other half, Barbara, who at first suspects Mays to be her husband’s mistress, slowly starts to realize that behind the pageboy haircut and dark sunglasses that the man she loves might just be a psycho.

First off, let me say that there are several cuts of Don’t Scream, Doris Mays a.k.a Day of the Nightmare. In the full cut of the film, Jonathan’s demented personality is explained by showing him as a child encountering his mother and father participating in orgies. When he is spotted, he gets spanked. His killer side, Doris, emerges to lure lesbian prostitutes to her apartment where he spanks them and then kills them. Sadly, in the cut most easily available streaming online at places such as Netflix, these scenes are removed. The only place I know of to see the whole cut is on the Something Weird DVD where is it paired with the feature Scream of the Butterfly. Unfortunately, without these titillating scenes, much of the proceedings and psychobabble exposed by John Hart as Jonathan’s psychiatrist father doesn't make a whole lot of sense lacking context. Watching the full version, it is easy to see how Bushelman looked to cash in on the Psycho framework and do it one better than the shower scene by not merely alluding to nudity. Interestingly, while Don’t Scream, Doris Mays was clearly inspired by Psycho, it is also very easy to see that it in turn had an influence over another Hitchcock homage, Dressed to Kill. If De Palma wasn't aware of Doris Mays, I suppose I would have to chalk it up to synchronicity that his cross dressed killer wore a very similar outfit to the one featured in this film.

As a film itself, Doris Mays has an Ed Wood level of quality, and it came as no real surprise to me to see that Ted “Astro-Zombies” Mikels served as cinematographer. The real high point of the film is the editing with scenes that move effortlessly from one to another often with visual or auditory tags that cleverly tie them together. Bushelman had previously served as editor on many films including Village of the Giants which was included on last year's Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13.The acting, however, is even spottier than the production. John Ireland does his best as the investigating detective, but his scenes are often quite boring, and, as there is no mystery to the plot for the audience, it is often frustrating that none of the people who saw Doris Mays could identify her as a man in a dress even though it was crazy obvious. The closest we get is when her next door neighbor looks at the police sketch and agrees that it looks “something like her” but should be more “lousy”. Beverley Bain was a first time actress, and while she had little to do but walk around looking wide eyed and scared, she does quite a solid job with those characteristics. More impressive is Cliff Fields in his singular lead film role. Fields gets to act like a complete pompous ass as Jonathan, and, with the help of some overdubbing, emote in an over-the-top fashion as Doris Mays. The only thing I have to criticize about his performance was that Jonathan seems like such an ass it’s hard to see why his wife would be so hopelessly devoted as he's pretty much a jerk and she thinks he's up to something from the jump.

Empirically, no matter if you look at the nudie cutie version of Doris Mays or the cut version, it’s not a well made film, but it is entertaining in the same kind of way that a delinquent film or a drug panic features are. (In a bridge to yet another film maker who loved to revel in trash, John Waters’ regular Liz Renay also appears in the uncut version as one of Dr. Crane’s patients.) Don’t Scream, Doris Mays made it to my countdown because in its clumsy, fumbling way it was fun to watch, and sometimes fun can outweigh the shortfalls of a film. This is one, especially the uncut version, that I could definitely see putting on at a party with the sound down and letting the bizarre visual notes of Cliff Fields running around in a fright wig and blindfolded orgies unfold as music played. There is something slightly dirty and subversive about the whole thing, and sometimes that’s as creepy as any monster, mutant, or zombie could ever be. So check it out, although not on Netflix, and join me back here in a couple of days as Don’t Go in the Lightning Bug’s Lair continues. You Don’t want to miss what’s coming up next.

Bugg Rating

I couldnt find a trailer, but this scene with the sketch artist should give you some idea of the film's quality, slightly under this video of a video. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds weirdly intriguing. And sounds like it would have been awesome as an episode of MST3K!


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