"My, that's an especially fetching gag harness you're wearing today, Mrs. Cleaver." In this classic scene, a boy on a bike encounters Dawn in the headgear she wears for most of the movie.
Sometimes a movie just makes you want to go to a film school, pick out an instructor at random, and beat the living hell out of him. Kiss the Girls Goodbye is such a movie.
It's the story of Carl, a psychopath who kidnaps Dawn, a semi-beautiful young teenage girl. And unlike a lot of other films of this genre, Kiss the Girls Goodbye has some ambitions concerning characterization and plot development which place it well above others like it, frex the similarly-named and much better known "Kiss the Girls," a movie about a pair of psychopaths who kidnap young women by the dozen, but in which the characters are all cardboard cutouts.
With a .38 in her face and a disturbed man behind it, she does so. It's not a Texas Chainsaw Murders style leather mask, but a Harmony-style gag harness leather mask, with a big leather strap covering the whole face from below the nose to the bottom of the chin, and thin straps going up on either side of the nose to unite with an over-the head strap in the middle of her forehead, and a strap going around the back. Good work, Carl.
"But it just doesn't go with my hair!" Carl forces Dawn to put on a big honkin' harness gag.
Next, he tells her to put her hands behind her back and puts handcuffs on her. Feeling in control of things, he ignores her for a moment as he gets out of his car, Dawn takes this opportunity to run away. She seeks refuge in a neighbor's house. The neighbor, who's been enjoying a quiet toke dressed in his undershirt and boxer shorts, is startled to see a woman wearing a gag harness and a pair of handcuffs. He's even more startled when Carl follows her into the house, shoots him (after making him take off his boxer shorts) and hauls Dawn over to his house.
"Hey, this is some GREAT weed!" A neighbor is startled by Dawn's sudden appearance as she flees from Carl.
At home, he installs Dawn in his playroom. Seems Carl, quite the home handyman, has made a crawlway from the back of his closet to an old, walled-off storeroom, which he's lined with cinder block and in which he now stores -- Dawn. He attaches her handcuffs to a chain set in the ceiling and there you have it, Carl has secured for himself a nice supply of fresh young girl.
Now, a word about the way Dawn is secured, or rather, the way her harness gag isn't secured. The chain attached to Dawn's cuffs is long enough that her wrists hang at shoulder level. So she has pretty easy access to the gag harness she wears with her hands.
I have seen some Harmony-style harness gags that have a hasp in the back that the various leather straps attach to, with a padlock in place so that the harness gag can only be removed by someone with a key. But Carl hasn't bothered with that little design detail. And since Dawn's hands are cuffed in front of her rather than behind her, this means she could have removed the harness gag at any time. But she never does -- in fact, she wears the harness gag throughout her captivity with Carl. Which means she's wearing it voluntarily. And while we're on the subject of the gag, it's never clear whether there's any kind of wadding or peg or anything that actually goes into Dawn's mouth. This is an important point to us fetishists, and would have taken but an instant of screen time to establish, but the filmmakers don't bother.
Think how much more powerful the imagery in "Kiss the Girls Goodbye" would be if it had included nudity. Of course, Carl's impotence might render nudity counter to the dramatic direction of the story. Then again, naked women.
Image courtesy of sponsor Sex and Submission.
Still, they do viewers the much larger favor of putting Dawn in a gag harness and keeping her gagged through much of the movie, so one is inclined to be forgiving. The gag serves as a powerful image of Carl's dominance over Dawn during her captivity, pointing up the sexual nature of her captivity and the perverse nature of their relationship. It also firmly establishes the film in the bondage canon, as the film develops it's characters and plot in a number of subtle, intelligent ways.
Carl is a heroin addict and he quickly addicts Dawn, shooting her up when he shoots up. Probably this is meant as an attempt to gain further control over her psyche, as she is soon mutely begging for heroin when Carl makes his appearance in his little "playroom."
Carl's mother has been bugging him for a long time to date some women, and now that he has one chained up in his playroom, he sees that he has a means of appeasing her. He invites Mom over for dinner with his new girlfriend.
You know, we've all had family get-togethers which go badly, but few that go as badly as Carl's dinner with mom and the new slavegirl. Dawn is pretty much inclined to be quiet and do whatever Carl tells her to. Except that when Carl spills some wine he sends Dawn to the kitchen to get some paper towels to clean it up. While Dawn's in the kitchen, she scrawls a note on some paper towels and hands them to Mom.
"...and his penis has always been so TINY!" Carl's mom unloads to Carl's girlfriend.
Mom ignores them. She's far too busy and happy dissing Carl in front of the woman she thinks is his girlfriend. She talks about his romantic failures. She talks about how badly he's deteriorated mentally since his buddies threw him out of the band he was in, and what fat pigs the two groupies for the band were, that were Carl's only romantic conquests.
Yes, Carl's mom is a harpy, a virago, a battle-ax, a woman so full of resentment and anger toward men that her every instinctive word and action has the sole purpose of doing harm. There's no word on whether his dad is dead or fled, but with a woman like her these are the only two options. We are left to assume that Carl's psychotic behavior is a reaction to his mother's harpy-ness, and we can sorta understand why Carl might find women safe only if they're chained up by the wrists and harness gagged, after meeting Mom (nicely played by Joan Neubauer).
Well, Carl is naturally on tenterhooks considering it's his best girl/sex slave's first public outing, and eventually mom's nonstop blast of vitriol gets to be too much and he whips out his .38 and shoots her dead in mid-tirade.
Well, so much for that note that Dawn wrote.
Meanwhile, Dawn's friends have been searching for her, and one of them, Beth, played by Zena del Stephens, is quite the hottie and quite the lady-about-town if you know what I mean, and it occurs to Carl that Dawn could use a little company down in the dank cinder block box he keeps her chained in. So he builds Dawn her very own closet, a rude wooden box about her size and chains her up in it. Now her quarters are even cozier!
"And we take the gag off whenever we feed you!" Carl seduces Beth. Women who enjoy playing the part of the damsel in distress have pointed out how disappointed they are with villains who are ugly. "Kiss the Girls Goodbye" will not make them happy, as Carl is no more easy on the eyes than he is on the brain.
Next, Carl approaches Beth and seduces her with his best, most greasy charm, and in no time Beth is at Carl's house and he's daring her to enter the crawlway that leads to his adult playroom.
Beth has no idea that Dawn is in the playroom, but she's a hottie and all and so she agrees to enter the playroom if Carl goes in first. (OK, Beth isn't an especially bright gal, crawling into the first crawlway hidden in a closet with the first creepy guy who picks her up after her best friend disappears.) But when Carl opens Dawn's closet and Beth sees her hanging from her cuffs with the gag harness over her head and a second set of manacles waiting for Beth's wrists, Beth proves she has fast reflexes, kicking Carl in the balls and scuttling through the walkway as fast as she can.
"Don't scream, you might disturb Dawn!" Carl handgags Beth after she shreiks on sighting Dawn chained up in her box.
What Beth doesn't know is that one of Carl's security precautions involves having all the doors secured with deadbolts that are openable only with keys -- no easy-twist knobs for him -- and Carl keeps the keys on his person. So Carl is able to track Beth down and vigorously discuss his problems with her attempt to escape, during the course of which he kills her.
Later, Robin, Dawn's other best friend, and her boyfriend Matt search for Dawn. They find a clue that shows that Dawn was kidnapped by someone named Carl, and they call everyone in the phone book whose name is Carl until the strike pay dirt. When they call back and ask to speak to Dawn, Carl realizes that someone is on to him -- and he's right. Robin and Matt head over to Carl's house.
Carl, intent on making a fast getaway, leaves Dawn unsecured in the playroom, and Dawn wanders out, unhurriedly strolling out the front door in her pajamas and gag harness.
In one of the film's brilliant moments, she heads out to the sidewalk, where a small boy on a bike stares up at her harness-gagged face in wonder. Classic scene. She stares back at the boy for a moment then heads for a next-door neighbor who's watering his lawn.
Meanwhile, Carl has discovered that Dawn has taken a powder. He grabs his .38 and heads out the front door just as Matt and Robin are walking up the driveway to see if they can find Dawn, whom they don't realize is just down the sidewalk trying to get rescued by a neighbor. Carl, without so much as batting an eyebrow, shoots Matt, who immediately collapses. Robin dives into the bushes. Carl, with more important things on his mind, looks for Dawn, spots her, and walks up to her and the neighbor.
"You say you're with the Mmmphovah's MMMphesses?" Dawn seeks help from one of Carl's neighbors.
Carl has never really liked his neighbor, so when he shoots the guy, Carl shoots him repeatedly. Then he grabs Dawn by the arm and drags her back toward his car, shoving her into the passenger seat before heading over to the driver's side of the car. That's when Robin leaps out of the bushes and pulls Dawn back out of the car. Carl tries to shoot Robin as she does so, but he's used up all his bullets on his nosy neighbor.
Carl heads around to confront Robin directly, but Robin hits the much larger Carl with such a haymaker that she knocks him to the ground (mmm-hmmm) and spirits Dawn away to her car.
Carl painfully gathers himself together, figures it's time he did some running himself, gets into his car and drives away.
Dawn has been rescued -- and the movie is far from over!
In fact, that's what makes Kiss the Girls Goodbye so much better than most psychopathic kidnapping films -- it examines the life of the victim after the kidnapping. And it also highlights the narrative flaw of the film.
At a party after she's freed, Dawn tells a partygoer that she was held prisoner for about six months.
Six months! I had no idea. I had had the idea that the events in the story had occurred over two or three weeks' time. There was certainly nothing in the story to indicate that she'd been held prisoner for any specific length of time, and certainly nothing to indicate any increased level of intimacy between Carl and Dawn that you might expect over six months.
It's all the fault of that damn film school instructor, I feel sure of it. Here's why I want to beat him or her senseless (metaphorically speaking). One of the things film school instructors harp on constantly is that film is a visual medium, and it's alwas better to show something than to simply tell someone about it. So voice-over narrative is right out.
As a general rule, this is true. Narrative voice is to be avoided -- look how it clunked up David Lynch's Dune with its bald patches of narrative that covered huge expanses of time and plot development.
But when the central character of your movie spends huge amounts of screen time wearing a gag harness, how the hell ELSE are you going to show character development? Because I got news for you, Mr. Lee Karaim (writer and director of Kiss the Girls Goodbye) just turning the camera on Dawn's face while she sits or stands around in her gag hood and cuffs and stares, does ZILCH to develop character and plot. You HAVE to make an exception to the no voice-over narrative rule when your protagonist spends much of her screen time gagged.
Reluctance? Indifference? Joy? Feigned indifference? Calm thoughtfulness mingled with dry regret? Surly disregard for Carl's feelings? Feminine itching? Sly seduction? Wondering why she can't have a TV set in the playroom? Wondering what the distance from Mars to Jupiter is? Thinking about all the ways Carl could be sliced up? Thinking about England? ... We have no idea!
Now, if Karaim had spent even a minute studying the written works in the bondage canon, he would have seen that really skilled writers like John Fowles, Pauline Reage and John Norman use the time their protagonists spend bound and gagged very well, for character development, so that when the action picks up, the protagonist's responses make a lot more sense.
Frex, in Captive of Gor, John Norman has a scene where a new slave who has misbehaved and treated her fellow slaves rather badly is branded a thief, a liar and a traitor, then has her hands manacled behind her (so she can't pick at the brands as they heal) and is locked in a metal box set out in the blazing sun for 14 days and fed on a diet of live insects and water.
Well, Norman describes not just her physical discomfort, he describes her mental and emotional pain, too. He describes her rage at how she has been treated, her sense of injured pride and dignity, her frustration at being so totally confined, her desperate attempts to get others in the camp to talk with her, her disgust and despair at fouling herself in the box and having no way of escaping it, and her growing realization that there is nothing she can do about it -- she willbe locked in the box for as long as her owner says she will.
When she's finally let out of the box, she's a changed woman, but not for the better. Although she now does what she's told, she feels distant and alienated both from herself -- the person whose behavior got her locked in the box -- and from those around her -- the people who put her there. She cooperates, but she still feels aloof, better than those she serves and with whom she serves, unable to live among them as one human being with another. We see her realize how she has failed her fellow slaves, but not that she is one of them. We understand that because we were privy to her thoughts, and we understand it when she comes to a better adjustment to her situation later in the story, we understand that, too.
If Karaim had read The Collector, he'd have noticed that Fowles writes from both the POV of Miranda and Ferdy, and develops both so skillfully that ultimately we realize that the wall that arts butterfly Miranda is battering herself against is Ferdy's psychopathic indifference to her suffering in his captivity, not just the walls of her cell.
That's why we could really, really really, have used some voice-over narration to give us Dawn's POV here. At the very least, we might have had some idea how long she'd been imprisoned. At the very best, it could have been the defining element that moved Kiss the Girls Goodbye out of the territory of "noble failures" to the turf of "great films."
The thing is, Kiss the Girls Goodbye really is a noble failure. It damned near turned the trick despite its low-budget shlock origins. The plot and character development show that the people who made Kiss the Girls Goodbye, from Karaim on down, had serious intentions and a much better than average grasp of the story they were telling. It's not just that Carl's mother is a comic book harridan. It's the way Dawn finds herself feeling angry, resentful and neglected after returning to her old life. Nobody is paying any attention to her. At a party we see Matt showing off the scars he got from being shot by Carl to various girls. We see partygoers and others being overwhelmed by Dawn's attempts to communicate the intensity of her experience, turning away from her, hurrying to find others with less threatening stories to tell, eyes that don't shine so brightly as they relate a story of kidnapping, torture and enforced drug addiction.
"Oh, I have to wear these shades everywhere, otherwise when I go out all the local psychopaths just mob me for autographs." Dawn is not a happy camper after she escapes from Carl.
At least when she was alone in the playroom with Carl, she was the object of his obsessive attention, a hidden sun chained in his basement where he went to worship the captive object of his desire, and to "randomly torture" her to vent his rage at her because he cannot take her (he's impotent, of course. Yeah, we know, you can get that fixed nowadays, but he's an impotent psychopath and hence probably has no clue). While she was in that playroom, she knew she meant everything to Carl.
That's why, when her best friend asks Dawn if they ever caught Carl, Dawn replies, "No, he got away. He could be out there anywhere. He could be out there right now." And she says it with a certain thrilled note in her voice, as if she half fears the thought and half anticipates it. Later, we see Dawn read a love note from Carl and put it in a shoe box full of similar notes, and we realize that her feelings about Carl are pretty darned ambivalent. And this is where we realize that Stephanie Shaub, in her role as Dawn, is a quite capable actress and probably could have done a great job of developing her character through voice-over narration.
When Carl catches Dawn walking down the street alone and tells her to get in his car, she does, though Carl doesn't threaten her in any way. And we understand that she does it in part because she's been broken by Carl in the past, and in part because she misses his adulation. That's why, when Carl gives her another gag head harness he's made, she puts it on and lets him drive her off down the street.
There's even a hint that Robin has gained some insight into Dawn's secret complicity with Carl. During a rescue attempt, Dawn is freed from her manacles and follows her friend out of the playroom, still wearing her gag harness. Robin looks back at Dawn and sees she's still gagged, and says "And take that stupid thing off!" with some vehemence -- as if she understood that Dawn might still be wearing the gag harness because so long as she wears it, she's still an object of adulation, lust and desire (and she is). Dawn complies with her best friend's orders, demonstrating that the gag harness is about as difficult to remove as your average Halloween mask.
We can't call Kiss the Girls Goodbye a great film because of its great failure -- it's inability to develop Dawn as a character during her captivity. All that business about Dawn being Carl's hidden sun, his obsession with his captive and her need for his attention, is never directly established in the movie. All we get are a couple of brief scenes of Carl shooting up and then saying things like, "I wonder what it would have been like if we'd met normally ... if I'd just met you somewhere and asked you out on a date or somethin" while Dawn sits huddled in a corner and stares mutely at him.
"I realize that we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, with me kidnapping you at gunpoint and all ..." Carl muses on what might have been.
I had to infer all of Carl's relationship with Dawn from what happened at the end of the movie. It's all there to see if you know what to look for, but I doubt if I would have seen it if I hadn't read a lot of the bondage canon and thus known what to look for. The authors in the written end of the bondage canon, who had no problem giving a narrative voice to their captives, made their stories a lot richer and much more understandable than any bondage film to date.
So you see, I've got every reason to want to beat film school instructors senseless. Now, so do you. Because even as flawed as it is, Kiss the Girls Goodbye belongs in the bondage canon. It's the most psychologically sophisticated film dealing with bondage-related theme since Vicious Circles. I hope Mr. Karaim gets another chance to make a film, he's definitely got something going here.
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