When you're talking about the most avant-garde, uniquely unconventional, and surreal of films, you can often tell how brilliant that film is not so much by the glowing reviews as by the tenor of the critical reviews, as greatness tends to be hated by some as much as it is loved by others. Mad Cowgirl invokes plenty of venomous negative criticism. For example, Jeff Shannon of The Seattle Times wrote that this film would "appeal primarily to 20-something psychos-in-training and women who hate men." The New York Times critic basically dismissed it altogether as a film of "aggressive pointlessness." Even some horror fans bemoan some of the more perplexing aspects of the film. Of course, it's easy to throw out charges of incomprehensibility when a truly creative film comes along, especially if some blood and gore (not to mention sexual perversion, blasphemy, etc.) are involved - especially since almost everyone who subsists on a steady diet of Hollywood big studio movies has already been programmed not to have to think at all about any story that comes his/her way. For my money, though, Mad Cowgirl is nothing short of envelope-pushing brilliance and deserves more awards than the two it has received (best experimental film and best performance at the Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival). I freakin' love this movie.
Only a rare breed of frighteningly talented actress could have conceivably carried this film on her shoulders, and Sarah Lassez (who's praises I will continue to sing until she receives the kind of recognition she deserves) proves to be the perfect (perhaps only) choice for the lead role in this film. Her character Therese is a most complicated person to begin with, and then all of her unique qualities begin to increase exponentially once she is diagnosed with what her doctor initially identifies as a brain tumor but is actually - or so we have every reason to believe - a tell-tale symptom of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease aka bovine spongiform encephalopathy aka Mad Cow Disease. It's exceedingly ironic because Therese works as a health inspector on the front lines of the fight against tainted meat, and her brother Thierry (James Duval) is a butcher.
Therese is pretty messed up to begin with, so her advancing slide into insanity (for lack of a better word) is a little on the disturbing side. At this point, I would like to welcome any and all Star Trek fans who have wandered into Mad Cowgirl territory after learning that Trek's very own Chekov (Walter Koenig) appears in this film as, of all things, a televangelist who doesn't exactly practice what he preaches - not when Therese comes calling, anyway. Believe it or not, this isn't Therese's most disturbing sexual relationship, though - not by a long shot - and her sexual needs seem to increase exponentially as her hold on reality continues to slip away. The end result is something akin to a blood orgy of death and destruction inspired by her kung fu hero The Girl With the Thunderbolt Kick.
It's best not to ask why too often as this film unfolds, as that just takes away from your enjoyment of all the weirdness. I was never even quite sure where all of this was taking place. It's supposedly in Los Angeles, but you have Japanese news reports about Mad Cow found in Canadian beef; Therese's Sri Lankan doctor speaks to her in his native Sinhales, while she speaks English, and yet both understand one another perfectly; and Therese's mother speaks her own native Vietnamese to her only daughter, who clearly doesn't seem to have a drop of Vietnamese blood in her. And guess what? I haven't even talked about the really strange parts of this film.
Writer/director Gregory Hatanaka has earned himself a permanent place on my watch list with this brilliantly innovative film, but Mad Cowgirl is really all about Sarah Lassez. Quite frankly, the image on the DVD cover doesn't begin to do the girl justice. I could go on about how hot and talented she is, but I think Phil Hall says it best in his review of this film for Film Threat: "she is clearly the rare woman who can maintain a state of drop-dead glamour while disemboweling men with chainsaws." My friends, you can't beat that with a fistful of hickory sticks.