Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sexploitation reviews

SEXPLOITATION reviews

[Written for Something Weird Video catalogue, never published]

The Notorious Cleopatra (dir. “AP Sootsberry”/Peter Perry, 1970)

History is warped yet again by Box Office International, in this lavish, lewd and ludicrous epic by producer (Mantis In Lace) and occasional director (Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo & Juliet) Peter Perry. According to Perry’s version, Julius Caesar is a corpulent grump, lamenting the drab quality of orgy talent while a concubine drapes herself across his royal presence. At the mention of Cleopatra as an exotic addition to his carnal menu, he orders his cohort Mark Anthony (“Rome’s greatest lover”) to Egypt to check out the talent - with a strict hands-off policy. Cut to Mark Anthony, whose hands are anywhere but off the Nubian nuptials. After a ringside seat at a virgin sacrifice and multi-racial orgy, Anthony and co return to Rome understandably knackered; Cleo and her handmaiden (!!) follow them incognito. She has a thing for Mark Anthony herself, but ambition gets the better of her, and finds the way to a Caesar’s heart is through his stomach. Mark Anthony meanwhile becomes the patsy for Caesar’s murder, and discovers her treachery while on the run. Exit Cleo, exit Mark Anthony, and historical accuracy is flushed down the aqueduct once more for good luck.

Absolute stunner Sonora proves “Black is Beautiful”, in a rare example of an Afro-American lead in a sexploitation flick, while Mark Anthony aka Johnny Rocco (Exotic Dreams Of Casanova) manages both the cheapo one-liners and gut-wrenching melodrama without moving his teeth. But it’s Caesar (Jay Edwards, also from Casanova) who gets the best lines - “Cleopatra or not, you sure are a stacked bitch!” - while he’s not cramming grapes into his portly gob. Definitely more than a mouthful, this tantalizing titbit.

We All Go Down (dir. Gerard Damiano, 1969)

“You’re all a bunch of bastards!” the desperate young bisexual Nancy moans to men all over when she finds her boyfriend has sold her for a bag of junk, in an early sleazie from Gerard (Deep Throat) Damiano. Filmed in sordid black and white, it follows a group of fallen souls on a downward trail to nowheresville. Nancy needs Pete, but first he’s “gotta do sumpthin”. He scores in a bar and shoots up in the bathroom, while Nancy takes refuge with Peggy, who thinks Pete is an asshole. Pete and Rick later escape from Rick’s hysterical girlfriend, and their other buddy Burt invites them to a pot orgy, but Pete’s too far gone, and his other girlfriend, the innocent Carol, wrings her hands over him. Pete invites everyone to their beach house for the weekend, where their collective sanity unravels in a drug-fueled concoction of lust, geed, jealousy and betrayal. Pete escapes to his dealers apartment for some “A”, only to find “tonight is acid night”. He starts to go psychotic, and imagines himself handcuffed to the ceiling while Nancy plunges an enormous hypodermic into his stomach. Points are deducted solely for the uncharacteristic upbeat ending (nowheresville, my ass), but the rest of We All Go Down is suitably grimy, tightly filmed and as close to the bone as the 60s allowed. Damiano delivers the whole enchilada, and doesn’t skimp on the hot sauce. Yowee!

The Touchables (dir. Jay Sheridan & Monte Mann, 1961)

Early nudie-cutie set on a fat farm instead of a nature camp, crammed with sped up sight gags and cornball vaudeville routines, and one of the earliest in Box Office International’s garden of earthy pleasures. First up we’re treated to a swimming costume parade around a swank poolside as a singer croons, “You’re so...Touchable”. Our narrator, self-proclaimed schnook Fred Bart, takes us back thirty years, when affable lowrent gangsters Monk and Louie (alias Smith and Jones) threaten schnook accountant Fred to cook their books. This inflames his moral sensibilities, sending the uncooked books (and their $65,000 tax bill!) to the IRS. Now on the run from Monk and Louie, the schnook is sneaked unknowingly into the ‘Fat Chance’ Rejuvenation Center, and does all manner of bug-eyed double takes from the bushes and behind exercise machines, as he ogles a pornucopia of showgirls and society dames in various states of undress. ‘Fat Chance’ worker Jessie (Claire Brennen, later in She Freak) takes pity on the schnook cowering in a panty hamper and helps him escape from Monk and Louie, now disguised as the two ugliest broads at the clinic, and an army of showgirls who have discovered what’s under Fred’s towel. The film rests squarely on TV comic (???) Billy Holms’ spindly frame, which serves as the main target of the cheapshots - a masseuse, thinking he’s a she, looks down at his chickenbone ribcage and says “You poor thing! No wonder you didn’t want to take off your towel.”

The Exotic Dreams Of Casanova (dir. Dwayne Avery, 1970)

Between the defrocked costume romps like Notorious Cleopatra and the drugged excesses of The Toy Box lies this curious entry in the Harry Novak Hall of Infamy, a flipped-out frat party free-for-all with Perry Mason overtones. The curtains open on a picture-book “jousting” with famed lover Casanova (played by swarthy Vegas type Johnny Rocco) and a more-than-willing participant. Credits roll, and it turns out to be a stag performance by modern descendant and current spaghetti western star Joe Casanova, part of the Valentine orgy for “Swingers International”. Joe quickly tires of the self-promoting president, and offers a thousand clams to any swinger who can keep up at his private party till dawn. His house instantly becomes a squalid playground: go-go dancing, spanking, whipped cream, all accompanied by a whacked-out duo on guitar and bongo. Things turn nasty when his overzealous guests push Casanova off his flying trapeze. He’s knocked unconscious, and imagines himself in the Gomorra County courtroom loaded with party perverts, a camp judge, and a Keystone Cop, where the name ‘Casanova’ itself is on trial. To illustrate his case for free love, he peppers the proceedings with fantasy sex scenes between courtroom members (including Uschi Digard, credited as “Brigitte”), but discovers amidst the rampant horndoggery the one-woman man within. Maybe this isn’t what us would-be cocktail shakers want to hear, but then there’s always the rewind button. So in the immortal words of Joe Casanova, “Let’s everybody swing!”

SEXPLOITATION reviews

[Originally appeared in Trash Video's Trash Confidential zine, 1999-2000]

HAWAII FIVE-O WITH HOOTERS: The Danish Connection (dir. Walt Davis, 1970)

Porno filmmaker Bob Chinn is the basis for Burt Reynolds’ Boogie Nights character, and is responsible for popularising the long-running Johnny Wadd series starring “Big” John Holmes. In one of the earliest Johnny Wadd superdick adventures, Chinn is reduced to an oriental cutout supporting role for director Walt Davis, but The Danish Connection delivers everything Dirk Diggler promised - shithouse dialogue from crinkle-cut John Holmes delivered with all the charisma of Chuck Norris, and the fighting prowess of a cheese sandwich. An impotent businessman with a yen for his secretary hires Johnny’s partner Eric Jensen (Rick Cassidy) to find an elusive hardon formula from Denmark. But Johnny Wadd, missing and presumed dead in Hawaii, is also on the case! He gets captured by the Chinese, who torture him endlessly with sex for the location of the formula, but Johnny won’t budge. I suspect the film was made earlier than 1974 as 1) The film may date from the earlier pairings of Holmes, director Davis and producer Manuel Conde (1970’s Sex Psycho, 1972’s Evil Come Evil Go), and 2) The French Connection was released in 1971, and porn producers making parodies don’t usually have a good long-term memory. Besides, later Wadds (China Cat, Jade Pussycat) are more porno than action and are nowhere near as hopelessly inspired as this. According to the Ballad of Big Bad John, “he’s got a head that he uses, and his meat is Grade A”. Right on, John.

Behind Locked Doors (aka Anybody Anyway; dir. Charles Romine, released 1976)

Weird-assed softcore sickie from Harry Novak and his Boxoffice International, who also brought you the equally bizarre The Orgy Box (1971). Two swingers looking for gas are trapped in an ex-mortician’s country home, along with his sister and warpo servant, and end up as ‘research’ for his vile experiments. Perverse American gothic with a hallucinatory ending reminiscent of Maniac, and some surf-a-go-go muzak gone horribly wrong. God bless the seedy Seventies.

Dandelions (dir. Adrian Hoven, 1974)

Hoven, German director (Mark Of The Devil II) and sometime actor (Jess Franco’s Sadisterotica and Succubus), must have been instructed by the money men to duplicate the success of Paul Verhoeven’s 1973 Continental sex hit Turkish Delight/The Sensualist. So he hires Sensualist star-on-the-rise Rutger Hauer as a drunken rake and a complete asshole to women, trying desperately to forget his tragic marriage to a girl turned drug addict and prostitute. Rutger’s a power- house in both these early Euro features, long before his Hollywood rise and fall to B-grade tough guy. But whereas Verhoeven’s film is a brilliant black comedy with frank sexuality, Dandelions is, well, just another sex film.

Emanuelle’s Daughter (aka Sexy Moon, Emanuelle Queen Of Sados, Emanuelle Queen Bitch; dir. Ilias Milonako, 1979)

“That girl” Laura Gemser was permanently plastered across adult cinema screens in the 70s. Hardly a great actress but an absolute stunner, the Javanese-born former model came to international attention in the 1975 smash Black Emanuelle (that’s one M to avoid prosecution). She also guested with Sylvia Krystal the same year in Emmanelle 2 as a masseuse, then made five more “official” Black Emanuelle sequels for the notorious “Joe D’Amato”/Aristide Massaccesi, including the Cannibal sleaze of Emanuelle’s Amazon Adventure, reviewed last issue. Countless other titles in Gemser’s 50-plus filmography have been retitled to cash in on her fame. Emanuelle’s Daughter started out as “Sexy Moon”, certainly not one of Gemser’s best - our pick is Divine Emanuelle (aka Love Camp, 1980), a ludicrous Jonestown-style musical (!).

An often turgid softcore soap opera and travelogue, it was filmed in Cyprus at the height of the Euro-disco craze (you can see the Village People perform “YMCA” on a TV set!). A rich industrialist dies under mysterious circumstances, and his widow ‘Emanuelle’ returns to his estate in control of his fortune and his young rebellious daughter. It appears Emanuelle was subject to her husband’s perverted whims, amd now seeks revenge on his partners-in-crime with the help of the vicious womanizing disco king Mario (Gemser’s long-time husband Gabriele Tinti). The film explores the daughter’s budding sexuality; Cyprus must have a lower age of consent, as she looks about 14 with her gear off. Familiar face Gordon Mitchell, former muscleman and star of countless westerns and Hercules films, plays one of the husband’s cronies, and is dubbed by the voice of Bud Spencer - I keep expecting him to down 14 hotdogs and clock Gemser on the nut! Passable disco tail-waver.

Mustang (dir. Robert Guralnick, 1975)

Lurid must-see peepshow behind the closed doors of the infamous (and at the time only recently legal) desert cathouse. The owner, an Italian nouveau-riche cheesepuff named Joe Conforte, takes us on a guided tour through his garish Vegas-style decor and crucifix collection, and endlessly justifies to the camera how a good Catholic boy could become the self-proclaimed King of Nevada pimpdom. Closeups of puffy acne-scarred features at cattle call as the girls tell their pathetic tales of sexual burnout, while greasy johns make feeble conversation pulling their pants up. Remember Rule 11: “No eating in the parlor”. Ugly, ugly.

Naughty! (dir. Stanley Long, 1971)

When smut-peddlers make a film about smut-peddling, you don’t look for a hidden agenda. It’s all there in the immortal words of Al Goldstein, editor of Screw Magazine and guest of the world’s first porno festival in Amsterdam, where he waxes lyrical about the “inalienable right to jerk off”. It’s freedom, baby, according to British pornographer Stanley Long (keep it clean, people) as his team takes us on a part-doco, part-reenacted romp through the history of erotic literature, via Victorian hypocrisy to the new-found Euro-swinger’s paradises. Like the greasy little man who makes spank films with his wife in the suburbs says, it’s all about kicks, and I’m sure the little girl at the zoo watching a primate spank his monkey will agree. A time capsule of sexual mores, and part of a rash of British imitations on the racier Sex Report films from the Continent. See also: Groupie Girl, Permissive, On The Game, The Wife Swappers, Suburban Wives, Commuter Husbands.

Secrets Of Sweet Sixteen (aka What Schoolgirls Don’t Tell; dir. Ernst Hofbauer, 1974)

Healthy dollops of Bavarian cheesecake from sleazemeister Hofbauer, who practically invented the Schulmadchen (“Sex Report”) film in the late 60s. Sex Reports were a staple of grindhouse fare for those requiring their cheesy entertainment disguised as a documentary, framing the softcore shenanigans with a stern moral lesson from a social worker, psychiatrist or other authority figure (we’re still trying to track down Hofbauer’s hilariously misguided Girls At The Gynecologist). Secrets... is a product of a more liberal era than the early Sex Reports and tones down the moralizing, though keeps in a running debate between a doctor and a priest. The vignettes range from comic to the bizarre (virgin sacrifice) to the outright unpleasant (an early episode involving a child molester). Schizo and very strange.

Cry Uncle (aka Superdick; dir. John G Avildsen, 1971)

Fans of Rocky and The Karate Kid probably don't know this, but the Oscar-winning director responsible for both mainstream cocklewarmers vvas making some very weird shit in the early 70s. Before coming down with a terminal case of Good Taste, Avildsen had cranked out the superior sex comedy Guess What We Learned In School Today? (1969) and the classic Summer of Hate film Joe (1970), starring Peter Boyle as a blue collar hippie-killer, and Cry Uncle, a totally whacked-out and very black private-eye spoof marketed as a sex film since you couldn't do much else with its then porno-only X rating. Tubby Jewish comedian Allen Garfield (you'll recognize the face, guaranteed) plays the "Super Dick” hired by a millionaire suspect in a murder case. The investigation soon becomes a trail of dead bodies, including one Garfield has sex with, thinking she's a comatose junkie! Troma president Lloyd Kaufman was production assistant, as with all early Avildsen films from Joe onwards, and plays the bearded hippie on LSD in a motel room. A bad taste masterpiece, Troma later distributed the film, displaying a rare flash of good taste on their part! (TC #3)

The Erotic Three (aka Scratch Harry; dir. Alex Matter, 1969)

Described in a pre-credit disclaimer as an amphetamine 'fantasy", Cannon released this arty, confusing, absurdist pseudo-underground feature made in the wake of Warhol's film factory explosion, and turned by proxy ad campaign hatchetry into a skin flick. Which it ain't. The main character Harry, a penniless rake with expensive tastes, believes he is abandoned in his empty mansion by his rich wife Erica. Together with the omnipresent narrator, a weird beatnik in sunglasses (imagine Peter Fonda playing Lou Reed) known only as 'Shadow’, Harry picks up a freewheeler called Christine in the city and takes her back to the mansion. Erica returns home and the two vvomen turn on him, further fuelling his paranoia. Wordplay, parlour games, mindfucking and blackmail prove to be a lethal cocktail in a very strange ending. Is it all a dream? An hallucination? Do wide angle lenses, sped-up footage and bogus surrealism pass as true psychedelia? Does anybody still care? (TC #3)

The Devil's Garden (dir. Bob Chinn, 1970)

Pioneer pornographer Bob Chinn, best knovtn for his John Holmes/"Johnny Wadd” X-rated superdick series, went to Jamaica to make this weird sex-horror opus. And I mean weird. The film starts with a girl escaping in a car from an unknown assailant and recounting her strange tale to the local police: her filmmaker husband had disappeared while scouting locations, and she had followed him to Jamaica as the guest of the rich and mysterious St Jermaine and his partner Chang (played by the longhaired oriental Chinn himself). She is drugged and forced to act as sex slave for the lascivious desires of the mansion's strange inhabitants, then is convinced afterwards she had dreamt the entire sordid affair. The police think she's screwy or on heat, so she heads to a voodoo ceremony in the hills to uncover her husband's horrifying fate - or does she? Inept on every level, the film is compulsively watchable thanks to ex-film school graduate Chinn, an enthusiastic hamfisted auteur who actually tries to make a movie instead of a flimsily constructed series of sex scenes. The music’s weird, the sex is weird (St Jermaine wears a Balinese mask and screams like a monkey with its ass on fire) and the film is filled with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. For us connesseurs of the smutty, the inane and the truly insane, it's a pathologically watchable treat. (TC #3)

Not My Daughter (aka Like It Is; dir. Jerry Schafer, 1970)

Beads, bongs, bongos, love-ins and the Generation Gap are dished as hokey titillation for jaded non-swngers. Not My Daughter is a weird hybrid of the traditional 'Youth Gone Wild' exposes (from Reefer Madness to 1968's Mary Jane) with misguided hand-wringing liberal sentiment. Our young heroine is blonde, seventeen, and is unhealthily close to her father. She catches him and her stepmother doing the horizontal rhumbah, then has a psychedelic sex dream about her teddy bear. Like most girls her age she wants to "live" - when her wayward friend introduces her to pot, she takes her first drag and squeals, “Ooh! Far out!” Her new-found hipness gravitates her towards the student "in" crowd, and soon she's smoking pot every day and having sex with a hair freak called Monk, while her father keeps checking her eyes to see if she's “high, or whatever they call it". Sick of her square Daddy-O spoiling her action, she runs away from home, gets into pills and free love, then finds herself in trouble when Monk is busted for possession. Daddy won't cough up his bail, so she answers a casting call for a lesbian “art" film (“Show Miss Beverley your boobies"). Meanwhile her father and his middle-aged football cronies settle down in Squaresville to watch a stag film ... The end credits say “Like It Is!" A heartwrenching lesson in moral decay, and a genuine plea for understanding. Thus endeth the lesson. (TC #3)

The Bang Bang Gang (dir. Van Guyider, 1970)

In the wake of Bonnie And Clyde (or Bonnie Does Clyde?) comes a classy period nudie gangster flick from exploitation greats Manson International. Two would-be-robber no-hopers stumble on two brash broads during a holdup, and after some cheap yuk-yuks and several Russ Meyeresque nudie runs through the woods, they team up on a double date crime spree. Things turn nasty half way through and go from robbin' and rompin' to rape and retribution, after the two guys shoot a local Mexican called Chico while saving a chicita from a brutal gangbang. Chico naturally wants revenge and turns up the sex and violence quota for the inevitable bloodbath. Surprisingly well-shot comedy/melodrama, and a real find. (TC #3)

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY GLORIA? So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (dir. Silvio Amadio, 1975) & To Be Twenty (dir. Fernando Di Leo, 1977)

Ignore the Anglicized cast listing on the video cover - So Young... is an Italian sex drama loaded with manipualtion and mind games, in which bored spiteful heiress Angela (Gloria Guida) engineers the downfall of her new stepmother Irene (Dagmar Lassander). She initially uses her hippie gigolo boyfriend Sandro (Fred Robsham), who resembles a young Klaus Kinski, to attempt to seduce Irene. Angela then discovers a lesbian shadow in Irene's past and exploits in to the full by showering in front of her, showing her nudie pictures of her with other girls, and finally pouncing on her at the shorefront while Sandro takes polaroids. Angela has an attack of conscience later but Sandro doesn't, revealing the gory details to Irene before the devastating finale. Gloria Guida was Miss Teenager in Italy in 1971 before she went on to specialize in frothy sex comedies or sleazy dramas like this, and preens, pouts and plots her way through the role like a Continental Linda Hayden. In 1975 alone she was in over 7 films, including two more for prolific director Silvio Amadio, best remembered for the ultra-violent giallo Amuck (1973) with Barbara Bouchet and Farley Granger. But Euro-sleaze fans tend to agree her best role was in To Be Twenty (1977), a seedy piece of nihilism from director Fernando Di Leo.

In the original Italian version Guida and a fellow hitchhiked leave the liberated confines of a hippie commune and end up raped and murdered in the woods; in our English language version the film begins with the girls running through the woods pursued by would-be rapists, then stops abruptly with a freeze frame and the sounds of police sirens to the rescue. Next shot is the girls back on the highway, meeting the hippie commune leader (a nutty German who calls himself 'Shining Ray') they later bunk down with while cruising Rome looking for action. Guida generates an amount of sympathy for her character and proves herself to be more than just eye candy; I'm sure this makes her demise in the original Euro version all the more shocking. As for Guida herself, not much was seen of her after the late 70s, and in To Be Twenty it appears high living was taking a toll on her Miss Teenager features. Fortuately for her and her friend they both survive their Rome vacation and are last seen hitting the open road, in what must be one of the weirdest re-edits in the history of exploitation. (TC #3)

PLUGG review

[Originally appeared in More Tales From The Idiot Box zine, Townsville October 1998]

I’ve started to notice how the now defunct Aussie airline TAA sounds suspiciously like T&A, and you will too. Lewd puns and double entendres litter the script of Plugg, a bizarre no-budget and almost surreal mix of British sex films, Leslie Phillips bedroom farce and Pink Panther parody (!) filmed in Perth, Western Australia and strung together with endless references to bums, tits and “Capital Pussies” that will scar you for life.

Following the animated credits a la Clouseau and co, Noel (Turkey Shoot, narrator on Pacific Banana) Ferrier’s voice-over gives us the fruity lowdown on Plugg, a seedy private investigator on the case of the controversial Pussycat Escorts. Plated by Peter Thompson, a bald badger who walks into rooms whenever breasts present themselves, Plugg represents the bumbling raincoat-clad voyeur in all of us. He is closely followed by Inspector Closer (veteran Sullivans TV series personality Norm Yemm), forever peering down a pair of binoculars and desperately wanting a piece of the Pussycat action. The film ends in a nude aerobic free-for-all in a swanky swimming pool, two Pussycats slung over Closer’s shoulders, and Plugg in magistrate’s court charged with excessive ogling in a built-up area.

The cumulative effect is culturally jarring to say the least, in the absence of cockney accents or the odd “phwoar!” from Harry H. Corbett, but famed 70s centerfold Cheryl Rixon as prime Pussycat Kelli Kelly is a knockout. Keen-eared voyeurs will pick up the voice of a much younger Bill Collins (Golden Age of Hollywood presenter) on Plugg’s TV, perhaps his only entry in sexploitation’s Hall of Shame. I wonder if he now hears “boing-g-g-g” whenever a set of hooters pop out of a halter top?

Like I said, scarred for life...

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