Color, 2004, 75m.
Directed by Nico B.
Starring Paige Richards, Dukey Flyswatter, Jaimie Henkin, David Maynard
Cult Epics (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Having established itself as the premiere DVD label for Bettie/Betty Page loops, Cult Epics branched out to continue Bettie's legacy with their own first feature film, Bettie Page: Dark Angel, helmed by company head Nico B. Adopting a tactic similar to Ed Wood, the film focuses on a short period in Page's life rather than offering a comprehensive look at her entire life. The story begins in Florida as Bettie finishes a modeling job and says goodbye to her boyfriend, Armond (Maynard, star of the apparently abandoned "reality" film Games People Play), to jet back off to New York. There she embarks on a successful career as a bondage model thanks to her mentor, Irving Klaw (played by the memorably named "Dukey Flyswatter"), whose sister Paula (Henkin) serves as a sort of ringleader for the loops as well. Much of the running time consists of recreations of many Klaw spanking and bondage loops lost over the years (such as "Dominant Betty in Black Corselet") due to interference from the authorities, now exisiting only as still photographs. The rest of the film offers thumbnail sketch of Bettie's life during the '50s, climaxing with a failed marriage and mysterious disappearance into retirement.

Middling as drama but provocative as historical recreation, Bettie Page: Dark Angel will be of most interest to fans who wondered what might exist beyond the scant surviving reels of film from her unforgettable tenure as the ultimate bondage pin-up queen. Richards looks more like Page in the Klaw clips than the color "real life" footage, which is probably appropriate since the latter is shot with a vibrant, retro palette atypical of what one associates with the Klaw aesthetic anyway. However, the color scenes shot on video are limited by the obviously challenged production values, a rough sound mix, and some clunky line delivery, thus making the silent Klaw bits (scored with funky lounge music, the most striking thing in the movie next to all the high heels and stockings) even more enjoyable by comparison.

Cult Epics originally released this labor of with a sharp transfer of the main feature in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio as it was evidently shot to simulate a '50s-style geometric shape. Extras include a two-and-a-half minute behnd-the-scenes look at the scoring session with composer Zack Ryan, a dream sequence on a fire stairwell with more unused score, a performance of "Just As I Am" with the Clara Ward Singers, behind the scenes footage of the bondage loops ("Dressing the Pony Girl," "Fighting Girls," "Untying the Bound & Gagged Girl," "Dominant Bettie," "Jungle Girl Untied"), a B&W nude photo shoot of Richards, a production photo gallery, and trailers for Dark Angel and Tinto Brass' similarly '50s-themed Frivolous Lola. A limited two-disc edition adds on a bonus DVD containing the full "How to Pose Nude by Bunny Yeager" with the famous photographer and Richards having some Bettie-centric chats and photo recreations, plus more galleries and a couple of additional Richards shorts, "The Maid" and "Date with Paige."

The Blu-Ray features a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track with optional subs in English, French, Spanish, or Dutch, with an almost entirely different slate of extras. For starters you get 11 vintage Bettie Page loops including such titles as "Bettie Page and Her High Heel Shoes," "Bettie Gets Bound and Kidnapped," "Second Initiation of the Sorority Girl," and "Domineering Roz Strikes Back." All are taken from older video masters, of course (and oddly matted off at the top), but that's apparently what was available. 1993's "In Search of Bettie Page" features Nico B. on the hunt for elusive pop culture goddess, going through a colorful collection of characters before a final encounter with Paula Klaw. A 1996 music video, "Teaserama" by the Teaser Incident (also by Nico B.), is an amusing rock number intercut with some familiar burlesque footage of Bettie and one of her most famous contemporaries, the complete eight-minute version of the main feature's "Dominant Bettie in Black Corselet" loop, and a behind-the-scenes area featuring the Richards photo shoot, a fun still gallery, and 16 minutes of raw fetish rehearsal footage (vertically squeezed) from what appears to be camcorder footage. As for the feature itself, well, for the color footage there's not much you can do with something shot on DV in 2004 when bumping up to HD; it's matted at 1.78:1 compared to the DVD and looks vibrant enough, but it still has that grainy, dated look; while it's possible for some upscales to actually result in a significant increase on Blu-Ray (e.g., Farscape), these portions can just go only so far. On the other hand, the windowboxed Klaw films (which comprise about half of the film) were shot on actual film and look much better, so the upgrade value is definitely there in part. Get your kink on and enjoy.

Updated review on June 25, 2012.