Color, 1974, 103m.
Directed by Raphael Nussbaum
Starring Candice Rialson, Teri Guzman, Ed Bishop, Joan Blackman, Brett Parker, Mike Cartel, William Grannell
Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

On the run from her thug brother (Cartel) who's still in pursuit, pretty young blonde Bonnie (Rialson) descends into the oddball culture of early '70s Los Angeles and teams up with sassy Pat (Guzman) as they hitch a ride with and hold up a middle-aged businessman (Grannell) whose house they decide to rob. Then Bonnie gets saved from a misdemeanor rap thanks to possessive lesbian artist Geraldine (Blackman) whose paintings pique the interest of Vincent (Bishop), whose collection of pets consists entirely of females -- and these caged subjects extend to people, too.

Though sold as a standard drive-in sexploitation film with poster art promising lots of interracial S&M thrills, Pets is something quite a bit more ambitious and bizarre. It's adapted more or less from a 1969 play by Richard Reich which originally consisted of three separate stories, here fused together into an ode to the late Candice Rialson, a striking California-based actress whose other vehicles include Chatterbox, Candy Stripe Nurses, Hollywood Boulevard, and Moonshine County Express. This film marked her first leading role, and she easily makes the most of it.

The mixture of theatrical pretension, T&A, sexual kink, and qurky dialogue gives the film a far different flavor than most films of the period. Director Raphael Nussbaum, who's better known for releasing plenty of drive-in imports and domestic titles through Burbank International Pictures (and other permutations), does a workmanlike job as director, only showing a few artistic flourishes during the final third when the whole "pets" angle really comes into play and making moderately creative use of cage imagery to dictate his compositions.

Apparently Raphael and his estate didn't take very good care of his titles, as Pets has had a very rocky (and until now, quite negligible) history on home video after its days on the drive-in circuit. Rialson fans had to make do with fuzzy PAL-coverted copies or cruddy bootlegs for years, and while the sanctioned DVD release marks a bump up in the clarity department, it still suffers obviously from the ravages of time. Apparently this print was the best source available at the time, so be prepared for plenty of emulsion scratches, dirt, and frame damage (with one whole scene so roughed up it's included separately as a bonus feature). Some buzzing about a slightly racier European cut might be true as well, coupled with the fact that circulating prints appear to have varying degrees of nudity. You'll still see plenty of Candy on display here, so perhaps some intrepid soul will find the time to sit down with every extant celluloid incarnation of this title to see how this stacks up against other prints. You also get the unforgettable theatrical trailer, an understandable mainstay on compilations for years and one of the decade's most potent, along with a handful of promos for the company's other titles. Check it out, but remember... "there's an animal in every woman!"


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