Color, 2013, 136m.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
You’d be hard pressed to find a company more responsible for creating exploitation video addicts than Something Weird Video, which started off as a grassroots VHS seller in the ‘80s but exploded into an incredible resource for sexy, scary gems either absent from movie screen for years or, in many cases, never seen at all. The library of prolific producer David F. Friedman formed the cornerstone of the company, which was run by founder Mike Vraney and his wife, artist Lisa Petrucci, with titles like The Defilers, the H.G. Lewis Blood trilogy, Love Camp 7, and The Adult Version of Jekyll and Hide. From there the company started racking up the catalogs of names like Harry Novak and Doris Wishman, not to mention the remaining H.G. Lewis titles, while also churning out countless volumes of loops (sexy short films) ranging from nudie cuties to vintage hardcore.
Another key name in the history of Something Weird is Frank Henenlotter, the director of cult favorites like Basket Case (which became part of the SW line), Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, and Bad Biology. His involvement with the company and friendship with the Vraney family included the beloved line of “Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers from the Vault” series, one of the company’s high points in its VHS prime, in addition to solidifying its voice by writing the vast majority of the incredibly witty and catchy copy for their releases.
All of that is necessary to understand why it was inevitable that Henenlotter and Vraney would join forces on feature length documentaries at some point. The first one out of the gate was 2010’s Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore, a bouncy tour through the career of the man who pioneered the modern splatter film, while their second was the ambitious, epic-length That’s Sexploitation!, which made its theatrical bow in 2013. Even though it runs well over two hours, this labor of love moves like a jackrabbit and could easily be an hour longer and leave you wanting more. It also carries quite a bit of emotional weight due to the fact that Friedman passed away soon after shooting his contributions here in 2011, and Vraney would be gone three years later as well.
The framing device of That's Sexploitation! more or less features Henenlotter paying a visit to the Alabama home and business operations of Friedman, storyteller par excellence, with occasional interjections of Henenlotter back in New York (at his apartment and a go-go bar) offering anecdotes about the progression of cinematic naughtiness. We start all the way from spicy loops through early sound films at the dawn of the Hays Code (before its stringent enforcement) with everything from narcotics to prostitution providing cheap thrills to eager viewers. From there we go through the official Code era with sex hygiene and VD scare films for the military and public alike providing nudity and sexual content in a decidedly queasy context, while jungle adventures offered semi-clad maidens pushing the boundaries as far as they could go in commercial theaters. Of course, most of the running time centers on sexploitation's golden era in the '50s and '60s with peep show loopers, burlesque features, nudist camp romps, nudie cutie comedies, pin up showcases, and foreign imports edging viewers further and further until full softcore sex titles started selling out movie houses. You'll hear a lot of familiar names along the way like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Doris Wishman, Russ Meyer, and Dwain Esper, but the real stars here are the more obscure nuggets from the Something Weird library focusing on the more curious corners of sexploitation history. Among the many highlight are titles both familiar and obscure like Uncle Si and the Sirens, Virgins of Bali, Forbidden Adventure, Escort Girl, Girls of Loma Loma, Ten Days in a Nudist Camp, This Nude World, Elysia, Nature Girls, Because of Eve, Ding Dong, Teaserama, Mau Mau, Garden of Eden, Eve or the Apple, Diary of a Nudist, Nude on the Moon, The Immoral Mr. Teas, Adam and 6 Eves, The Case of the Stripping Wives, Not Tonight Henry, Like Wow!, House on Bare Mountain, Sexy Probitissimo, The Hot Bed, Mondo Freudo, The Curse of Her Flesh (complete with what became Something Weird's official theme song for years), The Smut Peddler, Trader Hornee, Aroused, After the Ball Was Over, The Defilers, The Ultimate Degenerate, the Olga series, Sex Circus (which looks amazing), She-Man, Girl in the Cage, Love Captive, Brand of Shame, The Brick Dollhouse, Chained Girls, My Sister's Business, I Want More, A Sweet Sickness, The Acid Eaters, Starlet, Girls Come Too, Anomalies, Song of the Loon, Beyond All Limits, Soul Lover, and the immortal Bat Pussy.
Severin Films brings this buffet of bacchanalia to separate Blu-ray and DVD editions with the same extras, albeit spread over to two discs in the latter format. The film itself is a hodgepodge of image quality with the new footage looking pristine and digitally crisp given its HD video nature, while the clips are a mixture of SD and HD sources but usually the former. Obviously early loops are never going to look all that great, so bear in mind the video quality bounces around quite a bit; if you're looking for something to show off the full capabilities of Blu-ray, this isn't it -- nor is it intended to be.
If well over two hours of the feature itself wasn't enough, you can also watch it with a fantastic audio commentary featuring Henenlotter and Petrucci, who start off by explaining that the title comes from an unfinished 1973 project initiated by Friedman. They also cover the state of Friedman's health at the time, their own personal reminiscences of discovering sexploitation titles, the inscrutable merits of Johnny Firecloud, the surviving treasures of the Dan Sonney vaults, the large female audience for these films, and many anecdotes about Vraney including the first time he and Henenlotter met (via a request for a rare Abbott and Costello film).
There's also over three and a half hours of Something Weird short films. For the record, the titles are "Uncle Si and the Sirens," "The Wood Nymphs," "Nude Frolics," "Personal Hygiene Book Pitch," "The Art of Love Book Pitch," "Nudism - A Way of Life?," "A Special Message from Walter Hale," "Betrayed," "Kalantan in Her Exotic Fire Dance," "My Tale Is Hot," "Shocking Set!!?" (which finds giggles in topless women and electrocution via TV), "Naked Fury!," "Moonlighting Wives," "The Sin Syndicate," "A Wild Night at the Interlude," "Cowgirl Watusi," "Belly Dance Watusi," "Balloon Watusi," "Dancing Cleopatra," "Bullfight Watusi," "Nudist Beauty Contest," the hilarious "How the Nudist Keeps Fit," and "Joy in the Boudoir." All of them are enjoyable slices of nudie nonsense, with the great soundtracks (including some catchy surf rock in the latter shorts) providing almost as much entertainment as the visuals. And don't worry, though they're still in SD, none of these have that SW bug that used to be on all the DVD extras. Talk about lots of bang for your buck!