JUNE 11, 2009

A welcome throwback to the days of scaled-down, DIY shot -on-video horror in the woods like Savage Harvest, the recent Summer People is that rarity in indie horror, a slow burner that takes its time to build atmosphere, characters, and creeping dread rather than assaulting the viewer from frame one with jackhammer effects and editing. This debut feature for director Scott Feinblatt follows four kids as they venture out into the boonies to stay at a remote cabin, and the local townspeople don't seem entirely comfortable with these "summer people" stirring up trouble in their neck of the woods. Before you can growl "I'll swallow your soul," the idiots are dabbling around in black magic, unaware that Native American spirits control the land and are still coexisting harmoniously (more or less) with the residents. Freaky little events like rearranging furniture set everyone on edge, and then things... start to turn nasty. Though obviously shot on the cheap (most daylight scenes rely entirely on natural light) and relaint on the most familiar plot in the horror handbook, Summer People distinguishes itself with solid performances by the leads (especially Neil Kubath, who could be an indie actor to watch), some surprisingly ambitious shocks in the second half, a creepy downbeat ending, and the aforementioned confidence to rely on story and pacing instead of pure sensationalism. Ah, and there's an animated opening and closing, too! The independently distributed DVD can be purchased at the offical site and is presented in anamorphic widescreen, looking about as good as it could. Extras include a handful of deleted (basically just expanded) scenes with some additional exposition, a funny 15-minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage (most memorable for accounts of the director's accidental double entendres and an impromptu trip to WalMart), and galleries of special effects make-up, stills, and storyboards.


If your taste in direct-to-video horror is a bit more nostalgic, may I humbly recommend a straight-to-VHS film that earned a shocking amount of indie ink in its day, the truly astonishing 1987 meta-horror treasure, Psychos in Love. While the title might lead you to expect some sort of '80s update of The Honeymoon Killers, this is a much odder beast as it chronicles the warped romantic relationship that blossoms between two closeted serial killers, Joe (played by co-writer Carmine Capobianco), a lonely guy with a severe grape phobia, and Kate (Debi Thibeault), who likes to kill people when she isn't doing their nails. Their surprisingly effective blissful relationship is soon strained by external factors, among them a cannibalistic plumber and the natural competitive natures that arise when couples have similar interests -- in this case, committing as much homicide as possible. As much a comedy as a horror film, this labor of love for director Gorman Bechard packs in knowing references to its illustrious horror predecessors without becoming obnoxious or overdone, and in this case the simplistic, go-for-the-throat '80s aesthetic definitely works in its favor. Chintzky synth music, a topless new wave chick, non sequitor monologues to the camera, even a theme song... If you're in the right frame of mind, it doesn't get any better than this. Both of the leads are quite likeable; it's too bad no one ever thought about making a crossover sequel teaming them up with the Blands from Eating Raoul. After years of video limbo, this lovable sick puppy is finally back in circulation courtesy of Shriek Show, whose lavishly-appointed release comes with two Bechard commentaries (one solo, the other with Capobianco; the first one's better), a montage of making-of photos, the title sequence created for the Wizard Video release (remember that?), a modest reel of extended footage that completists might enjoy, and weirdest of all, a highlight reel from the stage version mounted in Chicago in 2003! It's up there with the stage production of The Children seen on Troma's DVD for oddball novelty value. Meatiest of all is a new featurette, "Making Psychos in Love," which features just about everyone involved both behind and in front of the camera discussing the making of a film whose full cult potential has yet to be reached. The new full frame transfer itself looks exactly like what you'd expect for a low budget '87 movie; it won't give Warner Brothers any sleepless nights in the tech department, but it's fine, splashy, and colorful, right up there with the better ones done from 16mm. Be sure to check out the extensive official site for the film, too.


You might recall in the last Sick Picks some coverage of "pornochanchada," or Brazilian sex flicks from '70s and '80s, now getting some U.S. play thanks to Impulse Pictures' The Chick's Ability. Well, now they're back with another astonishing discovery, Violence and Flesh (Violência na Carne), starring that same film's voluptuous star, Helena Ramos, in what basically amounts to a skankier version of Last House on the Beach. On the run from the law, three convicts pop a bullet in their getaway driver and torch the car for good measure (an opener that rivals Pink Flamingos for prolonged cinematic pyromania). Feigning a roadside injury, they carjack a passing motorist who happens to be a director en route to a weekend rehearsal with his cast at a beach cottage. Once there, they wait for all the thespians (a mixture of straight and gay characters) before unleashing a torrent of sexual abuse. However, one of the convicts winds up getting a little too close to one of his captives, setting the stage for a grueling final showdown. Filled with both elements found in the title, this isn't as explicit as some other chanda titles (many of which verged on hardcore or just hopped right over that barrier completely); most of the carnal activity is confined to the second half and is basically lots of heaving bare breasts and butts, with some astoundingly nasty forced scenarios thrown in for good measure. Ramos gets a lot of screen time as one of the main actresses, showing off her dramatic assets as well as her more physical ones. There's also a prolonged and pretty darn steamy encounter on the beach that's intercut with one of the most outrageous scenes in the film. Impulse's DVD appears to be a fine, fresh transfer from original film elements, presented full frame (with nothing noticeable missing as it's currently framed). The Portuguese mono audio sounds fine and comes with optional English subtitles. Deliciously decadent stuff, and proof positive that America and Europe weren't the only countries churning out great drive-in product back in 1981.


While most film scholars would point to Exorcist II: The Heretic as the most inscrutable and ridiculous sequel of the 1970s, its status might be challenged if more people were actually familiar with Deep Throat II, a "what the hell were they thinking?" follow-up with no deep throating. Or sex. Or a coherent story. Released in 1974, it marked a misguided shot at respectability for Bryanston Pictures, whose founders (with dubious origins covered well in the Inside Deep Throat documentary) decided to bring back stars Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems, only to stick them in an R-rated espionage comedy. Yes, you read that correctly. Sure, Linda struts around buck naked for a few second over the opening titles, but after that you get an hour and a half of New York's finest from the adult filmmaking scene mugging for the camera under the guidance of director Joe Sarno (during his weird comedic mid-'70s period between Euro softcore and American hardcore). So why is this film actually worth watching? Well, check out the cast! Along with Lovelace and Reems, you also get Andrea True, Jamie Gillis, Levi Richards, Chris Jordan, Ashley Moore, Tina Russell, Helen Madigan, Georgina Spelvin, Roger Caine, and tons of others milling around, some in split-second cameos. (Oh yeah, and future comedienne Judy Tenuta pops up for a minute, too.) The plot is some nonsense about KGB and CIA agents tracking nurse Linda because her nerdy patient is developing a talking supercomputer. The end result is basically the adult equivalent of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, only they forgot to have the actors do what they were usually paid for. Sound weird? You bet, and since there's really no target audience for a movie like this, it died a quick theatrical death. Some of the lines are actually funny (Gillis and Richards in particular rise well above the material), and the funky soundtrack by Tony Bruno is actually quite good and merited numerous reissues on vinyl and CD. After Hours' DVD release marks the first official release of the film's R-rated cut on DVD (though a gray market version yanked from VHS is also available from Alpha Blue along with Linda Lovelace for President), and it appears to be taken from a full frame video master matted off to simulated a 16x9 presentation. Unfortuantely the obviously clipped opening and closing credits give the game away immediately, but given the fact that there's no real compositional integrity to maintain here, it still looks okay about 90% of the time (as long as you overlook the dreary video quality, and it's still better than your average videotape). There's also an unexpected and quite cool extra here, an audio commentary with Richard Livermore (Levi Richards' real name) who's joined midstream by Sarno himself. You get lots of ground covered here including numerous reminiscences about the industry at the time and the shooting history of the film (it was never shot hardcore, but some additional softcore bits have occasionally appeared in international cuts); you also learn that a young Robert Duvall was reportedly the voice of the computer! Sarno also appears for a 10-minute video interview mostly talking about his comedy films and his brief dabbling in hardcore that came right after this film. Another good reason to pick this up is the second bonus DVD, which justifies the package's header as "Joe Sarno's Deep Throat Sex Comedy Collection." The rarest addition here is The Switch, or How to Alter Your Ego, his elusive 1974 sex comedy basically designed as a vehicle for Mary Mendum (aka Rebecca Brooke and Veronica Parrish), the fragile muse from Sarno's Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town and Radley Metzger's The Image. Here she gets to show off her comedic chops as Dr. Shirley Jekyll, a wallflower chemist who cooks up a powerful potion taht turns her into a sex machine on legs. Soon she's embarking on multiple partner escapades, all to the consternation of the man who really loves her (played by Sarno and XXX regular Sonny Landham, before he went legit in Hollywood). It's a stylish and amusing litlte film nearly lost to the ravages of time, presented here full frame from the only video master around (which alas has burned-in Danish subtitles). Still it's a lot of fun to finally see this one, and as usual the cast includes such other Sarno regulars as Eric Edwards and Chris Jordan. There's also a pretty scorching orgy scene that ranks as one of the most graphic in Sarno's softcore catalog. Rounding out the package is a softcore edit of Sarno's A Touch of Genie, a Borscht-Belt style comedy that actually works almost as well here in its milder variant. You can read more about the original two-disc XXX edition by clicking here, and some of the extras from that version (a Sarno interview and a mini-documentary) are carried over here as well.


Speaking of sequels, as any sleaze historian worth his salt knows, the whole Eurosex phenomenon really kicked off in Sweden in 1965 with the first big heavy-breathing export, I, a Woman. Not surprisingly, a raft of imitations soon followed, and it wasn't long before two sequels were put into production, both distributed by Chevron (making a short-lived branching out to movies along with peddling gasoline). Our sensual heroine, Siv (here played by Gio Petré from Wild Strawberries and Daddy, Darling), is now having having her adventures in full Technicolor while married to Hans (The Kingdom's Lars Lunøe), a pasty, pervy and well-off furniture dealer who pawns off dirty pictures of his wife to his more well-to-do patrons. When he arranges for one of them to tryst with Siv in person, she realizes she'd better dump her manipulative spouse in favor of Leo (Klaus Pagh), a nice guy doctor. Her decision becomes even easier when a deep, dark secret from her husband's past is finally revealed. Only slightly more explicit than its predecessor, I, a Woman Part II features a much older heroine and feels like a stab at the more upscale, elegant, continental fantasies found in the films of Radley Metzger (who distributed the original movie, incidentally). The lush decor and decadent aristocratic settings give it a very different feel, and if the main character's name weren't Siv, you'd be hard-pressed to guess this was a sequel. The big reveal at the end is easily the most memorable part of the film and pushes the film into seriously twisted territory that will leave more than a few jaws on the floor. I don't want to give more away, but let's just say this one predates a very significant and trashy erotic subgenre from Italy by several years. The dreamy soundtrack by Sven Gyldmark (released on an LP, incredibly) is also a solid asset. Next up is The Daughter: I, a Woman Part III, which-- you guessed it-- follows the escapades of Siv's daughter, Birthe (The Seduction of Inga's Inger Sundh), as the plot is spiced up with plenty of go-go nightclub scenes, interracial sex, lesbianism, and Birthe's troubling, thankfully unrequited attraction to her own mom. Pretty much dispensing with the chi-chi trappings of Part II, this outing instead piles on hallucinatory, drug-like stylistics from the protracted opening credits sequence which finds our naked protagonist swirling in snowflakes bathed in lighting out of a Mario Bava film. The plot itself is pretty dispensable (basically dawdling around while Birthe decides whether she wants to settle down with a black American guy), but the fun all lies in the incidentals cited above. Incredibly, future Stuart Gordon cinematographer Mac Ahlberg directed all three films in the series, though they bear pretty much no stylistic similarities to each other whatsoever. After Hours' double feature DVD (under a "Euro Grindhouse" banner) marks the first official U.S. availability of both films, taken from battered but watchable American release prints featuring the original dub tracks and presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen. Part II looks accurately framed for the most part -- a little tight (probably shot for 1.66:1), but overall fine. Its companion film is obviously squeezed from a full frame master to fit the frame, meaning the actors' heads look a little squished. Still, how else are you gonna see 'em? The only extra (not counting the usual sexploitation cross-promotion trailers) is a liner notes booklet by Michael J. Bowen, who does an excellent job covering the history of the whole trilogy while rattling off some great facts, such as the presence of Hal Liden as one of the dubbers and the fact that the second film was the first time a sequel ever used "Part II" in its title.


Lurking much further in the gutter is After Hours' Sex on Capitol Hill double feature, which pairs up two politically-themed '70s porn quickies presumably timed to coincide with the recent(ish) presidential election. The big draw here is Presidential Peepers, the "lost" Richard Nixton-themed smut flick from '75. Watergate jokes and unsimulated copulation don't really seem like a natural mix, and this one proves it -- but boy, is it strange enough to hold your interest. Late sex flick legend Tina Russell (in what is purportedly her last film) gets to act a little more than usual (which isn't necessarily a good thing given her limited skills). There's not much plot here as Tina and two other girls pal around a cheap simulation of the Oval Office with "Richard M. Dixon," a Nixon impersonator whose resemblance to Tricky Dick earned him a string of odd '70s roles like The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover and Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper. Here he pretty much sits at his desk and does his Nixon schtick (while keeping his clothes on, thankfully) as everyone else bumps and grinds in what looks suspiciously like spliced-in loops. Russell has two scenes, mostly involving the ubiquitous Marc Stevens (oddly enough, both of them wrote incendiary autobiographies around the same time) as well as short-lived regular Helen Madigan. Manhattan public access smut legend Ugly George (who essentially started the "Girls Gone Wild" template years before it caught on) also pops up near the end as a photographer in an amusing softcore orgy scene. The packaging boasts this is taken from the original 16mm negative, the sole surviving element, and this actually is one of their best-looking releases in their grindhouse line. Considerably more banged-up and obscure is its co-feature, All the Senator's Girls, which features "Glenn Swallow" as a mustachioed politician whose anti-porn crusade doesn't exactly jibe with the fact that he sleeps with anything in a skirt, be it at his desk or on a yacht. Errr... and that's pretty much it. Both films are anamorphically enhanced and actually look okay framed that way; apart from the usual trailers, the big extra here is another set of Michael J. Bowen liner notes with an understandable focus on Ms. Russell covering most of the highlights of her career and the possible cause for her untimely, mysterious death.


One of the strangest phenomena about '70s adult filmmaking was the trend of creating multiple versions at the same time, one for the raincoat crowd as well as a softer cut often featuring more plot and plenty of alternate footage. One of the most extreme examples of this approach is 1977's Punk Rock, also known on video as Rock Orgy and Teenage Runaways. The film was originally shot as a full-on porno flick starring late switch-hitting soap actor Wade Nichols as Jimmy Dillinger, a private eye combing New York's rock 'n' roll underworld as he follows a Spillane-esque trail after a tycoon's kidnapped daughter with plenty of murder and dope dealing around the corner. Then the producer recruited director Carter Stevens to revisit the film as a much less explicit grindhouse film with its brief bits of new wave performances expanded or replaced to spotlight the burgeoning punk scene, represented here by garage bands like the Stilettos, the Fast, the Squirrels and the Spicy Bits doin' their thing at Max's Kansas City. It's pretty fascinating stuff, and while the hard version has been around on video for ages (most recently in Alpha Blue's Carter Stevens triple bill set), this R-rated 96-minute variant has been incredibly elusive until now. For once it's great to finally see this very different and in some ways far more interesting retooling of one of the decade's most interesting trash cinema hybrids. Accompanying this DVD release is the significantly less interesting softcore version of Pleasure Palace, a 1979 crime and sex outing with Eric Edwards and Jamie Gillis about a couple of big city guys who decide to open a whorehouse in the coutryside, only to get far more than they bargained for. Serena and Richard Bolla are also on hand in a fairly well-acted but innocuous potboiler whose most intriguing aspect is the fact that, according to the commentary and liners, it was shot in a real brothel. Stevens actually provides full chat tracks for both films and seems to have a good memory for the production of both, talking about his experiences with the actors, the necessities of theatrical tweaking for films in the '70s, the nature of porn pseudonyms, and much more. Secret Key's release also has a video interview with Stevens (in a funny T-shirt) about his career (including some good memories of Serena), a music video by the Fast for "It's Like Love," and the aforementioned liners, again written by Bowen. Only the second film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with Punk Rock full frame and looking fine if a bit worn and soft and Pleasure Palace much more vivid and colorful but more tightly framed.


While we're talking about the mainstreaming of porn, nobody could have ever expected that a new reunion of '70s legends Ron Jeremy and Veronica Hart could possibly turn out lik One Eyed Monster, a comedic, R-rated horror film about the mayhem unleashed around a remote, snowy cabin when a bunch of people gathered to shoot an adult film are terrorized by a ruthless alien -- which has inhabited Ron Jeremy's penis and is wiping everyone out one by one. (Remember, this has an R rating, so you just get hilarious POV shots of the offending interstellar invader.) Swift, silly, trashy, and entertaining, While the concept of murderous genitalia has been around since the days of Soul Vengeance, this is certainly the first time the concept has been applied to America's favorite hedgehog reality TV star. It's actually quite atmospheric and really funny if you're in the right mood, and director Adam Fields does a good job balancing of keeping things light and interesting even when people are getting their skulls punched open by a rampaging phallus. If that weren't enough, the cast also includes former Buffy regular Amber Benson and everyone's favorite '80s drive-in tough guy character actor, Charles Napier (looking incredibly grizzled and easily stealing the movie with an unforgettable monologue).


What, that's not enough Ron Jeremy for you? Okay then, feast your eyes on Porn-o-Rama from the folks at Private Screenings, best known for reviving scores of forgotten '80s softcore favorites, This particular offering is a five-part documentary lensed in the early '90s by Paul Norman, the director who crammed the Clinton decade with countless straight and bi titles. Ron Jeremy and Alexis DeVell walk you through a series of interviews with familiar faces from the era along with plenty of backstage footage (nothing really explicit, though lots of bare breasts are on display). There have been plenty of backstage and blooper releases before, but this one is truly exhaustive as it spends two and a half hours in the trenches, asking lots of wildly inappropriate questions and getting answers ranging from the hilarious to the utterly perplexing. Each episode seems to revolve around a basic theme (why they do it, how family and friends react, etc.), though you won't find any major revelations as everyone just seems to be having lots of laughs (not surprising given that this was crafted by the industry itself). Among the subjects here are Samantha Strong, Tom Byron, Jon Dough, Francesca Le, Brittany O'Connell, Nick East, the tragic Cal Jammer, and lots, lots more. The whole thing was shot on a home video camera and definitely looks it, so don't expect any striking home theater demo material here. As a time capsule it's pretty fascinating to see a parade of faces like this, especially when many of them are long gone (from the industry or even from this planet). Just don't expect much titillation value, 'cuz it ain't there. Oh, and the cover art is supremely disturbing.


Next up... I swear, this is the last porn-related title -- really... is the thematically-related Porn Stars of the 80s and Porn Stars of the 90s, the latest salvos fired from Midnight Blue, the infamous public access show ramped out onto DVD for the past two years via the folks at Blue Underground. Once again irascible Screw editor Al Goldstein guides you through the underbelly of the East and West Coast flesh factories, with the '80s one ultimately coming out a lot more interesting than its companion piece. That's entirely due to the presence of talent involved, including the legendary and apparently very wound-up Vanessa Del Rio ("I don't trust myself!"), a lot of hamming by a much younger Ron Jeremy (who also demonstrates his dubious stand-up abilities), and lots of facts from the candid (and sometimes undraped) Nina Hartley, an about-to-retire Desiree Cousteau ("I feel overexposed"), Samantha Fox, a very fluffy-haired Paul Thomas, John Leslie, Veronica Hart, and Annette Haven. As you can see, they've got all the heavy hitter bases covered for the era (except for Traci Lords, obviously, but we all know why she isn't there...). The usual barrage of hilarious and fascinating vintage ads (including escorts and phone sex, not to mention a hilarious musical vibrator bit by "Weird Uncle Louie") add even more spice to the stew, arguably the most entertaining title so far in the Midnight Blue line. (The very retro menu screen is a nice added touch, too.) While the '90s era certainly has its fans, the Midnight Blue volume dedicated to it definitely reveals a show on a downswing, losing much of its lo-fi, grubby charm as the business became flooded with a staggering amount of video product, not to mention the dawn of the internet era. The highlight is probably the vivacious Jeanna Fine, one of the most aggressive stars of the decade, who wears a really over-the-top outfit and talks enthusiastically about her work. (Her anecdote about co-star Sikki Nixx is especially surprising.) A leathery Randy West also gets a huge chunk of interview time, and other contributors include Ashlyn Gere, Christy Canyon, Viper, Teri Wiegel, and Tom Byron. Both discs come with an optional "Money Shots" text trivia track that rattles off lots of arcane tidbits about each person onscreen, and the '90s DVD piles on a few oddball extras like Al Goldstein cussing out Jenna Jameson, Annie Sprinkle's "Titty Cupcakes," and a Ron Jeremy primer in... well, just watch for yourself.





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