OCTOBER 23, 2007

With all the incredibly dull celebrity sex-on-camera scandals generated in the wake of Paris Hilton and Colin Farrell, it's difficult now to appreciate the furor generated with the 1976 release of Italian Stallion, originally a 1970 softcore quickie known as The Party at Kitty and Stud's. Though a trailer exists under that original title, no one seems to have actually seen it during its initial grindhouse run before it was pulled and stuffed away in a vault somewhere. After the success of Rocky, somebody noticed that the star of the film was none other than Sylvester Stallone, who spends most of the movie either running around in a ridiculous furry coat or cavorting naked in a house with a bunch of upstate New York actresses. Of course, this was before he started popping up in bit roles in films like Bananas and Klute, so he looks quite a bit younger here. The film itself is pretty tame stuff, with lots of groping, up-close flashes of frontal nudity, distorted camerawork in funhouse mirrors, and really, really bad dancing, as well as a brief bit of Michael Findlay-style roughie action with Sly whipping one of his conquests on a bed. There's really not much plot per se, except Sly and his girlfriend Kitty go around picking up other people and having them over to their place, where they get undressed and hop around in a circle and have orgies. The end. Anyway, the geniuses at Bryanston Distributing (who released films like Coonskin and Andy Warhol's Frankenstein while allegedly having more than casual ties to the mob) unleashed a slicked-up edit of this film under its most famous current title, with new credit sequences and a hilarious faux-Bill Conti soundtrack highlighted by an oft-repeated, sub-Rocky theme song, "Fly with Me." Best of all, they tried to pass this off as a hardcore porn film by trotting out the new version's editor, XXX director Gail Palmer (The Erotic Adventures of Candy), to badly read some cue cards for a new prologue in which she tries to drum up as much interest as possible. This hysterical piece of time-padding is missing from some video releases but thankfully remains on Cinema Epoch's officially-sanctioned DVD, transferred from the original negative and looking way, way better than anyone had a right to expect (and certainly better than the cruddy gray market DVD released a couple of years ago). Yes, it still looks like a cheap 1970 New York sex flick shot on 16mm, but the color and clarity are really very good, equivalent to some of the best Something Weird transfers from the same period. The film's full frame aspect ratio looks correct and thankfully wasn't fake-matted, which would have been disastrous. Also included is the equally amusing trailer, which finds Ms. Palmer again hyping the film in a deadly monotone while explaining why they can only show audiences two scenes from the film and how Stallone (who was paid two hundred bucks for the part) justified making this film in Playboy: "I was hungry."

And speaking of sex, it's time to talk about the unusual career of Misty Mundae, one of the few scream queens to earn a sizable cult following in recent years. Blessed with much better acting skills than most her peers and a mercifully natural-looking figure, she's usually worth watching even when she appears in utter dreck, which unfortunately accounts for about half of her filmography. Now she's building a horror career under her real name, Erin Brown (most famously in one of the better Masters of Horror episodes, "Sick Girl"), while ei Independent Cinema (who owns her more famous screen name) still releases her more erotic-oriented films. A typical example of her non-horror work, The Erotic Diary of Misty Mundae, is one of those patch-up jobs linking together a bunch of girl-girl vignettes with a linking story about young nymphet Misty keeping a diary about her illicit sapphic enconters. Pillow fights, light bondage, and groping with fellow pin-up favorites Darian Caine and Julian Wells occupy most of the screen time, with little plot to get in the way of all the giggling, writhing, and fake orgasming. All of it was shot between 2002 and 2003, though it took over three years to reach the public as it got stuck in the pipeline behind lots of other Misty titles, including a horde of remakes of Nick Phillips titles. Fans should be thrilled; all others should proceed with caution.

Speaking of Nick Phillips, a better combination of Misty's thespian and carnal talents can be found in Chantal, a double-disc set containing both the 1969 softcore Phillips outing and Tony Marsiglia's 2007 version with Mundae, making it her last official softcore outing under that screen name. Both films involved vulnerable young women named Chantal who encounter torment and degradation while seeking stardom in Hollywood, but otherwise they're basically different beasts. The original stars an uncredited actress as the titular character, a clueless dolt who passes through a number of scuzzy Hollywood types and wanders around late '60s L.A., which provides some fantastic travelogue footage of an era long passed. The famous Roosevelt Hotel gets a good visual workout, too, before it got made over as a flash-in-the-pan celebrity hangout over the past few years. The usual down-on-her-luck cliches are all here and accounted for, spiced up with some mild T&A. The same story gets another workout in a bonus short, 1956's "These Girls Are Fools," a cautionary tale about stupid girls getting devoured by Tinseltown. The Chantal remake actually has more substance than the usual Phillips redos, with Mundae offering a committed performance as the suitcase-toting ingenue who strolls down Hollywood Boulevard, runs afoul of unscrupulous hotel managers, auditions for S&M layouts, and mingles with a colorful cast of busty dayplayers like Julie Strain. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this set is the trio of commentaries, with Phillips offering a rather jaded view of his late '60s softcore efforts, Mundae ruefully reflecting on her retirement from softcore (in which she felt "out of place"), and Marsiglia checking off his filmic influences ranging from The Outer Limits to Rinse Dream. You also get the usual liner notes booklet, a making-of featurette and camera test for the new version, and the expected avalanche of Mundae-related trailers.

Though Chantal was the last Mundae erotic title, she did make one more film under that name, an interesting transition from one persona to another. Shock-o-Rama, an amusingly low-rent Brett Piper monster fest from 2005. Sort of like an Amicus movie on crack, it features Mundae as scream queen Rebecca Raven, who gets tossed aside by her studio and goes off to recover at a remote country house where she's besieged by hungry zombies. Meanwhile execs looking for the next big thing sample two projects, an aliens-on-the-rampage quickie called "Mechanoid" and a sexy mad doctor ramp, "Lonely Are The Brain" (with Julian Wells again). Tremendously ambitious by the standards of the studio which bears the same name, it comes packed with special effects ranging from quaintly tacky to surprisngly twisted, and the high quotient of busty scream queens certainly won't hurt its fan base, either. There's way too much talk in a few sequences, but Piper does an adept job of making the 16mm production exceed its limited budget and pulls off the anthology format better than, say, the execrable Creepshow 3, displaying a love for the genre that results in a visual assaults of aliens, giant robots, ripped-out hearts, flesh-tearing ghouls, and other sundry nastiness. The anamoprhic transfer looks great with bright, vivid colors throughout , and the disc also includes a slew of interviews from the cast and crew, a making-of featurette, footage from the New York premiere, and an amusing Piper commentary track in which he expounds upon his love for vintage monster films and gripes about critics who incorrectly fault his effects work.

For her first full-length straight (read: non-naked) horror film, Mundae-turned-Erin-Brown made the odd move of teaming up with the Polonia Brothers, purveyors of bargain basement shockers like Splatter Farm, for a cheapjack remake of Horror of Party Beach entitled - what else? - Splatter Beach. Everyone's heart seems to be in the right place, even if the final result is way, way too talky (even by grade-Z drive-in standards) and filmed on what looks like the edge of a small Northeastern lake rather than a full-fledged beach. Interestingly, this marks the maiden attempt by Camp Motion Pictures (best known for unearthing '80s straight-to-video oddities) to turn out new horror product with the same DIY aesthetics, resulting in a weirdly nostalgic homage to both shot-on-camcorder cheapies and '60s beach horror films. The script is actually better than it has any right to be, and the film wisely acknowledges its silliness with some surf-rock interludes and unexpected injections of fake drive-in movie footage. The whole thing was shot in three days, so don't expect a masterwork; however, if you're pining for a new gorefest shot on the cheap with a seasoned scream queen carrying the thespian weight, this should do the trick just fine. The full frame video transfer looks okay given the modest origins of the film itself, and thd DVD comes packed with tons of extras including a Polonia commentary track, a music video, a behind-the-scenes featurette with Brown and the directors, a vintage news segment on the enterprising filmmakers, a Q&A with the composer, a bonus soundtrack CD, bonus Camp trailers, and most curious of all, a one-hour VHS "bonus feature" entitled Hallucinations, which is impossible to describe, riddled with '80s tape distortion, and weirdly compelling at the same time.

Last and certainly least, anyone feeling compelled to see how Mundae got her start could shell out a ridiculous amount of money for Vampire Strangler, one of her earliest voyages into horror/sexploitation at the tender age of 19. Billed as her only "ultra-naughty" performance, the film itself is a technically drab, shot-on-camcorder affair that kicks off with a ridiculous amount of strangulation-fetish footage (over 11 minutes' worth) as a bottomless Mundae gets throttled by a cloaked, offscreen assailant. (Apparently strangulation fetishism was a big thing in early Hellfire titles under the banner of his company Factory 2000.) Then the, uh, story picks up with Mundae (offering a sweet quasi-Romanian accent) telephoning "America" to get in touch with her cousin, Billy (played by director William Hellfire under the name "Billy the Stain!"). The two reunite, they fornicate repeatedly, and then some vampiric stuff happens at the end. It all looks ultra-cheap and uninteresting, and the simulated sex scenes go on forever without much passion on anyone's part. There's really nothing terribly "extreme" in the film itself, but the real point of interest lies in the six deleted scenes, two of which spotlight Mundae and Hellfire engaging in lengthy, unsimulated oral sex acts. It's not all that erotic, but completists might want it just for curiosity value. As usual she's more charistmatic than the material demands, and the whole lackluster affiar ends with the promised return of Billy the Vampire in Caress of the Vampire, which actually spun off into two different films. (Read more about the updated 2-disc edition of this title here.

For a far better demonstration of Hellfire's abilities (as well as a more successful fusion of sex and horror), may I humbly recommend his most accomplished shot-on-video achievement to date, The Devil's Bloody Playthings. Shot through with a desolate, sleaze-ridden viewpoint reminiscent of Joe Sarno, Doris Wishman and at times even Andy Milligan, it's one of the closest approximations of a genuine grindhouse film in today's direct-to-video culture. Regular softcore staples Zoe Moonshine (Flesh for Olivia) and Ruby Larocca (Satan's School for Lust) team up as Christine and Karen, new roommates whose relationship spirals into knife-wielding and dementia thanks to Christine's indulgence in domination games and shooting her co-habitants in various states of undress. Great gritty fun all around if you're in the mood, particularly during the surreal and totally unexpected final act, and a welcome relief from the usual SOV eyesores; hopefully it's a harbinger of better things to come from everyone involved. The full frame transfer looks fine given the DV lensing, and the disc comes with a few minimal extras, namely a ten-minute blooper reel (with footage of Hellfire acting out for the performers) and two trailers. And it's a lot better than Hellfire's Duck! The Carbine High Massacre.

Okay, back to Brett Piper again. A more genteel horror offering than Shock-o-Rama can be found in Bacterium, a goofy, slimy monsterfest sporting a surprising PG-13 rating ("for sci-fi horror violence and gore, some partial nudity and language") and a bunch of attractive, no-name cast members. The story is basically your average '50s monster yarn redressed in contemporary threads as a bunch of brainless, paintball-happy youths happen upon a desolate scientific lab in the wilderness where biological weapons experiments have resulted in a slithering, oozing menace which will consume the planet in two days if it isn't stopped. The military shows up, scientific jargon gets bandied around, the girls take showers and parade in skimpy clothes (with one quick frontal pushing that PG-13 right to the breaking point), and lots of green goop splatters across the screen. Extras include making-of featurette (mostly FX-oriented, of course), commentary with PIper and producer Michael Raso, and the usual Shock-o-Rama trailers and promos. At least more fun than your average Sci-Fi Channel programmer, it's worth checking out, at least for a rental.

Speaking of revisiting old genres, Redemption Films founder and Eileen Daly promoter Nigel Wingrove takes a stab at reviving nunsploitation with Sacred Flesh, a short (72 minutes!) and swift tribute to the blasphemous Italian and British sexathons from the '70s. Interestingly, the film doesn't really try to outdo its predecessors for shock value (and really, after Joe D'Amato had finished with it, what's the point?), instead opting for surrealism and post-music-video style to buoy the familiar story of a Mother Superior, Sister Elizabeth (Sally Tremaine), whose own carnal desires and accusations of inappropriate behavior among her sisters provokes an investigation into her potential possession by the devil. Soon she's experiencing intense visions which bring all of her religious training into doubt and the residents at the Church of the Sacred Heart into sexual turmoil. A bit smarter and weightier than one might expect given the subject matter, Wingrove still piles on the gropings and bare flesh enough to satisfy casual drive-in fanatics, though the budgetary restraints, abundant slo-mos and some seriously tacky, anachronistic breast implants are major drawbacks. Heretic's lavish DVD (complete with really peculiar menus) presents with a colorful 16x9 transfer that makes the most of the DV photography. Extras include a feature-length Wingrove commentary, two trailers, storyboards, stills, a soundtrack promo, and more.


October 8, 2007
September 29, 2007

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