APRIL 27, 2008

After getting caught having a dirty dream while sleeping naked, young nymphet Eva (Teresa Svensson) gets shipped off to a private boarding school by her outraged yet suspiciously sexy sister (Swedish Wildcats' Kim Frank). Upon arriving, she finds herself surrounded by frumpy, chaste old maids and fat, impotent men. Oh, wait, this is a Swedish sex comedy, so scratch that -- everyone there is young, nubile, and prone to dancing around in the lobby and throwing wild orgies at the drop of a hat. Soon it's time for The Second Coming of Eva as the entire school (which looks a lot like that elegant estate in Jean Rollin's Fascination) is overrun with students and teachers making the beast with two backs outdoors, indoors, and everywhere in between. Then a snooping lawyer investigating claims of sexual misconduct and Eva's own sister show up, and... well, you can pretty much fill in the blanks from there. So what makes this 1974 sexploitation outing interesting? Well, several things, actually. It looks like the majority of the film was planned as a softcore comedy by director Mac Ahlberg, who was still riding high from his successful I, a Woman series, but somewhere along the line a few of the performers crossed over and started doing their love scenes for real. That makes this Ahlberg's first hardcore film, though the film doesn't really spend any effort on capturing the usual clincal close-ups that came to define the genre. Instead it all looks as colorful and aesthetic as most of Ahlberg's other work (he also went on to shoot such films as Re-Animator and Hell Night), and he manages to keep the story bouncing along at a rapid clip. Ahlberg went on to use the same approach in the far more surrealistic Justine and Juliette as well as the interesting Molly (a much-needed DVD release) and his best-known smut outing, Bel Ami (Harry Reems' career swan song, by the way). Also, one of the main participants in the full-on footage is none other than Brigitte Maier, a German-born bit player and Penthouse and Playboy model who used this film as a catapult to porn stardom with the help of boyfriend/director Lasse Braun in films like Sensations, How Sweet It Is and the unforgettable blaxploitation oddity, Tongue. Most English-speaking viewers only got the chance to encounter this one in dubbed form, usually missing 12 minutes of the good stuff (though a harder version did briefly turn up from Cal-Vista and a dubious online-only VHS from Excalibur). Well, Impulse's DVD edition is completely uncut and presented with the original Swedish language track, with optional English subtitles. The 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer looks great; along with Justine, it's the best-looking feature they've put out so far. Good, clean, nasty fun for all you Swedish movie sexaholics. (If you're really a completist, this is also available on Swedish DVD paired up with the utterly unrelated The Starlets and Inspirations).

A couple of years ago, the folks at ei managed to release not one but two DVD editions of the jaw-dropping Bruno Mattei classic, Women's Prison Massacre (see original review here). Well, that seedy drive-in favorite is back yet again in a double-disc edition to introduce even more fans to this Laura Gemser-behind-bars sickie. The cover design's quite different (it now looks like some sort of police roughie) and claims this is "premastered in glorious Hi-Definition," though for the record to these eyes it's the same colorful, decent-looking 16x9 version previously released in their unrated edition, so no complaints on that front. (For the love of God, don't even think about getting the first DVD version, which among other things was missing the punchline to the unforgettable Russian roulette sequence.) As a bonus you also get a second disc containing the full frame version of the film (which appears to be identical in content, just with different framing and obviously lifted from an older tape source) and, most curiously, a full frame version of Gemser's other major women-in-prison Emanuelle outing, Caged Women, which is also available as anamporphic DVD release under the title Violence in a Women's Prison. Similar to the tacked-on ending to the earlier WIP classic The Big Doll House, some prints of Massacre added on an awkward bit of voiceover epilogue footage indicating Gemser's climactic fate might not last for long, but that's not on any of these versions, which is just fine. The discs also come packed with appreciative liner notes by Paul Gaita, who offers a very thorough checklist of the main feature's plentiful degenerate pleasures.

Speaking of titles covered here before, the notorious previous Sick Picks title Vampire Strangler has managed to earn a deluxe two-disc special edition after the initial DVD went out of print and started demanding asburd amounts of money online. In case you don't remember, this was one of the very first films from Factory 2000, a homegrown sex-and-horror video outfit started by William Hellfire, often showcasing his then-girlfriend Misty Mundae. This release is something of a comprehensive survey of that DIY company as well as an obvious "restored and newly edited" release geared to Mundae fans, who get to see her in her one "hardcore" performance (which mainly consists of a few oral scenes with her and Hellfire). This new edition presents the aforementioned new cut of the film, which integrates the "ultra-naughty" outtakes of Mundae back into the main feature as well as a slew of other footage which was dropped (against the director's wishes) in order to turn in a one-hour final product during the initial release. Even now, the plot's not much and bascially a jabbering mess, but it basically revolves around a Romanian girl moving in with her cousin Billy, who turns into a vampire when they're not busy fooling around in his bedroom. The extras here are actually quite interesting, especially a head-scratching "lost" original prologue that finds one of Van Helsing's descendants having unsimulated sex in a basement with some girl, only to get attacked by vampires who turn them both into screaming bloody messes. It's even more technically crude and poorly-lit than the main feature, but it's also probably the most extreme and baffling fusion of gore and porn in the entire Factory 2000 catalog. Other extras include a really boring deleted scene at a dinner table, an option to watch all of the sex scenes isolated separately, and a batch of fetish Mundae shorts from 1998 to 2001 (apparently all helmed by Hellfire) including "My Property," "Vibrating Maid," and "My Date with Misty." While Mundae (now Erin Brown, since her original stage name is still owned by Seduction Cinema) has pretty much distanced herself from her softcore work and even more from her Factory days, the new DVD does what it can to explain how on earth this title can into existence. The surprisingly extensive insert booklet contains a long and detailed examination of the origins of both Factory 2000 and this feature written by Media Funhouse's Ed Grant, who does a solid job of covering the tangled distribution, legal and personal entanglements involved over the years, interspersed with a few candid comments from Hellfire himself. Of course, the second disc is rounded out with a ton of Mundae trailers for her more polished efforts like Flesh for Olivia and Sin Sisters.

Oh, but that's not the end of the Hellfire/Mundae saga for today, no sir. Next up is their 1998 collaboration I Was a Teenage Strangler (hmm, see a common thread here?), a.k.a. International Necktie Strangler, which at least has a better idea of how to balance out its erotic and horror components. Again the plot's no great shakes; there's a crazy strangler running around a neighborhood, lots of skinny teenagers are having sex, then they throw a party and act really wasted, and people die. The end. Mundae's basically a glorified supporting player here and as usual gives a better performance than anyone else, with a few skin shots thrown in to keep the video renters happy. However, the rest of the cast (including future scream queen Tina Krause hiding out under the name "Mia Copia") at least manage to deliver their lines without stumbling up too much, and just to prove this is still an early Hellfire film, there's a graphic, near-hardcore forced sex scene that ends with a bloody "money" shot not easily forgotten. Yeah, it's still a technically impoverished exploitation cheapie for the fetish crowd, but Mundae fans should be fascinated with this rare glimpse at her early, hungry days toiling away in front of a VHS Camcorder. Extras this time out are more minimal, consisting of trailer reels for both Factory 2000 (all with the beautiful visual texture of a third-generation EP-speed videotape) including the still-elusive Infamous Bondage Murders series and their most famous (and morally dubious) release, Duck! The Carbine High Massacre, which apparently now actually has the word "Columbine" in its title.

One of the more historically significant softcore releases so far this year, Maid in Sweden is best remembered today as the film that introduced world audiences to Christina Lindberg, the vulnerable-looking young woman who quickly became the leading Swedish exploitation pin-up girl. Made in 1971, it came out the same year as other, more obscure Lindberg titles as Dog Days and The Depraved, but benefited from the fact that it was an international, English-friendly production financed by a little fledgling company called Cannon Films. Exactly how this title wound up in the hands of Impulse Pictures is anyone's guess, and presumably the best available elements are now lying around somewhere in the vaults at MGM. In any case, it's nice to finally see this one on DVD, though the end result is something of a mixed bag. The film itself is set up as a typical young woman's sexual awakening story, with pretty, innocent Inga (Lindberg) heading up from the country to visit her big city sister, Greta. Of course, Greta's activities with her randy jackass boyfriend, Carsten, set Inga's loins a-burnin' quite quickly. One of Carsten's buddies, Bjorn, sets his sights on the new arrival, but it soon becomes a three-way race as the two men and the bisexual lesbian sister vie to destroy poor Inga's innocence. Of course, all of this is really just an excuse to get Christina naked every few minutes, including a memorable slo-mo shower scene that fueled much of its ad campaign. Co-written by exploitation vet George T. Norris (who edited Lord Shango, He Knows You're Alone and Exterminator 2), Maid in Sweden should find a happy home in the DVD library of any discerning soft-sex fan, and the cherry on the top of this particular sundae is a long-desired new video interview with Christina herself, who spends about ten minutes chatting in English about the state of '70s Swedish sex films and the genesis of Maid in Sweden. The interview could certainly be much longer, but it's nice to finally see the elusive actress on camera after she was conspicuously MIA from the earlier release of her most infamous film, Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Unfortunately this release has to make do with a preexisting full frame master (still bearing the Cannon Films opener), and it definitely shows its age. The cropping isn't too detrimental and even looks completely open matte in certain shots, but the obviously degraded colors, soft English audio track, and wobbly video distortion are a bummer. Still, how else are you gonna see it? Also included is the theatrical trailer (which looks a whole lot fresher) as it appeared on Synapse's earlier 42nd Street Forever Vol. 1 collection. Incidentally, director "Floch Johnson" is really Dan Wolman, who stuck around with Cannon and directed two entries in the cult favorite "Lemon Popsicle" sex comedy series.

Several years back, fans of Something Weird's Bucky Beaver series had their minds blown by one of those double-bill VHS releases featuring an incredibly tasteless, brain-dead one-hour storefront quickie, newly christened as Nazi Sex Experiments. Well, incredibly enough it's now managed to come out as a special double-disc DVD special edition from After Hours, now bearing the title of Sex Slaves of the SS (though the contents also refer to it as Slave Girls of the SS). However, unlike its much rougher softcore counterparts like the Ilsa series and their Italian successors, this hardcore variant offers far more guilt-free laughs with its Magic Marker-on-cardboard sets and ridiculous Californians trying and falling to do Teutonic accents. Speaking of Ilsa, that's El Sharif himself, "Victor Alexander" (aka Jerry Delony) from Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, getting a brief, unsimulated hummer in the opening scene. He's the only recognizable face in the bunch playing the main character, Dr. Cockluv, a nefarious Nazi scientist forcing a string of female prisoners to copulate with suspciously '70s-looking officers. Lots of terrible jokes and badly-filmed sex scenes ensue, often rendered through cheap opticals that must have had the raincoat crowd staring at their watches. As a sex film there's really no value here at all, but as a tacky el-cheapo oddity from decades past, it's definitely got a certain degenerate fascination. This "special edition" DVD manages to barely pad the film out over the one hour mark thanks to a new prologue and opening credits cobbled together with stock newsreel footage of the Nazi regime and a voiceover hopelessly trying to impose some sort of plotline, with a few added bits of vintage footage thrown in at the end to round it all out. The 16x9 transfer is scratchy but colorful, and surprisingly the matting doesn't seem to affect the compositions (or lack thereof). However, the main feature looks like a Radley Metzger production compared to its fellow West Coast companion on the second disc, Woman of Vengeance, a very cheap eyesore with legendary '70s sex couple Rene Bond and Ric Lutze in the story of a woman plotting to off her husband while he schemes to get her in the sack with another woman. That's the synopsis on the packaging, anyway, and I'll take their word for it since the muddy sound quality and incredibly ugly photography make it impossilbe to focus on anything happening onscreen. The sex has that nasty surgical look found in early '70s loops, and Rene looks completely disengaged with the script. Completists might find some value here, but it's easily the worst of her films I've ever seen. For some reason this one's matted and presented 16x9 as well, but it looks like this would be a headache inducer no matter how it was framed. Extras include an additional anonymous loop from the same period and a slew of promos for other After Hours releases.

But that's just the tip of the After Hours iceberg. A far more logical double feature can be found in their Zodiac Rapist double-DVD set, which I guess is some sort of belated cross-promotion with the David Fincher zodiac film. (Or, God help us, maybe the two Ulli Lommel cash-ins?) For what it's worth, both of these nickel-and-dime private eye porn outings revolving around ace dick Sam Dobbs are at least more competent than anything Ulli's touched in over a decade. The big draw here is 1971's Zodiac Rapist (original title: Sam Dobbs Meets the Zodiac Killer), which features John Holmes as the titular maniac on what basically amounts to a vicious spree of... being a Peeping Tom. Occasionally he does actually break into a home and terrorize the female inhabitants, but most of the film takes place "back at the office" where Dobbs and his secretary diddle around on his desk, then on the floor. Eventually the two horndogs' paths cross, and Dobbs gets his man. Holmes fans might find this of interest, and for once he at least manages to exhibit some recognizable human emotion, often widening his eyes and grimacing in an approximation of sexual dementia. Next up is the first and more interesting Dobbs film, 1970's Sam Dobbs and the Guru (which at one point had the word "Gangbang" affixed to its title), which finds Sammy Boy (anybody know who this main actor is?) still boinking his trusty secretary (Judy Angel), then getting a frantic call from a woman with a dead body in her pool. Hot on the trail, he soon deduces that it's all involved with a new age guru who's actually fronting a devious sex cult. Also featuring early porn starlet Suzanne Fields, it's kind of like a softer California variation on the later Avon roughies, with the cult-centered third act throwing the whole story for a major loop. Interesting stuff, and while the liner notes don't provide much information given that these two films played only briefly under an inscrutable series of fake names, it's lucky these made it out to video at all. Once again, the other extra here is the cross-promotional sampling of After Hours smut trailers.

Last on our tour of bizarro After Hours releases is the most accomplished feature of the bunch, 1977's Sylvia, another entry in its valuable Directors' Series (which previously included Forced Entry and A Touch of Genie). This one's a bit different in that it's already had a prior DVD release from VCX, though that edition was missing some footage of... well, it's best not described here, but most viewers should figure it out pretty quickly. The film started life as sort of a low budget adult variation on the hit TV miniseries Sybil (with Sally Field morphing through a series of multiple personalities), though the end result turned into something far more interesting. The versatile Joanna Bell (what the heck happened to her?) stars as the title character, a prim and proper suburban resident who's secretly housing a whole slew of deviant inner sluts eager to dabble in every aspect of human excess. She goes to see her shrink (played by the film's director, Peter Petrillo under the name "Peter Savage," a Jake LaMotta cohort who went on to act in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), but that doesn't stop her from going out and getting into trouble, whether waving a cross around like a lunatic, getting into orgies, and most memorably, tangling with a couple of junkies (one of whom is played by future mainstream actor and would-be politician Sonny Landham of Predator fame). Many of the actors consist of LaMotta friends and relatives, but connoisseurs should recognize a few of the more explicit performers including Marc Stevens, Helen Madigan, and Turk Turpin. As the packaging rightly points out, this film is actually of more value for the family names behind it and its vivid depiction of gritty late '70s New York filmmaking, with a few startling visuals far removed from your standard skin flick. You might say this movie, like its heroine, is completely nuts. Surprisingly enough, the DVD contains an incredible audio commentary by none other than William Lustig, the founder of Blue Underground and nephew of Jake LaMotta, who also took a brief sojourn into New York's hardcore world as both the director of Hot Honey and The Violation of Claudia (where's the special edition of that one?) and the assistant director and production manager of Sylvia. Moderated by regular After Hours historian Michael Bowen, it's a terrific track covering how this unusual production came about, the various relatives who make fleeting appearances onscreen, and the good and bad side of mounting an indie production, XXX or otherwise, during this unique period in grindhouse history. Surprisingly enough, this also makes a fascinating companion piece (or a prelude, if you will) to his commentaries on his more famous mainstream cult films like Maniac, Vigilante and Uncle Sam. The extras (which also include the aforementioned trailers as well as Bowen-penned liner notes) make this a solid purchase anyway, but anyone who's suffered through the fuzzy-looking previous release should find this worth an upgrade thanks to the improved anamorphic transfer. The print used here is much sharper and more colorful than prior versions, and while there's quite a bit of expected damage visible in spots, it's tough to complain whenver one of these films gets a much-needed makeover after years of outdated, early '80s transfers. Keep bringing it on, guys!

February 19, 2008
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