AUGUST 7, 2008

One of the most spat-upon exploitation genres during its first-run theater days, the German sex comedy has undergone something of a reappraisal in recent years with people pining nostalgically for those secretive late-night TV airings and beloved, long-gone Private Screenings VHS tapes. However, you can relive those days for a really cheap price with a quartet of amusing slices of '70s skin-coms gathered by Secret Key under the name of the Bavarian Sex Comedy Collection. 75% of the films have been available before in various other editions (some now going for stupid amounts of money online), but this is a much handier and more wallet-friendly option. First up is one of the best of the bunch, 1973's I Like the Girls Who Do (aka Liebesjagd durch 7 Betten), a surprisingly funny, imaginative, and genuinely sexy concoction about strapping young Thomas (Austrian-born Gunther Ziegler, now toiling away in really awful Uli Lommel movies), who learns he's the heir of his recently-deceased uncle. However, the old man's will states that, in order to claim the jackpot, the lad has to collect and assemble amulets from all seven of the uncle's sexy, hot-to-trot mistresses. Of course, this also means Thomas gets way more than he bargained for as the lusty lasses entangle him in various embarrassing mishaps involving a department store bed, peeping tom construction workers, a very exhibitionistic dinner theater, and much, much more. Nicely shot, paced, directed and performed by a much more talented and attractive-than-usual cast, this is a real diamond in the rough worth seeking out. Less impressive but mildly diverting is the following year's Bottoms Up (the one new-to-DVD title in the set), originally released as Auf der Alm, da gibt's koa Sünd, which was reputedly a big hit in Europe. The English dub track isn't that great and the print's easily seen better days, but there are still a few chuckles to be had in the tale of a small town turned upside down by the discovery of a process that turns cow dung into gasoline. Industrial spies and lots of drunk, horny German villagers clash as the story gets more convoluted by the minute. Things perk up again considerably with the second real winner in the batch, House of 1000 Sins, whose sleazy-sounding title disguises another surisingly ambitious and oddly innovative, time-jumping story about Albert (Bibi's Peter Hamm), a gigolo kept on a hotel where he's expected to honor the whims of all the voluptuous female guests while juggling the demands of his wife at home. Once again this delivers far more complexity, humor and unabashed skin exposure than comparable American and British sex comedies for the time, and it still holds up as a good-natured trifle just about anyone of either gender can enjoy. Last up is the frothy and fun Run, Virgin, Run, which was previously reviewed here. All of the transfers are full frame (the films were either shot open matte or 1.66:1, so not much image loss to comment on here) and look like older masters prepared for home video or cable broadcast, but they're watchable enough. The only really noteworthy extra is a nicely-written four-page booklet by Michael Bowen detailing the films' participants and the basic appeal of these compelling, carnal curiosities.

It's time for more oversexed Germans, which brings us to, yep, Schoolgirl Report #4: What Drives Parents to Despair. If you don't know anything about this series, scroll down and go back to read the past Sick Picks entries immediately. Okay... So, this one is nowhere even remotely as scandalous as the third report (which is still the most difficult to track down in the U.S.), but on the other hand, it's got Christina Lindberg, the Swedish softcore vixen who earned a huge following with Thriller: A Cruel Picture. The template here is pretty much the same as the other films, with a narrator revealing that there's still so very, very much we all have to learn about what teenage girls really get up to when their parents aren't looking. Namely, they go around chasing older men, have sex in rowboats, and, in Christina's case, fantasize about stripping nuns and firing squads while trying to arouse their sleeping brothers. No, really, it's all true! The actual sex content here is noticeably lower than past installments, but there's still loads of female nudity on display and some hilariously bizarre dialogue throughout. As with Impulse's previous DVDs, the anamorphic transfer looks better than those cruddy tape editions but still betrays its vintage, particularly the rough-looking opening credits. Still, it's in its original language with subtitles, has a really swingin' Gert Wilden music score, and appears to be complete, so what are you waiting for?

Of course, Germany isn't all about oversexed frauleins hopping on every guy they see. Apparently some of them eat each other, or at least that's what the news would have you believe a few years back when two Germans met up online to indulge in their mutual cannibalism fetish, with one guy willingly surrendering himself to be cooked and eaten by another. And that's the entire story of 2005's Cannibal, a visually amazing and stomach-churningly vivid depiction of these true events shot with the gloss and artistry of a Just Jaeckin film. Whether that's a good thing will be up to the individual viewer's appetites, of course, but it's certainly compelling. Unlike the contemporary bestiality scandal depicted in the somewhat similar Zoo, this one isn't legally bound to keep its grotesque offenses offscreen; instead you get some of the most startling carnage effects ever seen onscreen along with more male nudity than ten Peter Greenaway films put together. Carsten Frank, best known for a handful of later Jess Franco films, appears as the Internet-savvy flesheater, with one-shot actor Victor Brandl as his future meal. They take up most of the running time, with director Marian Dora doing double duty as cinematographer to capture each detail along the way. The Unearthed DVD (also released through TLA) looks very sharp and colorful considering this appears to be shot on DV, making its visuals all the more impressive. Incidentally, the same story was also filmed as the very different Grimm Love, which has yet to find a US release.

Apparently Spain has its share of lunatics, too, if you take a look at Codex Atanicus: Three Wild Tales, a trio of short films by Spanish avant garde filmmaker Carlos Atanes, who's been churning out mind-bending shorts since the early 1990s. The first and earliest, "Metaminds & Metabodies," is a shot-on-video 20-minute fantasy about a beer hall outside the entrance to Hell, where a group of debauched arrivals live it up and raving women entertain the audience while lashed to the wall. Or something like that. A likely descendant of the Panic Movement which spawned filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal, it quickly sets the pace for what's to come and, despite the very low technical quality, it's a suitably frenzied intro. Next up in "Morfing," essentially a longer expansion on the same theme with Atanes playing "himself" as an unhinged director who wants to off himself while doing a TV pilot, and a girl intervenes to stop him by introducing him to a world of mutated, sexualized grotesqueries that, er, climaxes in a most unforgettable fashion. Oh, and it also features some now-famous Spanish filmmaking personalities, but I don't want to ruin the surprise. Finally, "Welcome to Spain" must be the strangest tourist endorsement ever as two visiting guys by a roadside end up tangling with a quartet of psychos thrashing around with a bunch of chickens, coughing up blood, attacking each other, and yanking their pants down in a bright orange stairwell. It's guaranteed to get a reaction even among seasoned experimental film fanatics. The collection is introduced by actress Arantxa Peña, who appears in many of his films. Certainly the perfect title for those who think they've seen it all.

Of course, when it comes to exploitation these days, ain't nobody who can outdo Japan. Case in point: Tokyo Gore Police, whose title alone should give you an idea of what to expect. This colorful, digitally-shot splatterfest lifts a few pages from the cyberpunk handbook crossed with a few dashes of Total Recall, all mixed up for one seriously screwed-up stew. In the future, rampaging crime has forced the corporate-owned police force to take aggressive action against the primary offenders, a strain of mutants called Engineers. A very disturbed scientist (Eihi Shiina) involved in the mutants' creation winds up tangling with Raku (Audition's Eihi Shiina), a beautiful police officer searching for the culprit who killed her cop father. Along the way, the red stuff spews, gushes, and eventually floods the camera with the ridiculous glee of Shogun Assassin and The Evil Dead combined. Even with what appears to be a limited budget, director Yoshihiro Nishimura (the FX artist from films like Suicide Girl) knows his way around a good gore gag and even throws in some fun TV spots that play like a cross between Children of Men and Robocop. If you've been bemoaning the lack of decent bloodshed in this year's crop of movie offerings, look no further. Media Blasters' DVD features a very attractive transfer with eye-popping colors (often either neon-colored or completely crimson), with Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo options either in the original Japanese or an okay English dub. Stick with the former unless you're feeling too lazy to read. The only real extra is a very long Japanese theatrical trailer, along with trailers for other extreme Asian titles like Fudoh, Versus and Devilman.

Considerably less gory is another Media Blasters title, The Chilling, a weird late entry (1989) in the '80s straight-to-video horror craze. The biggest draw here is the cast, which features the unbeatable combo of Linda Blair (post-Savage Streets), Dan Haggerty (better known to the world as Grizzly Adams), and late teen heartthrob Troy Donahue (post-Hard Rock Nightmare). Bascially swiping plot elements left and right from Night of the Creeps and Return of the Living Dead, the film dares to depict the cutting-edge technology of cryogenics, which freezes rich people in the hopes that they can be revived and cured somewhere down the road by future scientists. The head doctor (Donahue) is basically a corrupt bastard, which becomes all too evident when a power outage and electrical storm turns his upscale cryogenic farm into a big zombie jamboree filled with shambling, freezer-burned flesheaters. Can plucky medical assistant Linda Blair escape from their icy clutches? For some reason the film flat-out equates cryogenics with the devil's work, which seems to take that whole "don't go meddling in God's domain" credo a bit far, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of confusion here. None of the actors seem to be performing in the same movie (or from the same script), which adds a ton of entertainment value to what could have otherwise been a throwaway zombie quickie. Then there's the moralistic ending credits that outdo the coda from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but that's really best left experienced without any further warning. Originally a Code Red acquisition, The Chilling is presented in a "director's cut" on DVD from Media Blasters, and it basically looks like a spritzed-up version of the original straight-to-tape master used back in the old days. It's fine for what it is (and judging by the credits, this was completed on video so a new film transfer ain't gonna happen), but as for how this differs from the original cut, I have no idea. The history of the film is very confusing, with the original director reputedly leavng the project and the rest assembled under less than optimal circumstances. In any case, while this release doesn't do much to shed any light on the production background, it does feature a hefty 20+ minutes of on-set footage, mostly focusing on the zombies and other miscellaneous FX. It's actually more entertaining than the film, which is also easily true of the next extra, a "blooper reed" that actually ambushes viewers with some incredibly revealing deleted sex scene footage. Also included is a long trailer (which looks more like a pitch reel) and other Media Blasters promos.

A fascinating short film making the rounds as a standalone DVD, His Last Request (El Último Deseo) feels like an especially arty and perverse offshoot of Jess Franco's recent output, which isn't too surprising given that director Simon Birrell was a co-writer on Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula and the star is Franco regular Jack Taylor. The entire 27-minute short is dialogue-free and accompanied by an oddly hypnotic soft jazz soundtrack, with intertitles (in English or Spanish) covering the actors' lines and important exposition. An ailing father (Taylor) regrets that he never had the chance to pursue any of his erotic fantasies, and when his daughter brings home a sexy, dark-haired nurse to tend to his needs, things are, ahem, looking up. However, soon the two girls are getting a little too close for comfort, and daddy gets way more than he bargained for in the process. Shot in silky black and white and wisely packing its final moments with unexpectedly hefty blood and eroticism, it's a promising offering from Birrell who will hopefully get a shot at doing an entire feature someday. The DVD also comes with some brief cast and crew bios, stills, and production info.

And now we arrive at what is easily the most problematic title ever released by the good folks at After Hours, Grindhouse Trash Collection Part 3: How to Make a Dirty Movie. The previous two volumes were a lot of fun, and while they weren't perfect, the efforts to revive truly scuzzy, disreputable multi-feature sets for the mass population are worthy of applause. That energy certainly carries over into the four films selected for this third set, which kicks off with the title feature, How to Make a Dirty Movie. This 1968 softcore quickie features no credits and a no-name cast in a goofy precursor to Andy Warhol's Blue Movie (and the Terry Southern book of the same name), basically offering a self-reflexive look at how the pre-hardcore skin industry operates. The threadbare story follows an average Joe popping by his neighbor's house, only to find a homemade 16mm dirty movie in progress -- with our hero gradually lured into participating. Lots of big, big hair highlights this fleshy offering which mostly takes place on a couch and bed under some really heavy spotlights, giving the whole project a strange, slightly creepy atmosphere. Not bad as far as these things go, and the anamorphic transfer looks just fine apart from the usual expected scratches and debris. Next up we have The Alleycat, a retitling of Hell's Kitten, a 1972 softcore film with another "I wanna be a pornstar" story about Chessy (Sandy Dempsey), who beds everyone in sight while making her newest opus. The colorful supporting cast includes plenty of familiar faces including Flesh Gordon porn favorite Suzanne Fields as her co-star, kinda-sorta-hardcore actor John Keith (The Pigkeeper's Daughter) as the film's writer, drive-in regular Norman Fields (Psycho from Texas) as the director. The ripe dialogue and snappy pacing keep this one entertaining, with the always watchable Dempsey (A Touch of Sweden) holding her own as the lead. Disc two kicks off with the best film of the set, Star, a retitling of 1973's Oh! You Beautiful Doll, one of the very few films helmed by truly fascinating and eccentric sleaze filmmaker Walt Davis, who shocked even hardened smut fans with films like Sex Psycho and Evil Come, Evil Go. Anyone who's seen Walt's work knows he's not all that interested in titillating viewers in anything resembling a traditional sex-and-violence offering; instead he peppers his features with snarling line readings, wacko plot twists, and grotesque imagery. Here he seems to be mining Paul Morrissey territory with the sordid antics of Gaye Ramon (Evil Come's Cleo O'Hara), a faded smut queen who lolls around her Hollywood mansion enjoying the occasional piece of boy meat while not trying on ridiculous wigs and setting up phony auditions. Exploitation regulars Sandy Carey (Deep Jaws) and Keith Erickson (The Godson) also appear in this darkly hilarious treat which really deserves rediscovery. Finally we have Go Down for Double, apparently a very, very obscure early John Holmes (softcore) film about a bunch of swingers who have sex, have friends over, then have sex some more. And that's about it. So, this all sounds great, right? Well, yeah, but there's one big, big problem with this release, and it's a real puzzler. Remember when Japanese video releases used to have annoying pixillation over any offending pubic hair onscreen? Well, this DVD does that one better by drenching the screen in huge, annoying digital censorship pixellation boxes every time a naked guy appears in both The Alleycat and Star, which comprises a huge chunk of the running time. Even worse, the two films are then re-edited and zoomed in severely to also crop away any visible genitalia, resulting in tons of baffling jump cuts and weird visual inconsistencies -- essentially rendering both films completely unwatchable. A real shame, especially coming from the same company who released Forced Entry; since it also involves the two best titles in the set, here's hoping they'll both be reissued at some point in versions that are actually watchable and not ridiculously censored for whatever nonexistent prudes out there who might get offended.

And speaking of obstructed crotches, those with more of a vintage taste should check out Cult Epics' American Nudes series, a showcase for cheesecake shorts dating back to the World War II era. Volume 1 sticks mostly within the 1940s and sticks to the tried-and-true formula of smiling models showing off their enormous assets in 17 shorts with titles like "Mermaid Catches a Man," "Divine Darling," "Let 'Er Rip," "Balloon Busted," "Asiatic Secrets"(!), and "Delectable Duo." All are presented full frame in black and white and look watchable enough given how many hands they must have passed through over the past several decades. The short used for Volume 2 are in noticeably rougher shape and have no title cards this time around, though you do get to see a woman with lots of eye make-up and huge, teased-up black hair writhing around topless on the floor in cheetah-patterend underwear, which is something not easily forgotten. And unlike the first volume, this one is obviously geared towards the early days of full frontal nudity, though it's nothing raunchier than you'd see in a late '60s issue of Playboy. The set is introduced with an "Irving Klaw Presents" logo, though whether this applies to the opening or the entire series isn't quite clear. You do get some girls catfighting in feitsh lingerie, so that base is easily covered. All the shorts come "enhanced with a jazz bop soundtrack" (given that they were all shot silent anyway), which makes the whole experience as smooth as a chilly martini.

So, you just knew a Misty Mundae title had to pop up in here sooner or later, right? Apparently she shot about 50 films a week during her Seduction Cinema glory days, and another unreleased one has reared its furry head in the form of An Erotic Werewolf in London. Barely running over an hour and delivering the lycanthropic goods only in the final few minutes, it's another excuse to get Misty unclothed and rolling around in various beds with other girls. The packaging claims this was actually shot in London, though 99% of it takes place in anonymous apartment rooms that could easily be on your street corner. Anoushka also appears as the queen werewolf who's going around converting other young females into her fold, including Misty of course. The company's other regulars like Darian Caine and Julian Wells also pop up for the obligatory thigh-rubbing and other lipstick lesbian antics. The film was actually shot in 2001 by William Hellfire but remained unfinished on the shelf until 2008, a convoluted story covered in the DVD's liner notes by Ed Grant which actually makes for a more compelling work than the main feature. Also included in the two-disc set is a bonus unreleased feature, Night of the Groping Dead, though in this case it's easy to see why it never saw the light of day as it's really bargain basement and incoherent, worth a look only if you're a really, really avid shot-on-video softcore completist. Extras include the usual trailers, a "Reminiscing with Ruby LaRocca" featurette about shooting the sex scenes, and a commentary with Hellfire and producer Michael Raso which crams about as much information as they can into the very short running time. Mistyphiles should be quite satisfied.

Winding things up on a classier note we finally come to Footsteps, a moody Welsh cross between a British crime film and a violent study in snuff filmmaking. Talented newcomer and Brad Renfro lookalike Nicholas Bool stars as Andrew, a twentysomething left disoriented by the loss of his parents who becomes entangled with a bunch of counterculture lowlifes headed by Paul (Danish actor Mads Koudal), a bearded sleazebag who, along with his boss and cameraman, has taken the concept of bumfights to the next level by staging real violence and death for commercial profit -- all captured on video. Tightly constructed at less than 80 minutes and very sparing with dialogue, the film is surprisingly restrained given its subject matter (most of the brutality is unleashed in the final few minutes) and for once the whole snuff idea isn't thrown in as a titillating and ill-advised gimmick. The surprisingly solid performances ground what could have been another disposable indie, and while newcomer filmmaker GH Evans' visual style wavers a bit from scene to scene, he still achieves some striking moments of kitchen-sink trauma when it's least expected. The fully-packed disc from Unearthed comes with a ton of extras including nearly an hour of interviews with the cast and crew, a quick making-of featurette, additional featurettes devoted to the visual effects, props, dolly rig and music score, some inconsequential deleted footage, a trio of alternate takes for one dialogue scene, a still gallery, and the original trailer.

July 25, 2008
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