OCTOBER 27, 2008

Here's a genre that's gotten no love in this column until now: the '80s teen sex comedy. Now can make up for that oversight with Hot Moves, an affable 1984 entry from the era of Hardbodies and Hot Dog... The Movie courtesy of Jim Sotos, the director of Sweet Sixteen. Though The Last American Virgin might be the official Americanization of the popular Israeli "Lemon Popsicle" films, this one could just as easily fit that description as it follows a quartet of inexperienced Venice Been teenage boys on their quest to "lose it" before summer's end. The big draw here for most cult film fans is the leading role for the most appealing scream queen of the '80s, Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, Popcorn), who always managed to elevate her material even when it was far beneath her. Utterly juvenile and containing the emotional depth of a spit cup, the film still works in its own modest way as a model of cable-friendly pitfalls with a staggering amount of T&A (and more than that in the legendary nude beach voyeurism scene, which seems to last forever). The only other real name here is Michael Zorek, a fun '80s character actor from Private School and TV's The Facts of Life who gets the most substantial male lead role here. The whole film is awash in sort of a post-Grease, new wave-meets-'50s neon hue bound to provoke nostalgic flashbacks in anyone old enough to remember A Flock of Seagulls, and if that's not enough incentive, you also get a small but, well, prominent role by another, more down-market scream queen, one-time Penthouse Pet Monique Gabrielle (before she reached immortality in Amazon Women on the Moon). While it contemporaries like, say, Mischief languish on DVD in bare-bones editions, Hot Moves gets the full-on special edition treatment from Code Red. The anamorphic transfer isn't pristine but works well enough; colors are vibrant and solid, though the whole film has a vaguely soft, gauzy look that may have been intentional. Sotos offers an entertaining commentary track along with costar Zorek, Adam Silbar, and writer Peter Foldy (where the heck is Schoelen these days, anyway?), focusing on the low budget methods needed to compete with the growing teen comedy market and how the film got a bit lost in the wave of competitors. Zorek returns for his own 13-minute video interview in which he talks more about his career in general hopping around between TV and the big screen (as well as what he's been up to since he retired), while a second video featurette has the director, Foldy and Silbar talking much more briefly about their overall experiences with the film. In typical Code Red tradition, you also get a goofy video intro to the movie itself with Zorek clowning around with the disc's moderator and Q&A'er, "Julia." Park this one in your DVD library next to Losin' It and your Pac-Man cheat manual.

And speaking of the '80s, while most movie audiences got their women-in-prison groove on with Chained Heat and Reform School Girls, discerning trashophiles in 1984 were discovering the wonders of Bad Girls' Dormitory, a particularly seedy but sometimes unexpectedly stylish offering from director Tim Kincaid (Breeders, Riot on 42nd St.), better known in porn circles as director Joe Gage. Shot in the Big Apple and upstate New York, the film follows the usual routine about a women's prison where the inmates are subjected to the perverse whims of the warden and guards until they're driven to the brink and decide to stage a breakout. They also squabble a lot in the mess hall, get a lot of conjugal visits from their boyfriends, and take long, hot, soapy showers. The Times Square opening is priceless, too, as a snapshot of the area before Disney swallowed it whole. You won't see any big names from the genre like Sybill Danning popping up, but the cast does fine with the ridiculous material; the most familiar faces are regular Kincaid actors Rick Gianasi (the lead in the mind-boggling Fatal Frames) and Jennifer Delora (who played Angel in Frankenhooker). A terrible quality edition of the film was released several years ago from Westlake and geared for the bargain bins, but the only really viewable option is Media Blasters' special edition, which features a much better anamorphic transfer. The film was obviously shot on a low budget and features some odd, rough edits in a couple of spots, but overall it looks just fine. Extras include a photo gallery, the Spanish(!) theatrical trailer, and a long, extremely lively video interview with Delora (full disclosure: I was one of the camera guys but otherwise had nothing to do with the disc), who talks about how she lost a pageant crown over the film, her memories of the film (including her nude scene and her very memorable demise), and how the rest of her fan-friendly career has gone in the ensuing years. The featurette is inventively intercut with a B&W "security cam" motif that actually adds tremendously to the enjoyment factor. Delora also appears straddling her motorcycle for a quick intro to the main feature.

If you thought The Last Dragon was made for a bunch of wusses, then check out the 1990s, zero-budget drive-in variation, Psycho Kickboxer, a long out-of-print martial arts/vigilante/neon trash cult item finally resuscitating on DVD paired up with the far more obscure Canvas of Blood, both from 1997. Real-life kickboxing champ Curtis Bush stars Alex Hunter, an up-and-coming martial artist whose life is turned upside down when his father and girlfriend are brutally slain and he's beaten within an inch of his life. With the aid of a putty-faced, crusty Vietnam vet, he becomes the Dark Angel (the film's original title), a streetfighting, kickboxing, killing machine in a black body-length disguise which enables him to fight his opponents in day-glo surroundings. Blood sprays continuously amid cardboard performances and some of the funniest straight-to-video dialogue ever recorded; you could literally yank almost any scene from this film and make a perfect answering machine message. You really, really need this one in your collection, preferable for viewing late at night with friends and suds. Far less notorious is its co-feature, a not-disguised-at-all rip-off of Rolling Thunder about a Vietnam vet whose daughter gets really bad carpal tunnel syndrome (or something...it's not really very clear) after being attacked by some thugs, so he hooks up a bunch of random sharp instruments to his stumpy arm for an ass-kicking rampage. As far as vigilante films go, this can't hold a dinky birthday candle to the main feature, but it's worth sitting through once your brain has been pulverized by the sheer awesomeness that is Curtish Bush. The Shock-o-Rama disc comes wiht both features on one disc in decent enough transfers given their direct-to-video origins, plus some great Psycho Kickboxer news spots and some extraordinarily goofy liner notes replicating a column from Alternative Cinema.

Much more recent but only barely more reputable is $lasher$, sort of a hack-and-slash cross between Battle Royale and The Running Man. This Canadian-lensed gorefest was originally made in 2001 but, sadly, still feels all too current with the wave of depressing reality shows hogging prime time airwaves. The premise is pretty simple, as a smash Japanese game show inaugurates its big Western debut in America by choosing six dopes to compete on the show, which pits them in a game of survival against a trio of over-the-top psychopaths named Chainsaw Charlie, Preacherman and Dr. Ripper. Bright colors and explosive bouts of bloodshed abound, making this amusing to look at even if the premise wears thin well by the halfway marker. The 100-minute running time feels at least 20 minutes to long, but if you throw this one on as background viewing and just pay attention whenever someone bites the dust, this can be a decent time waster. This first debuted on DVD from MTI but got a recent overhaul from Redemption, who pack the release (featuring an appropriately vivid anamorphic transfer, albeit interlaced) with a fairly amusing Chainsaw Charlie faux-interview, a hefty batch of deleted scenes including some eye-popping bonus gore, and a behind the scenes featurette that serves as an interesting primer on how to keep a film moving along with limited sets and assets. Definitely one to put on when you're craving the red stuff.

Of course, the slasher parody is still alive and kicking today, as evidenced by none other than this year's Splatter Disco, "the first slasher musical," whose title is a bit of a cheat as there's nothing even remotely resembling disco music and only a few tiny glimpses of bloodshed. Still where else are you gonna see Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree in a dance club wearing a big fuzzy animial outfit? The story revolves around a hangout called Den O' Iniquity where the patrons can indulge in any of their harmless personal quirks, including an entire musical performance of "Let's Do It" with the cast decked out as furries. (Look it up if you aren't familiar with it.) Unfortunately the mayor and his domineering mom want to shut the place down, and people start dying in the process. Though it features spanking, hangings, and knifings, not to mention a guy who gets his jollies by getting walked on while he's rolled up in a carpet, the film is surprisingly chipper and colorful, with a bouncy attitude and sense of fun that sets it apart from most DV-shot horror films. It's also superior to anything Troma's done in eons, an apt statement considering several former Troma performers pop up here including Debbie Rochon (Tromeo & Juliet) and Trent Haaga (Terror Firmer). You also get a small but memorable role for Lynn Lowry, thankfully back on the screen again after her glory days of The Crazies and Score. Director Richard Griffin (Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon) makes a huge leap forward in terms of visual skill here, handling elaborate musical sequences and stalking scenes alike with skill. The DVD features a solid 16x9 transfer that looks as good as standard digital video possibly can, along with "Inciting Joy" (a fun behind-the-scenes featurette with the filmmakers and cast), an audio commentary with Griffin, Lowry and other cast members wandering in and out, and some quick alternate versions of the "Let's Do It" number and one suspense sequence.

In a welcome return to form after their badly censored Grindhouse Trash Part 3, Secret Key delivers the seedy goods with the series' unofficial fourth entry, Swinging in the '70s: Grindhouse Triple Feature, which actually shapes up as arguably the most enjoyable entry of them all. This time out, the focus is entirely on the wife-swapping phenomenon which turned into a full-blown media fixation in the '70s, long after exploitation filmmakers like Joe Sarno had introduced it to discerning fleapit viewers. All three films are very obscure and date from the early '70s, kicking off with Keep Them Happy at Home (shortened to simply Keep Them Happy on the title card), a no-star piece of softcore fluff about three enterprising wives who decide the only way to deal with their away-on-business husbands is to rent themselves out to the randy local working men, including the requisite dirty joke bits with a plumber and milkman. Packed with skin and nowhere close to hardcore, it's amusing, fast as a bullet, and paves the way for the more explicit features to come. Which brings us to the slightly later Harvey Swings, the most familiar title here thanks to its earlier availability from Something Weird as a Double Softies co-feature with Panty Party. This odd goof-fest revolves around two couples, a pair of doofy would-be swingers answering an ad in the paper and the more experienced husband and wife awaiting them. Oh, and then there's the ridiculous gay stereotype butler, who inexlicably goes straight later in the film, along with some lesbian encounters and a comedic failed wrist-slashing(!). The most famous faces here are easily the ubiquitous Suzanne Fields (Flesh Gordon), who's already merited a DVD collection of her own, and short-lived softcore leading schlub Jeff Roberts (Weekend Convention). The best is easily saved for last with Your Wife or Mine?, a funny and genuinely scorching softcore romp featuring an eye-spinning cast of West Coast regulars. Things kick off with the always dynamic Cleo O'Hara (from the series' previous DVD high point, Star!) getting revenge on her cheating hubby by going out and banging the guy next door, in this case played by busy goofball Keith Erickson. Meanwhile Cleo's hubby Sheldon is off introducing a new couple to swinging by, uh, having a self-abuse contest with the husband and telling the shocking neophyte wife to join them, in what looks an awful lot like a dry run for Radley Metzger's Score. Then some blond surfer guy and his petite spouse join the scene with the aid of - who else? - Rene Bond and Ric Lutze, followed by the entire cast getting together for an orgy (mostly offscreen). You've really gotta wonder how many more of these undiscovered, grime-encrused jewels are lying around in basements and vacated movie theaters around the country, eh? Transfer quality on all three titles is better than average with a minimum of print damage, and the anamorphic framing actually looks about right. The two-disc set comes with the usual trailer reel and a lengthy booklet of liner notes including some nifty newspaper ads.

From the somewhat naughty to the downright perverted we now go to the next entry in After Hours' Grindhouse Directors Series, this time dedicated to the mysterious Eduardo Cemano who appeared at the advent of XXX cinema and then disappeared. This set doesn't bear a consistent title on the packaging but has been promoted as The Weirdos and the Oddballs Collection on the promos and menu screens, so let's just settle for that. This one's fascinating for way more than its smut value, as both films are interesting, semi-experimental slices of New York exploitation featuring some prominent names in their salad days, and the extras contain some great interviews with the participants who place it all in context. First up is Millie's Homecoming, a retitling of 1971's Lady Zazu's Daughter, a perverse little drawing room number about an upper crust New York couple, the Zazus, who take turns diddling their maid (played by Tina Russell) and eventually initiating their newly returned daughter, Millie (Angel Spirit), into their bohemian lifestyle. The main couple is played by Deep Throat's Dolly Sharp and, in a rare lead role, still-active hardcore director Fred Lincoln, best known as Weasel in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. Cemano shows a deft hand with both dialogue and smut as well as an ability to come up with unique camerawork on a two-dollar budget, which serves him well in the superior follow-up film, The Weirdos and the Oddballs, a retitling of Zora Knows Best. A flat-out '30-style screwball comedy, this one features most of the same cast with Reed and Lincoln returning as a kinky couple who sit around rubbing themselves while talking about this great new ad they took out for, ahem, couples therapy, with Harry Reems and his girlfriend turning up to participate. More unsuspecting innocents arrive and are promptly inducting into a world of nekkid dancing and wild partying as Reed spins everyone around in a carnal carousel. This one still predates Deep Throat by at least a year, but it's already a more accomplished and witty film than its more famous successor. Michael J. Bowen's informative liner notes explain that both films got considerable play on both coasts and were part of a deal under none other than drive-in legend Doris Wishman, who herself would go on to lens a couple of raincoaters under a pseudonym. The notes also reveal that, after a handful of additional films, Cemano bowed out of the industry and became a commercial illustrator, though he returns to the scene of the crime for this triple-disc set to talk about his work in no less than two new video interviews, plus an additional archival interview from the cable access show Midnight Blue. If that's not enough, you also get new video chats with Angel Spirit and Fred Lincoln (who's already familiar from his appearances on those special editions from Last House), who talk about their careers with a lot fo enthusiasm and candor, plus a slew of bonus loopers featuring Spirit, Reems, Russell, and Sharp. Disc three also includes a "sample West Coast one-day wonder," a far less artful, untitled quickie evidently included to beef up the extra interview footage. In any case, you get way more than your money's worth with this one.

So, back to Rene Bond again. She's also the inaugural star of After Hours' Grindhouse Hotties series, courtesy of a "roughie" triple feature which varies wildly in degrees of explicitness. Up first is the most familiar title of the bunch, 1971's Rendezvous in Hell, one of her earliest unsimulated adult films and a favorite among the collector crowd. Apparently started as a softcore film but ratched up somewhere along the way, it's an atrociously filmed but oddly endearing crime drama about a bunch of robbers who gun down a gas station attendant while their switch-hitting girlfriends pretty much mount anything they can find. Lots of double crossings, stabbings, and shootings ensue in between shots of Rene and company going to town on each other. This title has circulated for a while, most widely in a Dragon Art Theatre double-bill from Something Weird, and this transfer, while taken from an obviously battered print, is far more watchable than the muddy messes we've had before. On the other hand, the blatantly unauthorized music (which cribs from Hair, among others) has been replaced here with legally sanctioned stock music, so you might want to hold on to older copies if that kind of thing is important (or at least highly amusing). Then narrative goes mostly out the window with the following year's The Partnership, made after Rene's obvious boob job courtesy of Harry Novak. The "roughie" designation is a stretch here, as the setup is some nonsense about a couple of con artists swindling each other and retailating by sleeping with each other's significant others. Rene and Ric are back again, with Rick Cassidy joining the fun as the film repeatedly cuts back and forth between the various couplings. Last up is the most obscure and interesting title of the bunch, The Heist, which opens with a pre-silicone Rene as a hooker counting money and getting it on with none other than an uncredited Jason Yukon, the musician and lead actor from Harry Novak's The Godson (who, until now, only had one other hardcore title to his credit, the much more perverse Sex As You Like It), here playing a john who's swiped some money from the mob. Their coitus is interruptus courtesy of some goons who burst in and demand their cash within a week, with the services of Rene and one of her coworkers as immediate interest. Jason decides to raise the cash fast by shooting a porn film and finds a curvy cutie to be his costar, leading to a surprisingly clever twist ending. Lots of fun, sexy without going overboard into surgical close-ups, and packed with great shots of our lead wandering the '70s city streets, this is one of the company's worthiest finds to date. All three films are presented in anamorphic transfers, and the aforementioned musical replacements are handled well enough (considering it would cost eight hundred times more than any possible profit to clear the pirated original soundtracks). The double-disc set also contains the usual trailers, a liner notes booklet, and most amusingly, a foldout mini-poster replicating the eye-catching, kittenish cover art.

One of the more unlikely filmmakers revived through the magic of DVD is John Lamb. Who's that, you may ask? Well, this enterprising photogapher and filmmaker never really made much of a name for himself as a visual stylist, but he quietly punctured quite a few taboos with his handful of films, ranging from 1965's The Raw Ones (the first nudist camp movie to show "the full monty") to the next year's Mondo Keyhole (the first movie to send patrons scrambling to a sanitarium) and finally to the two films under consideration here, a double feature of 1970's Sexual Freedom in Denmark and 1971's Sexual Liberty Now. Lamb's earlier fare has already been celebrated via a pair of not terribly well-publicized box sets from VCI, and now After Hours steps up to the plate with a set that -- "in full color" -- "rips aside the curtain of Victorian prudery and openly explores the amazing experiment in Denmark -- where there is no adult censorship. Filmed around the world two years in production at last comes the most important statement on human sexuality of our times." Yes, these are the two infamous how-to sex manual films that managed to swerve around censorship guidelines by using on-camera sex in an instructional, "safe" documentary format, which of course was really fooling no one. So what you get here from Mr. Lamb (under the name "M.C. von Hellen") is lots of narration and peculiar interview footage, usually involving naked "Danish" girls (who come off more like aspiring L.A. models) sitting around naked talking about how happy and free they are. Most of the first film is pretty tame stuff, covering such topics as strip clubs, sex shops, and beauty pageants, before suddenly swerving into less than arousing territory like venereal diseases and on-camera childbirth, with Suzanne Fields and Uschi Digard popping up for sex position demonstrations. The fim made a boatload of money, so Lamb's second outing ratcheted up the titillation value by dedicating an entire film to the rising forces of sexual freedom being oppressed by nasty prudes in the U.S.A. (gosh, thankfully that's all way behind us). Infamous anti-porn advocate-turned-swindler-and-jailbird Charles Keating kicks things off on an appropriately hysterical note, followed by some tumescent footage of John Holmes and lots of coupling from various couplings, some simulating and others not, with lots of very serious, urgent voiceover intoning the importance of freeing ourselves from the shackles of prurience. The double-disc set comes with both features in very attractive full frame transfers on disc one, a rather expendable 16x9 enhanced version of the first film on disc two (basically just matted off, which you can do anyway with a "zoom" function on a widescreen TV), and a liner notes booklet by the always interesting Michael J. Bowen. As the poster itself explains, "Here is a staggering undertaking in a deep search for human happiness that will tear asunder puritanical hypocrisy." You betcha.

Another 1970s sexploitation double feature that doesn't fare quite so well on DVD is the Burbank International release of Between the Covers and Swinging Wives, a pair of German sex comedies by way of Schoolgirl Report-style reporting. The gist here is that all those sweater-wearing freuleins and hausfraus are really just craving sex all day long, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever watched a cable channel after 10pm. The whole "report" format with a documentarian interviewing women on the street is largely disposable here, with both films offering a string of mildly sexy skits. The first film, one of the more obscure of its ilk, has a strange, not-very-tantalizing hook in the form of a shapely businesswoman named Nina involved in a magazine subscription sales meeting where all the men recount the stories of the hard, hard work they had to go through for each sale. You can fill in the blanks from there. The far more widely seen second feature (which was omnipresent on VHS thanks to its unforgettable sweater-lifting poster art and hot, hot, hot Gert Wilden sountrack) is average late night fare as "man on the street" interviews with married women reveal all the filthy stuff they get up to when their husbands are away from home and failing to attend to their needs. Both films are horrendously dubbed with extremely poor audio fidelity here, but even worse, the films (which appear to have been lensed somewhere around 1.66:1) have been taken from obviously cropped one-inch tape masters which have then been further masked off to create fake 16x9 versions, which means big slices of picture information (including much of the credits and, in many scenes, the top halves of the actors' heads as well as some T&A footage) is completley cropped offscreen. Not an optimum presentation by any means, but if you're a German sex comedy completist, it may still be worth the investment just for the rarity of Between the Covers if you can find it for a decent price.

If these past few films have way too much plot for you to handle, then perhaps you're ready for another entry in the surprisingly resilient Busty Stags series. 8mm Madness Volume Six: Beyond the Busty Stags. The title and the cover come-on ("Authentic American 8mm Nudie Loops!") say it all, really, but for the record, this one features 42nd Street Pete sidling up to his little white 8mm projector for another two-disc round of filthy but oddly naive debauchery, with a string of anonymous cuties strutting around and showing off. This one adds a new wrinkle to the formula by introducing some kinkier elements to the mix, namely wrestling, some very light S&M, cat fighting, foot fetishism, mild girl-on-girl activity, and... well, you get the idea. Some of the titles include "Battle of the Burlesque Queens" (how could you not love that?), "Alice's Sofa," "Switcheroo," "Blonde on Both Ends" (!), "Santa" (with Saint Nick bringing a bag of lingerie to a house of models and getting attacked for his trouble), and a batch of bonus shorts like "7 Ways to Love" and "Nudist Desert Safari." As usual the anamorphic widescreen framing looks a bit weird sometimes considering how 8mm is intended to be shown, but for a light, breezy, and slightly naughty diversion, this should do the trick. Bonus points for the goofy astronaut-themed packaging and lascivious liner notes.

Bringing the "thrill killers on the loose" subgenre to all-new budgetary depths, the shot-on-camcorder Killers by Nature to date marks the sole directorial effort of Eric Spudic, a horror fan who wrote the scripts for such straight-to-video cheapies as Aquanoids, Creepies and Deadly Culture while occasionally popping up on-camera in more high-profile projects like The Undertow and Savage Harvest 2. His script here actually ain't bad as two put-upon, low-rent buddies, Jeffrey Mordrid (played by Spudic, natch, who kicks off his role by abusing himself in front of a computer screen) and Cory (Jason Contini), sit around getting drunk and rattling off all the people who picked on them in high school. As a gag they decide to pose as homicidal maniacs to terrorize their tormenters, but soon things spiral out of control when a real murder turns them into something more closely resembling the real thing. The film strives for shock value with some prolonged violent scenes (sometimes played for laughs) and even a toilet scene that goes right for the gag reflex, which means you won't get bored even if the overall execution falls down in the end due to some really sloppy camerawork (a light meter really would've done wonders) and, you know, an overall lack of funds. Still, it's worth checking out as a lively entry in the always curious DIY horror scene. Sub Rosa's DVD comes with a Spudic audio commentary (in which he doesn't seem embarassed by the absurd amounts of horror movie posters and T-shirts cluttering up the screen through the entire 70 minutes), a stills gallery, trailers, two bonus videos, and most inventively, a drinking game that will leave even the hardiest wino hammered by the end credits.

Wow, did I just get through an entire Sick Picks without a single mention of Misty Mundae? Aw, dammit...

August 7, 2008
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May 31, 2008 (Aussie Special)
February 19, 2008
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