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Erwin C. Dietrich
His worldwide production career spanning half a century and highlighted by his late '60s collaborations with Jess Franco, the late Harry Alan Towers certainly knew the sideways and by-ways of international movie-making. This presumably accounts for his brief affiliation some decade and a half down the line with skin mag pioneer Playboy which resulted in half a dozen features tailor-made for their fledgling cable channel and released theatrically in various European countries. A war horse in the world of publishing, Playboy has occasionally strayed into film-funding since the dawn of the '70s with projects as singularly diverse as Roman Polanski's MACBETH and Donald Driver's THE NAKED APE, primarily remembered today for its Victoria Principal nude scenes. Harry was never a prude when it came to unveiling the physical charms of his leading ladies (often his stunning spouse Maria Rohm), making this union of man and corporation seem like a match made in heaven. Following a few well-received costume capers like BLACK VENUS and LADY LIBERTINE, both parties decided to up the ante and coax one of Playboy's personal projects to glorious cinematic fruition.
The Christina series of paperbacks had been a license to print money for the company since it kicked off with Christina's Quest in 1976. Routinely attributed to allegedly female author "Blakely St. James" but actually the work of a variety of pseudonymous penmen including M*A*S*H writer William E. Butterworth and science fiction sensation Charles Platt, the novels told the ongoing adventures of jet set heiress Christina Van Bell, deeply immersed in international intrigue while bedding every man not to mention an occasional woman who crosses her path. With titles ranging from Christina's Hunger to Rapture, Surrender, Torment, Ecstasy, Obsession and what have you, the sexually sophisticated saga eventually ground to a halt hitting its 50th installment ! Blatantly derivative of the European Emmanuelle cycle, not so much the books as their screen adaptations (Joe D'Amato's BLACK EMANUELLE spin-off series in particular), the character's outrageous ordeals should by all accounts have inspired a similarly successful run.
Harry had been savvy enough to entrust the reins on previous Playboy productions to filmmakers who had honed their craft in the cost-effective environment of hardcore pornography, allowing a career rehabilitation of sorts for the likes of Claude Mulot (a/k/a "Frédéric Lansac") and Gérard Kikoïne. Spain putting up part of the production capital meant he had to settle for a Spanish director and Franco was no longer taking his calls. As befits a Catholic country, Spain had been slow in relaxing its censorship laws but did possess a flourishing simulated sex industry. Already a seasoned mainstay within those circles, Francisco Lara Polop (a/k/a "Paco Lara") had done second unit on Franco's Red Lips duet (KISS ME MONSTER & SADISTEROTICA) prior to making his maiden voyage with the effective Gothic chiller MANIAC MANSION in 1972. Most of his further forays, with self-explanatory titles like BEDROOM SECRETS and NATIONAL ADULTERY, fell squarely into sexploitation territory however. A filmmaker most comfortable within well-worn templates, he proved way out of his depth on a venture that was not only supposed to have wall to wall skin but several ambitiously intricate action set pieces to boot. These turn out to be some of the funniest ever captured on film out of sheer ineptitude.
Bad movie lovers should have a field day with this one, no small thanks to Towers's outrageously over the top screenplay (attributed to his author alter ego "Peter Welbeck") subjecting the hot pants heroine to not one but two successive kidnappings ! First by a band of lascivious lesbian terrorists in matching outfits calling themselves, for reasons never clarified, the 10th of November group (headed by an unflatteringly photographed Karin Schubert, remaining fully clothed even though only a year away from doing the dirty for real in Andrea Bianchi's MORBOSAMENTE VOSTRA). Believing a band of fishermen to come to her rescue, Christina's snatched anew by suave smuggler slash gourmet chef Alain, smugly portrayed by dashing Emilio Linder from Franco's LILIAN THE PERVERTED VIRGIN whose subsequent stardom in telenovela territory probably means he would rather not be reminded of his humble beginnings. Dialog is some of the most innuendo-laden this side of a phone sex conversation and qualifies as ludicrous throughout. Sex scenes, while frequent and fairly graphic, don't fare much better. Christina's recourse to fantasy of being stimulated by disembodied gloved hands wielding toy cars across her exposed curves whenever experiencing intense physical pleasure has rightfully achieved instant classic status among trash flick fans for all the wrong reasons ! Camera work by veteran DoP Alejandro Ulloa, who graduated from Spaghetti westerns to Paul Naschy's surprisingly solid NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF and Lucio Fulci's oddly compelling "erotic thriller" THE DEVIL'S HONEY, stays well within Playboy's prudish parameters by shooting sex in blinding back-light or otherwise shrouding it in shadows.
Leaving the ladies. B-girl Jewel Sheppard built up a loyal fan-base playing the quintessential Valley girl Crystal Landers on Chuck Vincent's cable favorite Hollywood HOT TUBS, leading to her taking center stage in its inferior 1990 sequel. An okay actress at the best of times, she does about as well as can be reasonably expected playing this wildly implausible playgirl of the Western world, able to turn any precarious situation to her sexual advantage. Former Miss Bahamas Josephine Jacqueline Jones had cut an impressive figure essaying the title role in BLACK VENUS but is reduced to ridicule here as Schubert's hot to trot henchwoman Antoinette who takes a shine to Christina. Poor girl seems to get caught in pathetically staged cat fights whenever appearing on screen ! Near constant nudity apparently could not prevent any of the threatened sequels from failing to materialize. Whether that's good or bad, I will leave entirely up to you. Personally, I could have done with another helping of this endearingly nutty nonsense.
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