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Manuel Fernandes Sr.,
Jaded Carla drugs her stuck up aunt and her daughter with mind-altering aphrodisiac concocted from a rose by an ominous Pan sex cult. The women become crazed nymphos and the only way to cure them is for Carla to give herself to "Pan".
A few years before revolutionizing gay porn under the name Joe Gage, Tim Kinkaid cut his teeth on this R-rated grind-house effort, a harbinger of the soft-core turn his career would take in the '80s that's thankfully miles above dross like ROBOT HOLOCAUST.
Plot is standard-issue for an R-rated skin flick, with a group of seven young, modern women convening at the behest of a reporter to dig into what makes them tick sexually. Recruited from all walks of life (though let's be honest – largely middle-class), the women represent the usual idealized spectrum of "diverse attitudes" found in this type of film, with almost every lady having a dysfunction that the others' experiences will help solve. Included among the women are Andrea (future porn queen Jennifer Welles), who plays tease to mask her frigidity, and Gilda (future Pinky Tuscadero Roz Kelly), who scoffs at the couples ads in Screw to hide – as another group member incisively observes – her thinly veiled fascination with them. Other archetypes include the homely, virginal fat chick; the black escort; the frigid housewife; etc.
After the initial encounter, the women go their separate ways and promise to meet in a month to see how the others' stories have helped reshape their lives. Unfortunately, Kinkaid gives himself a few too many balls to juggle here, and this section ends up glib, focusing largely on the overweight lady as she wanders around spouting doggerel in voice-over and a silly interlude with Kelly, who responds to an S&M ad in Screw and spends the next several weeks tied up in some guy's house.
When the girls reconvene, we check in with a few and see how they've changed. Suspecting she may be partly to blame for her spouse's low libido, the housewife manages to seduce her husband by taking a more aggressive approach, though his post-coital moan about his improvement in workplace sales nevertheless convinces her the relationship is a goner. The hooker, while happy with her current life, has moved closer to finding something special with one of her johns, and the fat lady professes to having an excellent experience at a swinger's party, where she makes it with a pair of guys that includes a handsome young Harry Reems.
Unfortunately, this air of empathetic positivity tanks in the film's regressive final segment, where Welles tells a story about being raped by her mechanic. In typical '70s fashion, though he sneaks into her apartment and assaults her in the shower, after a mere 10 to 20 seconds she's totally into it, and violent sexual coercion again thaws the frigid ice queen, saving her from the bondage of sexual frigidity. While de rigeur for '70s skin flicks, such a scene proves especially unfortunate in FEMALE RESPONSE, which up to this point had seemed fairly earnest about empowering its female protagonists while generally avoiding this type of misogynistic nonsense.
The film ends on a curiously mixed note, with some of the women finding happiness in their new lives and others merely realizing the misery in their old ones as they take their first steps on a journey toward greater fulfillment. It's a surprisingly complex thesis – or would be, if Kincaid had the time to develop his characters to the degree necessary. Unfortunately, RESPONSE suffers from an overabundance of protagonists, which inevitably gives some short shrift. The set-up is needlessly laborious, wasting 10 minutes on the group's leader and her workplace drama before pivoting to focus on the group as a whole, with our original heroine rapidly receding into the background. Far too much time is also given over to stories that don't go anywhere or add anything to the group dynamic – one woman's story of being picked up as a hitchhiker, for example, contains a neat nude-frolic / trip-out montage, but does absolutely nothing to advance the plot line. Of greatest interest is the attention paid to the group's plus-size member, whose weight and plain appearance is never played for laughs, and who is refreshingly allowed to achieve genuine personal fulfillment by embracing herself and her sexuality. By contrast, the character of Gilda's (Kelly) exploration of the fetish community unfortunately *is* played for comedy, and the film lazily settles for placing her in a variety of silly scenarios without allowing her to make any personal discovery.
Nevertheless, despite its shaky narrative and thematic development, FEMALE RESPONSE will be of interest to Gage aficionados as a testing ground for the director's avant garde editorial tendencies, soon to be perfected in his monumental "Working Man" trilogy. Of particular note is the play with subliminal flash-edits exhibited here, along with frequent cross-cutting of the women's narratives with ironic snippets from man-on-the-street interviews conducted by the reporter. Beyond this, the piece-de-resistance is an amazing editorial trick found in the otherwise distasteful rape scene, where Kincaid impishly cuts between Welles and her assailant undressing in parallel. Given the direction his career would take – while always maintaining this air of subversive sexual fluidity – this scene should prove fascinating fodder for armchair psychologists, and helps take a little bit of the sting out of its otherwise regressive sexual politics. It's one among several standout moments in an otherwise average film – worth seeking out for completists, and still a decent enough time-waster for the everyone else.
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