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Teenage Innocence (1973)
Kill With Kindness
Shock jock Eli Roth's recent KNOCK KNOCK was ostensibly a remake slash rehabilitation of Pete Traynor's notorious 1977 DEATH GAME, the one time skeleton in the adjoining closets of cult actresses Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp, with the original's director acting as producer no less, but in all fairness it was the late adult "auteur" Chris Warfield who got there first with his 1973 directorial debut LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE. A contract player over at MGM in the studio system's twilight years, Warfield would rack up an impressive roster of '60s TV credits on shows like PERRY MASON and MY THREE SONS prior to entering the burgeoning adults only arena as a Jack of all trades, producing Bill Rotsler's mock documentary LIKE IT IS, penning Corey Allen's EROTIC ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO and donning the customary white coat to portray the sensitive shrink on Ted Roter's peekaboo case history NORMA. Founding Lima Productions to sustain soft-core's viability in the face of increasingly intimate exploits starting to hog US skin cinema screens, he finally took the reigns, resulting in this labor of love he was to write as well as direct which - barring its infrequent use of "contemporary" and therefore instantly outdated lingo - has held up surprisingly well over the four intervening decades.
Easily the most accomplished thespian in exploitation and Dave Friedman's go to guy on a sizable slew of projects that include STARLET! and TRADER HORNEE, John Alderman headlines as middle-aged composer Rick Engels whose "neato" LA pad becomes the stage for the manipulative mind games played upon him by a pair of perky hitchhikers he had unwittingly picked up earlier that day. Fancying himself as something of a Lothario, he had innocently flirted with them as he drove them up to the beach, thinking no more of it until they turn up on his doorstep refusing to leave. Charming their way inside innocuously enough, their plans are soon revealed as more sinister than their host could reasonably assess. The character referred to by film's title, toothsome blonde Judy (busy starlet Terri Johnson, billed as "Judy Medford" and a regular for Friedman and Harry Novak, here on the brink of early retirement as hardcore was closing in) shows up in Rick's bedroom only to be revealed as a virgin at the painful moment of penetration ! Prior to their coupling, there's an amusing bit of dialog with Judy playfully slapping Rick's face for his being so bold as to steal a kiss which she explains as "fulfillment" of his expectations as to how a young lady should behave under the circumstances. Clearly, the term "fulfillment" served as Warfield's thesaurus treasure as it would feature prominently in the titles of two of his early explicit endeavors FULFILLMENT and BEYOND FULFILLMENT, which he customarily signed under the alias of "Billy Thornberg".
With Judy's maidenhead a thing of the past, it's time for her older and bolder best friend Carol (cult carnal queen Sandy Dempsey who successfully straddled the fence separating simulated from real sex until her untimely death in a freak boating accident in the Gulf of Mexico in 1975) to do a number on Rick. Apparently asleep on his couch, albeit in the nude, as he stumbles from his bedroom in the wake of Judy's unanticipated deflowering, she soothes his frayed nerves at the thought of a repeat performance that "virgins are only one per customer" ! It's snappy, well-delivered dialog such as this that sustains audience interest as well as sympathy for all three characters throughout the film's brief but exceptionally employed running time. Soon Carol and Judy are either taking turns or teaming up to exhaust "poor" Rick, alienating him from both social life and professional obligations. Although Carol seems completely in control, she will ultimately prove quite unhinged as the result of having been sexually abused by several family members as a child and is now attempting revenge on all men. While this was already something of a cliché even then in overheated melodramas such as this, not to mention more than a tad moralizing, Dempsey's shattering delivery of her big shrieking speech to Judy - whose guilt pangs have brought about a change of heart - and a now nearly comatose Rick never fails to impress, especially as there was otherwise little in the actress's body of work to suggest such an ability.
Recalling Mark Haggard's prior THE LOVE GARDEN in its focus on a very small group of characters intimately interacting to supply earnest drama, Warfield's admittedly less explicit endeavor (staying well within the confines of its R rating whereas Haggard brushed dangerously close against the dreaded X) has the edge in at least two important areas. It wisely leavens its heavy-handed histrionics with snide sarcasm and production-wise it looks and sounds as good as any small scale American movie made at the time. The brightly colored and surprisingly agile camera work of the otherwise notorious Ray Dennis Steckler (whose reflection can be spotted for a split second in the shiny side of a bus driving by during the opening scene) easily surpasses all of his achievements in any capacity he has attempted over the years. Oh, and just try to get that infernally catchy theme tune out of your head after-wards, a pay the rent if properly accredited assignment for composer Richard Loring (guilty of the equally indelible "Biddle-Dee-Dee" ditty for Disney's TOBY TYLER) and lyricist Guy Hemric, a veteran of Frankie and Annette's Beach Party movies. Warfield's superior script, whipped into shape by E.E. Patchen who wrote Richard Robinson's early 'core classic ADULTERY FOR FUN & PROFIT, was dusted off for a faithful fornication flick update fifteen years down the line by future bottom of the barrel gore guru Dave DeCoteau of all people which brings this review back full circle to the Roth reference from the first paragraph.
Mommy's Little Monster
There has been no shortage of Oedipal offspring hellbent on disrupting their parents' lives in comedies of all nationalities. Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam probably handled this tricky subject matter best in his 1986 landmark farce ABEL, pulling double duty by also playing the titular thirty-pushing tyke whose refusal to vacate the homestead wreaks all sorts of increasingly surreal havoc. A huge success in the Netherlands, it firmly established the young filmmaker's reputation through festival screenings around the world, begetting the remarkably similar if decidedly more benign French film TANGUY (2001, Etienne Chatiliez) as a direct result.
Continuing the trend, as well as an intriguing directorial career that has yet to shift into high gear, is Continental art-house cinema actress Julie Delpy with what is already her sixth full length feature, also just the second of these (after her exercise in "fantastique", THE COUNTESS) not to register as a total blab-fest. Don't get me wrong, LOLO (which bears a strong if unacknowledged resemblance to the Duplass Brothers' CYRUS from a few years prior) still has characters yakking it up at regular intervals but these streams of (often scintillating) dialogue usually propel the plot forward at almost breakneck speed, making for a most enjoyable hour and a half. What surprised me most, which may qualify as a leftover from Delpy's recent dabbling in horror cinema, was just how far into darkness the director seemed prepared to take her subject matter in its final stages.
Taking a richly deserved spa holiday in scenic Biarritz with foul-mouthed best friend Ariane (the indomitable Karin Viard in fine form) in tow, forty-something fashion editor Violette (Delpy) finds herself falling unexpectedly in love with local kind-hearted divorced IT specialist Jean-René (Dany Boon) who's already planning to relocate to Paris. Although at the top of his profession, Jean still registers as the French equivalent of a redneck to Paris natives and Violette frets about whether he'll fit in with her image-obsessed crowd.
What she doesn't realize is that the greatest threat to their newfound happiness lies closer to or more accurately inside the home : her 19-year old son Eloi, affectionately known as Lolo, an endearment he definitely doesn't deserve. Portrayed by fresh French heartthrob Vincent Lacoste who became an instant star thanks to Riad Sattouf's 2009 surprise smash LES BEAUX GOSSES (a/k/a THE FRENCH KISSERS), it's easy to see how this charming viper has managed to pull the wool over his mother's eyes for so long, but once there's a man moving in on his territory (a trend that's belatedly revealed as having started with his proper dad) the fangs come out. The pestering starts out innocently enough, the brat pouring itching powder on Jean's clothes (leading to a ridiculously thorough medical exam when Violette suspects he might have what was once euphemistically called a social disease), but soon increases to epic proportions.
This kind of character-based comedy can fall flat on its face without the right actors to carry it. Fortunately, the casting is practically flawless down to the smallest parts, such as the priceless Nicolas Wanczycki (from TV's THE RETURNED) as an unintentionally droll doctor in the hospital emergency room. Delpy can do neurotic as well as Diane Keaton, minus the mannerisms which sometimes mar the latter's artistic achievements, though another director could have conceivably prevented her from the occasional spot of overacting. Audience favorite Dany Boon (who broke all local box office records with BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH'TIS) might seem like an odd choice to pair up with the highbrow Delpy but his work in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's underrated MICMACS A TIRE-LARIGOT already showed the actor was capable of far more subtlety than his endless string of rowdy crowd-pleasers suggested. His casting actually proves a shrewd move on Delpy's part, an insidious tactic to draw in the punters who usually stay away in droves from her movies.
Visually way more refined than your average point and shoot French farce, courtesy of the venerable Thierry Arbogast (who photographed most of Luc Besson's stuff), LOLO further ups the ante with an eclectic series of soundtrack selections. These range from Andy Williams's irresistible toe-tapper Music to Watch Girls Go By (playing over terrific animated opening credits) to Max Steiner's syrupy Theme from A Summer Place and Etta James belting out Plum Nuts over the end scroll.
Rings of Passion (1973)
If You Like It Then You Should Have Put a Ring on It
A few choice ingredients, such as its foxy female cast and their infectious enthusiasm for all matters intimate, effectively elevate this modest one or two day wonder above the murky masses of early '70s storefront programmers. While there's little chance of ever finding out the real identity of credited producer/director "Willie Creps", it must be said that he meets his demographic's demands with a happy go lucky hippie disposition and as much style as his meager means allowed for. Viewers who value honest eroticism over lavish production should applaud the effort.
An irresistibly tacky marching band rendition of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da accompanies the opening shot of three pairs of shapely ladies' legs as longtime BFF's Clair, Julie and Monica bemoan their lacking love lives with husbands and/or boyfriends. Presumably plucked from the same album, many more Beatles tunes (Hey Jude, Penny Lane, Fool on the Hill, etc.) will suffer the same fate before this flick's over. The set-up, as hackneyed as it is, provides a convenient framework for nearly non-stop nookie. The brief running time of barely over an hour assures things never reach the brink of boredom.
Credits are riddled with silly aliases for all concerned but Nina Fause, Sharon Thorpe and Laura Bourbon star as the love-starved trio who compensate their frustration with copious shopping sprees. Hitched to white collar workaholic Phil (Tyler "Horne" Reynolds), Clair's played by beautiful blonde Fause, the superstar that never happened. Although she started out working for Anthony Spinelli (on DIARY OF A BED and SEX IN THE COMICS), she shot herself in the foot by signing up for a slew of Carlos Tobalina stinkers like JUNGLE BLUE and THE ULTIMATE PLEASURE, with their collaboration on MARILYN AND THE SENATOR (by far his most ambitious endeavor) a comparative bright spot. This was Tyler's breakout from orgy extra duties on Lowell Pickett's COZY COOL and the Mitchell Brothers classics BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR and RESURRECTION OF EVE. Trademark mutton chops already in place, he generates a tender chemistry with Fause in their wedded bliss flashback.
Bountiful brunette Laura Bourbon (prominently featured in Bob Chinn's LOVE SLAVES and Fred Sand's underrated CEREMONY) has an entirely different problem as swinging single Monica, anguished over her inability to accommodate boyfriend John a/k/a His Hugeness Himself, John Holmes. Thank goodness the hard-up Clair steps in to save the day as well as the King from blue balls in an all time barn-burner. Though you would be forgiven for thinking the film's title was chosen at random, it actually refers to Holmes' use of a most peculiar marital aid (of little use to all but the most ridiculously endowed...), a set of brass rings placed upon his manhood to avoid injury of his partners by thrusting it in too deep too soon ! Monica's more evenly matched with cute Jewish guy David (one shot Larry Games), so impressed by their believably passionate lovemaking that he promptly pops the question.
Taking top acting honors in what may well have been her very first film appearance, cult favorite Sharon Thorpe demonstrates her ability to transform a sow's ear into a silk purse as catty catalyst Julie. Taking full advantage of Clair's curiosity, she recounts a same-sex experiment from her college days. Filling the special guest star slot is the always welcome Clair Dia as adventurous coed Marcy, casually violating Thorpe with a double dildo on the water bed. Seeing how her limp-wristed spouse Pete (Peter Hand, another single shot) has been something of a stranger in their bedroom of late, Julie puts the moves on Clair, leading to the musical beds conclusion with a couple of twists, both real and imagined, indicative of a certain degree of ingenuity on the maker's part.
Although obviously low rent, the movie never insults its audience with anything slipshod. The soundtrack's a bit of an acquired taste, agreed, and even so might still bring the crimson glow of shame to the cheeks of those that have actually acquired it, but its very inappropriateness provides a constant source of chuckles. Cinematography by one Ron Helms (Wertheim ?) is crisp and clear and always in focus, with tons of extreme close-ups which always seemed far more numerous in cheap 'n cheerful quickies such as these than their big budget brethren. The sole creative contributor who can be positively identified is editor "Sidney Knight" a/k/a Simon Nuchtern, who passed porn on his way from sexploitation (THE GIRL GRABBERS) to semi-respectability (the 3D slasher SILENT MADNESS) with the dark and brooding THE DEBAUCHERS and THE MORNING AFTER as results. So maybe he's the man ultimately responsible for this sweet little sleeper.
Aunt Peg (1980)
Contrary to most of her peers, for the late Juliet Anderson (who passed away in the early days of 2010, aged 71) the choice to bare all for the benefit of adult cinema audiences arrived late in life, when she possessed both the maturity and the levelheadedness for this to be a conscious decision rather than a dire predicament. Already pushing 40 when Alex De Renzy cast her opposite John Leslie in 1978's PRETTY PEACHES, she would gain everlasting notoriety as perpetually horny movie producer Peggy "Aunt Peg" Norton, an unusually assertive - occasionally bordering on outright aggressive - female character for porn at the time. Created from scratch by the actress herself for a handful of Ted Gorley's Swedish Erotica loops, the role proved so successful that Anderson would frequently find herself billed or at least referenced as her fictional alter ego even on movies where her part couldn't be further removed from Aunt Peg's take charge persona. Apart from John Holmes and his Johnny Wadd character, this appears to have been the only occasion where an adult performer and his/her most popular part have become inextricably linked and/or confused in audience's minds. Who knows, had Bambi "Debbie" Woods and Carol "Candy" Connors produced more prolific careers, they might have joined the fray.
Peg's popularity on the 8mm home movie market assured that she was about to move up in the world by headlining in her own eponymous erotic epic. Directed with efficiency rather than enthusiasm by Anthony Spinelli (a/k/a the late Sam Weston, né Samuel Weinstein), for whom this proved a mere pay the rent job rather than a labor of love as evidenced by the belated return to his low budget "Wes Brown" alias in the wake of his higher profile projects such as EASY and SEX WORLD, the movie marked the fortuitous meeting of artist and actress. In fact, Anderson would deliver several of her finest performances for him in TALK DIRTY TO ME, VISTA VALLEY PTA and DIXIE RAY. Although AUNT PEG barely boasts Spinelli's fortitude as a filmmaker, it still gets the job done by delivering in spades what fans had come to expect, i.e. lots of juicy Juliet sex scenes. If it seems like she's in every single one, that's because the few in which she does not participate are inter-cut with scenes where she does. Either way, she's definitely the flick's MVP if not its biggest name star in a cast that includes the likes of Holmes, Seka and Serena.
Considering its arrival at the pinnacle of porn's Golden Age, it's somewhat disappointing that they didn't beef up the plot beyond the set-ups of Aunt Peg's aforementioned loop appearances. A big shot Hollywood producer, she can always be persuaded to take a break from her busy schedule to intimately interview aspiring acting talent or release the tension that comes with the professional territory by cavorting with a present production assistant. Such is the good fortune of a very youthful Mike Horner, still several years away from becoming one of the industry's most appreciated character actors, who plugs Peg from a number of interesting angles as Prima Donna matinée idol Holmes attempts to insert his soggy self into the accommodating rear end of fly by night Swedish Erotica starlet Donna Hart, who made a rare feature film appearance in Eddy DeWitt's patchwork quilt THE VELVET EDGE. As with Radley Metzger's far superior MARASCHINO CHERRY, the hardened professional is forced to downplay her decadent daily routine when her relative from the sticks (in this case Sharon Kane's cousin Sheila from Michigan) blows into town. Chomping at the bit to cross the threshold into wanton womanhood, Sheila had spied on dad Michael Morrison making it with Peg on his vibrating chair (hotter than it sounds) and so figured that she would make an ideal tour guide on the road to depravity. Unfortunately, Kane doesn't hit California until film's end and is promptly ravished by Auntie in the back of her Limo in a queasy encounter that puts way too much emphasis on Sheila's allegedly being under-aged. While this cliffhanger ending may have raised audience expectations for a follow-through, these were to be squashed by Spinelli's disparagingly slapdash sequel AUNT PEG'S FULFILMENT which managed to lay waste to this golden opportunity.
Sexually solid for the majority of its carnal content, the movie really shines in a trio of female-dominated threesomes with Anderson always galvanizing the sturdy efforts by some of the brightest stars in the fornication film field. Peg entertains visiting Italian director Franco Frenorelli (Jamie Gillis camping up the accent to mildly groan-inducing effect) by inviting him to sample the wares of superstar Seka who's being considered for the part of "Sweet Alice", a character the performer was to resume many times for Swedish Erotica short subjects which were subsequently spliced into the Joe "Adele Robbins" Robertson feature film of the same name. Raising the temperature considerably, secretary Serena (looking particularly pretty here) joins her employer in auditioning male talent Mike Ranger, but both scenes are undeniably bested by posh bistro waiter Billy Dee (sporting a bigger afro than usual) pleasing Peg and gal pal Holly McCall, who would go on to win an acting award for Spinelli's NOTHING TO HIDE, in his empty restaurant on a rainy afternoon. Just watching these two turned-on firecrackers fighting each other over Dee's deliciously tinted trouser snake could prove too much to handle for some viewers. It also provides a welcome reminder that Spinelli was indeed a dab hand at generating genuine eroticism, a fact too frequently glossed over when focusing on his more thoroughly plotted pictures of the '80s. In the absence of almost anything but sex, an ingredient he had effectively relied on in his more budget-conscious days and would in fact be forced to return to in the upcoming video era, he shows fledgling fornication filmmakers how it's done with a minimum of fuss.
Legends of Porn (1987)
Backward Glances (But Bring Your Own Baggage)
Legends is right but, save for a few notable exceptions, this grab bag collection hardly represents any one of them at their glowing best. Perhaps so as not to infringe on his lucrative ONLY THE BEST line of classic sex scene compilations, the late carnal critic yet to turn fornication filmmaker Jim Holliday attempts to shift the focus from quality erotica to the personalities of the performers instead. With the exploits of over fifty name brand amorous artistes covered in just under two hours, he merely manages to skim the surface. As a result, this compendium of lewd behavior works better as a refresher course for the initiated rather than as a starting point for novices whose mind will be reeling from digesting the vast amount of tidbits and trivia Holliday casually tosses about.
Correctly kicking off with a lingering look at the classic era's King and Queen, John Holmes and Marilyn Chambers in their climactic confrontation from Stu Segal's INSATIABLE, Holliday cheerfully rampages through a long list of lust luminaries that should ring at least an occasional bell with longtime adult aficionados. Just about anyone the moderately well-taught wanton could think of is present and accounted for if not always in clips that represent them at the top of their game. Fans pining for elusive Susan Jensen (a/k/a "Constance Money") lured in by the star's "previously unseen footage" advertising come-on should take particular offense to the washed out snippet of a lethargic loop she did with some bushy-haired bozo, taken from a badly deteriorated VHS source. Thankfully, this remains the sole inclusion to scream "rip-off" at the top of its lungs.
Both Georgina Spelvin and Sharon Thorpe are introduced through excerpts from Gary Graver's stupendous 3 AM to highlight their thespian as well as sexual prowess. This particular director's body of work provides a rich vein of solid gold nuggets with V - THE HOT ONE (Annette Haven with Paul Thomas plus a bowdlerized rendition of Kristine Heller, Desiree West and Sandi Pinney piling up on Radio Ray Wells), HOT RACKETS (Cris Cassidy's greenhouse grope with Jon Martin and the Sapphic massage Candida Royalle receives from Laurien Dominique) and THE ECSTASY GIRLS (Jamie Gillis's classic threesome with Nancy Suiter and Stacy Evans) also mined extensively. All of this qualifies as undeniably good stuff and the familiarity of the material will undoubtedly lull the average adult film fan into a sense of security that'll prove patently phony soon enough.
Never one to suffer fools gladly, Holliday pulls out the rug from under the self-congratulatory "instant experts" he fought battle with all his life. Fragments turn (way) more obscure as he gleefully "fails" to mention the movies they came from more often than not. One of the more elaborate sequences serves as an introduction to all time fan favorites C.J. Laing and Terri Hall, emphasizing comedy over carnality as both ladies have it off with dimwitted papa bear Jeff Hurst and, making his East Coast debut as per Holliday's helpful yet maddeningly incomplete info, a dapper John Leslie in full bus driver uniform. A quick glance on disreputable sibling site IAFd reveals the scene's origins as stemming from Bob Chinn's silly but serviceable TV send-up THE HONEYMOONERS.
While I have long chosen to remain staunchly uncritical of Holliday's MO in dealing with dirty movie devotees and fellow smut scribes alike, I must distance myself in retrospect (hindsight being 20/20 as we all know...) from his tactics of littering his otherwise insightful reviews with carefully hidden booby traps designed to trip up the ignoramus intent on riding his coat tails by mindlessly copying his extensive research. Bear in mind however that Holliday conducted his background checks back in the day before the Internet made such endeavors A LOT easier and he sure as hell didn't want to do anyone's dirty work for them. It has always been my motto to share the wealth by putting whatever piece of the historical hardcore jigsaw I managed to uncover on display for the whole world to see, overriding my own ego in an effort to complete the picture for posterity's sake. Jimmy was Top Dog to us all and would never let us dare forget about it. His great efforts have laid the ground work for all of us, scholars and sociologists alike. Too bad he had so little faith invested in those he sought to tutor...
Dark Dreams (1971)
Better the Devil You Know
While certainly interesting from a historical perspective as one of few ambitious precursors (along with the Amero Brothers' BACCHANALE) to porn's 1972 breakout hit DEEP THROAT, the four and a half intervening decades have not been kind to DARK DREAMS' indigestible mishmash of free-form narrative and experimental filmmaking techniques straight out of '60s underground cinema. Something of a labor of love for mysterious husband and wife team Roger Guermantes and Canidia Ference (revealed by Harry Reems as coming from a background in glossy commercials for screens both large and small), it seeks to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear but succeeds only in obliterating the erotic energy of an early "name" cast through skewed camera angles and excessive editing which never allows the momentum of any sexual set-up to build. Included as part of Alpha Blue Archives' Satanic Sickies box set (though barely qualifying), the movie suggests writer Ference took a crash course in witchcraft slash devil worship (Anton LaVey for dummies ?), hence the brief historical overview related via voice-over narration (by the kindly old hag, rather well-played by one Patrice De Veur) before sparse credits roll.
A genuinely haunting theme song ("Travel Bye" sung by Bill Dean, presumably not the obscure '60s crooner who scored a modest hit with "Secret Crush") accompanies newlyweds Jack and Jill (Reems and Tina Russell) as they embark on their honeymoon along a deserted country road. He tries to get fresh with her while driving but she wants him to hold back until they reach the hotel which (incredibly) leads to his wondering whether she'll be worth the wait ! Anyway, their car has a flat tire and without a payphone in sight they find refuge at the palatial home (in fact, a magnificent Connecticut mansion once owned by Charlie Chaplin's sister) of aforementioned alchemist. Ever the gracious hostess, albeit with a hidden agenda, she offers them tea while they wait for help to arrive which is when all hell breaks loose. So far, the film has put nary a foot wrong, boasting fairly decent cinematography by Czech ex-pat Werner Hlinka (who shot Anton Holden's sturdy sexploiter TEENAGE TRAMP) while paying lip service to one of horror cinema's most hackneyed set-ups just a few short years away from receiving its definitive lampooning in Richard O'Brien's creme de cult ROCKY HORROR (eventually PICTURE) SHOW.
It's only when the sorceress's spectacles come off and she magically morphs into the younger but strangely similar (kudos to casting) Suzy Mann, a fly by night starlet also in Roberta Findlay's ALTAR OF LUST, that the film falls literally and irredeemably flat. Subscribing to the Eduardo Cemano school of screen sex, incorporating but a wisp of graphic footage to assure audiences that the action is "real", is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Fragmenting the fornication footage through constant cutting away to Satanic paraphernalia or some spoilsport's ghoulishly grinning visage on the other hand certainly does qualify as such. Arguably the first certifiable superstar of commercialized 'core, Russell looks as ravishing as she ever has but the rug's pulled out from under her dainty tootsies by an annoying jump cut ("meanwhile...") occurring whenever the humping threatens to heat up. You just know you're in deep trouble when even a supposed Sapphic slurp-off between Tina and delectable Darby Lloyd Rains refuses to register under such dire circumstances.
Reems fares little better in lukewarm liaisons with Jewish princess Laura Cannon (who was to prove an above average actress in Andy Milligan's non-X FLESHPOTS ON 42ND STREET) and a gallon of whipped cream and an understated interracial - if indeed such a beast even exists - with long-forgotten black beauty Kitty Cat who also appeared in Gerard Damiano's SEX USA. Arlana Blue pops up out of nowhere (dare I say out of the...blue ?) to demonstrate her belly dancing skills as she would also do on Danny Steinman's vastly superior HIGH RISE. Adding insult to injury, the lion's share of lascivious action is scored in a method akin to Chinese water torture by notorious avant-garde composer Charlie Morrow, rather fittingly described by my esteemed fellow reviewer as "POLICE ACADEMY's Michael Winslow meets Satanic porn" ! Morrow's musical doodling was to eventually find a perfect home in Ken Russell's weird if rather wonderful ALTERED STATES. The vapid blond beach boy type groping Tina's goodies in the shower (with no XXX follow-through) is Tom Lee, simulated stud for hire on some of Marsha Jordan's most threadbare showcases such as THE RANCH HAND and LOVE FROM Paris. In the end, not much to get your knickers in a twist over but of comparatively more interest to film buffs with a penchant for the outré rather than erotica enthusiasts looking for any sort of thrill.
There is Still Hope for Us Yet !
Graham Travis showed distinct progress as an adult "auteur" with this felicitous follow-up to his well-regarded PORTRAIT OF A CALL GIRL, making it even more of a shame that Elegant Angel's changing of the guard has left him out on the pavement now that the company has apparently lost all interest in producing porn that challenges an audience's cerebral capacities as well as their crotches. The rough stuff that occasionally made PORTRAIT such a grueling experience to endure, at least to yours truly (vanilla till the end...), has thankfully been relegated to a mere guest spot at the film's climax set at the ominously named Club Inferno and even then it's far more stylized than outright salacious even though both female stars are submitted to the slapping, spitting and thorough-going DP action that has seemingly become present-day porn's bread and butter. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Unlikely friends since high school, sweet demure little Anna (adorable 5 ft 3 Lily Carter who justifiably made a clean sweep at the adult awards for what must be considered something of a breakout performance) travels from taciturn Tucson, Arizona, to downtown LA to renew her acquaintance with wild child Jacky (tempting tall drink of Tequila Lily Labeau who's just as impressive) after an acrimonious parting of their ways five years before. Now that her sole remaining relative, grandma Barbara, is fading into dementia in a nursing home, Anna's reaching out to her former BFF in order to get her life back on track. This will soon turn out to be something of a mistake however as the restless Jacky takes great delight in taunting the uptight innocent with her spur of the moment sexual outbursts, taking on massive Manuel Ferrara in a restroom stall (fully aware that Anna's peeking over the top) or pulling her into an absolutely scorching alley tryst with sculpted Karlo Karrera which proves one of the movie's many genuinely erotic highlights.
While Anna tries to reason with her, not to mention pick up their tentative Sapphic bond where they left off, the brazenly materialistic Jacky seems only interested in getting others to do her bidding with her friend's aching honesty prompting little more than a cruel attempt to corrupt a purity that she willingly gave up a long time ago. Flashbacks reveal that Jacky's homing in on Anna's boyfriend Eric (engagingly portrayed by hunky Xander Corvus) provided the primary reason for their break-up. Unable to get through to her, Anna sees no other way to connect with Jacky but by stooping to her level and joining her at the sexual free-for-all mentioned before. Rather than beating audiences over the head with prolonged peeks at depravity though, Travis holds a tight reign on what he will show and for how long, frequently changing positions punctuated with reaction shots from the increasingly resigned Anna to keep matters riveting. As the action reaches full boil, he never loses sight of the emotional repercussions that will prompt the picture's effectively low-key resolution. Bear in mind that this assessment concerns the flick's official director's cut running close to two hours, presented as the main feature in Elegant Angel's lavish two disc DVD set with extended cuts of most sex scenes relegated to the bonus platter, a tactic more adult companies should adopt if they are being serious about breaking into mainstream movie-making.
Superbly scored, dramatically compelling and gorgeously shot by a trio of talented DoP's (this to differentiate from the aforementioned DP's !), WASTELAND falls into that increasingly rare category of carnal entertainment that manages to realize its lofty ambitions to such an extent that those few instances where it drops the ball stand out all the more. A few dialog bits fall flat through occasionally uninspired writing rather than lackluster performances (most of which are top-notch) where it sounds like Travis is ticking off clichés until you're hit over the head with surprising insights right out of the blue. Both Lilies dominate the proceedings with little in their joint filmographies (apart from Labeau's turn in B. Skow's PROUD PARENTS perhaps) suggesting the thespian capabilities they display here. Eerily silent over the last two years since, Travis was but a hair's breadth removed from achieving an absolute masterpiece mixing arousal with artistry. Here's hoping that some other enterprising erotic entrepreneur (though with today's Internet-based immediate intimacy prevailing over fine-tuned features, I wouldn't hold my breath) takes a chance on Travis and allows him to continue his tantalizing trajectory as a bona fide fornication filmmaker rather than a mere dirty movie director.
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Rarely has a movie elicited such heated controversy well before anyone actually had the opportunity to view it. Based on the first in an astonishingly bestselling series of novels by Erika Leonard (E.L. for short) James, its catchy title had already been punned to death (Fifty Shades of Chicken, anyone ?) prior to the "official" film version, numerous YouTube send-ups and unauthorized adult adaptations notwithstanding. Pretty much every aspect of the material would be endlessly debated, from casting choices to the tale's "questionable" sexual politics, prior to the movie hitting theaters just in time for Valentine's Day of 2015. I haven't read the books cause I'm a guy and when it comes to "erotica" I prefer pictures to the printed page. Rest assured that there will be plenty of other reviews (in fact there already are) to compare one to the other.
What pleases me most about the film is that it has singlehandedly ended the drought of big screen skin flicks. Porno palaces are but a distant memory nowadays and while there has certainly been a considerable display of nudity and (not always) simulated sex on art-house screens, it is rarely presented as a pleasurable experience, thereby reducing audience stimulation to nil. I fondly remember the heyday of the sadly late Zalman King, back in the '90s, when polished soft-core porn (though, it must be stressed, always told from a female point of view, courtesy of King's significant other Patricia Louisiana Knop) like TWO MOON JUNCTION and WILD ORCHID played to packed houses. When he withdrew to the more carnally conducive channels of cable TV, there was hardly anyone left to pick up the sexual slack at mainstream multiplexes. One notable exception was Canadian (of Armenian descent) Atom Egoyan who abandoned art-house for the lurid delights of CHLOE and WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. Yet at the end of the day, these were still men treading on a woman's turf, claiming to do her carnal bidding but prohibited from accurately adopting her gaze because of their gender.
Fifty Shades, the novel(s), has reclaimed literary eroticism for a female audience, hence the innumerable inferior spin-offs it has spawned to date. The movie attempts to achieve the same goal for its cinematic counterpart. Rumors of the book's graphic depictions being drastically toned down have not prevented yours truly from being pleasantly surprised at just how far an R-rating will stretch nowadays as this plays mighty close to NC-17. Another kicker was just how knowingly Kelly Marcel's solid screenplay toys with the genre's attendant clichés, starting with its impossibly glamorous setting (Christian Grey's offices peopled exclusively with eye-popping runway model types in identical tight-fitting business suits) and the lifestyles of the idle rich most of us can only dream of. One of porn's most enduring hallmarks is that it takes place in an idealized fantasy setting where no aspect of daily drudgery can detract from the sex and this film is all but an exception but still satirizes the concept simultaneously.
Above all, this is a romance, for much of its duration (meet cute and initial courtship) a rom-com even, and a highly effective example of the form at that. The only difference being that the love and laughs, of which there are plenty (most of them intentional), are embellished with extended sex scenes of an increasingly BDSM slant. Members of said BDSM community have, of course, already spoken up that both novel and film completely misrepresent their erotic enclosure. Like so many, they are missing the point. The whips and handcuffs are part of Christian Grey's personal obsession which is at the center of what essentially amounts to an updated Gothic romance. I really like the fairytale flourishes added to the material, from Bluebeard (the secrets of the Red Room) to Beauty and the Beast (Christian allowing Anastasia to visit her mother in Georgia even though he can barely stand being without her at this point), elements that further enrich the tapestry woven by Misses James, Marcel and (drum roll) director Sam Taylor-Johnson. For the latter, this is the definitive rise from the ranks of relative anonymity after an intriguing contribution to 2006's porn anthology DESTRICTED showed she could handle screen sex and the early John Lennon biopic NOWHERE BOY proved she was capable of coping with actors. Needless to say, both abilities serve her exceedingly well on FIFTY SHADES.
The beautiful daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and resembling both, Dakota Johnson is sure to become a household name after her turn as audience identification character Anastasia Steele, combining gauche inexperience (innocence rather than naiveté) with out of left field sophistication as she gets the 27-year old billionaire to do her bidding. This fantasy figure was always gonna be tough to cast but Irish-born Jamie Dornan (former Calvin Klein model, so that gets potential body issues out of the way, but especially memorable playing the psycho on TV's THE FALL) surpasses all preconceived notions and expectations by bringing a human dimension to what was very much in danger of ending up as a walking cliché. It also doesn't hurt that both actors strike sexual sparks off one another for the heavy breathing final act. Taylor-Johnson elegantly captures every nuance of the characters dancing around each other, sniffing each other out, building genuine eroticism through a succession of scenes, even (especially, in fact) when everyone's fully dressed. She only drops the ball once, switching to decorous slow motion when Christian wields the whip, literally softening the blows, an understandable if ill-advised tactic to render S&M more palatable stretching all the way back to Just Jaeckin's STORY OF O. The cliffhanger ending has me chomping at the bit for the surefire second installment. Honestly !
Summer, the First Time (1996)
Remembering the Boys of Summer
Catering to gay men's erotic needs in a country whose climate (both meteorological and political) was less than conducive, Brit vid producer and distributor Mike Esser sought to fill the void with tastefully erotic features that could be sold outside of the licensed sex shops that are the only legalized outlets for hardcore material in the United Kingdom. His Pride label built a bridge between the in your face directness of XXX gay porn and the discreet depictions available from art-house Queer Cinema. Although "only" simulated, the carnal couplings were clearly intended to stimulate more than the imagination without any need for apology or "socially redeeming value". Their tapes were huge sellers back in the '90s, not just on the restricted British Isles but also Stateside where the softer stuff was considered a breath of fresh air as there had been little in the way of non-explicit gay erotica since Pat Rocco. So it's a bit strange that Esser who usually helmed the company's features relinquished the reins for what was to be their Magnum Opus of sorts, credited to the anonymous "Xavier" instead.
Almost two decades onwards, SUMMER, THE FIRST TIME hasn't completely survived the test of time. Equal parts corny and cutesy, it fairly demands a complete lack of cynicism on the viewer's part, an attitude alien to most homosexuals. Before you start crying "gross generalization", you have to bear in mind that I am one of "them" to begin with and that a whithering sense of humor has helped me through many a dark hour. But as so often I digress. SUMMER's brand of hearts and flowers romance proves sweet enough to give you cavities but, when approached in the right spirit (preferably under a blanket with a box of Cadbury's Milk Tray), can ultimately prove quite endearing. Just don't expect the blood to go rushing to your sensitive spots as intended ! Hunky but sexually conflicted Ryan (Sean Benedict) has booked a week away in Portugal at the urging of his bossy girlfriend Issy (Rebecca Tremain) who's constantly berating him for being such an unambitious layabout. Unable to sleep, only in part because of the sweltering heat, he goes for a midnight walk, only to be accosted by an assailant and rescued in the nick of time by bronzed beach boy Pavel, portrayed with puppy dog sensitivity by Bel Ami legend Johan Paulik. Seems that prissy Paulik is fed up with his lover Pasha's casual attitude towards marital fidelity and ripe for romance. Brought back bloodied 'n beaten to his hotel room, Ryan can't stop fantasizing about his savior, resorting to any old excuse to have the boy and his tag-along mate (the no less appealing Matthew Anders) over for drinks and whatnot, much to Issy's irritation.
While the narrative thread is slender, it constitutes a leap forward for Esser's company which had until then contented itself by releasing episodic features which would have qualified as lowly "loop carriers" had they been hardcore. Although Tremain gives a fairly compelling performance (in fact by far the flick's best) as the "unwanted" woman in this love triangle, the outcome is never in question. One would find it hard to quibble with the awesome attractiveness exuded by the combination of the boyish Paulik and the more masculine Benedict anyway. Production is silky smooth with picturesque shots of the Portuguese beach and hotel resort, which is all we get to see from the country apart from a brief view of Faro airport, and lovely lilting music lifted wholesale from previous Pride releases. Still, any chance to ogle the statuesque splendor of Paulik, Anders and a few additional Bel Ami boys such as Sebastian Bonnet and Dano Sulik (albeit posing rather than penetrating) represents its own reward, I suppose...
Mouth Watering (1986)
Ambitious adult "auteur" Thomas Paine burst onto the hardcore scene with 1985's splendid soap opera CORPORATE ASSETS. Too bad that 35mm film was already on its way out and the porn industry was to hit its first and biggest slump since emerging from the underground in the late '60s. In order to ensure a potential profit on any sizable production, filmmakers were strongly "encouraged" to maximize their resources by those pulling the purse strings by simultaneously shooting a more modestly scaled "B side" to their A list endeavors. This was not an unusual practice even during the heyday of adult cinema's "Golden Age" but was now rapidly becoming rule rather than exception.
Hence Paine made MOUTH WATERING to make up for the extensive expenditure on his lavish Frankenstein fornication farce THE ULTIMATE LOVER. And guess what, obvious restrictions aside, it's also a pretty good movie in its own right, touching on subject matter the genre rarely gets into, namely how a positive body image can affect a woman's perceived possibilities of happiness. Rather than do a dire treaty on the topic however, he has thankfully chosen the road of the rom com.
Sad and overweight, due to a none too credible fat suit, Tracey (Taija Rae) dreams of idealized lovemaking sessions set to sacrificial drum beats with her handsome Prince Charming (Tony Martino, still boyishly beautiful before he decided to pump up the volume to near-grotesque proportions at the local gym). When she wakes up, it's next to loyal longtime boyfriend John (Herschel Savage) and her obese self staring back at her from the mirror. Believing a weight loss program to be her Yellow Brick Road to infinite bliss, she quickly sheds the pounds and befriends fellow former fatty Debbie (Tracey Adams). Unwaveringly supportive every step of the way, John is delighted to have the newly svelte siren to show off but now Tracey feels she's basically too good for him. So she shacks up with the unattached Debbie to make out with all the menfolk a pair of swinging singles can handle. Eventually she realizes the error of her ways of course but it might already be too late as Debbie, who clearly knows a good thing when she sees it, has moved in on John albeit with Tracey's (initial) consent.
As he would be increasingly enforced to do, as budgets - not to mention screen size - grew smaller, Paine puts forth a simple yet plausible plot and embellishes with good-natured erotic encounters to craft one of the more accomplished couples efforts of the mid-1980s. Even though a bit more spit 'n polish of certain filmmaking aspects might have streamlined the endeavor into mainstream worthiness, the results are bound to impress the occasional aficionado, especially those who only came of age long after theatrical screenings of such material drew to a close. The story is handled well with a few barbed remarks about the ordeals suffered by attractive women in the workplace as most welcome additions.
Always the most down to earth of the quivering quartet of mid-1980s sex goddesses (including the outrageous Ms. Lords and the Lynn "sisters", Ginger & Amber), Rae effectively conveys the insecurity that drives her character to make all the wrong decisions once she has slimmed down to her gorgeous self, an essential characteristic to retain audience sympathy for her eventual plight. Glamourpuss Adams proves an even bigger surprise, delivering a mature performance of great warmth that will keep audiences guessing as to which way Herschel's heart should go. With only two women at its center (be warned, the other listed female stars, while prominently billed, only appear as non-sex extras), this one should go over big with the ladies, at least if they are not put off by even bigger '80s hair !