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9/10
Kill With Kindness
12 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
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of love he was to write as well as direct which - barring its infrequent use of "contemporary" and therefore instantly outdated lingo - has held up surprisingly well over the four intervening decades.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.
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Lolo (2015)
8/10
Mommy's Little Monster
11 November 2015
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.
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7/10
If You Like It Then You Should Have Put a Ring on It
5 November 2015
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.
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Aunt Peg (1980)
7/10
Cry Uncle
24 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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Legends of Porn (1987 Video)
8/10
Backward Glances (But Bring Your Own Baggage)
24 May 2015
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...
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Dark Dreams (1971)
6/10
Better the Devil You Know
3 May 2015
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.
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Wasteland (2012 Video)
10/10
There is Still Hope for Us Yet !
19 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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9/10
Christian Virtues
13 February 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 !
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Summer, the First Time (1996 Video)
8/10
Remembering the Boys of Summer
8 February 2015
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...
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8/10
Heartcore
8 February 2015
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 !
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9/10
Kissin' Cousins...and Then Some !
8 February 2015
Most renowned and rightfully revered for his superlative soft-core sex films from the '60s and '70s, the late Joe Sarno would also churn out a considerable amount of "stronger" features as mucky movie houses moved away from the simulated stuff towards the full color penetration of hardcore. While "churning out" pretty much describes the filmmaker's approach towards the explicit throughout most of the '80s, his XXX offerings from the previous decade still bear the traces of a master craftsman valiantly attempting to elevate a both then as now disregarded genre above its lowly station. He would achieve this through the very elements that made his sexploitation flicks stand out from the crowd, i.e. involved story lines, psychologically sound characterizations and surprisingly decent acting. Anyone who has ever watched one of Sarno's suggestive tease flicks, amongst which I would like to proffer 1968's ALL THE SINS OF SODOM as a very good place to start exploring a rather massive body of work, should be well aware that he was also second to none when it came to creating a palpably erotic atmosphere where every glance and gesture would draw the audience deeper into tantalizing turmoil.

One of the truly amazing things about THE TROUBLE WITH YOUNG STUFF remains that it was one of at least four films Sarno shot almost simultaneously back in 1976, along with the equally excellent SLIPPERY WHEN WET and the far more obscure HOT WIVES and THE HONEY CUP, all of them made in and around the same locations with minor cast variations. This fact really serves as a tribute to the talented "cinéaste" whose output would eventually grow so large and unwieldy that by life's end he had no idea how many movies he might have made, a conundrum duly shared by the rest of the world in light of the vast number of aliases he had employed, some still unconfirmed to this day. Unlike some of the other creatives of carnality, Sarno knew exactly what he could achieve given the time and budget at his disposal and how to tailor his narratives to bring out the best of his financial and artistic resources. Often working with the same handful of dramatically gifted New York performers meant he could write parts bearing them in mind and capitalize on any specific forte they might possess.

Another aspect routinely skipped over in other people's adult efforts is the presence of an economic reality as opposed to the anything goes fantasy fulfillment environment most porn appears to take place in. For instance, here it's a rundown small town somewhere in the South and most of the characters have been unemployed ever since the local textile mill was forced to close down, not exactly a setting conducive to carnality at first glance. But Sarno uses this bleak situation, undoubtedly recognizable to much of the day's audience, to reinforce the morals and motivations that drive his "dramatis personae" and therefore imbue them with a life and urgency that's uncommon to say the least in the fornication film field.

Longtime friends Alice Ann and Rose (Crystal Sync and Marlene Willoughby respectively) share an apartment with their blue collar boyfriends Roger Caine and Bob Bolla, both of whom are still employed if only just, largely out of financial necessity as these living arrangements put obvious strain on both couples. Their slutty sidekick Dinah (quite possibly Nancy Dare's career performance) further exacerbates this increasingly untenable situation by bringing over her occasional boyfriends such as milkman Sonny Landham as her strict mom (Gloria Leonard) won't allow her to entertain at home. About to make matters much worse, although her transgressive behavior indicates the possibility of an eventual much-needed catharsis for several of the plot's protagonists, is Alice Ann's two minutes past jail bait cousin Matilda (Jenny Baxter) who was "sent away" for being an unmanageable teen and now seems to have some kind of retaliation on her mind. Adult cinema theorists (should such a beast exist !) can chalk this up as another variation on Sarno's favorite theme of the intimate interloper wreaking havoc within the "family" unit by seducing each member thereof, as in DADDY DARLING, BABY LOVE or LAURA'S TOYS to name but a few of the more obvious examples.

Scored with appropriately sombre guitar strumming by Jack Justis, the narrative delves much deeper into people's psyches than adult is wont to do without sacrificing the sex which Sarno manages to incorporate into the film's fabric as both an intrinsic and invaluable element. The exceptional cast, comprised of just eight people, rises beautifully to the occasion with the women especially standing out. The mischievous Baxter, who worked in the porn industry to pay for college tuition, makes the most of a meaty part as the proverbial fly in the ointment but it's the usually campy Marlene Willoughby who ultimately impresses most of all. Dowdied down from her familiar larger than life persona and stripped of its attendant mannerisms, she really comes into her own as the apparently resilient Italian American Rose whose sexual, emotional and eventually even moral victimization at the hands of the scheming Matilda proves particularly jarring. Although the come-on implied by the film's title isn't complete hogwash in light of the climactic revelations that are arrived at in a scene between the estranged cousins, it has always crippled a movie that deserved a much better fate and reputation than it has been wrongfully saddled with over the years.
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6/10
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go...Back !
8 February 2015
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, or so a popular big band tune would have it. How this applies to the current state of the adult industry is that no matter how much you spend on production and CGI (huh ?), it won't amount to much if the sex remains staid and stolid. I'm not even talking about some of the outrages that seem to have become universally acceptable in our cynical anything goes age (Cole Porter sure was on to something...) like choking, slapping or even the now practically quaint posterior play, for there's little if any call for such practices in a "couples film", but how about some good old-fashioned passion ? Doing it to Disney for the second time in a row of presently three pornographic pastiches (Snow White and Cinderella being the other victims), Axel Braun has unfortunately delivered a somewhat soporific sex spectacle that - while befitting of his dormant heroine - fails to hit the hardcore mark through interminable and mechanically performed sexual encounters. What's particularly dispiriting are the clear signs that Braun is certainly capable and occasionally still willing to deliver something as exciting and edgy as 2003's COMPULSION, made at a time when he was still trying to prove himself as being more than the offspring of adult cinema legend Lasse Braun, only to pull back at the last moment and allow carnal cliché to conquer.

Of course, the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty is well-known so details are barely bothered with, which allows for the odd surprise such as a startlingly effective downbeat twist at the end. Things get off (so to speak) to a good start as well with an eerie sequence of Princess Aurora (Annika Albrite, at least visually perfect for the part) dancing for the King and Queen and their assembled guests, only to have them inexplicably "freeze" in mid-gesture, much to the girl's panicked consternation. Seems like Beauty's already fast asleep and these are her reveries of events leading up to her dire predicament. The first and overall best of the sex scenes takes place when the three fairies, amusingly all endowed with Valley girl twangs, bestowing their gifts on the newborn princess by taking turns on elderly King Hubert's massive skin flute. The dapper old codger's imbued with considerable charm by veteran DoP Jake Jacobs employing his customary performer alias of "Jay Crew" and the girls are certainly gagging for it, although I could have done with a bit less of their constant billing and cooing. Riley Steele's Flora is the only one who's subsequently set up as a character in the slight narrative but gorgeous brunette Casey Calvert and cute as a button redhead Claire Robbins easily outdo her in terms of erotic enthusiasm. As with Disney's own recent take on its back catalog however, the emphasis rests squarely (and wisely) on villainess Maleficent, portrayed with consummate professionalism if a little low on gusto by Wicked's premium contract gal Stormy Daniels, miffed by not being invited to the christening and cursing Aurora in the way we're all familiar with.

Prior to being able to exact her revenge, Maleficent has to hunt down the errant royalty who's being raised as a peasant girl by the fairies in the woods. Following a chance meeting with her betrothed, Prince Philip (the vacuous Michael Vegas), she spies on her folks when they were amorous youngsters making out in the great outdoors as they did not yet have a castle to go to. Hey, it's her dream ! Insanely popular '90s skin flick starlet Shayla LaVeaux looks terrific as the future Queen and does a creditable number on her King Mick Blue (in real life actually Albrite's husband !) that could have been far more effective had it been edited down somewhat. Now is as good a time as ever to comment on a few annoying habits that Braun sadly brings to each and every sex scene, the most frustrating being costumes that never ever come off, just skirts raised up to the hips and breasts pulled out of corsets. The soundtrack, heavily borrowing from familiar classical selections, turns totally silent once the action gets underway as well and since this is not to get a lot of expository dialog out of the way apart from the usual guttural mutterings the effect only comes across as cheap.

Halfway through, Stormy takes over the reins and while this would normally mean good news she too often seems to be merely sleepwalking through the role, offering precious little energy in her couplings with Albrite and Vegas respectively. Yes, I do realize I'm probably nitpicking by now, porn pretty much being "just porn" nowadays, but a few rehearsals might have improved the general level of line readings, you know, like back when people actually cared about the "product" they put out. Along with some ruthless editing, this could have saved this "prestige project" (and now I'm absolutely certain those glowing magazine and website reviews are bought and paid for) from instant oblivion for it does look pretty and polished with lavish sets and them pesky frocks, good lighting (a tad bright for my tastes but then again, I'm an old-timer) and first-rate photography by "Eli Cross" a/k/a Bryn Pryor, like Braun another talented filmmaker who has settled into an undoubtedly comfortable if unexciting rut. If this represents adult's current Gold Standard, and by most enthused accounts it certainly seems that way, I'm gonna stick to my guns and go back and look at some real fornication film classics from yesteryear. Hey, you all know it makes sense !
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High Rise (1973)
10/10
View from the Top
2 January 2015
Perhaps it was only a monumental streak of bad luck that kept New York native Danny Steinmann from achieving the kind of genre greatness bestowed upon Wes Craven and Bill Lustig to name but two of the most striking career trajectories leading from humble hardcore beginnings to gory glory. Attached to at least half a dozen intriguing projects that for various reasons failed to reach fruition, the three he did manage to complete in the wake of his sexploitation starter proved troublesome little buggers to say the least. The combination of a rough shoot and extensive tinkering at production or distribution level heavily compromised their maker's original vision.

Reluctant to continue down the pornographic path, though the box office success of HIGH RISE assured he could write his own ticket, he befriended make-up artist Stan Winston, then still an unknown toiling away in the trenches, with whom he would collaborate on what was to become Steinmann's grand entrance into mainstream cinema, 1980's ill-fated (and sadly too prophetically titled) THE UNSEEN. Danny's best known as well as final (finished) film, 1985's Friday THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, was actually an incentive the series' producers dangled in front of him as part of a two picture deal that would allow him to shoot the long-awaited sequel to Wes Craven's 1972 seminal rape 'n' revenge classic THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, another one that got away.

Trawling through Times Square one fateful afternoon in 1972, Danny spotted long lines queuing up to enter the World Theater playing Gerard Damiano's scurrilously successful DEEP THROAT. His interest piqued, he followed suit with HIGH RISE. Steinmann's biggest coup came about as something of a fluke however, simply asking his great friend and composer Jacques Urbont whether he could help him out with the film's soundtrack which he agreed to do entirely free of charge, requiring payment only for the session musicians ! An unsung musical genius, Urbont had extensively worked in every conceivable artistic arena since the '50s including Broadway shows, popular TV series like MANNIX and MISSION : IMPOSSIBLE.

Employing the time-honored film within a film construction as a jumping-off point towards total anarchy as cast and crew converge in an increasing blurring of the lines, reaching its appropriate apogee in the climactic free-for-all orgy, HIGH RISE attempts to approach the cinematic delirium of the legendary 1941 Olsen & Johnson farce HELLZAPOPPIN'. Setting the scene, a clumsy slate operator nearly loses a digit announcing the first take. We open on poor insecure heroine Susie (Tamie Trevor), stretched out on the psychiatrist's couch, confessing her fears of inadequacy in satisfying husband Michael to a sympathetic shrink (THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES' Mr. Abaca, John Clemens). He advises her to go out and experiment freely with whoever crosses her path that day. As she's about to go apartment hunting on the East Side, there should prove no shortage of gonad-driven guinea pigs. Working her way through the titular building from top to bottom provides the set-up for superbly shot and edited sex scenes, each introduced by cute cardboard cutout title card.

"Batteries Not Included" has Susie drop in on toy-obsessed momma's boy Herbie (Harry Reems) playing in full postmaster's uniform with a massive choo-choo train set. As Herbie furiously bangs away at Susie's box, his larger than life caricature of a Jewish mom is trying to break down the door. "A Tale of Six Titties" finds her cornered by a lascivious combo of international carpet munchers, full-figured German Jutta David (from Shaun Costello's notorious 1973 directorial debut FORCED ENTRY) versus lanky French Mireille Renaud. Luring Susie into their multi-mirrored bedroom, the dykey duo really goes to work on the delighted newbie in one of the most intense lesbian liaisons committed to celluloid.

"Menage a Tw*t" shows a jaded husband and wife (Jamie Gillis and Barbara Benner) getting their jollies separately from portentously phrased pornography so florid it could have been penned by the great Ed Wood himself until sweet Susie draws them together to the seductive strains of a hippie trippy zither tune. Which brings us to..."Aw-Gee!" If each of the preceding episodes represented a carefully crafted mini movie in its own right, then nothing could prepare for nor compare to the sensory assault dished out by this 20 minute free-for-all with Steinmann and his talented troupe pulling out all the stops. Tapping on yet another door, our heroine's all but swallowed whole into a bacchanal already in full swing, the likes of which you have never seen. Then ensuing spectacle is dictated by rapid fire editing and an absolutely unbelievable rap rendition riffing off the bouncy title song with no double entendre left untouched.

A kooky comedienne with an infectiously goofy grin, Tamie Trevor could have been a contender were it not for some allegedly deep-seated psychological problems. Soon after shooting wrapped, she checked herself into a New Jersey mental facility. Although HIGH RISE provided Trevor with her single starring role, this wasn't quite her first time at bat. She had performed semi-simulated Sapphic action with Darby Lloyd Rains and Cindy West in Roberta Findlay's close to 'core ROSEBUD and a brief Reems BJ in Richard D'Antoni's TEENAGE CHEERLEADERS. Her sad fate was adult's loss as she shows commendable comic timing that genuinely sets her apart from concurrent contemporary sex screen sirens' amateurish attempts at same, but one of the reasons why this early fornication film farce holds up so much better than nearly all others of its vintage.
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7/10
We All Scream for Ice Cream
28 December 2014
Australian cinema has always been somewhat schizophrenic. On one hand, you have your lofty art-house efforts made by the likes of Peter Weir or Peter Noyce, though both of these pillars of pictorial culture have been known to let their hair down on occasion. Thankfully, these are balanced out by a heaping helping of what has now affectionately become known as "Ozploitation" : kinda like the Down Under version of quintessential drive-in fodder. Likewise, they mostly thrived throughout the '70s and '80s and were given a lucrative second life in the early days of VHS. These were the flicks that put bums in seats domestically, frequently featuring enough sex 'n violence to satiate the Saturday night crowd.

Producer Antony Ginnane proved a key figure in the history of them Aussie "aberrations", cheerfully bankrolling Richard Franklin's sexploitation classic FANTASM (and its inevitable sequel FANTASM COMES AGAIN!) as well as both versions - 1982 original and 2014 remake - of British Brian Trenchard-Smith's notorious survival slasher TURKEY SHOOT. Clearly, this is a guy who can coax otherwise respectable filmmakers out of their comfort zone. Case in point being dependable dullard Simon Wincer who went on to fail-safe family features like D.A.R.Y.L., the Disney-funded OPERATION DUMBO DROP and the phenomenally successful FREE WILLY. With a background in domestic cathode ray crime drama like HOMICIDE and CHOPPER SQUAD, Wincer was seriously prepared to "slum" it when Ginnane gave him the opportunity to leap from to small to big screen which resulted in a pair of practically impossible to pigeonhole genre flicks : the quirky fantasy HARLEQUIN (1980) and its predecessor SNAPSHOT.

Posing as a routine slice 'n dicer (its US release title was THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN!), this is actually anything but. Apart from an unsettling opening scene, telegraphing its conclusion with the remnants of an as of yet unidentified charred corpse and a female crime scene interloper hysterically calling out for "Angie", it takes more than half the film's running time before anything overtly horrible takes place. What viewers get instead is a surprisingly engrossing character-based drama about a naive young innocent (Sigrid Thornton's tellingly named Angela) in the big bad city, in this case Melbourne. A former child actress, Thornton would proceed to become one of the Continent's most revered thespians, this particular oddity a singular "blot" on an otherwise spotless state of service. If she realized this was time spent in the "gutter", her effortlessly engaging performance certainly doesn't bear any traces thereof.

A timid little hairdresser at the salon of domineering Mr. Plunkett (Jon Sidney, who played General MacArthur in Philippe Mora's DEATH OF A SOLDIER), Angela makes an immediate life-changing decision at the behest of worldly model Madeline (exceptionally well-portrayed by Greek-born Chantal Contouri who hit a career high in '79 with this and Rod Hardy's oddball vampire flick THIRST) to "give it all up" in pursuit of a modeling career with "outré" fashion photographer Linsey (Hugh Keays-Byrne, yep, MAD MAX's indelible Toecutter himself). Finding her suitcase packed and the locks changed by her overbearing mother (respected UK actress Julia Blake who has but one, albeit absolutely unforgettable scene) in the wake of a nude photo spread, Angie moves into Linsey's studio where several hapless "professionals" seem to pass through on their way up or down the social ladder.

Notwithstanding her apparently harmless shutterbug, men in general seem to spell bad news for the up 'n coming cover cutie. There's older ex-boyfriend Daryl (creepy Vincent Gil, another MAD MAX alumnus) who stalks her all across town in his Mr. Whippy ice cream van (a curiously effective choice of vehicle) and even Madeline's film producer husband (the late veteran character actor Robert Bruning) can barely keep his hands off once his wife's back is turned. Meanwhile, she's receiving strange threats and someone may indeed want her dead but who ? Bearing in mind the movie's unsettling start, you just know there will be tears before bedtime.

Fairly unpredictable screenplay by Everett De Roche, who wrote the cult favorites ROAD GAMES (Franklin, 1981) and RAZORBACK (Russell Mulcahy, 1984), keeps the audience guessing by cleverly turning clichés upside down. This doesn't always hit the bullseye (a final twist prefiguring Gordon Willis' notorious WINDOWS leaves a bad aftertaste) but at least blocks out boredom setting in. Composer Brian May, whose ivory-tinkling score sounds like a cross between '70s TV show cues and Golden Age porno music (awesome, if you're like me, or awful, if you're not), is NOT the guy from Queen but one of Australia's busiest soundtrack suppliers of the period, adding atmosphere to the MAD MAX movies (again!) and assorted genre treats such as David Hemmings' THE SURVIVOR and Manny Cotto's DR. GIGGLES. Two pathetic pop songs by the band "Sherbet" (cool name...NOT!) are just icing on the cake. The boobs 'n blood quotient is rather mild but fans will be pleased to know that Thornton bares 'em without shame. This is one flick that knows its target audience better than they know themselves and treats it with more respect than you'd expect from exploitation entrepreneurs.
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All Yours (2014)
10/10
You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to
27 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Oh, sometimes it really is great to be a Belgian, as a novelty hit by the late great Mister John would have it. Such as when a young and talented filmmaker rises from the ranks of anonymous hacks and wows the world with his vision and sensitivity, which is pretty much the trajectory followed by David Lambert who received international praise and became an instant art-house darling in 2012 for his cutting edge gay drama BEYOND THE WALLS. Now I shudder at the blanket description of "gay drama" as it suggests a film being geared exclusively towards a specific audience of homosexual "intellectuals" in a well-intentioned if wrongheaded move made mostly by cinema distributors to ensconce a work of art in a comfortable ghetto as to avoid both controversy and moral judgment, sort of like preaching to the choir. Surely, any story that involves the feelings and experiences of human beings should have universal appeal, regardless of gender, religion, nationality, etc. Okay, I'm ready to get off my high horse now.

If BEYOND THE WALLS was a searing account of the all-consuming and ultimately destructive passion between possibly ill-matched lovers, then ALL YOURS (although the title translates literally to the more genteel "I Am Yours") proves perhaps quite the opposite, a low-key love story incorporating three disparate characters in search of the same thing : a place to rest one's weary head from life's innate injustice. Rotund small town baker Henry (Jean-Michel Balthazar, fresh from Jonas Govaerts' domestic slasher flick CUB) falls helplessly and, so it would seem, hopelessly in love with Argentine rent boy Lucas (the adorable Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, star of Alexis Dos Santos' GLUE) whom he has met through web-cam sex, going so far as to spend his life savings on bringing him over to his decidedly sleepy hometown of Hermalle. Well into his fifties and something of a momma's boy, Henry harbors deep-seated romantic longings he hopes to fulfill with his Latin paramour. Completing the triangle is Henry's salesgirl, widowed single mom Audrey (Monia Chokri from Xavier Dolan's HEARTBEATS and LAURENCE ANYWAYS), whose initial resistance to her employer's live-in lover wears off with each oddball attempt to ingratiate himself with the village's apparently single eligible female.

Gently challenging audience expectations at every turn, Lambert never loses his tight grip on what could have so easily toppled over into mawkish melodrama in lesser hands. While each character is given a set of defining characteristics which might have relegated them to the realm of caricature, they all grow beautifully into real people over the course of the story. So much in fact that it would break your heart if any one of them ended up miserable and alone. Rest assured that an unequivocally happy ending is arrived at, if not without a few genuinely crushing dramatic curve balls. The course of love never did run smooth, now did it ?

Naturally, writing and directing - no matter how insightful and heartfelt - can only take a movie so far without the proper actors to bring it all to life. It's safe to say Lambert has also been blessed in this respect, assembling a note-perfect handpicked cast of three thus far under the radar talents who should be quite in demand from now on, at least if there's any justice left in this wacky old world of ours. Until recently limited to comic relief inspired by his considerable girth, the imposing Balthazar immediately locates the heart of his character, a generally respected pillar of small town society whose dreams of domesticity are perhaps not that far out of reach as we believe. Rebuffing anyone who dares to come close, Chokri's 180 degree turn is entirely believable as Lucas grows close to her little boy. But Biscayart is the undeniable star here, a naturally born physical comedian struggling with the heavy bakery equipment when Henry tries to teach him his trade, eventually channeling Chaplin's little tramp in awe of the family life suddenly available to him.

A word of warning however to those who think this movie's all moonlight and roses, sort of PAULINE & PAULETTE with penises. Speaking of which, there's a few of them on display here, which shouldn't scare off the "gay audience" (here we go again) but might offend the bluenoses. Biscayart's frankly beautiful specimen pops up repeatedly, so to speak, even including a bit of hardcore action Lucas shows Audrey on his laptop in a touching attempt at total honesty. Her reaction is both priceless and moving. Taking its tempo from the many Offenbach arias Henry plays with the volume all the way up in his bakery, this delightful film doesn't put a foot wrong and provides a subtle teaching lesson about life and love and the things that connect rather than divide us all.
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99 Women (1969)
7/10
Babes Behind Bars
25 December 2014
From Eurotrash Emperor Jess Franco's comparatively respectable period comes this timid precursor to the WIP wave that was to engulf exploitation cinema of the upcoming decade, including of course many of Franco's own far more graphic ruminations on the subject. British-born producer Harry Alan Towers was still testing the waters as to how much sex and violence he could get away with at this pivotal moment in time for pictorial permissiveness, which accounts for the restraint in the representation of both. His past successes with a string of profitable Fu Manchu flicks based on the Sax Rohmer potboilers gave him the commercial clout to attract a "name" cast of mostly has-beens in desperate need of a paycheck, supplemented with a slew of sexy starlets prepared to pull down their panties. First among equals in the latter department was Towers' lovely young bride Maria Rohm a/k/a former Austrian stage actress Helga Grohmann who would shine most brightly in VENUS IN FURS and EUGENIE, both made by Franco for her husband. Playing Marie, the obligatory framed innocent, she's predictably overshadowed by the unrepentant bad girls headed by the ravishing Rosalba Neri's cynical Zoe.

Taken to a South American prison island (actually Alicante) where she's to be incarcerated in a magnificent fortress named El Castillo Della Muerte (the Castle of Death) for stabbing one of her rapists, shown in superbly stylized flashback, Marie (or number 99 as she will now be referred to) soon learns the ropes foolishly going up against head warden Thelma Diaz (Mercedes McCambridge hamming her way out of a mid-career slump) when another new arrival (ex-Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi) goes into cold turkey jitters. Like any other act of rebellion, this immediately lands her in solitary. An impromptu cat fight with dyed in the wool dyke Neri on account of her harassing Marie's friend Helga (Elisa Montés from Mel Welles' ISLAND OF THE DOOMED) risks making her a permanent resident there were it not for the unexpected appearance of social worker Leonie Carroll (revered German actress Maria Schell) come to inspect the prison's conditions following a number of recent deaths. This doesn't sit well with Thelma who not altogether wrongly suspects the intruder has come to take her place so she calls on the help of corrupt Governor Santos (a stoic Herbert Lom) whom she regularly supplies with inmates for intimacy.

Ticking off all the boxes (nudity, check ! whippings, check ! lesbian comforting, check !), the plot moves along as cheerfully as the grim proceedings will allow with hilariously hard-boiled dialog to keep fans grinning. McCambridge spits 'n growls her way through another turn for Towers and Franco that makes the one she gave in their JUSTINE look positively demure by comparison. Her once flourishing career might have gone down the drain but she was sure to kick up a stink. Half the fun's in watching her co-stars' perplexed looks on their faces as they attempt to keep from being blown off the screen by this one woman whirlwind.

By contrast, Schell seems all too aware she's slumming it, content to simper sympathetically and deliver the flattest line readings imaginable. Apart from Rohm and Neri, whose exploitation career would kick off in earnest with Ferdinando Di Leo's 1971 SLAUGHTER HOTEL, none of the top-popping floozies register very strongly, certainly not Paluzzi who - regardless of prominent billing - expires ten minutes into the movie and doesn't bare squat. A few years later, she would go proudly topless in Nello Rossati's entertaining THE SENSUOUS NURSE. Short-bobbed Brazilian bombshell Valentina Godoy (from Franco's THE GIRL FROM RIO) makes the most of the unfortunate Rosalie, cruelly ambushed during the botched prison break.

In light of the excesses this exploitation sub-genre was about to engender, 99 WOMEN appears almost innocent in its beat around the bush coyness. This approach forces Franco into ingenuity when it comes to boobs 'n beatings, displaying both with far more style than was his habit. Case in point being Rohm and Neri's then daring same-sex dalliance, spectacularly shot in a series of dissolves and close-ups of "non-vital" body parts by Franco regular Manuel Merino (who also photographed his COUNT Dracula) who achieves the scene's erotic effect through sheer suggestion. Bruno Nicolai's haunting theme song, The Day I Was Born (warbled by the incomparable Barbara McNair which suggests this was a recorded but unused track from VENUS IN FURS), appears in a number of starkly varying arrangements going from a jubilatory gospel rendition to a softly murmured version with minimal orchestration.
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Constance (1998 Video)
6/10
What Women Want ?
25 December 2014
Now that the dust has settled, it's safe to say that Lars von Trier's much-vaunted Puzzy Power project was little more than a paltry publicity stunt. Not that there isn't a market for "erotica" (rather than plain old porn) geared towards female viewers, but as usually its progenitors didn't have a clue so they just made it look pretty instead. Hiring experimental video artist Knud Vesterskov, who had next to no experience with conventional cinema (albeit of the adult variety), for their inaugural effort proved positively disastrous. His self-penned script, relayed entirely in voice-over narration, falls squarely into purple prose territory filled with florid metaphors which should raise an occasional chuckle between stifling yawns.

The setting's a recent romantic past but rather than give it the full Mills & Boon treatment, Vesterskov shatters the illusion right from the get-go with an appallingly inappropriate techno thump by Peter Kyed who scored Nicholas Winding Refn's PUSHER trilogy. A young woman (played by Danish singer/songwriter Christiane Björg Nielsen) sits in a gorgeous floral garden reading from her grandmother's diary detailing her erotic awakening at the hands of scarlet woman Lola (Katja Kean). Although the movie's ostensible focus, granny Constance (insipid starlet Anaïs in the flesh, voiced by filmmaker Hella Joof from the excellent OH HAPPY DAY) is completely overshadowed by her mentrix who supplies the lion's share of lensed lasciviousness.

Only five people do the dirty here, so it's a good thing at least that they are all photogenic, naturally none more so than the breathtakingly beautiful Kean, easily Denmark's most popular porn performer ever. Poor little unseasoned Anaïs barely stands a chance going up against this one woman volcano of voluptuousness. The three men run the gamut from boyish (cute Niels Dencker) to muscled macho (hunky Mark Duran, as well-traveled a stud as the dwindling Danish dirty movie culture currently allows) with bald Michael Larsen, briefly popping up for a threesome, falling somewhere in-between.

It becomes clear quite early on that Vesterskov has little erotic imagination of his own, content to crib from recent carnal concoctions such as Philip Christian's IMMORTAL DESIRE and Michael Ninn's FOREVER NIGHT, with Andrew Blake's aloof posturing thrown in for good measure. Sex is professionally if dispassionately performed, with an obligatory emphasis on female pleasure, which need not be a bad thing as Candida Royalle's Femme flicks confirmed time and again. Perhaps Puzzy Power needed a proper pussy in power as Lisbeth Lynghöft did a much better job of it on the subsequent PINK PRISON. Only at CONSTANCE's climax (pun intended) does the spectacle sputter to life with nude under her cloak Kean showing up at gamekeeper Duran's rustic cottage for a Lady Chatterley-inspired roll in the hay that will leave your embers glowing. Too bad it's a case of too little too late.
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The Treatment (2014)
9/10
Opening Pandora's Box
21 December 2014
British crime novelist Mo Hayder's series of Jack Caffery potboilers have been gaining quite a fan following since 2000's inaugural entry Birdman. Surely even the author herself could hardly have hoped for a better introduction to cinema audiences than this Belgian adaptation of its 2001 follow-up The Treatment. Chauvinism aside, a concept largely alien to the majority of the Belgian population let me assure you, this ranks as one of the most accomplished thrillers produced worldwide this year. Underrated director Hans Herbots, most frequently employed in TV but also responsible for one of the more exciting domestic big screen debuts with the English language adaptation of Anne Provoost's popular young adult novel FALLING in 2001, has style to burn but wisely never lets it get in the way of a complex and compelling plot, expertly bowdlerized by respected screenwriter Carl Joos who also adapted Jef Geeraert's classic lowlands noir The Alzheimer Affair for Erik Van Looy's well-received THE MEMORY OF A KILLER.

The Jack Caffery character has been "Flemicized" into Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg in what should be a star-making performance), hands on police detective carrying the heavy emotional burden of having been a near witness in his early teens to the kidnapping of his kid brother Bjorn. Pointing the finger towards a suspected local pedophile, the creepy Ivan Plettinckx (a devastating turn by Johan van Assche from another Geeraerts adaptation, Jan Verheyen's solid DOSSIER K.), but lack of evidence prevents his conviction. In the twenty-odd years since, Plettinckx has tormented Nick with every conceivable scenario of what might have happened to his sibling, whose body was never located. So when a home-jacking goes tragically wrong and the couple's 9-year old son is abducted, things are about to get profoundly personal for Nick who suspects a link to what happened some two decades ago.

To reveal anything more would be a crying shame as the film (at least for the source novel's non-readers) pulls one shocking surprise after another out of its magician's high hat with nary a false note credibility-wise. True, the culprit's nominal motive for his heinous deeds did strike as a little far-fetched, going as far as raising an unintended smile, but bearing in mind that this emanates from an extremely twisted mindset to begin with quickly puts the narrative back on track. While the movie pulls no punches in detailing the detective's downward spiral, much more is (strongly) suggested rather than explicitly shown, which is a good thing as it involves several unspeakable acts committed on young children, at least one of which is bound to hit you like an 18-wheeler cruising down the highway. The beyond bleak ending cynically bars all exits from this "hell on earth".

A major plus for domestic audiences is that Herbots recruited most of his cast among the reliable but faintly generic second stringers from his TV heritage where more instantly recognizable faces (such as the ubiquitous Jan Decleir or Koen De Bouw) would have harmed the film's brand of stylized semi-documentary realism. Handsome Van Rampelberg has been building an intriguing body of work since the turn of the millennium and brings a febrile intensity to the troubled anti-hero faced with an unbearable judgment call when he has to choose between upholding the law or finally learning what happened to his brother. Although he definitely gets into hot water morally, the viewer will root for him every step of the way. Burly Dominique Van Malder, following an indelible bit part in Peter Monsaert's uneven OFFLINE, equally impresses as a severely socially handicapped neighbor who may unwittingly (?) hold the key to the whole mystery. A prime suspect, scrawny swim teacher Chris Gommaer is played to twitching perfection by Michael Vergauwen whose arrest ranks among the film's most heartbreaking moments, a magnificently composed image shot overhead, indicative of the director's effortless technical brilliance.
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8/10
On Yer Bike !
19 December 2014
The first and best of Swiss Czar of Carnality Erwin C. Dietrich's increasingly explicit "Swedish" skin flicks, a domestically popular porn series which was eventually to comprise four official entries, five if you count his acquisition of Ann Perry's all star US hardcore BALLGAME as "6 Swedish Girls Behind Bars" ! Funny thing about Dietrich. While trash film fans have accorded him a certain degree of street cred as producer of a number of Jess Franco's (comparatively) classier '70s skin flicks like JACK THE RIPPER and LOVE LETTERS OF A Portuguese NUN, there has always been considerably less love for the dozens of mostly generic gash grinders he churned out - usually as "Michael Thomas" - between 1968's costume pic DIE NICHTEN DER FRAU OBERST (remade more graphically in 1980) and 1982's AMOROUS SISTERS. Stopping just short of hardcore, for which he would press Continental pornographer Gérard Loubeau into duty as the German movie market grew more permissive, he adopted the gourmand's approach to his own personal brand of sex cinema which was almost entirely devoid of genuine eroticism but for its acres and acres of bared female skin.

Apart from an occasionally semi-serious foray into the fornication film field, such as the Lina Romay showcase ROLLS ROYCE BABY or his half-hearted WIP entry CAGED WOMEN, Dietrich usually went for the funny bone. Historically proved, this is not a territory that German-speaking countries excel at ! So if you're looking for a few hearty laughs along with your copious nudity, you should probably just keep on looking. That said, the guy's unpretentious undraped sagas make for surprisingly innocent entertainment in retrospect, all the more astonishing considering that far more explicit endeavors must have been breathing down Dietrich's neck while he was still reeling in (massive) audiences with what were basically "nudie cuties" with tons of healthy outdoors activities for his foxy female cast to engage in. Which brings us to these movies' strongest assets (ass-sets ?), i.e. their stunningly beautiful actresses, frequently culled from the French XXX field, for whom these mild activities amidst the Alps must have been a literal breath of fresh air.

We might just as well skim over any perceived complexities in the film's fragmented narrative (credited to Dietrich's nom de plume "Manfred Gregor"), as it basically consists of the Swedish sextet getting into mischief and - to quote the late great Kenny Everett - "all their clothes fall off", and focus on the fabulous femmes. Brigitte Lahaie is obviously the most recognizable of the lot and has her most memorable moment as she visits a local sex shop in search of a dozen dildo's (don't ask !) and starts to fantasize about what the exclusively male clientèle might do to her. Her close to 'core Sapphic scene with short-haired France Lomay (who would never look better than in her single American adult film, Fred Lincoln's 1983 THAT'S OUTRAGEOUS!) is also nothing to sneeze at. The latter figures most prominently in the plot (such as it is) by inventing a most unusual bicycle equipped with pistoning penis that will be put to extensive employment by the tireless schoolgirls !

Nearing the end of a distinguished career in simulated sexing, Anne Libert looks almost anorexic as the not so stern headmistress, still able to "bring it" as she gives a fully clothed demonstration of sexual positions with muscle man gym teacher Mike Montana (from Franco's SEXY SISTERS) in sex ed class that ranks as one of the few encounters to actually raise temperatures. Busty Nadine Pascal was usually "Nadja Santos" or "Nadine Scant" on penetration pics but is better known for Franco's SADOMANIA and TWO FEMALE SPIES WITH FLOWERED PANTIES. Long-haired blonde Danielle Troger probably looks the most convincingly Scandinavian of the lot and was also an extremely active adult starlet throughout the '70s but little Elsa Maroussia (as reluctant virgin Selma) only went all the way once, in Claude Bernard-Aubert's blah BIG ORGY.

Photographic duties are divided between stalwart Andreas Demmer and his apprentice Rudi Küttel, who had done such a splendid job on Franco's Kitsch masterpiece BLUE RITA, with the first focusing more on the splendiferous surroundings while the latter would fearlessly probe the female private parts. As ever, Walter Baumgartner came on board for another perfectly pleasant and quite eclectic soundtrack to score the saucy shenanigans. What one must not forget is that Dietrich wasn't trying to beat the Bard with this undemanding bit o'froth. It used to play my local (long-gone) sex cinema semi-annually, almost always to packed houses, and no one ever asked for a refund ! Simply put, it does what it says on the tin, prime meat 'n potatoes porn that doesn't aspire to anything higher.
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Taboo V (1986 Video)
8/10
Downward Spiral
15 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Although separated from the exceptional TABOO IV by only a year, this next and somewhat final installment - subsequent "sequels" were handled by other directors and focused on less sulfurous subjects than incest - clearly shows that the rot was already setting in. Oldtime porno palaces were closing their doors and cheapskate shot on video provided a much bigger return on investment. Adult "cinema" had nowhere left to go. Kirdy Stevens and wife Helene Terrie had built a profitable cottage industry on the foundations of family frolicking but the times were finally catching up with them. While TABOO V is far from a bad movie, production shortcuts are palpable.

The involved and complex storyline picks up where the previous episode left off with wealthy psychiatrist Jeremy Lodge (an effectively subdued Jamie Gillis) trying to fill the void left by his all too loving daughter Robin (Ginger Lynn) with nasty Satana (one of Amber Lynn's most electrifying performances) who gleefully treats him like excrement as she brazenly brings her black lovers (Jonathan Younger & Billy Dee) into the apartment he has rented for them as a pad for their private canoodling. His other daughter Naomi (the underrated Karen Summer) has married her acting teacher Dalton (Joey Silvera, eschewing his familiar goof-ball persona) who now wants to keep her out of the limelight and in the kitchen. Main reason of course is that he wants to keep on screwing aspiring young actresses on the side, something Naomi catches onto when she walks in on him "auditioning" the very accommodating Porsche Lynn. Tearful, she rushes back to dear old dad.

The Lodge lineage is inter-cut with one of the doc's latest case studies, that of prim 'n proper Mary (former soft-core starlet "Sharon Kelly" now Colleen Brennan in a characteristically terrific turn) who keeps waking up in strange men's beds, being called "Maureen" in post-coital bliss. Widowed at a young age and emotionally scarred from an abusive past, Mary's secretly attracted to her teenage son (the appropriately youthful-looking Shone Taylor), a desire she can only give into as her slutty alter ego. Although this merely boils down to typical porn pop psychology (the whore/Madonna complex at its finest) in the end, Brennan does a bang-up job creating considerable audience sympathy for her character's plight. Mary's "slumbering" nymphomania also allows Stevens to tie this episode to the McBride family storyline from TABOO II, III and IV by trotting out their son Junior (the late Kevin James) as one of her one night stands, bleached blonde squeeze Lorrie Lovett in tow, for one of the film's fornication highlights.

While both narrative strands possess potential interest, more time might have been devoted to Brennan's which now feels unnecessarily choppy. Since it's no great surprise where either plot is heading towards, blood relations taken to illogical extremes being the series' bread and butter, much of the drama feels reduced to down-market soap operatics this time around. Dialog seems rushed or at least under-rehearsed, which is particularly harmful to the less accomplished actors with Taylor floundering in a part several sizes too big for his puny prowess. At least his climactic coupling with mom and her shifting personalities comes off well.

Thuddingly unimaginative '70s TV Movie of the Week type cinematography and meat cleaver editing are both indicative of a rush job. At least the soundtrack (containing a couple of original songs, unfortunately repeated ad nauseam) by Christopher Saint Booth, who was the "Saint" scoring all those glossy Nicholas Steele movies for Adam & Eve, takes a shot at emulating the amazing Leon Felburg scores found in preceding parts of the series.
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9/10
Sisters Under the Skin
14 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Former darling of the French film critics of the '60s, the late José Bénazéraf (who passed away quietly in late 2012, aged 90 and almost completely blind) went increasingly off the rails as pictorial permissiveness of successive decades allowed him to indulge private penchants his early works only hinted at. A lifelong "provocateur", he would go to battle up against the censors and distributors whom he felt were holding cinema hostage. Tired of his haranguing, these would retaliate by delaying the release of his 1966 crime sage JOE CALIGULA by almost three years and forcing him to delete over half an hour of sex and violence. By the time it finally reached theaters, it had already been robbed of its shock value. As a result, the audience stayed away in droves.

The director, whose early hothouse melodramas had Cahiers Du Cinéma scribes comparing him to the likes of Bunuel, Godard, Antonioni and - in the case of his magnificent COVER GIRLS - even Vincente Minnelli, subsequently took the headlong plunge into pornography. Tentatively at first (with hardcore illegal in France until 1974), his early excursions suggest a carnal cinema that might have been if it weren't for the exorbitant taxes and zoning restrictions imposed by the infamous "X" laws intended to stop the flurry of filth feared by the government.

One of his most accessible works, both in terms of narrative and general availability, FRUSTRATION comes very close to being a masterpiece. A chamber piece involving three central characters, it contains one of his cherished themes - eroticism as an act of rebellion against the conservatism of bourgeois society - already touched upon in the previous year's indigestible LE DESIRABLE ET LE SUBLIME, though thankfully stripped of much of his hollow philosophies borrowed from Marx, Engels and Freud. Bénazéraf's tendency to mix porn with politics is reduced to a bare minimum here, apart from the characters absentmindedly watching TV shows on the country's dire economic situation, narrated by the director himself !

Spinsterish Adelaide (former fashion model and international party girl Janine Reynaud creatively) lives with her beautiful younger sister Agnes (stunning Elizabeth Teissier) and the well-off physician she has married, Michel (Reynaud's then real life husband Michel Lemoine), in a gorgeous old château in the French countryside. Each day begins and ends the same way, with Agnes seeing her spouse off to work and life seemingly put on hold until his return by dinnertime. Inbetween, the sisters pass the time in an uneasy truce, barely acknowledging each other's presence. At night, Adelaide is torn up by her own repressed passions as she's forced to listen to her sister's noisy lovemaking. As a tease, Bénazéraf doesn't show us the first sex scene but only lets the audience listen in, as is Adelaide's torturous plight. This segues into a memorable fantasy sequence of Reynaud running down a long corridor, opening door after door, only to find Agnes and Michel behind each of them, every time "frozen" in a different sexual position.

To upset the apple cart, Adelaide tells Agnes that Michel is fooling around on her, with a cheap prostitute no less, imagining herself in the part. Watching future astrologist Teissier fret about her husband's infidelity acquires a retro-active irony when one realizes the actress would eventually become the most heavily publicized mistress in France, to that country's president François Mitterrand ! Adelaide's behavior seems to suggest that she has designs on Michel herself and is indeed trying to drive a wedge between him and her sister. Truth is however that she has always decried Agnes's abandoning of both intellectual and economic self-sufficiency to the prison of marriage. Hey, they don't call it "wedlock" for nothing ! As she disapproved of their union, the intimacy shared by the sisters in their youth eventually turned to barely contained hatred. A tricky progression over the film's two final climactic sex scenes - a threesome with Michel dividing his attentions between both siblings and a lesbian coupling that literally forces him out of the picture altogether - reveal that this hatred is very much directed inwards as Agnes and Adelaide are shown to be one and the same, a woman disgusted with how much of herself she has had to "sacrifice" in order to obtain wedded "bliss".

The movie is at its strongest when this psychologically complex plot (typically told from the viewpoint of the "untrustworthy narrator") is related in comparatively straightforward fashion, basically over the course of the three sex scenes involving the central characters. The arrival of a British couple whose car broke down near the château only serves to dilute the dramatic intensity, leading to fantasy flashbacks to the Spanish Inquisition (huh ?) that feature Jess Franco muse Pamela Stanford among the abused peasant girls. It's a tribute to the strengths of the story and its three superlative interpreters that these extraneous segments ultimately cause no irreparable harm. The ravishing Reynaud has been mostly cast as weary women of the world but is absolutely riveting as quite the opposite here. Teissier also proves quite accomplished as she gradually dissolves into crippling insecurity when learning of Michel's alleged betrayal.

Likewise, the film's eroticism is at its most potent when it's most closely linked to the narrative. While not all that explicit, the sex comes across as extremely intense because of the dramatic repercussions it signals towards. Music is most sparingly employed with several long sequences (not just sexual ones) taking place in total silence and apparently uninterrupted takes. Another movie to use wintry isolation as a metaphor for its characters' feeble mental state, FRUSTRATION benefits tremendously from the exquisitely composed images conjured up by the underrated Georges Strouvé who shot several films for French outlaw film critic turned filmmaker Paul Vecchiali, including his fabulous foray into fornication CHANGE PAS DE MAIN from 1975, the final year when everything still seemed possible for the genre.
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White Fire (1981)
8/10
Fire Walk With Me
12 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This intriguing adult oddity has slowly but steadily garnered a considerable fan following over the years. However, it wasn't until a recent Jack Munroe interview talking about his sadly long gone transsexual "spouse" Jill on the indispensable Rialto Report website that the real identity of director "Roger Colmont" was revealed as being none other than the late great Edward Earle Marsh a/k/a "Zebedy Colt". Although the repeated use of Colt's haunting self-penned song The Day to Say Goodbye (taken from his collectible 1969 torch song album I'll Sing for You) should have been a giveaway, no one really seems to have bothered to connect the dots. As with all of his filmmaking efforts, the means at his disposal were modest but his commitment and ingenuity went a long way to make up for that. His best films like THE DEVIL INSIDE HER and THE AFFAIRS OF JANICE have the power of their own convictions overriding frugal funding and "B" casts of habitually supporting studs 'n starlets thrust into the limelight. His nominal stab at couples-oriented "Porno Chic", WHITE FIRE fits that blueprint to a T.

Lisa Marks, an appealing brunette second stringer who gave solid performances for the likes of Shaun Costello (THE TWO LIVES OF JENNIFER, MORE THAN SISTERS) and Carter Stevens (HONEYMOON HAVEN, PLEASURE PALACE), shines as fashion magazine editor Vanessa Johnson, living life in the fast lane with no time for true love. Letting her hair down at one swinger's party after another, where she makes it a rule never to "do" the same guy twice, she "meets cute" with romantic hunk Tim (an early appearance by Herschel Savage, credited as "Bill Barry") who quickly convinces her he's the real deal and the very man to "take her away from it all". Catching him in flagrante with her scheming secretary Cynthia (perky Georgette Sanders from Jim Buckley's quintessential cheerleader classic DEBBIE DOES DALLAS), Vanessa balks at Tim's apparent - if perhaps misinterpreted - betrayal and drives off in a huff to their cabin in the mountains.

Trapped by a sudden snowfall, Vanessa's mind starts playing tricks on her as characters from her past start to appear and disappear at will. Memories of orgies past (marking fleeting appearance by fan favorites such as the aforementioned Munroes, pretty blonde Heather Young a/k/a "Colleen Anderson" and Tony Danza lookalike David Morris) intermingle with terrifying visions of helplessness at the hands of crazed rapists led by Dick Stevens from Chris Covino's Samantha Fox showcase HERE COMES THE BRIDE. All the while, you can sense Colt's steely determination to turn the sex into something quite out of the ordinary. The conceptually clever ladder sequence with Lisa and Herschel stands as a good example of how he wasn't going to let budgetary restrictions thwart his best efforts. Other ideas, like the sparklers emerging from ladies' nether regions, don't come off nearly as well but you have to give the guy credit for trying. The (simulated) violations seem like a temporary throwback to the "roughie" territory Colt explored with UNWILLING LOVERS and FARMER'S DAUGHTERS but aren't as gratuitous as they initially appear within the grand scheme of what this flick ultimately attempts to convey.

Driven to distraction by the enforced isolation and growing to realize she may have misjudged Tim's behavior, Lisa downs an entire bottle of sleeping pills with booze, only to be saved by her lover at the very last minute. Or could he be just another apparition conjured up by her fevered mind ? Contrary to what my fellow commentator has to say on the subject, I feel the crushing twist ending makes perfect sense, closing this serious sex drama on a satisfying downer note that's entirely in keeping with the overall tone of the material. Cinematographer C. Davis Smith (a/k/a "Charles Lamont") certainly knew a thing or two about maximizing one's meager assets, cutting his teeth as bargain basement exploitation empress Doris Wishman's DoP of choice. He works wonders here with the (granted, fortuitous) visuals of wintry isolation and also manages to incorporate some fresh angles during carnal encounters. By the time Colt's unmistakable vocals kick in for another rendition of his theme song, the lyrics have acquired a profoundly sad resonance that secures this underrated little cult film's status as an indelible porno poem alongside the likes of Roberta Findlay's magnificent MYSTIQUE and Roger Watkins' skin-crawling CORRUPTION.
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5/10
Spaghetti"O"s (with extra cheese...)
11 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Suave and easy-going, Richard Mailer would crank out dozens of one and two day wonders before hitting the big time with 1981's CENTERFOLD FEVER. Most of these were good unclean fun and Mailer would occasionally be able to transform a sow's ear into a silk purse, such as with the weepy ONE LAST FLING or his soap opera send-up MARY FLEGUS, MARY FLEGUS. Unfortunately, such is not the case with DOOGAN'S WOMAN, an either improvised or severely under-rehearsed bit o' business solely remembered for one outrageous sex scene with stalwart Eric Edwards and a still very much on the rise Sharon Mitchell screwing in a bathtub full of spaghetti ! If any proof were needed that not every old porno movie qualifies as a "classic", then look no further...

Signing as he did most of these quickies with "Grey Poupon" (the alternative "Mr. Mustard" serving as his producer credit), Mailer eschews his usual lightness of touch as he lumbers from one sorry sexual encounter to the next. The storyline seems to have had some potential but appears cut short to fit the one hour supporting slot. Thus we are given precious little in the way of motivation for main character Annette's thirst for revenge on fashion photographer Rick Trencher (played by Bree Anthony's husband, Tony Richards). An obvious gold-digger with a characteristically shady past, she has sunk her greedy claws into wealthy magazine publisher Doogan, pumping him for a fancy apartment as well as the position of chief editor. Poor Sue McBain really earns her paycheck putting out for paunchy middle-aged Philip Marlowe with whom she was also partnered on Larry Windsor's superior SWEETHEART. This unsavory coupling is cross-cut with Trencher plugging his Spanish squeeze (a Hispanic one shot with the unlikely moniker of "Alice Norwood") in a Catholic chapel complete with candles and crucifix. Both scenes end with Doogan announcing to the flabbergasted Annette that he has hired the shutterbug for an upcoming fashion shoot.

Rolling out the welcome wagon, Annette waits for Trencher in his hotel room, clad in nothing but a towel. Allowing him to profusely tongue her box, she suddenly changes her mind mid-lick as she tearfully screams rape ! Naturally, this leads to Doogan's promise that he'll "never work in this town again", reducing him to shooting the aforementioned spaghetti scene, easily the most spirited number in the entire movie, right down to Mitch's casually delivered parting punchline. Too bad Mailer anew couldn't resist inter-cutting this entertaining sequence with an unappealing encounter as desperate model Brenda Filbrick (a/k/a "Edna Bardo", a hard-looking performer featured in Shaun Costello's DAUGHTERS OF DISCIPLINE) forcing herself on the clearly less than eager Richards. For the record, this sad spectacle does incorporate some brightly lit if statically shot back-door action. If you're really ravenous for rear entry penetration however, it's a far better prospect to move on to the next and final fling. Informed by Edwards that Annette was a former porno model herself (an indiscretion she has managed to keep from her new paramour), Rick shows up while the hussy's going at it hot 'n heavy with Eric, blackmailing her into a somewhat passionately performed if rather clinically covered double penetration.

A treasured supporting actress on "A-list" adult features such as Gerard Damiano's ODYSSEY or Radley Metzger's BARBARA BROADCAST, the well-bred Susan McBain frequently suggested untapped thespian possibilities, as evidenced by her hauntingly crestfallen facial expression by film's fade-out. Apart from the ever professional Eric and Mitch, she's the only one who bothers to put in an actual acting performance, making it all the more regrettable that Mailer for whatever reason ended up discarding any acceptable explanation for her character's now apparently unfounded meanness vis à vis the clueless Trencher.
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Deep Roots (1978)
7/10
Play It as It Lays...
5 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Capturing the carefree California Zeitgeist of the late 1970s to a T, this is one of only a handful of XXX flicks directed by Joseph Bardo, a Jack of all trades who had cut his teeth as a tech on adult shoots stretching back as far as R. Lee Frost's 1969 sex western THE SCAVENGERS and Ted Roter's 1970 psychobabble porn NORMA. Apart from the questionably attributed Rene Bond showcase DO YOU WANNA BE LOVED? (credited to "B.A. Smith", the writer of DEEP ROOTS, with the more familiar "Lisa Barr" serving as editor), this ranks perhaps as his most accomplished effort, albeit allowing some caveat.

One of depressingly few fornication films to feature - let alone star - an actor of Native American descent, DEEP ROOTS will appeal primarily to nitty gritty adult aficionados who value often genuinely erotic sex above all else. In the lead role of Billy, kissing girlfriend Shawna (Debbie Love) goodbye to embark on a tour of Hollywood to see "how the other people live", Jesse Chacan is spectacularly easy on the eyes, like Sonny Landham's kid brother with a dash of David Cassidy and every bit as cute as the fly by night starlets he's pornographically paired with. Story takes a back seat early on as the narrative quickly boils down to a series of reminiscences as Billy fondly recalls his tussles with Tinseltown's tastiest trollops. Clearly, the current trend to revile Golden Age porn for all the aspects that make up mainstream movie fare, like an engaging script and decent thesping, is not going to apply here.

Production values on the other hand are unexpectedly lavish with gorgeous cinematography by Bart Younger, who shot all of Bardo's "Lisa Barr" endeavors (Lisa, just for the record, being his daughter's name), and a perfectly pleasant soundtrack filled with original songs by one "David Blue" who I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest as being a proper recording artist. Such polished tech specs totally enhance the overall experience, revealing a care and concern not always apparent on the remainder of Bardo's meager output, especially the train wreck that was STARLET NIGHTS, shot at around the same time but not released theatrically until 1982.

Cruising his chopper along the Pacific Coast Highway, Billy picks up hot to trot Joan (abundant Anita Sands, memorable co-star to the returning Rene in DO YOU WANNA BE LOVED?) who's mighty miffed that her longtime boyfriend steadfastly refuses to pop the question. Hence she engages in a spot of body-painting when she learns of our hero's artistic aspirations. Unspoiled Rene (one shot Toni Bell, sporting a fashionable Farrah Fawcett flip) gets Billy all hot and bothered in an incredibly arousing tease tidbit but recoils at the very last moment, leaving him to assuage an onset of blue balls with the lithe and lovely Sue (Mary Swan, another one shot) whom he has always regarded "as a sister". He soon gets over that minor quibble and their resulting encounter's a real barn burner.

Before Billy gets a repeat shot at the reluctant Rene in another scorcher, we cut to Joan getting her hair done (and not just that on her head, this being the '70s and all) in preparation of the Big Party Billy's been blabbing on about by "The Amazing Ricardo", in actuality a portly middle-aged Puerto Rican (with a short fuse...) who looks about as far removed from being a porn stud as it is humanly possibly. The party's your predictable L.A. orgy with what looks like a bunch of real life swingers billed as "Fifty Beautiful People" though I'm really only sure about the final third of that particular description. Running the gamut of age and body types, these performers generally make up in carnal gusto for what they lack in the aesthetic department, turning a diaphanously gowned Joan (easily the most eye-catching female participant) into a magnificent mess à la Brigitte Maier at the climax of Lasse Braun's superlative SENSATIONS.

Making the most of modest resources, Bardo has created a classy skin flick with creatively crafted intimate interludes with the emphasis on erotic rather than explicit, although there's ultimately no shortage of that as well. On the downside, the paltry plot meanders towards the most meaningless of cop-out conclusions (Billy stating you should never stray too far "from where you belong" before heading back to the reservation) and the "acting" is very, very bad even by adult standards. You know you're in trouble when Liz Renay, legendary burlesque headliner and an amiable enough actress (A for trying) when put through her paces by the accommodating John Waters on his 1977 trash classic DESPERATE LIVING, actually delivers the flick's most competent turn as Joan's over the hill stripper girlfriend teaching her how to rekindle the home fires through expert ecdysiasm (look it up...) in an absolutely priceless sequence.
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7/10
Cherchez la Virgin
30 November 2014
An erotic entertainment entrepreneur of Turkish descent, Kemal Horulu was still testing the waters as to just how permissive above ground adult movies were allowed to be when he made VIRGIN AND THE LOVER, like THE SEXUALIST and ALL ABOUT SEX OF ALL NATIONS before it a soft-core/hardcore hybrid still strongly bearing the imprint of his simulated (s)exploitation beginnings with the notorious 1968 "roughie" SOME LIKE IT VIOLENT. Pretty permissive as it turned out and Horulu would never look back, putting together a mere handful of fairly ambitious adult projects over the decade that followed. Although not a particularly potent filmmaker, in an era dominated by the likes of Gerard Damiano and Chuck Vincent (not to mention the in a class of his own Radley Metzger), he continuously strove to make serious sex films surrounding real or perceived psychological problems, be it the good girl/bad girl dichotomy portrayed by Lesllie Bovee in BLUE ECSTASY IN NEW YORK or Victoria Jackson and John Leslie attempting to avoid the pitfalls of their open marriage in NEVER SLEEP ALONE.

Although it only qualifies as an embryonic effort by comparison, VIRGIN AND THE LOVER takes a similar approach, delving deeply into the mind and motives of a cross-dressing filmmaker (earnestly played by the ever reliable Eric Edwards) with often unintentionally laugh out loud results. Chief culprit for this hilarity is the unbelievably florid voice-over monologues swamping the half-baked screenplay by Kenneth Schwartz, allegedly adapting a "French novelette" (as per credits) of which not a single trace can be found. Schwartz, best known for producing and co-directing (along with severely testing his patience) Shaun Costello's big budget Fiona ON FIRE and Dracula EXOTICA, had carnal credentials stretching all the way back to bankrolling the idiosyncratic Eduardo Cemano's early '70s fleetingly explicit FONGALULI and THE HEALERS but his writing would have made even Ed Wood blush.

An interesting realization comes with the fact that the acting by cast members fearlessly letting it all hang out is far superior to that of those only going through the motions. One exception being Jennifer Welles, strictly simulating Sapphic splendor with Darby Lloyd Rains two years prior to taking the pornographic plunge in Howard Ziehm's HONEYPIE. This lesbo liaison appears as part of conflicted protagonist Paul's cinematic "exploration" of alternative lifestyles, imaginatively entitled "Two Women", mirroring his own latent homosexual tendencies as he can only achieve arousal with a female partner in male drag vis à vis the only vaguely feminine garment he seems to own, a tatty floral print house dress.

Frequenting Dr. Tracey (one Reggi Defoe) to work through his hang-ups, the handsome Paul catches the eye of perky receptionist Julie (one shot soft-core starlet Leah Marlon) who tries her darnedest to get him to ask her out on a date. Fly in the ointment is her obnoxious boyfriend Andy (THE SEXUALIST's Jonathan John), a wholly improbable Hollywood hunk (no way !) with a bevy of groupies in his bedroom. Unwilling or incapable of going all the way, John scurries for the exit when his aggressive partner (Julia Sorel from Ziehm's SEXTEEN) demands the deep dish treatment, understandably turning to Helen Madigan and Marc Stevens for consolation.

Exhibiting impressive production values, highlighted by Horulu's own capable camera work, the flick occasionally overcomes the sheer ridiculousness of its twisted narrative with some creatively crafted carnal encounters. If the simulated stuff fails to rise above the unimaginative ploy of having naked people very cautiously rubbing their loins up against each other, save for the aforementioned girl on girl gambit, the graphic groping shows both enthusiasm and budding expertise. Particular attention should be paid to cult favorite Susan Sloan (billed as "Patty Steinberg", she never used the same moniker twice) as Paul's former squeeze Sandra, making a welcome re-appearance in his fruitful fantasy life.
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