Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Curse of Her Flesh (1968)

The Curse of Her Flesh, released in 1968, was the second instalment in Michael Findlay’s notorious Flesh trilogy, perhaps the most deliriously perverse of all 1960s sexploitation movies. This is bizarre entertainment, although entertainment may not be the right word to use to describe these cinematic sleazefests.

The roughie sub-genre emerged as audiences began to tire of the rather innocent shenanigans of the nudie-cutie genre. If nude volleyball was beginning to pall why not add lashings of violence and add a kinky edge to the sex? Actually the nudie-cuties didn’t have any sex, just nudity, but by the mid-60s it was starting to be possible to depict sex as long as care was taken to ensure that very little was actually seen. Violence on the other hand was much easier to get away with.

There were roughies, and then there were the films of husband-and-wife team Michael and Roberta Findlay. The Findlays didn’t just push the edge of the envelope. They ripped up the envelope, set it on fire and then stomped on it. Their films were exercises in bad taste, misanthropy, weirdness, kinkiness and excess. Michael directed and often starred in the films while Roberts handled the cinematography. They co-produced and co-wrote the productions. Roberta occasionally acted as well. Roberta was one of the fairly small number of women involved in actually making sexploitation movies rather than just appearing in them. 

Considering the nature of their films it’s unusual enough for a woman to be involved in the production side. It’s even more surprising for a married woman to be doing so. You have to wonder what their marriage was like!


Watching such movies you’d have to suspect that Michael had a few issues. In fact you’d have to suspect that he had lots of issues. Whether this was true or not I have no idea. For all I know maybe he was actually a nice regular guy in real life.

This one takes up where The Touch of Her Flesh left off. Arms dealer Richard Jennings, having bumped off his unfaithful stripper wife, along with sundry other hookers and strippers, is back and his mental state hasn’t improved any. He wants more revenge. And he intends to get it, in the most extreme manner possible. It’s not really necessary to tell you much more about the plot. This flick is a series of strange and depraved sequences and plot coherence was not a major priority.



Apart from the revenge theme there’s also something connected with an inheritance but I’m still not quite clear what that was all about.

Richard as usual is venting his anger on strippers and in this case he’s particularly targeting a girl who does a kinky lesbian stage act. He deals with her indirectly but in a suitably gruesome and nasty manner.

There’s also another girl who is the girlfriend of his main target, the man who stole his wife. She has somehow managed to convince the guy that she’s a virgin. In fact she has plans to restore her lost virginity and that offers Richard an opportunity to make his vengeance very devious indeed.


There’s a definite arty edge to this film, or rather there’s a definite attempt at artiness. Trying to be arty is something that is generally best avoided and to be honest Radley Metzger was the only film-maker capable of convincingly combining erotica and art (which he did most successfully in his superb The Lickerish Quartet). The Findlays don’t really get away with it here. They give the impression of trying too hard and the result is a movie that is slow-moving and muddled rather than artistic. It’s also debatable just how successfully anyone could have combined this much sleaze with art.

The acting is mostly typical of the genre, in other words the performers were chosen for their willingness to engage in cinematic kinkiness rather than for their acting chops. It does have to be said though that Michael Findlay makes a fairly convincing psychotic killer.



There’s a stupendous amount of depravity in this movie although it’s too bizarre and unhinged to be genuinely disturbing.

Something Weird released all three of the Findlay Flesh films on one DVD. They’re not very long films so this involves no real compromises as far as the quality of the transfers is concerned. The Curse of Her Flesh gets a fullframe transfer (which is correct since it was shot in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio) and looks very good. There are no extras, hardly surprising with three movies on one disc.


The Curse of Her Flesh is not for the faint-hearted. This is one strange and grubby little movie. It has a certain morbid fascination but on the whole it lacks the fun that makes so many 60s sexploitation movies so enjoyable. And if you want depravity Dave Friedman’s The Defilers does it better and more intelligently. I think this one is strictly for fans of the Findlays.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Invisible Man (1933)

Universal’s 1933 The Invisible Man left me decidedly unimpressed when I last saw it some years back. That was on VHS and I thought that seeing it on Blu-Ray might perhaps improve the experience. It didn’t and I will try to explain why.

The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale who established a very high reputation as a horror director with Universal with films such as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

The adaptation, by R.C. Sherriff, takes some liberties with the plot of the original story by H.G. Wells and even greater liberties with the intent of the original.

The movie opens with the Invisible Man making his appearance, swathed in bandages, seeking shelter in an English country inn. He needs a place to work in secrecy. He is a troublesome lodger and soon finds himself ejected from the inn, a procedure to which he takes violent objection. We gradually learn the reason for his invisibility, and for his apparent instability and violence. He has discovered a cocktail of drugs that renders him invisible but with unfortunate effects on his sanity. An invisible man is potentially dangerous; an unhinged invisible man is a very definite danger.

We also learn his identity. He is Jack Griffin, a promising young scientist who disappeared from his laboratory in mysterious circumstances.


The police are soon on his trial, an undertaking which predictably presents them with extreme difficulties and as their pursuit intensifies Griffin’s behaviour becomes increasingly violent and bizarre. He starts to lose interest in finding an antidote to his invisibility drugs, preferring to daydream about the limitless power that he imagines is going to be his.

There are many many problems with this film. It’s possible that the biggest problem of all is James Whale. His insistence on treating the story mostly as comedy not only removes most of the drama and suspense, it also strips the film of any emotional depth. Whale’s contempt for the horror genre is obvious in all his films in the genre and is perhaps the reason he insisted on adding so much ill-advised comedy.


Another weakness is that the Invisible Man is ready clearly deranged and homicidal when the character is first introduced. We never see him as a presumably dedicated and quite human young scientist but only as a murderous madman. The result is that we simply don’t care what happens to him. The sooner he is hunted down and killed the better. There is no element of tragedy to the story. There is no drama and it’s difficult to build suspense when it’s impossible to care about the fate of the protagonist, and in this film it’s actually impossible to care about the fates of any of the characters.

The extraordinarily annoying performance of Claude Rains in the title role, and the excessive ham-fisted comedy, add to the problems.


We also don’t get to see anything of the relationship between Griffin and his fiancée Flora (Gloria Stuart). We don’t get to know Flora at all and Stuart’s performance is lifeless (admittedly the terrible script gives her little to work with). This means there is no effective romance angle to give us a reason to care about either Griffin or Flora. Whale seems to have had zero interest in emotional relationships. This is to an extraordinary degree an emotionally sterile film.

The acting is universally broad, obvious and generally awful. Una O’Connor screeches a lot, which seems to have the limit of her acting talents. She seems to have been one of Whale’s favoured actress and she’s as tiresome here as she is in Bride of Frankenstein.

All of this means that the movie has only one thing going for it, that being the special effects. They are impressive for 1933 and in fact are still pretty impressive today. On the whole though the movie is visually much less interesting than most of Universal’s horror movies of the period, with no real atmosphere.


Universal’s Blu-Ray release looks terrific. Unfortunately it’s let down by a horrifically useless menu system so while there appear to be some tempting extras don’t be surprised if you can’t access them.

Are the flaws of The Invisible Man serious enough to make it not worth seeing? Sadly I’d have to say that the answer is yes. Apart from the invisibility effects I can’t think of a single thing about this movie that works. It’s not just uninteresting, it’s positively irritating.

Avoid this one.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Hollywood Babylon (1972)

Hollywood Babylon is a softcore sexploitation expose of Hollywood in the silent era. It’s a clever idea - take lots of stock footage from the First World War and the 1920s and lots of footage from silent movies, purporting to tell the story of Hollywood, then mix in some hot softcore sex scenes illustrating the most colourful episodes of Tinseltown depravity. So you get an 87 minute movie but you only need to shoot about 40 minutes of new footage and since all of the new footage is wall-to-wall nudity and sex you still have a potent little sexploitation feature.

There’s also the advantage that all the sex scenes are period scenes, with Jazz Age trappings and clothing (although the ladies tend to shed their clothing pretty quickly). 

And there’s the further bonus that all this depraved and illicit sex involves celebrities.

It’s based loosely on Kenneth Anger’s infamous 1965 book Hollywood Babylon. The book details the degenerate lifestyles of Hollywood’s rich and famous in salacious detail although to a large extent it’s mere gossip. Anger assumed that if there was a scandalous rumour about a Hollywood star then it must have been true. Of course the Hollywood elite did lead lives of staggering excess and there was undoubtedly a great deal of illicit and often perverted sex, even if the particular stories retailed by Anger were not necessarily true.


True or not these stories do make great material for an exploitation movie. And they’re done in full colour, in a fairly glossy style (by low-budget movie standards) with some very attractive actresses and absolutely copious quantities of sex and nudity and assorted naughtiness.

During the 20s Hollywood was rocked by a series of scandals, the most famous being the Fatty Arbuckle case. Aspiring actress Virginia Rappe died soon after attending a party thrown by Arbuckle at a San Francisco hotel. Arbuckle, one of the most popular silent comics, was accused of raping her and causing her death. He was acquitted but his career was ruined. Anger, and the fim-makers, have chosen the most outrageous and titillating of the many rumours surrounding the case, the rumour involving a somewhat unconventional use of a champagne bottle as a sex aid.


Equally over-the-top is the sequence involving Charlie Chaplin, his child bride, his aversion to ordinary sex (given that he’d been trapped into marriage by a pregnancy) and his efforts to persuade his bride that his favoured alternative to regular sex was actually perfectly normal, even though it was contrary to the California Penal Code. She finds his story a bit hard to swallow, if you’ll forgive my unforgivable pun.

And then there’s the celebrated story about the It Girl, Clara Bow, being serviced by an entire football team, a proceeding from which (in the movie) she seems to derive considerable satisfaction.


For cult movie fans the highlight is probably going to be Uschi Digard as Marlene Dietrich, a sequence featuring not just lesbian sex but lesbian domestic violence (you would certainly not get away with such a scene today), some kinky dressing-up games and some fairly hot heterosexual sex as well (Marlene being a gal who played for both teams).

Various drug scandals are dealt with as well, and of course if you’re going to deal with drugs you naturally want the actresses to take their clothes off. There’s also a rare orgy scene that manages to be genuinely decadent, and even genuinely erotic.


The totally episodic format of the movie meant there was no need to worry about a plot and the newly filmed inserts could be concentrated entirely on the sinful doings of the stars.

Hollywood Babylon is included as an extra on Bayview Entertainment’s DVD release of The Beast and the Vixens. Hollywood Babylon is in some ways the more entertaining film.

Hollywood Babylon is amusingly scandalous, genuinely sexy, quite kinky and it achieves a truly decadent feel. It succeeds rather well in doing what it sets out to do. Recommended.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Pom Pom Girls (1976)

The Pom Pom Girls is a 1976 Crown International release that is probably more accurately described as teensploitation than sexploitation. If you want to get some enjoyment out of this one you need to accept it on its own terms. This isn’t Citizen Kane. It’s a teen comedy/romance.

The four central characters are all students at Rosedale High School in southern California. Jesse (Michael Mullins) and Johnny (Robert Carradine) are football players, Laurie (Jennifer Ashley) and Sally (Lisa Reeves) are cheerleaders. They’re typical teenagers, obsessed with sex but confused by love, rebelling against authority but craving some sort of structure to their lives, and desperately trying to have a good time because they know this is the best chance they will ever have of having fun.

Sally is dating Duane and Duane is a worrying kind of guy, much too tightly wrapped for his own good and inclined towards violence. Johnny has been trying to steal Sally from Duane and he’s finally getting close to achieving that goal. Everyone thinks Johnny is crazy, Sally thinks he’s crazy, but it’s a charming and rather endearing kind of craziness, the kind of craziness that teenage girls can find pretty attractive.

Jesse has been pursuing Laurie. Laurie’s not too certain how she feels about this. Jesse has the reputation of being the school stud and he’s a start football player who’s much too sure of himself. For Laurie these things are both a turn-off and a turn-on but Jesse has fallen for her pretty hard and she’s the kind of girl who wants a guy who is going to be devoted to her.


Rosedale High School has a fierce football rivalry with nearby Hardin High. It’s more like open warfare than rivalry. This provides the opportunity for plenty of pranks and counter-pranks and these in turn provide much of the movie’s comedy, and in fact some reasonably neat comic set-pieces such as the fire engine theft.

The Pom Pom Girls was pretty obviously inspired by American Graffiti although it’s really a film without much in the way of artistic pretensions. Insofar as it’s trying to achieve anything it’s trying to capture a certain spirit, which it does fairly successfully.

This movie doesn’t try too hard to make its four main characters excessively likeable and sympathetic. Teenagers as a breed are neither likeable nor sympathetic. They’re self-involved, impulsive, selfish, thoughtless and they have the attention span of a gnat. They’re exasperating and these four main characters can be exasperating as well. Jesse is way too intense. Johnny is reckless and unstable and his baiting of Sally’s ex-boyfriend Duane is foolish and immature. It’s the sort of thing a teenager would do. Sally’s behaviour towards Duane is at times unnecessarily cruel. Laurie is emotionally capricious. This is something that I kind of like about his movie. It does have a certain realism to it.


On the other hand these characters don’t quite cross the line into obnoxiousness. They are doing their best to cope with life and they’re being overwhelmed by their hormones and their emotions.

This is a movie that has the attention span of a teenager. It’s almost plotless, jumping from incident to incident with no real sense of purpose or direction, rather like a teenager’s emotions. This actually works in the film’s favour.

If there’s no core plot, there vague outlines of what could have been fully developed plotlines - the Jesse-Laurie and the Johnny-Sally love stories, the friendship between Jesse and Johnny, the conflict between the highly strung Jesse and the authoritarian football coach. the battle between Johnny and Duane over Sally.


There is a bit of nudity but less than you’d expect and the sex scenes are very restrained indeed. This is strictly PG stuff. Even the totally gratuitous girls’ locker room scene with lots of naked cheerleaders has a kind of wholesome quality. These are basically nice if high-spirited girls who just happen not to have their clothes on. The female audience is not neglected either - they get to see the football players hit the showers.

Perhaps the best thing about The Pom Pom Girls is that it manages to avoid being mean-spirited. None of these kids really wants to hurt anybody. If they do hurt anybody it just happens in the thoughtlessly accidental way of teenagers. Mostly they just want to have a good time.

The four leads are all surprisingly not too bad with Robert Carradine being the standout. Cult movie fans will want to look out for Cheryl ‘Rainbeaux’ Smith in a small role.


The movie certainly has an appealing time capsule quality. This is a southern California of innocence and prosperity, of endless beaches, of sunshine, of good-looking football players and beautiful girls. Sex was safe and fun. The worst potential calamity on the horizon is the possibility that their football team might be beaten by Hardin High’s team. Maybe this was all a bit idealised even in 1976 but seeing a movie like this today one can’t help feeling that we’ve lost much of our capacity for innocent fun.

The version included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection seems to be the same as BCI's Starlite Drive-In Theater release. It’s an adequate if not great transfer. There has been a more recent Blu-Ray release from Scorpion Releasing but I’m not convinced I’d want to spend the money getting this one on Blu-Ray.

The Pom Pom Girls is pretty enjoyable if you’re in the right mood and your expectations aren’t too high. Recommended.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Beast and the Vixens (1974)

The Beast and the Vixens (AKA The Beauties and the Beast AKA Desperately Seeking Yeti) is a movie of quite staggering awfulness, and yet it has a certain morbid fascination. It is almost impossible to imagine what this movie was intended to be. It’s not scary enough to be horror. It might have been intended as parody although I do have a feeling that most of the humour is unintentional. There are some fairly explicit sex scenes but not enough of them to make this a softcore porn movie. There’s a high camp quotient but since this was 1974 it’s difficult to know how deliberate that might have been.

It’s amazingly badly made. We’re talking Ed Wood levels of incompetence here. The script is frighteningly incoherent. Even the average out-and-out softcore skin flick has a tighter plot than this film.

What makes it worth watching is that you have absolutely no idea what’s coming next. There are three or four sub-plots that have no connection whatsoever with each other, and in some cases the sub-plots just sort of suddenly stop.

The movie takes place in the Pacific Northwest. Bigfoot Country. And Bigfoot plays a major part in this movie. Bigfoot has been collecting girls. He snatches them and takes them to his cave. When he gets them to his cave, he....well, he feeds them and looks after them.


While this is going on city girls Ann (Jean Gibson) and Mary (Uschi Digard) have taken a remote mountain cabin to get away from it all. Mary is a bit frightened by being in the country so Ann gives her a cuddle to comfort her. Since they’re in bed together and they’re naked this is naturally going to lead to some hot girl-on-girl action, except that it doesn’t. Maybe Ann was just trying to comfort her? Maybe the sex scene got cut, but there are quite explicit sex scenes later in the picture.

Ann and Mary meet up with a bunch of dirty stinking hippies who seem to be living some kind of communal lifestyle in the woods. Ann and Mary immediately take their clothes off and go skinny-dipping with a particularly loathsome male hippie. It is an excuse for Uschi Digard to get naked.


Whole all this is going on there’s a couple of hardened criminal types who are trying to find the loot from a robbery. The loot consists of a valuable coin collection but it’s disappeared from the place where they stashed it. One of these hoods has however noticed a hippie chick wearing a coin around her neck, a coin that looks like part of the collection they’re looking for.

There’s also a strange old hermit guy but I have no idea what he has to do with anything.

This movie does have one major thing going for it - the nude western gunfight scene. It makes no sense whatsoever but it’s the one truly inspired moment in the movie.


The acting is astoundingly horrible. The fact that many of the major characters are hippies and therefore inherently detestable doesn’t help. Uschi Digard’s voice was dubbed in many of her films but this seems to be her own voice. Her very thick Swedish accent is kind of charming. Her acting is terrible, but in an amusingly bad way. Look out for Sharon Kelly in a small role, fully clothed!

One of the hippies gets to sing a song. It’s the sort of song that makes you hope that all the hippies in the movie will die horribly.

The Bigfoot makeup is simply dire. 


Bayview Entertainment’s DVD offers two different versions of the film. There’s a widescreen transfer of what is claimed to be the R-rated theatrical release, which clocks in at 71 minutes. It’s an OK transfer but there is quite a lot of print damage. There’s also a fullframe transfer of the unrated version, clocking in at 84 minutes. This transfer is fairly poor. On the other hand there are some extras. There’s a (brief) audio commentary by Fred Olen Ray. He makes the interesting suggestion that this was a kind of composite movie, that the original movie did not feature Bigfoot at all and that the Bigfoot scenes were filmed later and combined with the original footage to make a totally different movie. That would certainly explain at least some of the movie’s plot incoherence and some of the  jumping about between completely unrelated elements. And speaking of extras, there’s a complete bonus movie, Hollywood Babylon, with Uschi Digard as Marlene Dietrich! It’s a softcore expose of Hollywood depravity during the silent era. So all in all the DVD isn’t bad value.

If Ed Wood had made a Bigfoot movie with softcore sex scenes it would have been very much like The Beast and the Vixens. It’s a terrible movie but you have to keep watching. Recommended, for its oddity, its camp value, its unpredictability and because there just aren’t enough nude western gunfight scenes in movies.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

The Death Curse of Tartu was made in 1966 by Florida film-maker William Grefé and while it’s not one of the all-time great horror movies it is quite impressive for a production with the incredibly minuscule budget of $27,000. And it does entertain.

Archeologist Sam Gunter is heading off into the swamps of the Everglades to excavate an ancient Indian burial mound. Guide Ed Tison (Fred Pinero) and his wife Julie (Babbette Sherrill) have arranged to take a group of Gunter’s students (two guys and two girls) out to meet up with Gunter to assist in the excavation. Sam had set off alone in a canoe but the students have a couple of airboats.

There is a local legend that 400 years earlier a witch-doctor named Tartu had placed a curse on anyone who disturbed his burial place but of course no-one takes the legend seriously. It remains a joke until Tartu claims his first victim. His first victim, but not his last.

Tartu claimed to have the power to transform himself into wild animals and it is this power that will be awakened if the curse is invoked. This was a clever move by writer-director Grefé. It allowed him to have a supernatural monster but without having to do special effects. He could just use real wild animals, which was no problem since he had a friend who was accustomed to dealing with everything from anacondas to alligators.


The realisation soon dawns on the party of students that Tartu’s curse is a reality and to make matters worse their airboats have been wrecked and they’re stuck in the middle of the Everglades with the nearest help at least twenty-five miles away.

It’s a nice simple uncomplicated plot which Grefé happily admits was based on the legend of the curse of Tutankhamun. It allows for lots of action and terror.

The movie’s biggest asset is the setting. Being pursued by savage supernaturally empowered wild beats is not a good thing at any time but when you’re stuck in a swamp it’s a whole lot worse. Grefé uses the Everglades pretty effectively to heighten the apparent hopelessness of the situation and the swamp itself seems to be consciously malevolent.


The wild animal scenes vary in quality but considering the tiny budget most of these scenes work pretty well. They work because, as Grefé explains in the commentary track, they were all done for real. That’s no rubber snake that is supposedly squeezing the life out of one hapless character, that’s a real and very large anaconda and it’s very much alive. And the alligator chasing young Cindy (Mayra Gomez) is a real alligator and it’s not even a tame one and it really is a couple of feet behind her. How Grefé managed to persuade his performers, especially the actresses, to do such scenes is a mystery that not even Grefé can explain. Apart from being menaced by incredibly dangerous wild animals these lucky actresses also got to be tossed into stinking swamps (infested with deadly snakes) which must have been great fun for them given that they had no luxurious dressing trailers to head for afterwards - the nearest showers were miles away. These gals had plenty of pluck.

The Tartu makeup is pretty creepy as well, and the burial cave (created on a makeshift set in as storeroom) doesn’t look too bad.


There’s also a fun MacGyver moment.

Grefé wanted to introduce some movement and excitement by employing some tracking shots so he came up with his own technique - using canoes as dollies. It works very well.

A major highlight comes when in the middle of the swamp the students suddenly decide to have a beach party. Luckily these intrepid girl archaeologists remembered to pack their bikinis. You can’t do proper go-go dancing without your bikini. These youngsters can’t seem to decide which activity would be most fun - toasting marshmallows, go-go dancing or making out. Toasting marshmallows wins out. I’d have thought the two (rather pretty) girls might have been a bit miffed that their physical charms weren’t sufficient to keep their boyfriends amused.


The acting is variable but good enough for the kind of film this is. 

Something Weird’s DVD includes another Grefé horror movie made a year earlier, Sting of Death. Both movies are accompanied by commentary tracks in which Frank Henenlotter joins Grefé. The commentary track for The Death Curse of Tartu is as much fun as the movie. Extras include a couple of bizarre shorts as well. The Death Curse of Tartu was, surprisingly, shot in colour. The transfer is OK and quite acceptable given the rarity and obscurity of the movie.

The Death Curse of Tartu is enjoyable low-budget schlock. Recommended.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Defilers (1965)

The Defilers, written and produced by David Friedman in 1965, is one of the better-known of the early roughies. The mainstay of the exploitation movie business had for several years been the nudie-cutie and Friedman and his partner Herschell Gordon Lewis had milked that genre for all it was worth. It was becoming clear that exploitation movies would have to move in a new direction. Lewis thought the answer was gore and he certainly had a great deal of success with movies like Two Thousand Maniacs! Friedman had his own ideas, for movies that would combine nudity and (mostly implied) sex with violence. 

Russ Meyer had already moved in that direction with his southern gothic melodramas Lorna and Mudhoney. Friedman wanted to push things a bit further. The sex and the violence would be intertwined, the sex would be kinky and the violence would be kinky and perverse. The Defilers was Friedman’s first serious attempt at the new sexploitation genre (which would become known as the roughie).

Nudie-cuties had almost always been made in colour. Roughies would almost all be shot in black-and-white. This was a deliberate choice, being intended to give the grungiest and sleaziest feel possible. The Defilers is most certainly one sleazy little film.

Carl (Byron Mabe) and Jameison Marsh (Jerome Eden) are two young men who devote themselves to pleasure. They seem to have an unlimited supply of women. But women are no longer enough for Carl. Even drugs are not enough. Carl wants kicks. Real kicks. He’s not sure at first exactly what he means by this but we do get some early hints that it’s likely to involved violence and the violence is likely to be directed at women.


Carl’s father is wealthy but he’s completely unreasonable - he actually expects Carl to work. Carl is of course shocked and appalled but really it’s only to be expected. His father is a square, and Carl hates squares. It’s also pretty obvious that Carl feels helpless and humiliated by his dependence on his father. Carl gets ordered about by his dad so he likes the idea of ordering other people about, he likes the idea of humiliating other people. 

Carl has set up a secret little hideaway in one of his father’s warehouses. It has a bed and a bathroom and that’s about it. It’s rather sad really but Carl is very excited about it. He has plans for it. He manages to persuade one of his girlfriends, Kathy, to check out his hideaway. She is clearly unimpressed, and quite mocking, and she then starts to lay down the law to him in a thoroughly humiliating manner. At this point Carl snaps. He decides the girl needs some discipline and he proceeds to administer a good spanking. It turns out that the girl enjoys the spanking even more than he does! He’s certainly not going to date her again but he has discovered how to get those kicks that he craves.


His next plan is more ambitions. He and Jamie will kidnap aspiring actress Jane Collins (Mai Jansson) whom they encountered a few days before. She’s from Minnesota, nobody in LA knows her, nobody will even notice her disappearance. Keeping her as a slave should provide lots of kicks. Carl is thoroughly pleased with the whole setup but Jamie is not so sure it’s a good idea after all. He’d agreed because he thought it was kind of like a prank, that Jane wasn’t really going to be hurt, that they’d release her after a day or so and everybody would agree it was just a bit of light-hearted fun. The trouble is that Carl doesn’t see things this way and he seems like he’s crazy enough to keep the girl captive indefinitely.

Well, I did tell you it was a very sleazy movie. It’s not that the violence is all that graphic but it’s the nastiness behind it that is disturbing. In fact it’s very disturbing at times. 

This is also an incredibly politically incorrect film. Of course if you’re into political correctness you’re probably not the sort of person who’s going to be attracted by the weird and delightfully twisted world of 60s sexploitation cinema.


Byron Mabe is genuinely worrying and creepy as Carl. He manages to persuade us that Carl is capable of pushing things way too far. It’s not a subtle performance but this is not a subtle movie. Mabe was hired as a grip but when the lead actor froze up on camera on the first day Mabe volunteered to play the part. It proved to be a stroke of good luck. He inhabits the role in an effectively scary way.

Jerome Eden as Jamie gets to do some actual acting. Jamie is accustomed to going along with whatever Carl wants to do. Jamie likes kicks as well but he does have limits and Carl is starting to worry him. Eden’s performance is actually quite effective. Jamie isn’t an overly sympathetic character but he’s not all bad. The various girls were obviously cast to some extent for their willingness to shed their clothes but they’re all quite competent.


The most surprising thing about this movie is that it’s rather well-made. It has a coherent plot. Friedman’s script provides some real drama and director Lee Frost translates that script into a fairly professional looking film. The pacing is good, with a low-key early phase before the craziness and the tension start to build. The sexual material might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s handled skillfully and it’s certainly erotic in its own twisted way. The two lead actors are not only solid they also play off each other extremely well. The girls are attractive and their acting skills are quite adequate. For a movie shot in five days on a budget of $11,000 it’s pretty impressive!

Something Weird’s DVD release pairs this movie with an earlier Dave Friedman offering, Scum of the Earth. There are plentiful extras, the highlight being Friedman’s audio commentary. Friedman was always wonderfully entertaining to listen to. The extent of his knowledge of the exploitation movie business was positively terrifying.

The Defilers works rather well as a movie. It largely defined the direction in which the roughie would go for the next few years. If you’re in the mood for a good old wallow in sleaze it delivers the goods. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

It took, incredibly, five years for Universal to come up with a sequel to their 1931 mega-hit Dracula. By the time Dracula's Daughter was ready for release in 1936, after seemingly endless script rewrites and production delays, Universal’s financial woes had come to a head and the Laemmles had lost control of the studio. Dracula's Daughter came in well over budget and well behind schedule. It was a very very expensive film (by Universal’s standards) and unfortunately much of the budget was wasted due to production delays and bad decisions. 

Dracula's Daughter was not a particularly lucky movie for Universal but it is an exceptionally intriguing sequel. This is not just a rehash of the original Dracula story. There are some original and provocative ideas. In some ways it can even be regarded as a more interesting film than Dracula.

The movie opens with Dracula having just been staked by Von Helsing (for some unknown reason the Van got changed to Von for the sequel). Von Helsing is still on the scene when the police arrive and he is duly charged with the murder of Count Dracula. 

Sir Basil Humphrey at Scotland Yard would prefer not to proceed with the charges against the mild-mannered professor but he has little choice. Advised to retain a good KC Von Helsing instead asks to be defended by his former student, eminent psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger). The case against Von Helsing pretty much collapses when Dracula’s body disappears.

Dracula’s body had been stolen by the Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden). She is the Dracula's daughter of the film’s title and she is referred to as such but it’s fairly clear that she is not the Count’s biological daughter (and there’s a further clue later in the movie that supports the theory that she’s not literally his daughter). While it’s not quite explicitly stated it’s obvious that she was one of the “brides” of Dracula. We are told that Dracula turned some of his victims into vampires by giving them his own blood to drink and presumably that was the case with Marya Zaleska.


What’s interesting is that the Countess is a very reluctant vampire. She hoped that Dracula’s death would free her from the curse of vampirism. She now hopes that perhaps psychiatry may be able to help her by giving her the strength and willpower to break the hold that Dracula still exerts over her from beyond the grave. This is the first movie to play with the idea that vampirism might perhaps be a form of psychiatric disorder, or possibly even a type of addiction, or that the link between a vampire and his “brides” might be more a matter of will than blood. These are ideas that have been explored countless times since in both literary and cinematic vampire tales but Dracula’s Daughter deserves credit for being the first to do so.

Garth suggests to the Countess that a person can often defeat a psychological craving by deliberately exposing himself to it. An alcoholic can learn to overcome his craving by surrounding himself with liquor. This suggestion by Garth turns out to be disastrously poor advice and has tragic consequences when the Countess tries it for herself.


The Countess is increasingly desperate to escape her vampiric destiny and she grows more and more convinced that only Garth can help her. If he won’t do so willingly then she knows how to force him to do her bidding. She will force him to follow her back to Transylvania. The stage is set for a dramatic climactic confrontation but unfortunately the ending is rather rushed.

Gloria Holden looks strange and exotic and in fact she looks exactly how one might imagine a lady vampire would look. She’s slightly and subtly strange in behaviour as well as appearance. Her performance is crucial and it works.

Irving Pichel is nicely creepy as her faithful manservant Sandor, who seems to understand the Countess’s predicament (and its hopelessness) more fully than she does. Otto Kruger is very professorial. Marguerite Churchill has fun as his spirited aristocratic assistant Janet. Edward Van Sloan is much too bland and much too dull as Von Helsing.


The movie’s visual style is impressive. Director Lambert Hillyer and cinematographer George Robinson don’t go overboard with the gothic trappings. This is a movie that moves back and forth (very effectively) between the gothic world of vampires and the modern world of science and technology.

The idea of vampirism being linked to sexuality, or more specifically to unhealthy or dangerous sexuality, had been around for as long as vampire tales had been around and it had been a central feature of most stories dealing with female vampires. The idea is there in Johann Ludwig Tieck’s 1800 story Wake Not the Dead, it’s there in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem Christabel and it’s there in a big way in Sheridan le Fanu’s classic 1871 novel Carmilla

Which of course brings us to the most notorious scene in Dracula's Daughter, in which a young woman is lured to the Countess’s studio to pose for a painting and is drained of blood almost to the point of death. The scene certainly does have the feel of a seduction, enhanced by the fact that the girl has partially undressed in order to pose. 


So is Dracula's Daughter the first lesbian vampire movie? Well, there’s there is that one notorious scene (and perhaps one other scene), but those scene certainly can be interpreted in that way without stretching things too far. There is however another possible interpretation. The Countess longs to escape from her unnatural existence and to live as a normal woman. As a result she might well feel considerable jealousy and hatred for other women who can live normal lives, and experience love in a normal non-vampiric way. Her attitude towards Janet tends to support the idea that she might be motivated by hatred of women rather than by lesbian passions.

It’s also obvious that when the Countess attacks a male victim the attack is to some extent a seduction.

My copy of this movie comes from the old Dracula Legacy Collection DVD set. It’s an excellent transfer. 

Dracula's Daughter is an intelligent, ambitious and somewhat complex horror film and is perhaps the most fascinating of Universal’s vampire movies. Highly recommended. 

Monday, 24 July 2017

Help Wanted: Female (1968)

One of the joys of exploring the bizarre world of 1960s American sexploitation films is the discovery of truly strange little movies like Help Wanted: Female.

Oddities like this were possible because of the nature of the exploitation movie business. The distributors wanted films with sex and nudity. If a film had those ingredients they were happy.They knew how to promote such movies and they could always make a buck out of them. The actual content of the movies was of no interest to the distributors. This gave the makers of these films a degree of creative freedom that mainstream film-makers could only dream about. As long as you were happy to make films on ridiculously low budgets, and you remembered to include sex and nudity, you could indulge yourself. And Help Wanted: Female was the kind of delightfully warped but weirdly fascinating movie to which this industry occasionally gave birth.

The action starts with the glamorous Jo-Jo picking up some poor schmuck of a salesman, bedding him and then making off with his wallet. At least that’s the plan but it nearly comes unstuck when the mark wakes up at a very inopportune moment. Luckily Jo-Jo just happens to be a kung fu expert!

Jo-Jo goes home to her live-in gal pal Luana. Luana is setting off for her regular monthly session with Mr Gregory. Luana is a hooker, but her technique is a little unusual (and also involves robbing her clients when the opportunity arises). Mr Gregory is a wealthy sophisticate who may perhaps be a little dangerous. He likes to imply that he has some sort of military background and possibly even some links to the more murky intelligence agencies. Perhaps he’s some kind of spy, or perhaps he’s just an ordinary common and garden variety degenerate.


In the 60s there were still very definite limits as to how far sexual content could go. Any kind of even moderately graphic sex was out and full frontal nudity was rare until the end of the decade. Given these constraints how could film-makers give their movies the right erotic charge? The answer was to add lots of hints of kinkiness. Luana does not actually go to bed with Mr Gregory. She gives him three hours of her own distinctive strip-tease style. Her approach to strip-tease is rather unusual. At least I assume that taking off your panties right at the start of your routine was somewhat unusual. She then slowly sheds the rest of her clothing.

Adding to the kinky (and in fact rather depraved) feel is Luana’s open contempt for her client and her obvious detachment from the proceedings in hand. She also demonstrates her ability to do some rather impressive things with her posterior.


Mr Gregory likes to watch girls taking off their clothes and he likes to heighten the atmosphere with a judicious dosing of LSD. And he likes to tell stories to the girls. The story he tells Luana is certainly startling. This story is then shown to us in a lengthy flashback. Mr Gregory and his girlfriend Barbara, having exhausted all the routine methods of sexually gratifying each had moved on to more exotic pleasures, such as the pleasure of inflicting pain. Even that fails to satisfy them, but perhaps murder will do the trick. They persuade the naïve Tina to go back to their apartment for a photo shoot. The photos are just standard girlie magazine stuff (although they do provide an excuse for including some more nudity). The photography stuff is however intended to be merely the bait. Tina is to be the subject for their first experiment in the erotic possibilities of murder.

Of course one murder often leads to another and in this case it leads us to a truly bizarre and surreal sequence that is the film’s disturbing highlight (or depending on your tastes it might be the film’s low point in depravity). Barbara’s trip to the beach is truly jaw-droppingly bizarre.


Mr Gregory’s story disturbs Luana a great deal but now the plot twists start to come thick and fast. And it has to be said that these twists really are unexpected and remarkably effective. There is actual suspense here. Mr Gregory seems to be a very dangerous psychotic killer. 

The acting on the whole is bad but it’s bad in a good way. The guy who plays Mr Gregory is the exception. He gets to attempt some real acting. The results are mixed but he does succeed in keeping us uncertain as to exactly what makes this character tick and to that extent it has to be considered to be an effective performance. And he certainly manages to be creepy.

I have no intention of revealing anything about those plot twists. This is a rare case in which a sexploitation roughie deserves not to have its surprises ruined by the revelation of spoilers.


The style of the movie is as strange as its content. As is the case with so many 60s sexploitation flicks it’s the weirdness that is the attraction rather than the erotic impact and it’s hard to say if the nude scenes are erotic or perverse or totally non-erotic or just simply disturbing.

Any discussion of sexploitation movies has to eventually touch on the subject of the women themselves. These are not women who conform in any way to modern notions of what pornstars, or actresses, should look like. They look like women. Some are extremely pretty, some not so pretty, but the not so pretty ones are not so pretty in interesting ways. I still can’t decide if the actress who pays Luana is ugly, or ugly in an oddly appealing way, or pretty in a strangely ugly way. She does however have that rather talented derriere I alluded to earlier.

Help Wanted: Female is the sort of buried treasure that the folks at Something Weird unearth from time to time. They’ve included it on a great value three-movie disc along Rent-a-Girl and Aroused, neither of which I’ve had time to watch yet. Help Wanted: Female is a must-see for devotees of 60s sexploitation at its most outré. Highly recommended.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Malibu High (1979)

When you watch a movie made in the 70s with a title like Malibu High you know what to expect. In this case your expectations are going to prove to be dead wrong. This is not a teen comedy, or a sex comedy. It’s not a teen melodrama. Deciding what it actually is presents a bit of a problem. There is teen melodrama here and the central character is a high school senior but mainly this is a crime thriller - although you won’t know that until about halfway through the picture. 

Kim Bentley (Jill Lansing) is just your average high school student but things are starting to go wrong for her. This is 1979 and the American Dream is still alive and this is southern California, the very epicentre of the American Dream. If you’re a bright, pretty high school student and you have rich parents the world is your oyster. Unfortunately Kim is not exactly a bright student. She’s flunking every class. And her parents are not rich. Her father killed himself and her mother struggles to keep things afloat financially. Worst of all her boyfriend Kevin (Stuart Taylor) has dumped her. To rub salt into the wound he’s dumped her for spoilt rich girl Annette Ingersoll (Tammy Taylor).

Everything Kim wanted seems like it’s being taken away from her. She had desperately wanted to graduate from high school, and she is still madly in love with Kevin. Kim decides that something has to be done and she’s going to do it. The first thing is to do something about her grade point average. That’s not too difficult. If her teachers won’t listen to her she’ll just sleep with them and then blackmail them.

Kim also decides she needs to earn some money. For a girl with her modest accomplishments being a hooker seems like the best bet. Tony (Al Mannino) is a sleazebag dope dealer who operates from a van which also serves as a kind of mobile mini-brothel. Kim is soon the star attraction. In fact she’s the only attraction but she’s a major drawcard.


Soon Kim has attracted the attention of a big time pimp, Lance (Garth Howard). This is a chance to earn real money and to show up that snooty bitch Annette. It’s not quite as simple as that however. Kim has taken a step into another world, the world of organised crime. At this point the movie changes gears and Kim starts to change as well, discovering a side of herself that she might have been better off not discovering. Lots of good girls go bad but very few do so quite as spectacularly as young Kim.

It’s hard to say just how seriously we’re supposed to take this picture. It’s not played for laughs at any stage but the plot is utterly outrageous. In some ways it’s more like a 1950s juvenile delinquent movie than a 70s teen exploitation movie. Everybody’s playing it straight but the content is totally off-the-wall.


This was the last of the handful of films directed by Irvin Berwick and while his approach is straightforward and conventional it’s effective enough. The scenes of violence in the latter part of the movie are handled well. He also knows how to pace a movie.

The acting is pretty average for the most part (sometimes below average) which is not surprising for a low-budget movie released by Crown International and destined for the drive-in circuit. The one exception, and it’s a major exception, is Jill Lansing as Kim. She gives the character real depth. Kim is not exactly a sympathetic character but at least we can understand how she got to where she is and we can see that her emotional wounds are very real and very raw. This was Jill Lansing’s only movie role and she then dropped out of sight never to be heard of again. Which is a pity since this performance should have landed her parts in more prestigious movies.


As an added bonus we get to see a very great deal of Miss Lansing’s naked breasts and rather lovely they are too. For the late 70s this is a movie that (despite the subject matter) is fairly restrained on the sleaze front. Apart from a brief glimpse of pubic hair early on all we see is breasts (admittedly with great frequency) and the sex scenes are positively coy. Miss Lansing’s breasts were however presumably enough to keep the attention of young male viewers at drive-in screenings and they also get a fair amount of violence. Unusually though for this type of movie there’s also enough to keep female viewers interested with Kim’s romantic woes and her vendetta with the self-satisfied rich girl Annette.

Kim’s confrontation with the headmaster is the film’s most bizarre episode. It’s bizarre in a good way. I think. It’s definitely bizarre in an interesting way.


A very pleasant surprise is the extremely good anamorphic transfer included in Mill Creek’s Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection. I believe there’s also been a Blu-Ray release!

Malibu High is a strange one. I can’t decide if it’s a bad movie with a good movie inside it struggling to get out or if it’s a good movie with a bad movie inside struggling to get out. It is original and it is entertaining. It’s perhaps too dark in tone to qualify for camp status, but much too outlandish for the arty crowd. And probably too weird for mainstream audiences at the time. It was popular enough with its intended audience. If the story is too over-the-top for you you can always just wait for yet another topless scene from Jill Lansing. 

Movies like this are the reason why it’s worth delving into the strange and often murky world of drive-in fodder. Every now and then you come across a classic of the genre such as this. Highly recommended.