You perverts know the routine… shall we?
Last House on Dead End Street: What do drugs, vengeance, sex, and art films have in common? Well, in this world, a shitload. Meet Terry-Terry just got out of the pokey, and he’s got some scores to settle. See, there’s some former cohorts of his in the “porn industry” (in the early 70’s?! Really?! It’d just started…) who’ve done him wrong and Terry has a vision that needs exacting. He’s gathering a bunch of ne’erdowells and their going to make themselves a good ol’ fashioned snuff film. But we’re not talking about any snuff film. We’re talking about one with “art” appeal. How about some experimental surgery? Ooh, or maybe we can do something weird with a deerhoof? Make it sexy (it’s not), weird, murderous, and totally out of control…but it’s still art.
It takes a certain level of obnoxiousness to make a film like this one. There’s no redeemable qualities to a movie like this-it’s just pure mayhem. The film’s writer/director, Roger Watkins, didn’t actually “confess” to having made the movie until 30 years after it’s original release (consequently, that wasn’t too long before he passed away in 2007). In the movie’s credits, Watkins is listed as Viktor Janos, but he also plays the film’s lead role, Terry. But things started off weird for this film from the very beginning. Though the movie was made in 1973, it didn’t see an official release until 1978, and to further confound things, the film was released as “The Fun House”, and “The Cuckoo Clocks From Hell” AND “The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell”. The latter of 3 prints was a 175 minutes (!) allegedly, that is assumed to still be intact in some New York film lab. Every nook and cranny of LHODES reeks of exploitation. The imagery is quite psychedelic, but it doesn’t stop the film from being mean-spirited. This wasn’t your older brother’s “psychedelic”-we’re talking about a very bad trip that ends in torture, brutality, and death. When you see a film like “Hostel” or perhaps more recent “torture porn” films, their roots are firmly planted in Watkins’ opus of obscenity.
Over time, LHODES became a film that people often talked about but couldn’t find a decent copy of. My first encounter was on a shitty VHS transfer that didn’t have some of the scenes fully intact. As time carried on, the film virtually disappeared until Barrel Entertainment put out a marvelous copy of the film on DVD in 2002. The print was a 2-disc special edition that put Criterion’s thorough combing to shame. For those who’d had interest in the film, it was an opportunity to get every last myth dispelled for them. It became a film who’s reputation overshadowed its actual product. Still, it’s a truly vile piece of cinema that exceeds all levels of decency (a naked women shoving a severed deer hoof in a man’s mouth…?). Ironically, the bulk of Watkins career was spent making porn, yet THIS is the film he failed to disclose his involvement in. He even went as far as to do serious press for the film (again under a moniker), which adds to the absurdity and folklore of the LHODES legacy. You’ll be spending an arm and a leg for the now out of print Barrel print of the film, but I know of more than one well transferred bootleg that floats around from convention to convention that’s worth your bucks. Despite the silliness of it all, the movie parades itself around with its brass balls firmly in hand and when the credits roll, you feel pretty gross for having watched it-the finest quality an exploitation film can have.
The Pom Pom Girls: If ever there was a time and place I would’ve wanted to be in high school, it would’ve been the mid to late 70’s in California. Everyone dug rock and roll, cheap beer, weed, sex, and were just out for kicks. This generalization is not unwarranted. I made this decision after watching several stoner/beach/sex comedies from the wonderful world of the drive-in theatre. One of my personal favorites is a movie called The Pom Pom Girls with some familiar faces guiding us on this bitchin’ journey.
Johnnie (played by Robert Carradine) is the cool rebel. Yeah, he’s a hot-shit football star at Rosedale High, but it’s senior year and he wants to fuck with “the man”. He’s not the only one. There’s plenty of fellas on this team who want to party and Johnnie’s leading the way. He’s after pretty boy Duane’s (played by one of my favorite drive-in actors, Bill Adler) girl and nothing is going to stop him from getting her. Meanwhile, his partner in crime, Jesse, has problems of his own. He’s got 2 girls to sleep with but can’t decide which one to really give his heart to. On top of ALL of this, Rosedale is balls deep in a mean-spirited prank war with their rival Hardin High School that will come to a head at the big game. Problem is, they’ve got a coach (played by the late James Gammon) who doesn’t bend easy and he’s going to put the clamp down on their good time…or, so he thinks.
While director Joseph Ruben’s career has been far more impressive than a lot of the filmmaker’s to come from the exploitation era (his filmography includes The Stepfather, Sleeping with the Enemy, and The Good Son), it was his roots that proved what his capabilities were. Pom Pom Girls did come from sleaziest of eras, but still stood out amongst its peers by having a good acting, a cohesive storyline, and being well shot. It had a quality to it that was rarely seen during the era. Still, it contained all the trappings of the grindhouse and became a hit amongst that circle. Sex? Yep, plenty of that. Preposterous situations resulting in hilarious outcomes? Got that in spades. Overacting? Miles of it. Each character is every bit as obnoxious as the next. Carradine’s portrayal of badass Johnnie is almost shocking, considering a few years later he would become the archetype of the all American nerd. But his James Dean turn is quite believable and quite funny. He’s definitely turning all the amps up to 10 on the character and playing up the disaffected youth in a classic manner. As for James Gammon? He’s James Gammon-if you’ve seen him act, you know what your getting. The rest of the cast’s careers went the way the film did and slipped into obscurity for years. In fact, looking up some of the other actors finds careers ending in the 80’s and 90’s. Nonetheless, the Pom Pom Girls left a strong impression on its audience that kept in conversations about great sexploitation comedies.
It wasn’t uncommon for films like this to slip out of the public view after many years. Fortunately, a couple of years ago, as we saw the unlikely return of grindhouse, we also found small companies such as BCI Eclipse unearthing the gems time forgot. PPG was one of those gems. It’s definitely capable of endearing itself to fans of Porky’s, while having the same appeal that Dazed & Confused does. The difference? There’s an air about a film like Pom Pom Girls that you’d only see coming from the exploitation world. Where Porky’s had a way of evening itself out, PPG doesn’t bother. It rides on very high high’s and dips to very low low’s, all while taking a silly storyline along for the rollercoaster jaunt. What places PPG high on my list is also what draws the strong dividing line between itself and the previously listed films-it’s LACK of social commentary. Porky’s tackles racism, and class divides. Dazed & Confused deals with the struggles of youth. Pom Pom Girls? Mainly just sex, booze, and obnoxious teens and THAT is a far greater depiction of high school. (Sidenote: Pom Pom Girls is also one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite grindhouse films of all time)
The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo & Juliet: I’m going to guess that the title can pretty much sum up this movie for you. It is technically the Shakespeare story, yes. There’s just a lot of poetic license taken with William’s work. For instance, the standard script has lines replaced by timely phrases like “Sock it to me!” and “Willie never wrote THIS!”. The classic British lit character that would normally make up such a story have been replaced by busty redheads and horny hunchbacks. Serious moments of love and regret have been swapped out for corny jokes and piles and piles of nudity. Okay, so maybe it’s not a Shakespeare play, but it IS trashy as all get out and ton of fun.
The film pre-dates hardcore porn, so by today’s standards can seem relatively tame. It’s a lot of senseless silliness loosely tied together with goofy sexual romps. Where the movie has a leg up on the competition is its ability (even then) to laugh at itself. At NO point does a Shakespeare-based comedy need to take itself seriously, and these guys had enough good sense to not bother trying to do so. Oddly enough, the costumes and set pieces are surprisingly affective. In fact, I’d even say that it’s accurate as far as what one would expect when seeing a “period piece”…but, you know, dirtier. Considering the combination of all these elements, one would toss a film of this nature aside as a shitty softcore porno. Audiences of the time felt differently, because the film did quite well and earned itself a nice little home in the pervert legacy.
You’ve most likely not heard of a single person involved in Romeo & Juliet (unless you’re an aficionado of the time and know of the film’s producer, Harry Novak) and will be hard-pressed to find any of the various actors’ work, be it pre or post-film. Almost everyone involved in R&J is a product of the pre-porn world, and their catalogs include scads of comedic skin flicks and exploitation forgettables. However, in its time, the movie not only won over plenty o’ audiences, but also won Best Erotic Film at Cannes (!). I know what you’re thinking- fucking Cannes?!! Cannes was a far different festival all those years back and not at all the Hollywood Hand Job factory we know it to be today. And if you see this film, it will become abundantly clear. It’s a silly, sleazy sex flick that’s full of hokey jokes and asinine performances that can make even the staunchest of squares crack a dirty lil’ smile. (This goofy movie is available on DVD from the fine folks at www.somethingweird.com)
Sensations: Alright…it took some thought and a bit of mulling over but I decided that I would add this film. Why was I second guessing myself, you ask? Well, this movie is actually a porn film. Now, before you string me up-please hear me out. Sensations was released in 1975 during the height of grindhouse. Often times, porn and the exploitation world went hand in hand. Sure, there was Swedish Erotica loops that were mighty popular, but there were also a lot of movies that were actual MOVIES. They had a story arc, locations, edge, and were shot on a fairly high-caliber film stock. Some of these movies have been highly regarded over time as revolutionary. They took on art house film fundamentals and then upped the ante with deliberately bold sex scenes. When one dismisses a movie like Sensations as being “just porn”, an opportunity is lost to see (dare I say) intelligence combined with sexuality.
The story follows a young woman (played by legend, Brigitte Maier) who has travelled abroad to meet up with her man who is currently working on some art projects that have brought him to Amsterdam. After arriving, a ferry ride leads to a chance encounter with an orchestra musician, and a free-spirited young woman. The 3 carry on a conversation that is interrupted by a mysterious Dutch woman who offers to allow the trio to come to her home while waiting for their plans to unfold. The home is beautiful, large, and slightly ominous. It reminds me a bit of the hallowed grounds from the creepfest, Burial Ground. As the group wanders about the home, conversation leads to discussions of sexuality and the oppressive nature in which certain cultures view it. Our young American is a bit of a prude and is clearly uncomfortable with the topic, but it’s impossible to get away from. Her hostess has surrounded her home in artwork of a provocative nature that makes the idea unavoidable. To add to the angular nature of the home, our hostess has a servant that would send Igor running for the hills. Sporting a hairstyle that can only be described as “The British Parliament Perm”, a gruesome facial scar, and a hook hand (that ends up coming to use in the worst of ways), the servant lurks about and brings to mind a very David Lynch-esque quality. Meanwhile, our hostess lures the musician into a sexual trist that involves her demands of having her clothes cut off of her with a pair of scissors and requests for him to desist his romantic talk. Amidst all of this, the other two women decide it’s time to set off on their various paths. The American is in search of her boyfriend and the French girl is looking for kicks. The latter of the 2 finds hers in the form of a fashion designer who uses her as a model, seduces her, and convinces her to accompany her to an art showing. Our American girl meets up with her boyfriend, only to find his art has taken an all-too strange turn into bondage photo shoots. His expectations of his innocent girl are too much for her to commit to at the time, and she takes off in search of her new French friend. As one would expect, circumstances lead to all the characters we’ve met rejoining at this art gallery. But this gallery quickly turns into something far more intense and trippy…
All sexual proclivities are acknowledged in one the strangest third acts in the history of sexploitation. At each turn, the American girl encounters oddities of all sorts. People of all different ages, shapes, and sizes take part in outrageous behavior. You’ll find yourself cocking your head like a dog from time to time, as the flick builds at a dizzying pace to a truly nutty climax (I’ll just go ahead and say it-no pun intended) and then it all disappears. Was it real? Was it a dream? Who knows? But one thing is for sure: The American Girl has experienced life in a way she fought to so hard to avoid.
I may be giving a porno too much credit for being artistic. But why the hell can’t it be artistic? Movies like The Mitchell Bros. classic, Behind the Green Door and Henri Paschard’s freakout, G-Strings are 2 other fine examples of the exploitation world flexing its artsy muscles. Brigitte Maier went on to have a fairly lucrative career in porn but was out of the industry by 1978. The film’s director, Lasse Braun, was a leader in his field and his work was often referred to as “porno chic”. As was characteristic of his films, Braun used lavish settings and high fashion to counter the grittiness of the sex his brought to the screen. Sensations proved to be a benchmark in his career that lead to other notable works, namely a film called Body Love which included a soundtrack composed by Klaus Schulze (look him up, nerds!). Disenfranchised with American distributors and there lack of respect for artistic merit, Braun moved onto scientific research on sexuality and wrote his own works as well as, contributed to other anthropological research studies.
Time hasn’t been too kind to most of the cast of Sensations, as they’ve all but disappeared off the face of the earth without a trace. Sensations wasn’t without its holes and lapses in logic (Maier, who played the American, was actually born in Germany) but the film still stands out as an intelligent sexploitation flick. There’s bitchin’ music, crazy characters, and all the stuff we love about trash film…with a little bit extra. Cabellero Classics released this film on disc a few years ago but if you’re not quite ready to bite off that big of a hunk, you can check out the trailer on one of Synapse Films kick ass trailer reels. All in all, the sleaze film collector needs this for their library.
Satan’s Sadists: I’ve gotten a bit smarmy with this post, so I figured I’d end on a high note. And when I say high note, I mean “Hiiiiiigh, man”. Satan’s Sadists is bad ass biker flick from that puts a big ol’ stain on the free love generation’s peaceful ways. It tells the story of the Satan’s, a terrorizing biker gang who are hellbent on spreading mayhem wherever they go. Their mean-spirited ways lead them to a diner where they lash out in a killing spree that leaves most of the patrons dead. Some of the few survivors manage to escape but are now faced with the obstacle of fleeing the clutches of these maniacs. Can they get away in time or will they have to fight for their lives?
Along with flicks like Easy Rider, Satan’s Sadists lays to rest the myth that hippies were about peace. But Satan’s Sadists didn’t really have the star quality that Easy Rider did. Well, that’s not entirely true. As a matter of fact, SS had its own built-in legend in the form of Russ Tamblyn. You kids know him from hits like Necromancer and Twin Peaks, but your mom knows Mr. Tamblyn as Riff from West Side Story. That’s right-the badass known as Anchor also danced his way into the hearts of millions of young women in that Broadway classic. If you ask Tamblyn’s mother though, Satan’s Sadists was the death of his career-fact. She’s wrong of course, as Tamblyn continues to work even to this day. Still, his choice to make this subversive role left his fans a bit shocked. It’s a movie that oozes drive-in culture from every nook and cranny. The costumes are technically biker-ish, but they’re definitely a products of their time. Most of the performances are polarized, with extremes ranging from chaotic to completely apathetic (see Tamblyn). It was cheaply made and crudely presented in the way that only this era could. It’s often times hard to not laugh at the insanity that’s playing out in front of you. Can this many lunatics being squaring off in one movie? Director Al Adamson was one of the kings of cheap and trashy and this movie was no exception to his rule. It’s not gimmicky. It’s unadulterated exploitation at its finest.
Al Adamson’s long career in the grindhouse kept him busy well into the 80’s. In 1995, the director passed away leaving behind a legacy of truly scummy movies that were made to play on 42nd St. As for the rest of the folks involved, it’s hard to say. Most worked steadily for a period of time but found themselves on their way out as the 70’s drew to a close. Satan’s Sadists helped drive a spike through the heart of the hippie generation by delivering a bloated, obnoxious look at the counter culture. America still feared biker culture. This was long before the “weekend warrior” idiocy flooded our highways with your dad and his douchebag buddies riding to Hooter’s for wings. Bikers were seen as violent creatures who were a threat to the very fiber of our being. Naturally, an exploitation film version of “menacing” people is going to be inflated, but the bloating helps to make for an entertaining look at the ridiculous fears we had of anyone with long hair and a different point of view. Pack a bowl and settle in for a not-so peaceful love-in. (Available on DVD from www.troma.com)