Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Something Weird Video Mini Reviews #1

A look at four of the 1960s films offered by cult movie mainstay Something Weird Video...

THE FABULOUS BASTARD FROM CHICAGO
1969, Something Weird, DD-2.0/+, $10.00, 91m 46s, DVD-R
By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #149

The success of BONNIE AND CLYDE inspired this minor but ambitious period softcore roughie, which features some Al Adamson personnel on both sides of the camera. Chicago, 1927: Suave bootlegger Steve Desmond (John Alderman, the best actor to regularly appear in such fare) finds himself on the hit list of rival “Fats” Percelli, who is out to destroy his bootlegging business. Desmond discovers that Percelli has a comely young daughter (Maria Lease) hidden away in Miami and successfully seduces the girl, hoping to use her as a bargaining chip. Meanwhile, a persistent police lieutenant (Gary Kent) keeps tabs on Desmond’s movements.

Director Greg Corarito (who also helmed WANDA, THE SADISTIC HYPNOTIST — who wouldn’t want to see these two titles on a theater marquee?) managed to score some decent period wardrobe and props, and these end up being of more interest to the viewer than the sex (which includes a group of temperance crusaders as the victims of a speakeasy gang rape that transforms into a semi-consensual orgy). The attempt to offer something more extends to the editing, which seeks to create excitement in the first half by juxtaposing several concurrent events, but is so lacking in style and coverage as to be annoying. The film improves once it leaves the $1.98 pasteboard sets and Eisensteinian ambitions behind and utilizes some actual locations, including a farm and a beach (with the scrawny Alderman looking mighty uncomfortable in a one piece bathing costume), and there are even some handheld shots from the pilot’s seat of a vintage bi-plane. Dave Friedman and Dan Sonney (who are not credited as producers, but apparently had a hand in the financing) have cameos. 

Colors tend to be a bit off and there is some gatefloat apparent at times, but the source material (purportedly the negative) and interlaced transfer look acceptable. The lengthy trailer (which features on-camera appearances by the movie’s unseen narrator, veteran actor Reed Hadley, Corarito and editor/cinematographer Gary Graver) follows, along with a handful of additional spots for sexploiters like the Ed Wood-scripted FUGITIVE GIRLS (“Good Christ, a lesbian!”). 

THE ICE HOUSE
aka LOVE IN COLD BLOOD, THE PASSION PIT
1969, Something Weird, DD-2.0/+, $10.00, 75m 57s, DVD-R
By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #149

Character actors Scott Brady, Jim Davis and Tris Coffin, and a pair of musclebound, thespically challenged leading men are the main points of interest in this thriller/softcore hybrid, which delivers little more than copious nudity. Rick (Robert Story), a disgraced cop turned womanizing ice house attendant, hits on exotic dancer Venus DeMarco (buxom Brit Sabrina) and ends up getting crowned with a beer bottle. Rick soon stalks the girl (who toplines a full frontal nightclub musical number called “The Scrub”) and strangles her when she innocently raises another bottle in the same fashion. When an attempt to dump the body at a local makeout point goes awry, Rick stashes it back in the ice house. Meanwhile, identical twin brother Fred (David Story), who is still on the force, cannot figure out what is wrong with his baby brother.

Leadenly directed by Stuart E. McGowan (whose three other features were children’s pictures with titles like THE BASHFUL ELEPHANT), THE ICE HOUSE sets the viewer up for mystery and horror, but does not bother to deliver either as it meanders to an easily forecast twist ending. The Story Brothers’ incredibly stiff performances, some amusingly unhip slang (“You bottle babies better zipper the lip or you’ll wind up with dirty diadees”) and a ridiculous, undercranked motorcycle chase (which does wind up with a decent stunt) provide intermittent entertainment, but most viewers will likely sympathize with the 1969 raincoat crowd that was undoubtedly shifting in its seats during the long intervals between topless go-go dancing. Nancy Dow, real-life mother of Jennifer Aniston, and a clean-shaven John Holmes also appear. 

Something Weird’s 35mm source material is damaged in every way imaginable (even the title card is missing), but colors are still robust and resolution is reasonable. As usual, SWV rounds out the platter with numerous trailers and a pair of color nudie shorts. Grindhouse Releasing has announced their intention to release a DVD special edition drawn from the original negative, but unless they can come up with some great extras, it hardly seems worth the effort. 

LOVE GODDESSES OF BLOOD ISLAND
aka SIX SHE’S AND A HE
1964, Something Weird, $10.00, 47m 45s, DVD-R
By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #154

Considering how successful H.G. Lewis’ BLOOD FEAST was, there were not many direct imitations. Here is one of them... or what’s left of it. LOVE GODDESSES OF BLOOD ISLAND (directed by Richard S. Flink as “Gordon H. Heaver”) disappeared not long after its limited release and is now only available in this 48m edition from Something Weird, which looks surprisingly good considering its history, and does not appear to be missing all that much. 

Bill Rogers (A TASTE OF BLOOD) plays a pilot whose plane goes down in the ocean (in typical no-budget fashion, this is heard and not seen), leaving him stranded on a tropical island ruled over by six women in golden bikinis. As with other men who have preceded him, Rogers is expected to work non-stop all day and satisfy the women all night, duties he figures will leave him dead within a month. However, one of the girls decides to help him escape all of this physical torment on the proviso that she can flee the island with him. 

Somewhat more professional than BLOOD FEAST (that film’s star, Bill Kerwin aka “Thomas Wood,” served as production manager here), this more closely resembles one of Doris Wishman’s nudist camp movies, but for all of the implied kink (“They are love goddesses; they enjoy watching as much as participating.”), it is thoroughly innocent, even for this time. The gore (courtesy of Harry Kerwin) is decidedly more prurient, including a disembowelment and a decapitation, a spearing and a knife through the eye, which tend to go beyond anything seen in the Lewis picture. LOVE GODDESSES is not as amusing or idiosyncratic as features from Lewis or Wishman, though its rarity will prove more than sufficient recompense for Floridasploitation devotées. The title on this version is SIX SHE’S AND A HE, indicating that the producers were trying to cover all the drive-in bases. An hour of unrelated film clips follow. 

STARLET
1969, Something Weird, $10.00, 99m 47s, DVD-R
By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #154

Devious pornographers Phil Latio (John Alderman) and Kenyon Adler (Russ Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster) are tired of dealing with the increasingly vexing demands of ace property Maxine Henning (Kathi Cole) and decide to find a new, younger replacement. Ambitious young wannabe director Forrest Barker (Vincent Brian) is offered his big break helming Latio and Adler’s forthcoming epic A YOUTH IN BABYLON, toplined by the duo’s newest discovery, Starliss Knight (Dierdre Nelson). Things quickly unravel when Latio rapes Forrest’s virginal fiancée and a vengeful Maxine (whom Adler tried to dispose of by shipping her off to Europe to co-star in a Spaghetti Western!) cooks up a blackmail scheme to retain her status as the studio’s number one sexpot.

Promoted as the first adult film about the adult film industry (though H.G. Lewis’ BOIN-N-G! tackled similar subject matter six years earlier), STARLET is of interest mostly as a look behindthe-scenes at producer Dave Friedman’s company Entertainment Ventures Inc., which is featured prominently and also just happens to be the name of the fly-by-night firm here. Director Richard Kanter (whose THAR SHE BLOWS previously showcased Alderman and Lancaster as the same characters) offers some reasonably enticing, if overlong, erotic sequences, but the lead actresses’ terrible line readings negate much of the humor in Friedman’s winkingly arch dialogue. Friedman (who also cameos) was evidently fond of this premise as he bankrolled a superior hardcore remake in 1984 under the title MATINEE IDOL, playing one of the conniving flesh merchants himself, and named his wonderful 1990 autobiography after STARLET’s movie-within-the-movie. 

The interlaced presentation (which opens with the epic 9m theatrical trailer) is taken from a dropout-riddled VHS source and is moderately colorful, but quite soft. It also looks to have been duplicated deck-to-deck, like a tape, introducing needless image degradation. You would just as well off obtaining a copy of Private Screenings’ ’80s VHS release.

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