‘X’ploder: Mister Hipp Goes to Town – The UNDERCOVERS Notes

Undercovers_big_boxWhere golden-age pornography is concerned, 1982’s Undercovers is no lost classic. I had certainly never heard of the film before it found its way into a package of big-box VHS tapes I ordered, and having watched it, I can say that’s no surprise.

An unambitious spy farce that’s less saucy than it is sleep-inducing, Undercovers follows an aging dime store James Bond through his ineffectual and booze-addled efforts to track down a vaginally-installed diplomat-stupefying device using the most advanced secret technology available to him – a Milton Bradley Pocket Simon. Non-secrets are revealed in grindhouse bathroom stalls, Turkish barbershop patrons meet their ends in the name of comedy, and geriatric Bond gets head from an unfortunate pornographic also-ran. Top-billed Samantha Fox (A Night to Dismember) does her good-natured level best with a screenplay that does neither, shags a janitor, and is forgotten as soon as Undercovers remembers its own plot. Sharon Mitchell (Night of the Juggler) makes more of an impression as androgynous Blofeld stand-in Enema, and the leather-heavy interpretive dance orgy that unfolds in her fog-bound lair is the film’s only real highlight. The rest is a drowsy mix of bland scripting, worse acting, and unwavering technical indifference, punctuated with sex that forgets to be sexy and comedy that forgets to be funny. It may be far from the worst the porn world has to offer, but as an entertainment it barely rates.

I’m unaware of if, when, or how widely Undercovers was distributed as a theatrical feature, but in the early 1980s it appeared on VHS from Caballero Video (a branch of the insidiously, delightfully named Caballero Control Corporation). The release is pretty typical of the time – the tape is housed in a generic clamshell case, which is itself packaged in an attractively designed (and in this case, generally tasteful) oversized box. I’ll confess that it was the box, and not so much its contents, that led me to add it to my order. After all, as one who grew up during the first home video boom, and who later found his first employment in a declining rental shop, these big box releases hold a lot of visceral appeal.  Still, I like porn, so aside from the few bucks the seller was asking I figured there was precious little to lose.

Undercovers_big_box_backWhile I may have found Undercovers a less than memorable experience, some unknown someone almost certainly felt otherwise. The evidence for this is one of the weirder things I’ve ever encountered in my years of collecting second-hand whatsits; six small pages worth of hand-scrawled notes which relate, in surprisingly detailed and suitably bizarre fashion, the events of the film in question. These I found lurking behind the tape within its clamshell case, where they had remained for long enough for the ink on the first page to discolor from  contact with the tape’s reels. How long might that take, exactly? I have no idea, but given the tape’s age (thirty-plus years) it has the potential to have been quite a while.

From the enigmatic first line (“Mister Hipp Goes to Town”, a reference to a non-pornographic cartoon that was included at the start of the tape) and numeric cataloguing of the film’s cast to the the systematic abbreviations for sex acts (“CL”, “DS”, and the ever-popular “✲ on butt”) and context-free narrative details (“9) talks to 11) go to Istanbul” or “waves flag”), these cards are far more interesting than the film itself. Would that Undercovers had half of their crudely poetic appeal. Indeed, deciphering the author’s nigh-inscrutable handwriting became the default household pastime in the week following the tape’s arrival, as did an effort to discern the film’s plot from the notes prior to our actually watching the thing. Whoever said that pornography can’t bring a family together?

MisterHipp

Photos of the individual cards appear below, with each side followed by ExB’s attempts at a transcription. In the case of the latter we have endeavoured to remain as true as possible to the original text, spelling errors, punctuation, and grammatical oddities, but the author’s often inscrutable handwriting has made the task a daunting one to say the least. With regards to the formatting of the transcription as it appears on this blog:

• The original author sometimes separates scenes or shots with a variety of vertical lines, which are represented here with a vertical stroke |

• Ejaculations and other semen-related events, abbreviated with asterisks by the author, are represented by an open centre asterisk ✲

• Paragraphs are denoted by

• Any complementary notations from ExB will appear in brackets []

And that’s all, I believe. Enjoy the weird!

Undercovers_side_1

UNDER COVERS (1982) (1:27)

1) Becky Savage – Luciana [excised text below]
2) Samantha Fox – Dilly
3) Sharon Mitchell – Enema [excised text above]
4) Deep Throat – Deep Throat
5) Debbie Ross – Member
6) Drea – Slave
7) Tigr – Slave
8) Mcrane – Slave
9) Laurence Rothchild – Commander James
10) Bobby Astur – Harry
11) Sir John Feelgood – “Q”
12) Baron Fritz Von Schleff – Gross-Finger
13) Tommy La Roc – Janitor
14) Ken Starbuck – Diplomat 1
15) Richard Russell – # 2
16) Johnny Stagl- Slave
17) Anthony Venuti- Slave
18) Mac Laurin- Slave
19) Richard McCoy- Chauffeur


Mister Hipp Goes To Town.
1) + (2) kiss, | lay on bed, kiss, CL, Fing, | She’s on all fours, DS, pull out, ✲ on butt, | Both smoke, he asks her to put

Undercovers_side_2

[continued from side one] atomic device in vagina, will pay her $$$, “When do I start”
12) calls 3), being attended by slaves, tells her 1) has agreed to implant. Perform ASAP.
1) on operating table, legs spread, nurses assist 9) clean pussy, table, cream, on pussy, fing, implant device, in pussy.  Lay out knees, put her on gerney, wheel back to room.
12) calls 11) and tell about operations, implant will make men “an idiot” upon ejaculation, 11) tell him to get someone to remove it suggest 9), 2) overhears call, morgue, wrong #.
9) out of jail, kills guy in barber shop, 12) in London, 2) runs in on 10) playing piano, tells him about operation phone call, also about 9) looking for 1) to get devise, 10) tells 2) to get device back from 9) when he gets it | 2) undresses 10), drops his pants, cock out, she kneels, BJ. | She nude on bed, rub own pussy, he’s on top, kiss, kiss tits, moves down, CL, kiss, pull out, she makes cock ✲ on belly, kiss.
9) arrives at headquarters.  Sees 11) in office, gives him drawing of girl, devise to detect her, must check out a lot

Undercovers_side_3

[continued from side two] of women, tells him about 10) + 2) trying to get device also, mention 12), 11) mentiotion brother, has finger + ½ | 12 goes outside finds, (7), sitting in car, tells 2) wants to meet him, meet at pub.
2) tells five girls about being out to get 9), wear black outfits,
3) tells other girls by pool to wear white outfits, takes device from 9) when he gets it, 3) drunk
At pub, dart practice, 9) shoots, 2) arrives in pink feathers, 9) orders champaign, kiss at bar 2) hand out of champaign, red files.  About him, sip beer, more beer, lossen up, more beer, grabbing cock, more beer, 2) asks him to fuck, at his flat, he can’t stand up, can’t do it now, gives 2) his address, 2) leaves, place bombed.
2) at 9) appt house, asks 13) janitor to unlock door, follows her in, he sits in chair, she undresses, kneels unzip pants, BJ
9) calls 11) about bomb blast.  Thought she was going to blow me not blow me up.

Undercovers_side_4

2) continues BJ on 9), | She’s on all fours on sofa, DS, pull out, she pulls cock, ✲ on butt, kiss. | she grabs her cloths he leaves, she searches appt, can’t find “it”.
9) reads in paper about “Deep Throat” – goes [excised text below “goes”] to theater, goes inside, sits, guys jerking off, 4) calls him over, kiss, unzip pants, BJ, moist cock, ✲ in mouth, spat ✲ in handkerchief, asks for message, no message, charge 25 lbs, pays her. He leaves, goes to men’s room, pisses, hears guy in stall, Deep Throat, talk to him personally, plan aborted, protect gismo, go to first call 11)
At first, 9) calls 11), plan changed, go to Venice Italy, he leaves, two agents, one is black other is white, shoot each other when he ducks. | Flys to Venice, rental car lot, goes to hotel, white agent (girl) shot. | In room, girl calls 9) to meet him and remove devise.  3) gets girl ([unknown scribble]?) to go to him, | 9) in gondola, meets her, run to lonely spot, kiss, checks her with decoder, no device, he runs off.

Undercovers_side_5

9) talks to 11) go to Istanbul,
10) tells 2) she will have one more chance, 1) + 9) will be at Istanbul,
In Istanbul, 9) wanders street, goest to park. | 11) calls 9), waves flag, | 9) open violin case, radio, discuss 1), gone home.
3) on back, gets invitation to “ball” 6); 7), 8) + 16) 17) 18)
3) sends out girls, watch by window, bodies against glass, guys dance around 3), she stands, guys rub her body, one guy CL [centered dot] | gives 3 BJ, CL BJ guy, CL, CL/BJ | 3) on back asks girls to go 11) to stay, kiss, kiss tits, CL, kiss | she’s on all fours, DS, ✲ on butt.
9) gets mail, invitation to ball, |11) get one too.  Opens it. | 9) talks to 11), discuss invitations, 11) tells 9) to go, meets [number and parenthesis, scribbled out] ? ? .
Big house, limos drive up, 9) checks out women with decoder as they go inside, decoder finds 1), guy with her; gets her apartment address.
9) goes to her appt, goes inside, couple 2) and 12) come to door, enter, 9 hides, he wants to fuck, she wants romance,

Undercovers_side_6

[continued from side five] they undress each other | she sits on bed, drops his pants, BJ) she lays back, dress off, on floor, kiss her tits, kiss, CL, | he’s on back, BJ, she sits on cock, FF XO, pull out cock, makes ✲ on pussy, rub cum on tits, 1) hears decoder, looks under bed, 9) comes out, 12) now an imbecile, | 9) talks to 1), appeal to her decency, pardon + $10 M, tell them it was flushed away, she agrees | she lays back on bed, legs spread, he gets vacuum cleaner, sucks pussy, get device (from hose), she thanks him.
12) in  limo, gives 9) a ride, tells him about device, gives it to 9), 9) looking at girls, | stop car kick out 9),
9) goes to 11) office, gives bag to 11), takes out device, test w/ decoder, not device, 11) chews out 9) about giving 12) the device, | 11) tells 9) to watch demented diplomats.
9) herds them off, down street

Special thanks are owed to my wife, who did the bulk of the work transcribing these things. I found the handwriting to be mostly illegible, so without her assistance it’s safe to say this article never would have happened.

flaggif

‘X’ploder: Anthony Spinelli’s ORIENTAL BABY SITTER (1977)

I’ve always thought that the best exploitation cinema was that with the least pretension, and pornography just doesn’t come any less pretentious than 1977’s Oriental Baby Sitter. A decent if minor effort from the early career of esteemed adult director Anthony Spinelli (Talk Dirty to MeExpectationsOriental Baby Sitter is an example of porn at its purest, and practically chokes the screen with flesh from start to finish. The film may never rise above the expectations set by its genre and title, but I’d be hard pressed to say it needs to. Oriental Baby Sitter devotes almost all of its 70 minute running time to delivering the goods, and fulfills its modest aspirations with style to spare.

What narrative there is here – and there really isn’t much – is centered around May Ling (the ill-fated Linda Wong, China de Sade), a young professional secretary who tells at length (and blessedly without any forced Asiatic inflection) of her various X-rated baby-sitting exploits. May Ling’s rich white clientele are a funny sort, surprise of surprises, and predictably prefer bonking their hired hand to spending some dull evening out of the house.

Though featuring a couple of other actresses as well, including Dory Devon (Gulp) as an initially disgruntled housewife, Oriental Baby Sitter is Linda Wong’s show through and through. Wong speaks to the audience directly in a series of close-ups, providing almost all of the film’s sparse dialogue through a few brief bridging sequences and some narration of the sex scenes. The actress’ physical assets speak for themselves – Wong was a stunning young beauty – and Spinelli exploits them as early and as often as possible, though one can’t help wishing more efforts had been made with regards to her acting abilities. The dialogue here is downright thankless throughout, and that Wong’s delivery is often distant and cumbersome doubtless rests partly on that fact.  There’s only so much that can be done with lines like, “He let his penis slip right into my rectum.”

Whether this is really a shortcoming or not is ultimately up to personal taste. It’s obvious from the outset that Oriental Baby Sitter isn’t really concerned with the dramatic side of things in the least. This film is all about thrills, thrills, thrills, and once it gets into the groove of things (which happens mighty fast) it never lets up. Nary two minutes after the credits roll Oriental Baby Sitter is already caught up in the action – a rote rape fantasy in which a horny husband thrusts himself upon an unsuspecting (though as the narration assures us, not unwilling) May Ling during her first baby sitting job. Suddenly awakened to the sexual possibilities around her, May Ling is soon making a habit of blowing her clientele, as well as facilitating three-ways and dabbling in a little anal sex on the side. Interludes are infrequent and the sex plentiful, and more than half of the film’s brief running time is devoted to a single scene – a 40-minute three way tour de force that certainly gives audiences their money’s worth. This is sexploitation in spades.

While far from Anthony Spinelli’s finest outing (I can’t imagine time was on his side – the sum of the material here couldn’t have taken more than a few days to shoot) Oriental Baby Sitter still shines in comparison to many of its ilk and time thanks to some keen directorial flourishes. Yes, all the usual bump-and-grind angles are present and accounted for, but Spinelli takes to the film’s considerable oral action with an almost clinical fascination. The final act is dominated by extreme close-ups, filling the frame edge-to-edge with lips, tongues, and cock. It must have all been quite a sight, projected 30 or so feet wide on a grindhouse screen.

It’s hardly art, and far from a classic even by the standards of its own genre, but Oriental Baby Sitter remains as singular an example of sexploitation as has ever been made. Though its narrative aspirations may be minuscule the film delivers a glut of hardcore scenes that are all better produced than they really needed to be, and plays perfectly well as the pornographic diversion it was intended to be. It gets an easy recommendation for those so inclined. You could be watching much worse.

Oriental Baby Sitter bottom

‘Oriental Baby Sitter’ is available now on a double feature DVD with Anthony Spinelli’s ‘The First Time’, courtesy of the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome. Despite some raggedness around the reel changes and some minor damage otherwise, it looks and sounds very good. VinSyn’s X-rated restorations continue to impress! The release can be had through VinSyn’s own webstore, or through other usual outlets (Amazon, etc).

‘X’ploder: Bobby O’Donald’s ‘The Night Hustlers’ (1968)

TheNightHustlers_top

Mr. Dubois is a writer with a problem – after three hundred short stories, fifteen novels and three bestsellers, he’s run out of material! On the hunt for something real to latch onto for his next novel, Mr. Dubois invites a pair of vice cops to his humble pad so that they might regale and inspire him with tales of their professional exploits. Regale him they do, but Mr. Dubois appears to be in high demand. The meeting is interrupted early and often by phone calls from loves past and present, each of whom proves as allergic to clothing as the last…

Sleaze doesn’t come much more quaint than 1968’s The Night Hustlers, a breezy sexploitation bill-filler and the only directorial credit of Bobby O’Donald’s fleeting cinema career. Decidedly soft-edged, with precious little on-screen sex at all (all softcore), Hustlers‘ plays more as a smut-tinged variety show than anything, and finds time for a legitimate lounge act along with its ample excuses for skin. With the exploitation industry soon to be overtaken by ever more graphic examples of violence and sex Hustlers seems a positively innocent affair – a little dirty minded, sure, but who isn’t?

Filmed for what must have been literal peanuts (perhaps offered to the cast and crew in lieu of traditional craft services?) The Night Hustlers is one of those great old cheapies in which the cast gathers around a table and lets the flashbacks fly (H.G. Lewis’ The Ecstasies of Women is another prime example). Those hoping for any sort of narrative push will be sorely disappointed, but Hustlers keeps the small talk small and strings together its exploitable incidents relatively painlessly (though Dubois does speak with a grating French inflection). The vice cop device is pretty rudimentary, and plenty rickety besides (active duty detectives taking time off to help a playboy author with writer’s block?), but as an excuse for the frequent skin scenes it certainly gets the job done. The weird overtones of the detectives’ tales don’t hurt either.

The Night Hustlers shares three of them, all relating to some undercover bust or other. Audiences are treated to some wacked-out poetic rambling (“I see green… I SEE GREEN!“) and a bit of strip-salsa dancing in a drug den, and bare witness to a protracted pole-climbing competition while a clothing-impaired young thing rolls endlessly on a couch in an underground smut palace. The showstopper is an undercover operation in a strip bar and hub for prostitution, complete with a lounge act, strip tease, and gaggle of “Martian” go-go dancers. There’s not too much to any of it, naturally – this is all just an unglorified excuse for tits after all – but it’s plenty of good, clean, seedy fun for those so inclined.

Of course the detectives aren’t the only reasoning The Night Hustlers trots out for its skinful excesses. Before and between the flashbacks Dubois receives phone calls from a veritable cult of lovely ladies, all of whom avoid clothing with an almost religious devotion. When Dubois informs them of the evening’s sad truth – he’s busy – they’re forced seek their pleasures elsewhere. A southern belle gets her bath time jollies from the sponge of her black maid (!?) while an amorous socialite (The Gruesome Twosome‘s Andrea Barr, the biggest star Hustlers can muster) gets some tender loving care from her masseuse. Perhaps best among them is Dubois’ thematic soulmate, the similarly French-inflected Cheri, who rolls around her bed in masturbatory delight at the very thought of him. The sexiness of any of it is debatable, but it’s tough to complain with so much exposed flesh to ogle.

O’Donald takes to his first and final directorial gig with all the adeptness of a drunken fish, but that’s just part of the charm. The Night Hustlers‘ table-bound dramatics are blocked out in swaths of medium shots of varying focus and intelligibility –  in one instance the speaking character is almost completely obscured by another player’s head. Beyond the table things get a bit more active, but no more proficient, with a few questionably attentive handheld shots spicing up the mix. One shouldn’t criticize too much, however. Hustlers was never intended to be anything but bottom-dollar exploitation, and O’Donald manages to deliver the goods (in spades!) without overstaying his welcome. That in itself is commendable, and one wishes more of the films today had the decency to be as brief.

TheNightHustlers_Bottom

‘The Night Hustlers’ has been newly transferred in 2k by the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome, and is available in 1080p exclusively through their download service. The file looks and sounds fine for what it is (the print is pretty grubby, but you expected otherwise?) and seems quite compatible – I screened it from a burned DVD on my PS3. At the time of this writing the price is as reasonable as it gets – whatever you feel like paying, from $0 on up!

‘X’ploder: Bill Milling’s THE VIXENS OF KUNG FU (1974)

A young New York prostitute (Bree Anthony) runs afoul of a band of bumpkin hunters during a country stroll and quickly finds herself anesthetized, gang-raped, and left for dead on a beach. A lady kung-fu master (C.J. Laing) rescues the young woman and takes her under her wing, and somewhere between bouts of oily massage and girl-on-girl bequeaths to her all the martial arts skill she’ll ever need to seek revenge against all mankind…

…or at least one mankind, the wandering disciple of a Chinese restaurant cook (Peonies Jong) who naturally also happens to be a kung-fu master. The young man picks a poor fight when he goes up against the all-girl school, and soon finds himself gang-raped as well (to an instrumental knock-off of Blue Oyster Cult’s Teen Archer no less), though not so anesthetized or left for dead. Afterwards he too must train for vengeance, and the stage is set for the mother of all kung-fu anti-climaxes.

Despite what remembrance through the booze-goggles of nostalgia might suggest, there was a hell of a lot more crap than classic to the great American porn boom of the 70s. Though intermittently amusing, producer / director Bill Milling’s The Vixens of Kung-Fu is pretty crappy going for the most part, distinguishable from its mass of X-rated grindhouse filler contemporaries only by its limp attempt to cash in on the surging domestic demand for martial arts product in the wake Warner’s release of the Shaw Brothers hit Five Fingers of Death. Despite any promises to the contrary there’s precious little action (in the traditional sense) to be found here, and aside from some allusions to kung-fu archetypes and some truly dreadful tongue-in-cheek scripting, there’s not much to Vixens beyond a heap of run of the mill bump and grind.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with sex – this is porn after all – but Milling’s approach is flat and uninteresting across the board, thoroughly undermining whatever heat potential there may have been. The best part of the show is a goofy woodland romp between Laing and pupil Arlana Blue (who seems to have developed a new pseudonym for practically ever film she appeared in). Its sexiness is debatable, but the girls look to be having plenty of fun, giggling as they lap at one another while dangling from trees and over-dramatizing the hell out of an extended bit of missionary humping. By comparison Vixens‘ climactic kung-fu showdown is a bland non-starter. It’s star-crossed combatants supposedly collapse in a fatal burst of ecstasy, but with sex this vanilla a death by sensual boredom would have been more believable.

Far more troublesome than the tiresomeness of the film as a whole is the gang-rape that opens it, which Vixens decides, with nauseating indifference, to play with as much jollity as possible. As the band of goons (led by the late Jamie Gillis) descend upon their prostrate prize a jaunty banjo tune strikes up, and for the next ten minutes two men waggle their cocks about the supposedly sedate Anthony while a third jerks off into her scarf. Later Vixens tries to have it both ways, cutting back to the scene to show the young prostitute’s emotional distress, but it all falls horribly, tastelessly flat. It’s difficult to buy into the film’s shallow attempts at empathy when its opening act casts its star as nothing but a canvas for adolescent rape fantasy and errant jizz. The entire porn industry may be built on objectification of one form or another, but I found Vixens‘ brand of it to be particularly irksome.

The Vixens of Kung Fu tries to cap its blessedly brief 71 minutes with some dreadful Oriental-inflected philosophy about men, women, and change, but if there is a moral to be found in the piece its a grim one. Between all the flesh and rampant stupidity this is essentially a movie about people being horrible to one another to no good end, with violence begetting violence straight through the closing credits. The narrator may try to pin a hopeful spin on the whole ordeal, but the message is clear enough. Whether man or woman, yin or yang, in the end we’re all fucked.

VOKF_poster

‘The Vixens of Kung Fu’ is out now from Vinegar Syndrome on an all region DVD double feature with Milling’s ‘Oriental Blue’. Awful as the films are it’s impossible not to commend VinSyn for their efforts. Both features have been newly transferred in 2k for the release, ‘Vixens’ from the original camera negative, and I doubt they ever could or should look any better. There are no extras, but with an asking price of under $15 those so inclined are encouraged to give it a spin. 

‘X’ploder: Herschell Gordon Lewis’ LINDA AND ABILENE (1969)

Screenshot-Herschell Gordon Lewis-1Contradictory as it may sound, better isn’t always better. Such is the case with Herschell Gordon Lewis’ turn of the decade sexploitation Western Linda and Abilene, best known these days for being one of several low budget features filmed at the Spahn Movie Ranch while the Manson family was in residence. Though more ambitious and both better produced and written than Lewis’ earlier quickie The Ecstasies of Women (also made in 1969), Abilene ultimately suffers for it in so far as its entertainment value is concerned. Where Ecstasies was so hurriedly, horribly manufactured that it could’t help but be fun, Abilene was made just well enough to become tiresome. Indeed, the one significant boon gleaned from the extra time and money involved is of the purely technical variety – where Ecstasies could only manage the in-camera (rd: free) fade-outs common to Lewis’ work, Abilene could afford the added lab expense of proper optical dissolves.

Penned by an uncredited Allison Louis Downe, frequent Lewis collaborator and co-writer of his splatter-schlock classic Blood FeastAbilene starts out as a sweet, if uncomfortably incestuous, frontier romance. Rural siblings Todd and Abilene are on their own after their parents die of who-knows-what. As the two come together to take care of the family property an attraction builds between them, one bolstered by Todd’s turn as a sneaky bath-watching voyeur and a bit of solo bed-time fantasizing on both their parts. Before long their brother-sister bond takes on a decidedly physical dimension, and Todd and Abilene are coming together in ways that would have dear Mama and Papa turning in their backyard graves.

But alas, as Todd and Abilene take to each other like proper deviants their attention to the daily grind dwindles, and their beloved property falls swiftly into disrepair. With the kitchen overtaken with filth and the lawn in dire need of some tender loving care Todd reaches breaking point, fleeing Abilene to find a more appropriate physical distraction in town. In the saloon he discovers Linda, who is evidently itching for a roll with a farm boy, but while they grow drunk and disorderly local ne’er-do-well Rawhide (seen raping Linda in the ever-tasteful opening credits) takes the opportunity to pay the vulnerable Abilene a visit. When Todd finally returns home Abilene is a shambles, traumatized by Rawhide’s assault and angry at Todd’s abandonment. Todd heads off once more to see that Rawhide gets what’s coming to him, but while he’s away Linda makes an unexpected call, and a new romance begins…

If there’s a single issue that drags Linda and Abilene down it’s that it takes just too damned long to get wherever it’s going, a fact evidenced perfectly by the very first shot (post-credits) of the picture. We see Todd and Abilene dish the last few shovels of dirt onto their parent’s graves, pay their respects, hop into a horse-drawn carriage and wheel away, all captured in a grueling unbroken master shot that tests the audience’s patience for the best part of three minutes. It would almost be funny were it not so dull, and Lewis treats viewers to a nigh-verbatim retread of the same at the film’s attention-defying conclusion. Lewis does do better by the rest of the drama, and while his trademark masters are present and accounted for (with ill-prepared performers drifting in and out of them as always) he at least takes the time to intercut them with a few close-ups to break up the action. It just isn’t enough to help. Abilene repeats itself endlessly, from Todd and Abilene’s multiple encounters (all cut end-to-end) to the endless montage relating their budding affections to an unnecessary repetition of Todd’s stream-side bath time voyeurism. Despite a generally higher caliber of writing one gets the impression that there’s even less story here than there was to Ecstasies, and Abilene‘s 92 minutes really creep.

And what of Abilene‘s star attraction, it’s abundance of nudity and sexual situations (“Hotter than blazing pistols!” went the ads)? Lewis takes a few additional chances here, hinting at oral sex, wrangling Abilene and Todd into a bit of simultaneous masturbation, and even throwing in some gratuitous lesbianism to spice up the finale, but this is still remarkably tame for X-rated fare. Despite any insinuation (“Branded ‘X’ Due to Explicit Scenes” says the poster) the sex here is all of the loud roll-about variety, and one-go actor Kip Marsh (as Todd)  goes so far as to keep his jeans on for all of his scenes with the perpetually disrobed Sharon Matt (Abilene), here appearing for the second time in as many pictures for Lewis. Co-star Roxanne Jones seems to have had more of a taste for the material than the rest and, as Linda, manages to bring some energy to at least her portion of Abilene‘s simulated thrash sessions. Lewis, doubling down once again as both cinematographer and director, sticks to the same gonzo handheld style evidenced throughout his sex and gore pictures. Any eroticism to be found is purely coincidental.

Despite all I’ve said I have to admit that I did’t hate or even really dislike Linda and Abilene. It just bored me, which I suppose is a risk we all take when delving too deeply into H.G. Lewis’ film career – I don’t take it personally. Regardless of how Abilene turned out I’m ultimately just thrilled to have been able to see it at all, and mark one more of the director’s longstanding unseeables off the list.

LindaAbileneBottom

‘Linda and Abilene’ is out now from Vinegar Syndrome as part of their The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis Blu-ray / DVD triple feature (which includes ‘L&A’, plus ‘The Ecstasies of Women’ and the mega-rare hardcore docu-sploiter ‘Black Love’). VinSyn’s restoration of the film looks typically lovely (though some compression artifacts here and there do detract a bit), and the release comes highly recommended to those with a taste for this sort of thing.

‘X’ploder: Herschell Gordon Lewis’ THE ECSTASIES OF WOMEN (1969)

Screenshot-Herschell Gordon Lewis-1

Not a drop of blood is spilled in this late-career Herschell Gordon Lewis exploiter, one of the few films he would produce at the turn of the decade before exiting the industry for direct marketing success after 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls, but 1969’s The Ecstasies of Women is soaked in the same low-rent schlock appeal that drew so many of us to Lewis in the first place. Dismally written, indifferently photographed and directed in only the most rudimentary sense of the word, Ecstasies has few legitimate perks beyond its generous (if tame) helpings of skin, and those are packed away among interminable stretches of conversational padding.

Still, so numbing as it can be Ecstasies remains an oddly watchable affair, propelled however lethargically by some alchemical blend of barrel-scraping performances, time-killing filler, inappropriate lounge scoring and decidedly un-sexy heavy petting. Enjoy may sound a strong word for a film that’s just no damn good, but as I sit here with the show on repeat for the third time I can’t help but be struck by one simple fact: I actually like it.

The plotting here is strictly par-for-the-course – dopey and once-divorced all-American lingerie salesman Harry is looking over the edge of the proverbial abyss, with the grim promise of a fresh marital commitment staring back up at him. Bride-to-be Trudy (unseen for Ecstasies‘ brief duration) promises to put a stranglehold on Harry’s bachelor shenanigans, and it is with his beloved career and hip houseboat (‘Brothel’ sign included) on the line that Harry ventures to a topless joint, his gaggle of well-imbibed middle-aged cohorts in tow, for one last bender before Trudy lays down the law. As the drinks flow and the clothing goes Harry drifts in and out of memories of conquests passed, reminiscing on the good ol’ days on his way to a probable alcoholic stupor. With his vows veritably crumbling before he’s even had a chance to make them it wouldn’t take much to lead Harry astray, and the hazy-eyed allure of young go-go Summer Frenzy is just enough. Trudy, you say? Who the hell is Trudy?

Despite its lascivious implications Ecstasies isn’t a very sordid affair, and in contrast to the boundary-breaking character of so many of its contemporaries it can all seem rather quaint. Most of its salacious thrills are strictly of the waist-up variety, and as for the sex, go-getter Harry would have to have been endowed with a yard stick for any of the featured bump-and-grind to make real biological sense. Lewis, taking his usual dual turn as both director and cameraman, frames what action there is in a gonzo handheld style that boosts the excitement level a touch, if only because it occasionally catches a glimpse of more anatomy than may have been intended, but there’s only so much that can be done to improve the erotic appeal of such dull bed-rolling. The audio mix certainly doesn’t help. Each of Harry’s encounter’s sounds to have been post-dubbed with the same heavy panting, looped ad infinitum.

If Ecstasies’ ecstasies offer even a hint of thrill (beyond those of the casual “look, breasts!” variety) it’s a boon owed almost entirely to the torpid dramatics that surround them, in which Lewis’ handheld proclivities dissolve into endless static master shots. Lewis takes the fall for the writing here as well, a mostly plotless array of cancerous one-liners and pseudo-humor that would have been as well served by flag semaphore as by actors. For his part one-run star Walter Camp does his best with what he’s given, but even the promise of ample flesh-to-flesh contact doesn’t seem enough to keep his disillusionment with the material from showing. Camp might have made a passable independent leading man had he been given a proper opportunity, but Ecstasies‘ ramshackle production appears to have marked both the beginning and end of his cinematic ambitions. His friends, including ’60s sexploitation regulars Forman Shane and  James Brand, fair worse all around, proving either too ill-prepared or too disinterested to get their character’s names straight, much less their lines.

Of course even a production so lowly as The Ecstasies of Women can hold its unexpected surprises, and at least a couple of the eponymous starlets operate at levels well above those of their rather dreadful sexual counterparts. Russ Meyer alum Vincene Wallace (Vixen!) makes for Harry’s most memorable ex-love, a saucy redhead named Sandy who plucks Harry from an afternoon of sun-bathing and takes him for a one-time ride before tossing him aside like so much rubbish. With Sandy’s introduction Lewis’ otherwise lamentable writing takes a blessed turn for stranger, more satisfying pastures. Wallace’s confident man-killer couldn’t care less for Harry’s cornball approach, which put us on the same page from the start, but when she began extolling her love of fruit juices and wheat germ I felt my cold critical heart suddenly stirring back to life. How could I not lend my undivided attention to a woman who instigates intercourse by asking her partner for his thoughts on potato juice? As though that weren’t enough Wallace is also the subject of the film’s single most inspired directorial turn, a gonzo shot of Sandy moving in for a kiss that would have been better suited for a horror film than a sex picture. It reminded me of the rape-hungry demon forest ranger from Equinox, and the abrupt (if brief) shift in tone it afforded did not go unappreciated.

While Wallace’s turn won over my more bizarre sensibilities it was Eleanor Riggs, as bar maid Kitty, who really stole whatever heart I had for Ecstasies. Riggs looks to have been another one-shot performer (there are plenty of them among the film’s cast), but beats the rest handily on the dual fronts of talent and charisma. With a wholesome smile and a playful demeanor Riggs accomplishes the near-impossible, appearing to actually enjoy the awful dialogue Lewis concocted for her and effectively selling her role in the process. In a production where standards were so low that simply remembering your lines put you ahead of the competition Riggs’ was the last sort of performance I expected, and her one-off turn goes at least some way towards explaining why I just can’t hate this picture.

Even given its questionable sexual politics and singularly exploitative purposes there remains a certain intangible innocence about The Ecstasies of Women, and its distinct blend of amateurism and stupidity keeps even its more perverse elements from feeling in any way scandalous. Emerging at a time when the genre was creeping ever onward towards the rougher, harder, and grimmer, Ecstasies is a bright, colorful, dumb throwback to simpler cinematic times, and full of enough unintended guffaw-worthy moments to keep its utter lack of titillation from mattering. Yes, it’s terrible, but I think I ultimately liked it more than anything I saw in a theater this year. At just 75 minutes it’s certainly shorter.

Screenshot-Herschell Gordon Lewis-19

‘The Ecstasies of Women’ is out now from Vinegar Syndrome as part of their The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis Blu-ray / DVD triple feature (which includes ‘Ecstasies’, plus ‘Linda and Abilene’ and the mega-rare hardcore docu-sploiter ‘Black Love’). VinSyn’s restoration of the film looks lovely, and the release comes highly recommended to those with a taste for this sort of thing.