Bite Size: The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968)

Maury Dexter was a reliable low budget journeyman, churning out cheap B features throughout the 60s, ranging from westerns(The Purple Hills) to sci fi (The Day Mars Invaded Earth) to anti drug cautionary tales (Maryjane). 1968’s The Mini-Skirt Mob was the first of his two attempts to cash in on the biker film trend cycle.

Shayne (former Warner Brothers ingenue Diane McBain) is the blonde bouffant sporting queen bee of a biker gang who proudly proclaim themselves “The Mini-Skirts”. Far from an actual mob, the gang is your standard bunch of mildly colorful characters, and their weaker minded hangers on. Shayne’s kid sister Edie (Oscar nominee Patty McCormack, who also sings the film’s theme song) is mostly just along for the thrill of the ride. You could say the same for second banana Lon (Jeremy Slate) and hillbilly caricature Spook (Harry Dean Stanton, in a character role even his considerable talents can’t save). It’s just that in their case, it’s the girls of the group they are hoping to mount.

When champion rodeo rider Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen, The Sidehackers) has the unmitigated gall to marry someone else, Shayne doesn’t take it very well. No man walks out on her, let alone to marry a boring brunette bank teller (Sherry Jackson). She gathers her gang and hatches a plan to terrorize the newlyweds on their honeymoon. If she can’t have Jeff, nobody can.

The premise has promise, and the first 15 minutes or so have a nice diet Russ Meyer vibe, all open air parties, revving engines, catfights and big hair. The score is appropriately groovy, there’s some nice panoramas of the high desert, and the gang’s kicky minis and matching jacket ensembles rival Psychomania for schlock moments of speed demon sartorial acumen. However, the plot pretty quickly swerves into an attempt at grim, and it all fizzles into a talky melodrama that lacks any real stakes.

Who’s afraid of Anne Welles in biker babe drag? Why are both of the supposedly sympathetic characters (Jeff and his new bride Connie) weak, whiny and so easily overpowered? What do two beautiful women see in the rather cowardly lion Jeff that is worth a battle to the death?

It doesn’t help that Diane McBain is decidedly miscast. Her specialty was society girls and spoiled brats, not hard bitten blondes who escalate from nuisance to attempted murder faster than their followers can finish a beer. There’s not enough menace or sensuality to her performance to make us believe this group is so game to go along with her increasingly violent plans, or stay willfully ignorant of her selfish motives. Combined with the hair helmet, her habit of calling everyone “sweets” is less gang girl than mod diner waitress.

Patty McCormack fares a bit better as Edie, though she’s obviously meant to be the conscience of the group, so the first two thirds of the film give her little to do aside from look lovely and meekly nag. When she finally gets to do some shooting and seducing for a good cause in the final act, it genuinely seems the actresses cast in the two main roles ought to have been swapped.

As for the gang’s male hangers on? The less said about any of them, the better. The trio of guys may as well be named plot devices one through three, distinguishable only because one dies, one is a comic book hick, and the third has no other role that to be Shayne’s latest sexually frustrated lackey.

The Mini-Skirt Mob seems like it was trying to hedge its bets. There’s just enough exploitation elements present to boost ticket sales, but it isn’t trying to go too far in bucking mainstream sensibilities. For a film about a hard living, fast riding bike gang, The Mini-Skirt Mob doesn’t ever really put its foot on the gas and shift out of neutral.





Bite Size: Alley Cat (1984)

Alley Cat‘s path to release was just as patched together and scarred as its animal namesake. The production burned through three different directors, and the film’s original producers ran out of money, causing the film to be shelved for several years. Film Ventures International both finished the picture and picked it up for distribution. Alley Cat finally saw theatrical release in 1984, which was handily kneecapped by Film Ventures collapsing in a flurry of lawsuits and embezzlement. After a very truncated run on the big screen, the film was dumped onto home video, where it also failed to make much of an impact.

Billie (Karin Mani) wakes up in the middle of the night to find two thieves trying to steel the wheels off her car. Billie looks like a lost extra from the Charlie’s Angels set, but has a karate black belt along with the jiggle. The thieves rush off into the night with faces as bruised as their egos. The beating of his underlings angers gang leader Phil “Scarface” Krug (Michael Wayne). Scarface retaliates by not only mugging Billie’s beloved grandparents, but stabbing them as well.

Billie’s grandmother eventually succumbs to her injuries, but not before Billie has a meet clumsy with Johnny, a rookie cop (Robert Torti). The two soon begin a romance in spite of their first interaction being an angry Billie smashing him with a door hard enough to break his nose. Johnny also would love to collar the high profile gang to raise his profile in the police force. Billie, after seeing how slowly and rarely the wheels of courtroom justice actually turn, decides to mount some vigilante justice of her own. She takes to the streets to take some bad guys down, in an impressive array of matching tracksuits and some equally amazingly mismatched daywear.

Film Ventures International wasn’t exactly known for the originality of its productions, and Alley Cat is no exception. The base plot is basically a gender swapped Death Wish, mixed with Lady Streetfighter’s insanely low budget charms. What makes Alley Cat more entertaining that such a shoddy production likely should be is that it never tries to rise above its Z grade station. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, there’s a blithe bit of undressing, a brief street fight, an angry gangster flatly delivering the line that gives the film its title, and a bit player gleefully cackling about giving Scarface the clap.

Karin Mani isn’t much of a thespian, nor is she terribly physically coordinated (though the movie manages to make the cuts to her stunt double not unduly jarring). However, she is quite attractive, and delivers her lines with the camp glee of an actress that knows this is likely to be the only top billed role she was ever going to get. Robert Torti has had a long career as a character actor, but his main purpose as Johnny is to be the square jawed, six packed voice of reason. All of this vengeance leaves little time for character development, but these two dimensional caricatures’ romance manages to at least look like the drawings belong on the same page.

Alley Cat realizes its limitations, and never goes much more than 5 minutes without giving us something to gawk at, be it nudity, another fight sequence or hilariously misguided dialog from a gang leader that looks more like an annoying Billy Idol fan than any actual menace. It’s all shot pretty listlessly, often far too dark, and scored with a random spin of the library music wheel, but at least the film isn’t too unduly filled with dead air. Something is always afoot, no mater how coincidental or lacking in logic that something might be.

All of Billie’s human punching bags have to come from somewhere, and pretty much every man Billie meets is an aspiring rapist, corrupt, a criminal or some combination of all three. When she is unjustly imprisoned for stopping a rape with her karate kicks and an unlicensed handgun, it even allows for a short tour of women in prison greatest hits like a lesbian encounter, a shower scene and a multi member catfight in the yard.

Alley Cat is clearly the dollar store cola to Savage Streets‘ (which came out later the same year) Coke, but for those who have a taste for this particular flavor of action oriented, female fronted vengeance, even the off brand of cinematic empty calories still tastes pretty good.







Bite Size: The Psychopath/An Eye For An Eye (1973)

Writer/producer/director Larry G. Brown made just 3 films, but with 1973’s An Eye For An Eye aka The Psychopath (which was its listed title in its lone home release, back at the height of the VHS boom), managed to hit a high water mark for grimy low budget strangeness that even some era classics would be hard pressed to top. While cult film fans often lament their favorites being something you could never make in the present day, this is one of the few films of which I actually believe that statement to be true.

Mr. Rabbey (Tom Basham, who also starred in Larry G. Brown’s The Pink Angels), is the host of a kiddie television show, which seems to consist primarily of puppets threatening to behead each other or odd felt melodramas about locking babies in the basement. Inexplicably, this nightmare fuel is not only a popular television program, but also makes Mr. Rabbey a frequently requested entertainer for the sick kids at the local children’s hospital.

Rabbey is child at heart, but also seems a bit confused about the fact that he’s not an actual child. When not performing for the cameras, he keeps a tattered blankie in his oversized bike basket. He spends his off hours gorging chocolate cake and gleefully playing children’s games at the park. When his “I don’t wanna grow up” routine and tendency to snoop reveals that some of the kids in his audiences are being abused, he takes matters into his own hands.

This is shot with all of the flat colors and abrupt editing of a TV movie, and neither the visuals nor the music give much regard to matching the tone of what is being shown on screen. The discordance is disorienting before we even meet our peculiar protagonist or delve into plot details. Tom Basham is surprisingly effective as Rabbey, all bulging eyeliner smudged eyes and bowl cut, as he sugar sweetly stalks and lurks. His whole affect is so treacly wholesome and golly gosh high pitched, you just know that something deeply unclean is going on. All of the kids are Mr. Rabbey’s special pals, but it reeks of the parasocial pipe dreams of the deeply emotionally disturbed underneath.

Given that this protagonist is not exactly easy to root for, every parent in the film is cartoonishly villainous. Only one family stoops to all out cold blooded filicide, but they are all incredibly toxic, running the gamut of over the top abuse. Meanwhile the police and the hospital staff are beaten down by the difficultly of successfully helping these kids with what is often circumstantial evidence of their trauma.

There is an unexpected flash of realist truth in the frustration of the authority figures, and by the 6th or 7th time you watch some poor kid being shrieked at or slapped, its easy to root for whatever lies beneath Mr. Rabbey’s Peter Pan affect to finally snap to the surface.

An Eye For An Eye goes full tilt in both the psychosexual weirdness of Rabbey’s almost parent/child style relationship with his female TV producer, and the ugliness of his particular methods of vengeance. The film isn’t very gory, but it makes up for that in the sheer lurid viciousness of its kills. The victims are angrily dispatched with whatever Mr. Rabbey can get his hands on, be it a baseball bat, a lawnmower or his beloved blankie.


One of my personal favorite exploitation films, this is the sort of hidden gem of groovy ghastliness and off kilter oddity that grindhouse groupies tend to love, with a grim ending that only adds to the queasy fever dream quality of it all. I’m honestly shocked this hasn’t already been picked up by one of the boutique Blu Ray labels as a long lost trash classic. If you can find it, watch it, and join myself and the legendary Joe Spinell as dedicated members of Mr. Rabbey’s Rangers.


Bite Size: The Babysitter (1969)

The Babysitter is a bottom of the bill Crown International cheapie that has all of the negligible production value of a sexed up, mid tier soap opera from the same period. A dash of morality melodrama keeps the threadbare story from falling apart at the seams. If it weren’t for the constant shoehorning of timely slang and fashions I would’ve assumed this film had sat on a shelf somewhere for at least half a decade before its 1969 release date.

George Maxwell (George E. Carey) is an assistant district attorney, about to prosecute a member of a 1 percenter style biker gang for murder. He’s moving up in the ranks at the office, has a brand new baby at home, and his wife Edith (Anne Bellamy) prefers they keep a rather busy social calendar. Enter Candy Wilson (Patricia Wymer), the pretty blonde babysitter they hire to keep an eye on the infant.

Candy overhears the Maxwells arguing, and quickly catches on that George is lonely and mostly sexless. What starts as George giving her a ride home quickly blossoms into a full on May-December affair. Between his torrid tangles with Candy and his daughter’s lesbianism, George soon finds himself being blackmailed by the girlfriend (Kathy Williams) of the biker he’s about to put on trial.

Leading man George E. Carey also co wrote the script and produced the film, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger Mary Sue than George Maxwell in all of the vanity projects in exploitation cinema. No matter how many selfish things he does, our sympathy is always supposed to lie with him as a hero in this epic of male fantasy wish fulfillment.

Candy isn’t so much a human being as she is a manic pixie flower child. Her entire personality is constructed out of out of touch adult assumptions of what those free loving hippie chicks must be like. Immediately after the baby has gone to bed, she throws a wild houseparty in the Maxwells’ basement, complete with a full band and some friends to do naked go go dancing to the groovy tunes. Her apology is full of love for the music, man.


The car ride home is full of encouragement for George to let go and just be free to LAUGH and THINK and FEEL. They stop at a roadside stand and eat tacos while holding them horizontally (cue double entendre rimshot noise). Candy attempts to seduce George within maybe 5 minutes, fully hot and bothered by his hangdog air and constant complaints about his cold bitch of a wife. Wyler is actually well cast for the role, but there isn’t an actress on the planet that could make Candy read as anything other than a wet dream.

After Candy is introduced and Maxwell’s daughter establishes her lesbianism with some softcore by the pool, its 55 minutes into a 75 minute runtime before we hear another peep out of the plot. In the meantime, there are lot of montages of (softcore) fucking and frolicking as George falls into lust with the high spirited Candy. She teaches the old man the new dances at a nightclub. They roll around in the park. Candy lovingly caresses George’s crows feet in between rounds of clandestine sex, while a knock off Mamas and The Papas theme song plays (apparently supplied by impossible to Google local band The Food). She really digs this man. He really turns her on, and several other bits of slang that were dated even when the film was first released.

All good things must come to an end, and George finally cuts Candy off when the movie remembers the whole blackmail angle an hour later. Jilted but still full of whimsy and wonder, Candy grabs two toughs and gets the blackmailer to destroy the negatives of the photos, in an attempt to still stand by her former old man.

Not that any of it matters. When the pictures are discovered, George’s wife tearfully apologizes for her expectation he have friends and lovers his own age, rather than someone as young as his collegiate daughter. As for George’s boss? He laughs, asks how the sex was and keeps a photo for creepy spank bank posterity.

Boys will be boys, as the credits roll. The middle aged raincoat crowd had to wait a year for George E. Carey to basically remake his own film as 1970’s Weekend with the Babysitter. The existence of the second film indicates that perhaps they all learned an important lesson. If you are a geriatric lech, your best shot at any face time with a pretty young thing is to shut up and pay for it.

Bite Size: Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)

1982’s Violence In A Women’s Prison and 1983’s Women’s Prison Massacre were shot back to back, recycling the same locations and cast of actors. Both feature Laura Gemser as a character named Emanuelle, but neither is an official sequel to the “Black Emmanuelle” series she famously starred in. Those films were themselves loose riffs on 1974’s Emmanuelle (starring Sylvia Kristel), but a cogent analysis of all of the sequels, knock offs, and imitators of that particular piece of seminal softcore would require a separate post and a flowchart.

Where there’s suspect use of intellectual property Bruno Mattei is never far behind. Both Violence In A Women’s Prison and Women’s Prison Massacre are clear attempts to cash in on his leading lady’s most notable role. Despite the title, Violence In A Women’s Prison has a lot more sexploitation elements mixed in, and Women’s Prison Massacre favors the more violent side of Eurosleaze.


Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) has been unjustly imprisoned for drug smuggling, after her work as a journalist nearly exposed some important government officials involvement in the illicit substances trade. Now she’s at the mercy of a wicked warden (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox) and her equally sadistic guards. Emanuelle’s calm defiance of her circumstances also causes conflict with top dog inmate, Albina (Ursula Flores), who makes it very clear she wants Emmanuelle dead.

Four max security male inmates are transferred to the previously all female facility. The muderers’ row includes Blade (Pierangelo Pozzato), a proudly Aryan serial rapist and thrill killer “Crazy Boy” Henderson (Gemser’s real life husband, Gabriele Tinti). The men quickly take over the prison in a hostage situation, and subject both inmates and guards to a whole new level of brutality.

For the first half hour, Women’s Prison Massacre ably hits all of the basic bases of a women in prison flick, with enough off the wall touches to keep a familiar formula interesting. The film opens with a gel filtered piece of performance art put on by the inmates, the pretensions of which kick off the conflict between Emmanuelle and Albina. It’s a grudge match for the ages, which apparently can only be solved by an intense bout of arm wrestling. Meanwhile, there’s some softcore sex in the showers, and a really intense relationship between one of the locked up ladies and her blow up doll. I’m not sure either of the female guards have their names spoken aloud (despite spending quite a few minutes onscreen), but the movie makes a point to tell us the blow up doll’s preferred form of address is Bobby.

The arrival of the men opens up a world of bad taste possibilities, but the film doesn’t particularly bother with any of them. Aside from each member being named like an off brand G.I. Joe, none of the male inmates are all that menacing or interesting. Rather than the trashy delights of warden sanctioned knife fights and guards nearly drowning Emanuelle in the guise of cleanliness, there’s a ton of toothy mugging and Gabriele Tinti yelling demands into a radio. It slows the pace of the film down considerably, and no one has even chosen to watch a women in prison picture for the self interested machinations of a bunch of dudes. Doubly so for a film starring as gorgeous of an actress as Laura Gemser.

Women’s Prison Massacre manages to right itself in the final few minutes with some decently satisfying splatter and the sort of overly elaborate death scenes familiar to fans of Italian exploitation efforts. It’s still far from the actual massacre the title promises, and where many of Mattei’s directorial efforts take delirious pleasure in excesses of questionable decisions, Women’s Prison Massacre never quite goes far enough to make it much past the middle of the locked up ladies cinematic pack.

Bite Size: Cry Of A Prostitute (1974)

The original title of this film, Quelli che contano, roughly translates to “Those That Matter”. While certainly a more thematically accurate title to notable scuzzmeister Andrea Bianchi’s (What The Peeper Saw, Strip Nude For Your Killer) only foray into poliziotteschi, it was far too subtle for the US distributor. When Joseph Brenner released the film stateside, it became the easier to sell Cry Of A Prostitute, with a lurid roughie style ad campaign focused on the battered and bloody visage of supporting player Barbara Bouchet.

The main plot actually concerns Tony Aniante (euro crime titan Henry Silva), a Sicilian born, American raised mobster. The head of one of the Mafia families has been transporting heroin in the bodies of dead children. All signs point to Don Ricuzzo Cantimo (Fausto Tozzi), another American expat known for some distasteful business practices. He’s been in an ever escalating turf dispute with Don Turi Scannapieco (Mario Landi). Aniante is dispatched back to his homeland of rural Sicily to root out the source of the ugly problem.

Of course, Tony Aniante has motivations of his own, and is soon playing both factions against each other. Tony stays for a few days at the home of Don Cantimo and his American trophy wife, Margie. Tony and Margie begin a perverse, ill advised affair which sends all of Tony’s careful planning tumbling down into the chaos of an all out gang war.

Cry Of A Prostitute is primarily a spaghetti western wearing the wrong hat, and at least it has the good sense to steal from some of the subgenre’s greats. The base plot structure is lifted wholesale from 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars, and Tony’s habit of eerily whistling before he kills definitely seems like a callback to Charles Bronson’s Harmonica in 1968’s Once Upon A Time In The West. Add in a dash of The Godfather’s throughline about the cyclical nature of power, and you’ve got a rather familiar cinematic cocktail.



Andrea Bianchi seems to realize he’s working from a bit too familiar of a playbook, and tosses in as much sensationalist shock as possible to attempt to liven up the otherwise pedestrian proceedings. The film opens with a car crash decapitation and a graphic (if not particularly well done, effects wise) autopsy. In Tony’s various machinations there are plenty of bloody deaths, most notably via a rather conveniently located steamroller. When all of that fails to do the job, Bianchi hits what is probably the most misogynistic piece of plotting in a career chock full of them…..the toxic relationship between Tony and Margie.

Margie is a scheming alcoholic ex prostitute, cuckolding her eager husband with tales of her former profession and her various extramarital affairs. Tony’s arrival is a welcome dose of fresh meat, and she is cartoonishly suggestive, lovingly soaping her bare thighs in plain view or sucking the color off of a banana at the dinner table. Tony initially resists her come ons. However, when they both find themselves in the kitchen late at night, she basically blackmails him into having sex with her. This escalates into a brutal rape, her face buried in the carcass of a freshly butchered pig. In case that wasn’t repugnant enough, remember that this is the erstwhile hero of the film. There’s also a sleazy implication that she secretly likes it, as the affair continues. Later, a major plot point is revealed only to conclude in Tony brutally beating and assaulting Margie again.

Henry Silva had cornered the market on these sorts of hypermasculine avengers of eternal whoopass, but this is stunningly amoral even by the standards of other Euro crime films. The material as written makes him basically robotic, yelling a signature motherfucker at the appropriate times and punching through several beatdowns by numbers in a way that falls flat, and makes the sexual assault scenes even more out of place. Tony lacks the capacity to feel, period. The sudden burst of sexual rage makes no sense.

In fact most of the performances here are rather drained, and as atrociously as she is written, Barbara Bouchet’s oversexed poisoned hothouse flower is a welcome dose of distinctive personality, with a perpetual scheme up her lavishly feathered sleeve. Unfortunately, Bouchet’s Margie has far too few scenes were she swans about with sex on her mind and fabulous saloon madam loungewear on her back. She’s used, abused and promptly removed from the film via suicide so the men can get back to their dirty work.

Cry Of A Prostitute is a tedious watch for the same reason so many mondo films are joyless slogs. There’s a certain fundamental intellectual dishonesty in couching a geek show as a boldly unfiltered view of humanity’s rotten core. Minus the exploitative elements, this particular plate of crime film seasoned spaghetti is decidedly pre chewed.




Bite Size: Night Of The Cobra Woman (1972)

Night Of The Cobra Woman has all of the right elements to be a delightful bit of down and dirty, shot in the Philippines drive in fare. The location shoot allows for a built in exotic setting. It stars multiple comely actresses that did some solid genre work and weren’t opposed to showing a bit of skin, and the downmarket Peter Lorre stylings of Vic Diaz. Plus, there’s enough snakes to mandate the resurrection of St. Patrick. Yet, for all of its positive aspects, the overall effect of watching the film is akin to that of a bad online date. The basic details all match the profile, but it has all of the personality of a sack of wet laundry.

Sometime during World War II, Lena Aruza (Marlene Clark, Ganja & Hess) and a young woman named Francisca (Rosemarie Gil) are Allied nurses out gathering medicinal herbs. Lena has heard rumor of a local plant that provides additional vigor and long life, and stops to investigate inside of a remote cave, where she is bitten by an exotic cobra. Meanwhile, poor Francisca is shot and (completely unnecessarily) raped by a Japanese soldier. As it turns out, the cobra venom has all of the properties the herbs were reputed to, and Lena uses it to save the life of her friend.

Cutting to the present, A UNICEF researcher named Joanna (Joy Bang, Messiah Of Evil) has just arrived in Manila to research anti venom for snake bites. She becomes fascinated with the local legends of immortality granting cobras, and a woman in a remote village who supposedly has access to one of the rare snakes. Lonely with all of the long hours in the lab, she invites her boyfriend Duff (Roger Garrett) to join her.

Of course, the local legend is a still youthful Lena. The long ago bite does grant her near immortality, as long as she has a steady supply of venom from familiar/snake deity Movini and a steady stream of young sexual conquests to steal vitality from. When Duff becomes another of the notches on Lena’s deadly bedpost, Joanna must rush to find an antidote.

Even the basic plot outline is overstuffed, and Night Of The Cobra Woman has no qualms complicating its mostly invented on the fly storyline with even more subplots. Nothing exceeds like excess, and nothing is more sure to flatline than a magic and mysticism based narrative that has absolutely no clue how its basic mythology is supposed to work. Most of Lena’s conquests die immediately, but her manservant Lope (a nonsensically gibbering Vic Diaz) is merely a deformed jungle riff on Quasimodo. Meanwhile Duff can be restored entirely by regular does of fresh venom. Plus, the mighty snake god Movini apparently has a specific weakness against eagles, which happens to be the exact animal Duff stole from outside the airport upon arrival.

Joy Bang is woefully miscast as Joanna, and she stumbles through the film in a haze of well styled hair and an expensive set of veneers. Richard Garrett as Duff is even worse, and it’s inexplicable what either of these women would see in this tall glass of skim milk that was worth venom stealing and backstabbing each other over. Marlene Clark’s imperious, high cheekboned beauty lends itself well to a dangerous cobra queen, but the material robs her of any real chance at delicate tragedy or camp villainy. If anyone’s vitality is truly stolen by this film, it is hers, as she valiantly struggles to add a distinct characterization to the whole mixed up affair.

For all of its potential, nothing much happens. The snakes are pretty tame, and mostly confined to inset shots. A lot of runtime is wasted on people wandering around searching for each other, Joy Bang looking like she’d rather be at Woodstock while they test the venom on a monkey, and a Francisca and Lope hired help revenge angle that just slithers off into the bushes.

The general inertness of the plot could have been forgivable if Night Of The Cobra Woman was stylishly shot, a sort of hallucinatory fever dream of glorious incoherence in the Messiah Of Evil mode. Unfortunately, Andrew Meyer’s direction isn’t any stronger than his screenwriting skills. The effects are pretty cheap, and he lacks any sense of framing or pacing to build any consistent mood. The film’s few kills are primarily cutaway, and what should be a horrific sequence of Lena shedding her skin is shot with the overheated eye of an aging patron watching a burlesque dancer slowly remove her stockings.

Roger Corman was a producer on the film, and was reputedly very displeased with the final result. He never hired Meyer to helm a feature film again. The fact that Night Of The Cobra Woman was beneath the visual and storyline standards of the king of fast, cheap B movie making tells you pretty much all you need to know.





Bite Size: The Flesh Merchant/The Wild And The Wicked (1956)

We are not interested in the mysterious, difficult woman, the femme fatale, who wears elegant underwear, with lace, and she is sad, and somehow mentally filthy. “- Hugh Hefner, as interviewed by Oriana Fallaci in the January 10th, 1967 issue of LOOK magazine


The girl gone wrong vice picture was another stalwart of early exploitation, with a endless parade of pretty young things moving to the big city seeking glitter and glamour, usually in show business. Despite men’s feelings on the matter, the women of exploitation cinema were certainly interested in curating mystery and a cosmopolitan air of casual difficulty, outside the limited confines of hearth, home and day dresses demanded by their former existences. The desire for more, be it material goods, sexual agency or the additional options afforded by financial independence is exactly what is used to lure these women into sex work, white slavery (non Caucasian characters are rarely afforded the same level of respectability or perceived innocence to warrant the same paternalistic, protectionist hysteria) or some hybrid of the two.


For all of his pretensions toward both the liberated and the libertine, Hefner’s quote shows he was no different (aside for a flair for personal opportunism) from any of the moralists of his day, or the production codes they created that mandated crime mustn’t ever appear to pay. The female protagonists of vice films may not be rounded up by law enforcement, but they are still punished in the end. Locked away from their former lives, tainted by their ambitions and implied to be deserving of whatever befell them before the credits rolled. You can be that difficult, mysterious woman…..but you’ll be forever marked by the filthy stain of wounded male ego. Had you just been content with your lot, none of this would have happened.


The Flesh Merchant is, on its face, a nondescript little exploitation film. The movie was indifferently directed by grindhouse journeyman W. Merle Connell (best known for the 1948 hygiene film Test Tube Babies) and dumped unceremoniously into the grindhouses in 1956. Typical of B fare, a spate of retitlings (The Wild And The Wicked, Sex Club, Dial 5683 for Love) and projectionist recuts makes information on the original conception of the film a bit tricky to track. Both “hot” (as seen on the Secret Key Archives Skin In The 50s DVD release) and “cold” (the print available most everywhere else) versions of the film exist, with a barely feature length runtime designed for the addition of additional loops to spice things up a bit.

22 year old Nancy Sheridan (Joy Reynolds) hops the bus to Hollywood where her estranged sister Paula (Lisa Rack) has had some success as a fashion model. Paula is far from thrilled by kid sister’s plans to stay awhile, and her reaction makes clear that modeling is probably not how she affords her fur coats and swank apartment.

Paula drops Nancy off at the bus depot the following morning. Nancy instead takes a cab to an art institute seeking models, the business card of which she stole from Paula’s desk. The nude modeling escalates into luxury prostitution at a resort like compound run by obvious Mafia stand ins. Soon Nancy is rooming with wise old broad Easy, and realizing the “guests” would like more than to take her picture.

This zippy little melodrama whizzes by, as necessitated by the scant 58 minute runtime. The cast of colorful characters (end of the line hooker Easy, a closeted male secretary at the art school, a goofy Chico Marx type brothel employee referred to only as Joker) are full of coded, delightfully suggestive dialog clearly designed to skirt right up to the knife’s edge of what the mores of the day would allow, while cluing the audience in with a nudge and a wink. When young Nancy is asked if she has any art modeling experience, she chirps “Yes, naturally”. A “naturalist” was a common synonym for “nudist” at that time.

There’s plenty of filmy peignoirs and bathing costumes and sheer dresses, as well as a brief bit of actual nudity even in the “cold” cut. In a refreshing change, where the loops are meant to be inserted isn’t hugely jarring or distracting. Given there there isn’t much visual craft here other than the beauty of actresses, having the more salacious elements passably blend into the main plot definitely helps the overall experience.

Perhaps most interestingly, while The Flesh Merchant hits all of the standard beats of a vice picture, Nancy is given far more agency than most of these stock plots usually allow. While initially a bit shocked by nude modeling, she calculates a beat and playfully drops her draping in an alluring pose. When she catches on to the true nature of “The Colony”, Nancy is more afraid of her gangster employers than the work itself. Soon she is getting quite used to champagne cocktails and diamonds on her wrists. Nancy’s already had the wholesome agreeable small town girl bit, has learned the rules of engagement, and has decided the brothel is definitely the better deal.

This leaves Paula to be the sanctimonious voice of era approved reason. Once the inevitable insanely improbable coincidence happens to make both sisters aware of the other’s true nature, she makes a second impassioned plea for Nancy to go home, before she misses her chance at Eisenhower era perfect domesticity. Paula then explicitly states she doesn’t know how to appeal to Nancy. You can see Paula realizing she’s projecting her own yearnings onto her younger sister, as her impassioned arguments run out of steam in an admission of futile frustration.

Paula makes one last ditch effort, bursting into the drawing room full of clients. Instead of charming them, makes an angry speech detailing her rage and disgust at the purveyors of sex, the men who buy it and all of the compromises that trade has forced her to make in her own life. Lisa Rack never made another film, and the role of moral scold is a rather thankless task. Her performance as Paula is surprisingly adept, and she delivers this final screed with believable conviction that she is trying to save young Nancy from that same fate.

Of course, the moral majority wins out in the end. Considering the stranglehold the expectations of happy domesticity and constant feminine cooperation had on this particular era, Nancy eschewing all of that, no matter how briefly, might just be the spiciest bit of content The Flesh Merchant has to offer.

Bite Size: If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971)

On a warm night in 1966, a single engine airplane crashed into a cow pasture just outside Donalson, Tennessee. The crash was likely caused by an overheated engine, and both of the adult passengers suffered severe injuries. The child traveling with them was, miraculously, mostly unharmed.

On a similarly muggy night some four years later , a congregant named Monnie Stansfield left the cramped environs of a revival tent in Myrtle, Mississippi, deeply impressed with the impassioned oratory of one Estus W. Pirkle. The fire and brimstone preacher’s words were just as vivid as any movie. Had that passing thought been left in an appropriately fleeting place, much innocent celluloid could have been spared.

Unfortunately, Monnie Stansfield actually hunted down Reverend Pirkle that day, encouraging him to put his words on film and bring even more souls to the Lord. Stansfield even knew the right man for the job, who ran a small film studio down in Nashville.

That filmmaker’s name was Roy Ormond (The Mesa Of Lost Women, The Monster And The Stripper). After a second near miss plane crash, he had denounced the skin and sin of his secular career in exploitation. Freshly born again, he had decided turn his talents toward salvation. Since 1968 or so, he had been focusing on making small local films within the Baptist community for church and classroom use.

Stansfield’s chance introduction led to one of the strangest series of collaborations ever set to film. 1971’s If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? isn’t so much a movie as it is the cinematic equivalent of those faux $100 bill tracts left at a restaurant tables in lieu of an actual tip.

The opening few minutes are spent in a bizarre combination of manifesto and disclaimer, with Estus Pirkle having a conversation with a disembodied off screen voice about his ability to “verify” everything we’re about to see. “All of the documented re-enactments are taken from actual events that have taken place in Russia, Korea, China, and Cuba, where they have already taken over”, and that the only dramatic liberties taken are the use of American actors to better show what will happen on the home front “when they take over….if they take over”.


In front of an audience that looks like they are already in their own personal Hell (aside from the one prominently placed spectator who wisely stays asleep the entire time), Pirkle preaches a slightly modified for the screen version of the fire and brimstone sermon he had previously peddled both in person and as a mail order book.

All roads outside the revival hall lead to crime, sex, or both. Worldly vices are the footmen of the coming horses of communism, which establishes an overall metaphor shoehorned in to fit the title’s Biblical reference. Reverend Pirkle generously estimates this takeover as being an imminent danger within the next 24 months, unless America changes its wicked ways.

Television? Encourages sex.

Secular education, particularly at colleges? Riots, crime and……. sex.

At least this particular point gets accompanied by an a brief cut to a chalkboard. The board is illustrated with drawing straight out of a John Willie retrospective and a suspiciously hippie like instructor about to teach a class on the “7 Erogenous Zones Of A Woman”. That number is both severely underestimated and highly specific in a way that makes me suspect very few of the people involved on this film had much of a clue how sex actually works.

Dancing? Just sex standing up

Drive ins? Sex on wheels.

There’s also a bit of melodrama interspersed involving a miniskirted slattern named Judy who arrives to the sermon late, and finds herself regretting her lifestyle of smoking, drinking and anything else even vaguely resembling fun. Reverend Pirkle’s words make visions of her dead mother dance in her head, and she tearfully repents.

Where Footmen surpasses conservative Christian curio is when Pirkle moves on to the consequences of not heeding his warnings, and breaks out the promised reenactments of “verified” stories of Communist regimes shifted to American shores. They most certainly are not his personal persecution fantasies and apocalypse dreams. Nope. All true. 100%. His cousin’s sister’s hairdresser’s church had a missionary who saw it. Could totally happen to us.

There’s an endless parade of inset shots of (clearly breathing) good Christian children lying massacred in the street for not denouncing their faith. Before they are executed, they are forced to join in bizarre games involving tying up their own parents and forcibly dropping them onto pitchforks. While horses are inexplicably the preferred mode of travel for the movie’s soldiers, they break out a van for the daily roundup of speak and spell my first indoctrination. A loudspeaker drones about Christianity being stupid, pausing only long enough for training exercises. The children too cowardly to be martyrs for Jesus find themselves praying to the glory of Fidel Castro for penny candy.

Because we can’t leave the adults out of the paranoia, there’s an offscreen Communist rape fantasy involving a General that slides in between accents as easily as he slides into marriage beds to steal good Christian wives. It isn’t an explicit scene, because sex is bad. However, violence in the name of Jesus is justified. An unfortunate child actor gets the joy of his big movie moment ruined by having to pretend to get his eardrums poked out with plastic bamboo, then vomiting water straight into the camera.

Granted, all of this is far too cheaply shot and indifferently framed to look realistic. The main special effect at hand was apparently a diner’s worth of ketchup packets. Conceptually? Umberto Lenzi would have found some of this in poor taste.


Roy Ormond was one of the few filmmakers in exploitation who could make Doris Wishman look like Cecil DeMille. He had trouble efficiently conveying simple story concepts like “monster” or “stripper”, and framed every shot he ever took through what may as well have been a Jenga stack or a funhouse mirror. His biggest expense on any of the films he ever made was likely a parking ticket when he went to drop off prints to be processed.

When handed subject matter as full of fake history, factual errors, logical fallacies and misplaced rage as this screed, Ormond’s general ineptitude adds an air of manic surrealism to the whole affair, that truly must be seen to be believed. What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on the bus trying to make His way home from an afternoon trip to the grindhouse.

To answer the film’s titular question, and tidily sum up my feelings on this particular experience…….they shoot horses, don’t they?









I Drink Your Blood (1970)

The film that eventually became I Drink Your Blood began with a challenge. David Durston had some moderate success as a writer/director of sexploitation pictures and midcentury mainstream genre television hit Tales Of Tomorrow. When exploitation impresario Jerry Gross approached him for his latest project, it came with a strict directive. Jerry and Cinemation wanted “the most graphic horror film ever produced”, but it must produce its terrors without “vampires, man-made monsters, werewolves, mad doctors, or little people”. Should Durston succeed in that goal, his writing and directing contracts would be rewritten for double his usual fee.

Likely fueled by the prospect of a much more promising payday, the initial script was cranked out in just a few weeks, inspired by real life footage of a rabies outbreak in a remote Iranian village. A partial rewrite added in a timely Manson like cult to the basic contagion plot. The project was greenlit immediately, and Durston assembled a cast of primarily unknown actors to began principle photography in the outbuildings of the upstate New York village Sharon Springs.

Horace Bones (Indian classical dancer Bhaskar) and his multi cultural band of hippies are holding a Satanic ritual in the dark of night on a remote rural route. When local girl Sylvia (Arlene Farber, The French Connection) is spotted watching from the bushes, the group assaults her and leaves her lying on the road into town. A van breakdown the following morning keeps them from fleeing the scene. Lacking other options and unlikely to face consequences from the tiny population of the soon to be demolished village, the group makes themselves at home in the abandoned hotel in town.

Meanwhile, a battered and bloody Sylvia has managed to stumble home, informing her family of what has happened to her. Her grandfather, local veterinarian Dr. Banner (Richard Bowler), goes to confront Horace. The group openly mocks him, and Dr. Banner receives a vicious beating and a forced dosage of LSD for his trouble. Wanting to avenge the abuse of his grandfather and older sister, young Pete (Riley Mills) literally cooks up a revenge plan with some discounted meat pies and the blood of a rabid dog. No attempt at a good deed goes unpunished, and soon the rabies outbreak spreads beyond the cultists and tosses the entire town into murderous, chaotic mayhem.

The film was one of the first to be slapped with an X rating primarily for violence, and Jerry Gross wisely leaned into the controversy. Tossing the working titles of Phobia and State Farm, he christened the film as the delightfully lurid but entirely inaccurate I Drink Your Blood. Dusting off a tepid 1964 Del Tenney snoozefest as I Eat Your Skin, he began a massive promo push for the newly minted “great blood horrors to rip out your guts”. While the original contract had the film slated only for drive ins, Gross also pushed the movie into select grindhouses before its traditional premier. This may account for why modern databases have such wildly different release dates listed, ranging from December of 1970 to May of 1971.

To insure the film actually played its booked dates, Gross also gave projectionists free rein to cut the prints as they saw fit to evade the censors in their specific locations. This added to the film’s word of mouth reputation as difference audiences saw different versions of the print with varying levels of violence splattered across their local screens.

With a hyper savvy ad campaign and an all timer of a trailer, I Drink Your Blood would’ve been a drive in hit on just about any possible timeline, regardless of the contents of the actual film. What makes it a stone cold classic of the form is that it delivers on the all of the promo’s promise, and then just keeps on going. Nude Satanic rituals! Hippie babes! Rat hunts! Geriatrics on a bad trip! Fountains of gore with a murderer’s row laundry list of implements!

The film understands better than most that movies must move, and never leaves us long without some new display of blood, boobs or bad taste to gaze at, Scooby Doo style groovy chase music turned up loud on the soundtrack. When the film does finally take a breath for air, it’s to deliver a hilarious classroom film ready lecture about both rabies and the perils of exposure to LSD.


Granted, the abundant gore is of the very era specific red paint variety, there is an utter vacuum of sense in how the disease spreads, and the performances are wildly uneven. Despite all of that, I Drink Your Blood has what so many legendary entries of extreme cinema lack, a sense of fun. The movie’s goal is clearly to shock, but it lacks the dour, cynical tone that characterizes so many other controversial gore films. The cast and crew recognize the inherent goofiness of the material, and set about doing the best they can with their limited resources, tongue firmly in cheek.

Bhaskar capably anchors the film, with his dancer’s physicality and somewhat fey tinge to his line readings bringing a welcome dose of seducer along with the sociopath. Charisma was a key component of Charles Manson’s ability to attract followers, and it’s believable that this pack of somewhat aimless souls would follow Horace Bones’ Manson stand in here. Richard Bowler’s Doc Banner adds a welcome shot of professionalism to the proceedings, and some needed emotional weight to the few key scenes he has. Future genre queen Lynn Lowry has an uncredited role as a mute cultist, and the camera loves her face in every frame. Legendary dancer/actress/theatrical agent Jadin Wong is fine in a thankless role as the cult’s exoticized spiritual guru.

Grading on the time period, lack of experience, and budget appropriate curve, only Riley Mills as Pete really stinks up the joint. His strident line delivery is straight out of a 60s commercial stumping for a healthy breakfast cereal or the finest new innovations in toothpaste. The annoyingly straight laced little kid is as much of a stock type as a scream queen, and it’s not a role even a talented young actor is ever terribly likable in. Plus, in a film that is so hopelessly devoted to its ten in one carnival geek show of grisly horrors, the individual supporting performances’ imperfections are part of the shaggy, schlocky charm.

As anyone familiar with my online presence already knows, in all of my countless hours watching and writing about obscure cinema, this is still my all time favorite exploitation film, an acid trip time capsule that flies by in a lightning fast 90-ish minutes that keeps all of this foaming at the mouth, free form weirdness from wearing out its welcome. It’s also a crowd pleaser for a surprisingly wide ranging set of audiences.

For those looking for a unique spin on a familiar Night Of The Living Dead adjacent framework, there’s enough attention paid to the epidemic that it still packs enough punch to work as an actual narrative horror film (outside of its value as a curio of a very specific era of cinema).


For those inclined to highbrow analysis of lowbrow cultural artifacts, the Romero-esque zombies as class commentary and implications of social upheaval brought by the end of the Age Of Aquarius are front and center.

For those first wandering their way into exploitation and extreme cinema without wanting to jump right into the rougher waters of rape revenge flicks, cannibal films or the more gonzo side of gore, this is a less harrowing litmus test of your personal taste for the form.

If you couldn’t give a shit less about any of that and want to have some Mystery Science Theater style fun with some friends, it’s a movie about rabid hippie zombies. Fire away.

With its recent restoration making the uncensored cut available for a whole new generation of viewers I Drink Your Blood‘s hippie hangover lives up to its opening monolog, roughly 50 years after its initial release. Satan was an acidhead. Drink from his cup……and together we’ll all freak out.