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: Blue Sunshine (1977)

Jeff Lieberman is another of the New York City native eccentrics of genre cinema, with the same flair for the defiantly oddball as fellow hometown boys Larry Cohen and Frank Henenlotter. In his short but varied filmography Lieberman has tackled everything from nature run amok (Squirm), to downmarket Deliverance riffs ( Just Before Dawn), to atomic age alien abductions updated for the VHS era (Remote Control).

1977’s Blue Sunshine was his second feature film, and trades in Squirm‘s down in the dirt small town setting for the sunny streets of Los Angeles. A few old friends are having a party to catch up, but the evening goes off the rails when a guest playfully tugs at the hair of Frannie (Richard Crystal) as he begins to croon some Sinatra. Frannie is apparently bald beneath the hair piece, and runs off into the night in a fit of irrational rage. While the rest of the guests are searching for him, Frannie returns and violently tosses two female guests into the fireplace, burning them to death. Jerry (Zalman King) attempts to subdue the suddenly homicidal Frannie, but their altercation takes them out onto the highway, where Frannie is hit by a passing truck.

Jerry now finds himself on the run, suspected in the 3 deaths at the party. Similar bizarre attacks of hair loss, headaches and homicide are happening all over the city. Desperate to clear his own name, he enlists his girlfriend Alicia (Deborah Winters), and college friend Dr. David Blume (Robert Walden) to help clear his name. Could the truth lie in a bad batch of LSD that the killers took a decade before? And what does soon to be Congressman Ed Flemming (Mark Goddard) have to do with it?

Blue Sunshine is definitely the most conceptually ambitious of the early 70s spate of hippie hangover films, turning a cool, clinical eye toward the anti drug hysteria of classical exploitation and playing it dead straight, complete with a text card square up as the credits roll. Blue Sunshine doesn’t so much contradict the screeching authority figures of the likes of Reefer Madness, or the concern trolling tone that drops an LSD lecture into the middle of drive in classic I Drink Your Blood. The drugs will make you crazy, it just takes a decade of life as a ticking time bomb before your bad choices catch up with you.

By drolly dropping into the cinematic conversation only to facetiously correct the timeline, the film becomes an interesting bit of malicious compliance satire. Its perspective clearly mocks all of the moral panic that spawned those sorts of warnings in the first place, while still drawing horror from it for viewers who miss the archness of that reading.

The initial promise of the premise sags as the layers of the plot add elements of a conspiracy thriller, mainly because Zalman King can’t quite modulate his performance as Jerry. He’s either mumbling blandly or in the midst of bug eyed hysterics, and there’s little nuance or sympathy to be had for him as he fumbles through his investigation. Regardless of where the truth of the crimes lies, it is unsurprising that the film’s other characters don’t respond terribly well to Jerry’s brute force interrogations or dismiss his rants as the ravings of an unstable kook.

What the central performance lacks in style and finesse, Blue Sunshine makes up in spades with stylish set pieces, a cool toned color palette befitting the title, and some confident, steady camera work. There’s a sleek quirkiness to the music and visuals that makes it hard to forget. A blue moon hangs in an inky sky over the opening credits, interspersed with introductions to the major characters. The title is introduced by the almost human croak of the words “Blue Sunshine” by a pet parrot. Those once upon a time hippie longhairs lose theirs along with their sanity, with pathetic scraggly tufts crowning their chalky pallor and bulging eyes as they turn violent. By the time we get to inset shots of a celebrity impersonator puppet show serving as entertainment at a political rally or a climatic fight in the flashing cornucopia of lights at a mall disco, it all makes for a cohesive aesthetic sense that few films of this ilk display.

While flawed in its plotting and performances, the unique blend of familiar mainstream elements, exploitation style exercises, and higher than average production values makes Blue Sunshine an excellent entry point into the more psychotronic side of retro cinema. Plus, sharp eyed viewers will note that in the final department store scene, the sales floor is decorated for Christmas, adding Blue Sunshine to the list of unexpected holiday horrors.





Bite Size: Lola Colt (1967)

Multi-hypenate Lola Falana worked her way up from small club engagements and chorus lines with the sort of dogged determination one would expect from a woman headstrong enough to drop out of high school and move to New York on the slim chance of an entertainment career. A chance Atlantic City meeting with Sammy Davis Jr. led to a long term personal and professional relationship, a featured role in 1964 Broadway hit Golden Boy and a 1965 record deal over at Mercury Records.

The single was only a modest success, but her popularity in the London production of Golden Boy, her European gigs as a nightclub performer and some well received appearances on Italian television helped cement her rising star status overseas. Though 1967’s Lola Colt was only Falana’s third film role (after supporting parts in Sammy Davis Jr. vehicle A Man Called Adam and the somewhat slight Italian musical Quando dico che ti amo), she was given top billing on the movie.

The plot of the film is the sort of cookie cutter oater pumped out by Poverty Row studios throughout the 30s and 40s. Lola Gate (Lola Falana) and her troupe of traveling showgirls are forced to stop in the tiny border town of Santa Ana when one of the performers falls ill. The ladies make a residency as the entertainment at the local saloon while their friend recovers. In between performances, Lola finds herself caught up in both a budding romance with med student Rod (Peter Martell), and the townspeople’s battle with a robber baron nicknamed “El Diablo” (Germán Cobos).

At first retrospective glance, a western with a side of musical numbers seems an odd choice of star vehicle for a Black American singer/dancer/actress. However, the spaghetti western trend was at its peak in 1967, and Lola Falana’s song and dance tours were a proven hit in Italy. It isn’t inconceivable that the producers thought they had a “two great tastes that taste great together” potential success on their hands.

It’s also a stark contrast to many of the other roles in Lola’s later feature film work (which speaks to the limitations of the scope of parts offered to Black actresses, particularly during this era) in that the plot doesn’t hinge on her race. When she’s greeted with a sneering “We don’t like your kind here” upon exiting her stage coach at the beginning of the film, the comment is in reference to the supposed loose morals of showfolk rather than the color of her skin. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this film progressive (a flashback to Lola’s childhood and the loss of her family is inexplicably cast with white actors, which is both incredibly lazy and incredibly telling), but it is a notable departure from the dominant modes of the period.


In any case, Lola Falana’s charisma sparkles in Lola Colt, making it readily apparent why she later became a much larger star. The character of Lola Gate brightens up the rather humdrum proceedings whenever she appears. She looks impossibly lovely throughout, be it in her Barbarella at Ye Old Tyme Saloon stage gear or well fringed Western kitsch and a snow white cowgirl hat. The musical numbers, while blithely anachronistic and a bit bare bones in term of production value, are a high energy showcase for her considerable talent as both a dancer and a singer. Her acting doesn’t look goofy even in the face of a truly execrable English dub. There’s a capable, cheerful athleticism to her single action oriented scene.

Unfortunately, despite her billing, Lola Falana isn’t on screen all that much. The bulk of the 79 minute runtime is spent with the residents of Santa Ana, a pile of uninteresting stock types. It is Peter Martell’s square jawed cardboard cut out turn as Rod that gets the hero build up and music cues. This is made even more ridiculous by the fact that the bulk of his role in the film comprises of idle bickering in a procession of near identical drawing rooms. It’s Lola who formulates the perfectly workable plan of attack against “El Diablo”, and reveals that the mysterious hostage holding raider is less of a devil than he is a greedy schmuck named Larry. Despite singing, dancing and hatching the plan for the town’s liberation, Lola only gets to pick up a gun in the final 20 minutes of the flick. The firepower dispatches exactly one bad guy and a particularly pesky lock.

Lola Colt was not a hit, and the film didn’t receive a US release until 1976, when Falana had reached a much greater level of success stateside. The newly christened Black Tigress was a direct attempt to cash in on both Falana’s appearance in 1975 Blaxploitation effort Lady Cocoa and her groundbreaking status as the spokesmodel for Faberge’s Tigress perfume.

Given that Lola Colt is a very minor effort even on the scale of its spaghetti western counterparts, American audiences were doubly disappointed when the the promotional push attempted to position the film as an action packed Blaxploitation epic. A second, even more ridiculous retitling as Bad And Black failed to improve matters. Lola Colt dropped from the bottom of a double bill, and rode off into the sunset of obscurity.

Bite Size: Teenage Innocence/Little Miss Innocence (1973)

The raucous, independent environment of exploitation cinema, along with the early 70s rise of so called “New Hollywood” experimentation and porno chic allowed for the boundaries between categories of film to be far more porous. Actors and crew members could shift much more easily between standard issue theatrical features, softcore films and hardcore erotica, free to work in whatever niche was cashing checks in a manner that seems borderline impossible in the present day.

Director Chris Warfield was one of those cases. Having found modest success as a television actor through the 60s, the dawn of the new decade saw Warfield pivot to the other side of the camera. He made several sexploitation pictures under his given name, plus some well regarded early hardcore features (Champagne For Breakfast) under the pseudonym Billy Thornberg.

1973’s Teenage Innocence (US title, with most of the rest of the world preferring the snappier Little Miss Innocence) bears the mark of that wide ranging experience. The screenplay (co-written with E.E. Patchen) straddles the line between straight up sex film and erotic chamber drama. The movie’s three stars are pulled from both the porn trenches and the more lurid side of low budget films.

Wealthy music arranger Rick Engels (John Alderman, The Pink Angels) is cruising through Los Angeles on a sunny afternoon. On a whim, he picks up two pretty young hitchhikers. Brunette Carol (Sandy Dempsey, Swinging Cheerleaders) is brash and a touch brassy, while baby faced blonde Judy (Terri Johnson, The Cocktail Waitresses) is sweetly shy.

Initially demurring on his invitation to come up to his “neato” pad, the girls change their minds after they get bored of idly wandering in Rick’s pretty but far from swinging neighborhood. Before long, the girls are cozily curled up on his couch, and a bit of brandy makes things go way past the initial idle flirtation. After a few delirious days of assorted hedonism, Rick’s unbelievable luck runs out. The pair refuse to leave, their demands becoming much more all consuming and sinister.

The basic plot outline is very similar to Peter Traynor’s comparatively better known 1977 exploitation flick Death Game, but tonally the two films couldn’t be more different. Death Game plays its riffs fast and loud from the start, shooting straight for the lurid with a shriek and a green gel filter.

Teenage Innocence takes its time in its tonal shift, playing almost like an updated nudie cutie for the first half of the film, with unobtrusive cinematography and a much more naturalistic approach to dialog and the volume at which it is delivered. The wild weekend is all fun and games, until it isn’t.

All three leads put in above average performances, which helps push a concept that is pure male gaze wish fulfillment into a much darker realm. In the back half, Teenage Innocence is a low budget riff on the crimes of Leopold and Loeb, with a tiny dash of Le Grande Bouffe‘s criticism of bourgeoise assumed access to excess. Rick gets everything he had wished for in picking the pair up, and the fact that he then has to live with it is a special sort of Hell unto itself.

Teenage Innocence would pair well with Andy Milligan’s Fleshpot On 42nd St. It’s a ready made double feature of downbeat sexploitation that makes abundant displays of skin and sin decidedly unerotic, instead focusing on a weaponized sexuality honed through disappointment and trauma. Teenage Innocence‘s Carol is almost a kid sister to Fleshpot’s Dusty, with both women using the performance of eroticism to hide just how hard they’ve been faking it the entire time.