Bite Size: Fangs (1974)

Fangs/Holy Wednesday (1974) Movie Review

For most people, midweek isn’t a particularly notable time. Whatever responsibilities Monday brings are already in progress, and it is a touch too early to anticipate the pleasures the weekend might bring. However, Jim “Snakey” Bender (40s radio star and B movie regular Les Tremayne) isn’t most people. On Wednesdays, Snakey leaves the comfort of his rural reptile farm for a trip into town. Amongst the hustle and bustle, he’s got errands to run, supplies to buy, and both a best friend and a pretty schoolteacher to visit.

This regional California drive in cheapie was the sole directorial credit for Art A. Names. He’s probably best known for his long career as a sound mixer for a variety of exploitation fare (The Corpse Grinders, Savage Streets, H.O.T.S.), and a pair of writing credits on lesser Ted V. Mikels movies. Visually, Fangs is exactly what you would expect in regard to both the director’s experience level and budgetary limitations. The movie is indifferently framed, edited like a car braking in traffic, and features a rather flat color palette that reads even muddier on home video. Slightly less expectedly, the sound levels are also all over the place, with blaring stock music and tinny dialog. What separates Fangs from the pack is all in the left field nature of its small town cast of characters.

Snakey himself is hillbilly caricature imported in from a hicksploitation flick, a pork and beans eating, dirty coverall wearing misanthrope who clearly prefers the company of his reptile pets to people. In fact, he keeps a few of his slithery friends in the car, even on his trips into town. He pays local schoolchildren to hunt rats and mice to feed them, and harasses the owners of the local general store to ship exotic snakes in on their delivery truck (food safety standards be damned). He also claims to be part snake himself. Snakey is just as fanatical as his nickname would imply, and the only other interest he has is an equally zealous passion for the bombastic marches of John Philip Sousa. Snakey has a standing appointment each week with his best buddy Burt (Richard Kennedy), where they bond over beer fueled march alongs to the greatest hits of 1896.

It’s clear that at least a few residents of the town are less than thrilled with his visits, in particular a literalist Bible thumper named Brother Joy (Marvin Kaplan) who feels serpents are the Devil’s work, and that old Snakey is leading the local kids into sins against God’s more innocent prey animals. Luckily Burt has enough clout around town to override Brother Joy’s objections in regards to his eccentric BFF. Local schoolteacher Cynthia (Bebe Kelly) is also oddly tolerant of Mr. Bender, encouraging her class to hunt for suitable feed, and inviting old Snakey’s menagerie to show and tell.

All of this changes when Burt decides to marry Ivy (Janet Wood), a showgirl he’s brought back from the big city. Her nude go go dancing sure beats broom carrying marches, and the days of Wednesday night band concerts are clearly numbered. Snakey, already threatened by a change to his precious weekly routine, makes a rash decision that further tears his well ordered schedule to shreds. Soon every warm blooded creature in his life seems to be turning against him.

Fangs takes a long time setting up its cast of characters, and there is a certain hypnotic rubbernecking quality to watching it edge its way into Willard territory despite lacking much, if any, handle on anything that even superficially resembles actual human behavior. It turns out that Cynthia, seemingly sweet schoolteacher, has a serious snake fetish. She’s been forcibly enlisting the school children on Snakey’s behalf to keep the conjugal visits with his prize pets coming (thankfully, this is only ever shown in puppet show style silhouette). Meanwhile, the sibling owners of the general store have had a share and share alike crush on Cynthia for months. When dim witted Bud (Bruce Kimball) and his butch lesbian Lothario sister Sis (Alice Nunn, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) get wind of Cynthia’s big secret, they blackmail her. Not wanting to lose her job, Cynthia is forced into both indulging the pair’s whims and accelerating the pace of old Snakey’s no good very bad day exponentially by cutting off his child labor snake food supply.

Why is Snakey such an outcast when every single character in town is transfixed by snakes as much as he is? What the hell was the onus of the weekly worship of marching bands? How did absolutely no one on the school board notice how much time Cynthia Williams spent rhapsodizing with her class about snakes?

Fangs is both oddly coy (there is little gore or nudity to speak of, despite the abundantly sleazy contours of the plot), and entirely committed to the weird world it has created in a way that is both accidentally hilarious and utterly disorienting. By the time Snakey starts creating overly elaborate reptile-centric Bond villain traps to punish his enemies and pushing cars off a cliff with the frenetic regularity of those headache remedy ads’ admonishment to “APPLY DIRECTLY TO THE FOREHEAD!“……it’s rather pedestrian by comparison to everything that preceded it.

Fangs wasn’t much of a box office draw, despite a spate of retitlings that ranged from the generic (Snakes) to the blandly accurate (Holy Wednesday) to the most blatant sort of bait and switch (Snakelust). The film’s failure to launch isn’t surprising, as it doesn’t really venture far enough into grisly horror or forbidden lust to have satisfied the bulk of the grindhouse/drive in crowd. What Fangs excels at is a quality that is likely best appreciated in retrospect. Fangs is a jolt of shambling, oddly specific eccentricity. The film is basically the cinematic equivalent of those misshapen fish that are only found in the deeper reaches of the ocean, where all of the working parts are seemingly assembled in the wrong order. If you’re looking for sex, style, or shock you’d be better served elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a genuinely inexplicable curio of the 70s indie genre film fringes, you might find Fangs fascinating in spite of itself.

Bite Size: Mad Youth (1939)

By 1939, the Hays Code had cracked down on Hollywood. High profile scandals had been making front page news since the 20s (from the death of Virgina Rappe to the murder of director William Desmond Taylor) , and the dawning of a new decade did little to diminish the moviegoing public’s appetites for racy material, from Mae West’s bawdy wisecracks to overheated Cecil DeMille historical epics full of some rather scantily clad starlets. When religious groups and the moral majority grew increasingly loud regarding the perceived “immorality” of mainstream films, Hollywood instituted a campaign of self censoring production guidelines that would hold for the next three decades.

As always, this left exploitation cinema to pick up the slack in the celluloid sins department. 1939’s Mad Youth is chock full of the snappy innuendo, daring peeks of skin and (comparative) sexual frankness of its bigger budget pre Code cousins, with just enough of a “moral” for plausible deniability of prurient interests. Like many other exploitation films before and since, it was cut to suit local markets by both state censor boards and local projectionists more familiar with the amount of scandal their localities could bear.

Lucy Morgan (Oscar nominated silent/early sound star Betty Compson) is a high living divorcee who spends more time with her social calendar than she does with her daughter, Marian (Mary Ainslee). Mrs. Morgan hires handsome young escorts from a local agency to accompany her to this parade of bridge games and club nights. To add brass to bad parenting, she even asks her daughter to loan her the cash to pay for her companions once her alimony check is all spent.

Marian, being a clever girl, uses the loan as a bargaining chip for permission to throw parties while her mother is otherwise engaged. While Mrs. Morgan is playing bridge and negotiating the price of “necking” with the handsome “Count” DeHoven (Willy Castello, a mainstay in many similar vice pictures), Miriam is tossing a rager full of booze, some pretty impressive jitterbugging, majorette routines(!?) and strip poker.

When Mrs. Morgan attempts to bargain for a freebie by inviting the Count to the house for a nightcap, he meets the lovely Marian, pretending to have fallen asleep waiting up for her mother. Their introductions are quite adversarial, given DeHoven realizes Miriam is just covering up her partying, and Miriam knows that he’s just another paid staffer for Mrs. Morgan. Despite the sparring, and Miriam’s idle dismissal of the gigolo, the chemistry between the two is obvious. Before long, DeHoven is secretly calling on Miriam free of charge, and avoiding Mrs. Morgan’s requests for paid assignments.

It’s almost comical how obsessed with sex nearly every character in Mad Youth is, apart from from the gigolo angle. It’s all very coded, but its a code you could crack with a ring from a cereal box. When Marian’s friends are parked down the block awaiting her to signal the start of the party, two are making out in the back seat. A cop comes to roust them out from making “googly eyes” ……only because it disturbs HIS necking with a young woman on a nearby park bench. This odd plot swerve is explained only with the following, retroactively hilarious, line:

“When a man wants to goo, he wants to goo, and I don’t want any lovebirds perched that close when I’m goo-ing!”

Cutting to Mrs. Morgan’s bridge game/bargaining session, even the gossip around the table is who’s zooming who, and exactly what sort of rides you might receive on a date with a car salesman. Mad Youth‘s adults are just as perpetually sexually frustrated as the teens. The principle difference is that the teens’ drinking, panty flashing dance routines and naked card games seem way more fun than bridge. As does the cafe where DeHoven joins Marian for an actual date, where the runtime padding includes more dancing and an ersatz bullfight.

This being 1939, all of this free floating horniness can’t possibly end well. Mrs. Morgan snoops through Marian’s diary, and discovers where the Count’s actual affections lie. This leads to a rather well acted standoff between the two women. Mrs. Morgan is both the worst kind of parent and the worst kind of trick. She truly believed Count DeHoven was going to marry her if she paid for enough of his time.

Mrs. Morgan then admits that she openly resents Marian, and never wanted her, blaming her daughter for her own lost youth and loveless former marriage. Marian, correctly pegging her mother as delusional, opts to move out. Rather than surprise her father and his new wife, she heads to Pittsburgh to join her best friend Helen.

Helen had written Marian about her unexpected wedding, to an unseen dreamboat from a correspondence club. However, when Marian arrives at the provided address, its a white slavery ring/brothel. The madam now has two beautiful young girls in her slimy clutches, and an unnecessarily racist caricature to help her keep them there.

White slavery panic was one of the most common scare tactics in early exploitation, but Mad Youth deserves credit for using some some fresh calculations to get to very common final answer. It also makes a sex worker the late in the game moral center of the film, and lets him be the hero of the day as he saves the girls. Sure, Count DeHoven renounces his former occupation, but just when you think the moralists have won the day, Mad Youth pulls one last cheeky reversal of the “immorality must be punished” ethos right as the credits fade.

While both statically shot and heavily padded as was typical of its budget and era, Mad Youth brings some fresh twists to a pile of early exploitation tropes, complete with a late career grand dame to class up the proceedings. For those unfamiliar with pre 1960/”classical” exploitation, this film would be a solid place to start. Director Melville Shyer was a veteran of the very early days of Hollywood (eventually helping found the Screen Directors’ Guild), and worked alongside some very established names. Accordingly, Mad Youth is livelier than many of its contemporaries, with a nice mix of mainstream style melodrama and exploitation’s censor evading obsession with sleaze smuggled into scare tactics.

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: 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: 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.

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: French Quarter (1978)

Pretty young runaways and sex work are an evergreen in exploitation film, but 1978’s French Quarter certainly deserves notice for the the winding path it takes to connect those familiar dots. Shot on location in New Orleans, the film takes the scenic route through a grab bag of trash cinema tropes to create a singularly strange film that truly couldn’t have been made in any other era. Mainly, because no sober human being in recent memory would ever green light it.

Christine Delaplane (Alisha Fontaine, Teenage Tramp ) is in heavy debt after the death of her father. With no other surviving family and no real options in her tiny Louisiana town, she hitches her way to New Orleans in the hopes of a fresh start. Rejected by every other job she applied for, Christine ends up dancing in a topless bar. The sleazy owner suitcase pimps a bunch of mysterious “expenses” from her pay, and a week’s worth of work only nets her $25. Considering the incredibly awkward striptease we see, its a minor miracle she kept the job that long.

She gets into an argument with the club’s owner over the obvious grift, and finds herself homeless and out of a job on a Saturday afternoon, unable to even cash her check for bus fare back home. Kindly house mom/club bartender Ida (1940s Hollywood star Virginia Mayo) takes pity on poor country Christine, and sends her to the apothecary owned by a local voodoo practitioner. The woman owes Ida a favor and can cash Christine’s check. Instead of helping out, Florinda Beaudine (Anna Filameno) drugs our naive heroine and makes arrangements to sell her into a white slavery ring.

Christine comes to, but she’s no longer Christine. She wakes up in 19th century New Orleans, as indicated by a costume change and an annoying soft focus effect. Apparently, in those early days of cinema, there was a mandate the camera lens be coated in Vaseline.

Instead, she’s Miss Trudy Dix, the crown jewel of the brothel of Countess Willie Piazza (Virginia Mayo, again). Trudy has been ill with fever, but now that she is well again, her virginity will be auctioned off to the highest bidder to bring even greater prestige and profit to the luxury whore house. Without much questioning of what the hell just happened, Christine/Trudy begins to fall in love with a fresh off the bus piano player, Kid Ross (Bruce Davidson). This angers a local crime boss and his voodoo queen mistress, Madame Papaloos (Anna Filameno, also once more with feeling). They want to profit off of Christine/Trudy themselves, and too heavy a love affair will destroy her principle market value.

Nearly every actor in the film has a dual role, appearing in both the 19th and 20th century timeline. As the bulk of the film’s runtime is spent in the past, the trickiest bit is figuring out where the blink and you’ll miss it cameos are in the modern beginnings of the movie.

The wide scope, double timeline structure is pretty ambitious for the drive in, and French Quarter isn’t content to just fix itself on Christine/Trudy. The sub two hour runtime includes subplots for each of Trudy’s fellow hookers, riffs on several historical figures, voodoo rituals, and the unlikely friendship between the literal new Kid on the block and jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton (Vernel Bagneris) amongst the racial politics of 1910 New Orleans. The setting of a brothel also leaves ample room for all sorts of the incidental salaciousness one would expect, from idle nudity to vintage style stripteases, and an all too brief lesbian affair.

Alisha Fontaine had a pretty short film career, and perhaps isn’t the most dynamic lead for all of this swooning melodrama. That said, everyone else seems to be having a blast raiding the wardrobe closet and playing period piece dress up. What Fontaine lacks in personality is easily smoothed over by the rest of the ensemble being rather unafraid of turning up the camp. Virginia Mayo is well cast as the classic kindly madam, and looks fantastic for a woman pushing 60 at the time of filming. Ann Michelle (Virgin Witch, The Death Wheelers) goes for broke with bug eyed abandon as the aptly named “Coke-Eyed Laura”, a fellow hooker with a habit that could easily launch poppies into extinction. Lindsay Bloom (H.O.T.S.) also adds some wisecracking comic relief as “Big Butt Annie”, who has the expected penchant for Greek delicacies and entry via the back door of the mansion the girls call home.

The movie does go several turns too far in regard to the tower of subplots, and has bitten off a bit more than this price point could ever hope to chew. The shoehorned in white voodoo queen angle, Christine/Trudy’s courtship with Kid, and a random confrontation with a gangster at a juke joint should have probably been trimmed for length and pacing’s sake. French Quarter hits its stride in the slice of life scenes inside the brothel, with a tone that reminds me of 1985’s Angel. While not quite as charming as that particular movie, both films utilize colorful supporting characters and their above average roster of on camera talent to make a lighter, sweeter confection than you would otherwise expect from such a sleaze filled premise.

For those with a bit of patience, French Quarter is as frothy and fun as exploitation films get without crossing over into the well trod territory of goofy sex comedy. Besides, how many other movies can you name that include both survival sex work and white slavery hysteria as major plot points that somehow manage to twist themselves into a happy ending?

Bite Size: Violated (1953)

While the title and promo materials suggest an early roughie, 1953’s Violated is a bit of an exquisite corpse, making gestures toward both the arthouse and the grindhouse in its barely feature length run time.

Jan C. Verbig (William Holland, also the film’s producer) is a seemingly mild mannered glamour photographer. With a vague accent and name like a bad Scrabble hand, his courtly manner and sharp eye make him a fairly popular promo shot producer for the local actresses, models and dancers. Yet, when night falls, he finds himself stalking those same beauties.

Verbig’s particular brand of the death of 1000 (off screen) cuts involves not just slashing the women’s faces, but fetishistically shearing off the hair of his victims. Rejected by mercenary burlesque star Lili Demar (real life burlesque queen Lili Dawn), his urges to kill become even more difficult to control. As the cops close in on cracking the case, he sets his obsessive sights on Susan Grant (Vicki Howard), an innocent young ingenue, as his next target.

The Greenwich Village of the early 50s was both beatnik and beat down, simultaneously trendily transgressive and seedy enough for artistic types to still be able to afford the rent. The location certainly helps make a virtue out of Violated‘s various visual concessions to budgetary necessity. The best big bankroll studio pros couldn’t have classed up any of the joints used as filming locations, so the odd jerky editing and the run down quality of the sets aren’t nearly as jarring as they might otherwise be. A sordid little story like this feels like it belongs in a visual world full of threadbare couches and cracked pipes.

The film’s best moments are when it fully leans into the gutter noir beats of its plot, with a suggestive, somewhat sexually charged edge. The first victim discovers she’s doomed when her manicured nails play sensually over the fabric of a sport coat, only to discover a sharp pair of scissors in the pocket that will seal her fate. There are some character filled close ups of the exhausted, deeply lined faces of the cops and the bored usual suspects they round up. As Tony Mottola’s minimalist jazzy score drifts over the soundtrack, Verbig wanders the New York night, and Violated almost hits on the particular brand of loneliness you can only feel when in the middle of a crowd.

These quieter moments don’t last, and mixed into the proceedings are the sort of classical exploitation tropes that are as loud as a carny lemonade barker on a particularly hot day in July. There’s an expositional psychologist that does little more than provide the usual veneer of educational respectability for taboo discussion of mental illness and sexual perversion. The burlesque subplot allows for both some scandalous (for the era) flashes of skin and a random catfight backstage. Lili Dawn delivers her lines like a cut rate Diamond Lil. By the time sodium pentothal gets involved, the slight promise of the film’s first third is wasted, and not even a comparatively well done ambiguous ending can quite put all of the tonal shifts back together again.

For the majority of both cast and crew, Violated was both the first and the last film they ever worked on. Thankfully, writer/producer William Mishkin realized that the film’s utter flop at the box office was a strong indicator that cinematic nuance was not his particular strong suit.

Leaning into the lurid, Mishkin became a producer and distributor of both sexploitation and horror fare over the next two decades. In addition to successful recuts/retitles of European sex films, he produced the Lee Frost exploitation oddity The Man With Two Heads, and the best known work of misanthropic microbudget madman Andy Milligan.