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.