Saturday, 3 October 2009

Lustful Addiction (1969)

Writer-director Nick Millard (often credited as Nick Phillips) was one of the more interesting sexploitation film-makers of the 60s and early 70s. At a time when the trend was either towards “roughies” featuring sexual violence or sex comedies, Millard pursued his own obsessive path, turning out some amazingly dark but intriguing movies. Obsession was what interested him, whether it be sexual obsession or (in this case) drugs. Lustful Addiction is really more a drugsploitation movie than a sexploitation movie.

Jean is a junkie, in the last stages of a downward spiral. After having sex with her dealer in exchange for heroin she decides to take a walk. And she meets Tad. Tad is a nice boy, the sort of man she might have been able to find happiness with, if she wasn’t already married to heroin. There’s to be no happy ending for Jean, or for Tad either.

Filmed in black-and-white without synchronised sound, this movie captures an atmosphere of sordidness, desolation and desperation that is almost overwhelming. The voice-over narration is reminiscent of Beat poetry and should be hopelessly pretentious and cringe-inducing, but strangely enough it works. It also features one of the strangest strip-tease routines you’ll ever see. Rather like watching a woman having convulsions while removing her clothing. It’s this sort of weirdness that makes these 60s/70s sexploitation movies so intriguing. They really don’t make movies like this any more.

There are graphic scenes of junkies injecting drugs and the despair and the willful urge to self-destruction that characterises addiction are depicted with unflinching honesty. Millard very successfully treads the fine line between either demonising the addict or depicting addicts as helpless victims. It’s clear that Jean has been offered a way out, an escape from the life that is destroying her, but she is unwilling to take the steps needed to save herself.

There’s a reasonable amount of sex and nudity but this movie must have been uncomfortable viewing for grindhouse audiences seeking nothing more than a cheap thrill. It’s a movie that is more likely to arouse feelings of utter emptiness and existential angst than to arouse sexual lust! The zoo scenes of the monkeys are another example of Millard’s ability to take elements that could so easily come across as clumsy and obvious clichés and make them genuinely disturbing.

It’s not as good as his slightly later and absolutely superb Pleasures of a Woman but it’s still a heady and surprisingly successful blending of art and sexploitation. This is 70s hedonism at its most futile and shallow, all the glamour stripped away. It’s the hangover after the party.

The stark black-and-white cinematography provides the appropriate visual ambience, and although Millard’s direction is sometimes quirky it’s undeniably effective. And he gets surprisingly compelling performances from his cast of unknowns.

It’s released by Seduction Cinema as part of their Retro-Seduction line, a selection of sexploitation movies from the 60s and 70s paired with modern remakes. The modern remakes are generally of little interest, but in this case writer-director Misty Mundae really has tried to capture the same spirit of nihilistic despair and utter hopelessness. She hasn’t quite succeeded, but she deserves credit for respecting the original enough to at least make the attempt (and given that she was only 23 at the time it’s not that bad an attempt). And both Mundae and Ruby LaRocca do some actual acting.

In any case Seduction Cinema’s Retro-Seduction line is one I highly recommend. They’ve picked some exceptionally interesting movies, the transfers are extremely good, and there are usually some worthwhile extras.

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