Monday, 12 April 2021

The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983)

The Beast and the Magic Sword (La bestia y la espada mágic) is a 1983 Spanish-Japanese co-production written and directed by Paul Naschy (under the name Jacinto Molina). It was filmed partly in Spain and partly in Japan.

The story begins in the year 938. The Emperor Otto has defeated the Magyars and has thrown their chieftain Bulcho into a dungeon. Otto is afraid to execute the Magyar - the people believe that doing so will unleash a curse. Bulcho must be killed in single combat and only one man can be sure of doing that - Count Irineus Daninsky. The price Daninsky sets for doing this favour is the hand of Otto’s youngest daughter Iswaka in marriage.

Otto’s plan works and Bulcho is destroyed, and Daninsky marries Iswaka. But they don’t live happily ever after.

There’s one thing Otto has failed to account for - Bulcho’s mistress Armesse. Armesse is a powerful witch and she curses not just Daninsky but all his descendants. The Daninskys will be werewolves, hated and feared.

More than six centuries later the Daninskys are still cursed. Waldemar Daninsky, a distant descendant of Irineus, is a werewolf.

Waldemar is a tortured soul. He is aware of his nature and he is aware of the horrors he has perpetrated. He hates himself and he hates his fate. But what can he do? He cannot be killed.

The only man who might be able to help him is Salom Yehuda but that wise old man falls victim to ignorance and superstition. He does however manage to give Waldejmar some hope - in a distant land called Japan in a city named Kyoto there is a sage named Kian who may be able to cure him. Waldemar and his wife along with Salom Yehuda’s blind niece Esther travel to Japan but finding Kian will not be so easy. And Waldemar has already started to spread death and destruction in Japan.

While Kian is being sought by Waldemar Kian, whose wisdom is well-known, has been asked to investigate the recent spate of brutal killings. Kian is not a superstitious man but he has come to believe that the murders have been carried out by a wolf-man. He has even seen this creature. So Kian is looking for Waldemar.

Kian is not sure that he can cure Waldemar but he intends to try, a decision that has fateful consequences.

Paul Naschy was already an established star (and screenwriter) in Spanish horror cinema when he started directing in 1977. He played a wide variety of horror rôles but it was his many portrayals of the tragic werewolf Waldemar Daninsky which made him a cult icon.

Junko Asahina steals the picture as the evil but seductive sorceress Satomi. Junko Asahina had made quite a few Roman Porno movies for Nikkatsu so being seductive was no problem for her. Shigeru Amachi is very good as the troubled Kian.

It’s easy to see why so many Waldemar Daninsky movies were made. He’s a true tragic monster. He is responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, but is he really responsible? He’s not sure himself. He was a character who lent himself to horror movies with some complexity. And he presents a real challenge. The audience has to be horrified by his evil deeds but still be able to empathise with the good side of him.

Kian is somewhat complex as well, a wise man who fears that he is not wise enough and that he may be making tragic mistakes. Which to some extent is true. He has been presented with an awesomely difficult problem in trying to save the soul of Waldemar Daninsky and his fears that he is out of his depth may be well-founded. Kian is a samurai as well as a sage so he gets to do plenty of action hero stuff as well. A character who is both action hero and sage is an interesting touch in an 80s horror movie.

There are really two heroes, Daninsky and Kian, although Daninsky is obviously both hero and villain. There’s an excellent out-and-out villain, the samurai Eiko Watanabe (Jirô Miyaguchi), a man who has long been jealous of Kian. And of course there’s the deliciously evil villainess Satomi.

There’s some gore but it’s not too over-the-top and there’s some nudity but not very much.

And since it’s set in Japan you may be wondering - are there are going to be ninjas? The answer is yes. There’s even a girl ninja. And as well as the usual werewolf mayhem there are sword fights.

There is some controversy concerning the correct aspect ratio of this film. It was shot open matte but the guys at Mondo Macabro believe that that it was intended to be shown theatrically in the widescreen format. They’ve solved the problem by providing both 4:3 and 16:9 versions on their Blu-Ray release. Being Mondo Macabro they’ve also provided us with plenty of extras including an audio commentary.

This is perhaps the most satisfying and interesting of all Naschy’s horror movies. The Japanese co-production deal was very successful, the film was made mostly with Japanese money and the budget was much higher than he was used to (and the Japanese producers were very supportive). The sets and costumes are quite lavish. Naschy was at his peak as a director - this is a rather polished movie. The meshing of European folklore and Japanese culture works well. The fight scenes are exceptionally well done. There are really two main characters, Daninsky and Kian, and both are interesting and complex. The tragic nature of the werewolf is handled cleverly and Daninsky is one of several characters whose fates have an element of tragedy to them. Unfortunately after this film Naschy’s career went downhill but The Beast and the Magic Sword remains an impressive achievement. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Body Double (1984), Blu-Ray review

Body Double is a Brian de Palma movie that has divided critics and audiences since its release in 1984, but then Brian de Palma is a director who has tended to have that effect.

Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor who has a minor problem. He’s playing the vampire in a low-budget horror film but he gets claustrophobic when he gets sealed in his coffin. When he gets home from the studio he finds he has an even bigger problem - his girlfriend is in bed with another man. And her face is glowing. He wouldn’t have minded quite so much if her face hadn’t been glowing.

So now he has no job and no girlfriend. Then he gets a lucky break. Another struggling actor, Sam (Gregg Henry), offers him a sub-let on a luxury modernist house. It’s a house that has everything. And there’s an added bonus. There’s a powerful telescope and every night, as regular as clockwork, a beautiful female neighbour does a strip-tease in front of her window. Naturally Jake makes sure not to miss the nightly show.

Then he sees something odd and slightly disturbing happen in the young lady’s apartment.

Jake becomes obsessed. He starts following the woman. Maybe he always had voyeuristic tendencies or maybe it’s just the thing with his girlfriend hitting him hard at this time. Maybe he’s just trying to distract himself. There is obviously some sexual element to the obsession - he does steal a pair of her freshly discarded panties.

There’s also a weird-looking guy following the young woman. There’s a great scene is a shopping mall elevator - it’s very tense even though at this stage there’s no reason to think that anybody is in any danger or that anything at all sinister is going on. It’s a tense scene because Jake is so tense. It’s as if he’s convinced himself that something is about to happen. And of course we know he suffers from claustrophobia.

Then there’s the murder, which Jake witnesses but can’t prevent. A terrible tragedy but to Jake it’s more than that. There’s something very wrong and he’s starting to get a glimmer of what it might be.

Along the way he gets involved in the hardcore porn industry and meets porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith). This gives de Palma a chance to satirise the porn industry, after he’s already satirised mainstream Hollywood earlier in the picture. If anything the porn industry comes across as being marginally less sleazy and phoney than mainstream Hollywood. He also satirises horror movies, which is amusing since his first major commercial hit was a horror movie (Carrie). He satirises himself as well, with Dennis Franz playing a small part as a director who is basically de Palma as a director of low-budget horror.

You can’t mention de Palma without mentioning Hitchcock. He never made any secret of Hitchcock’s influence. In this film he’s pretty obviously exploring both Rear Window and Vertigo territory. Being de Palma he makes no attempt to disguise the fact that he’s referencing these films. While de Palma clearly has a jaundiced view of modern Hollywood his affection for the old Hollywood of the 40s and 50s is very apparent.

And of course there’s lots of style. Relentless style. There are some truly great settings and they’re used with consummate skill. There’s not one but two amazing modernist houses. There are also varying visual styles. Jake finds himself moving in different worlds - the world of acting, the world of porn, the world of the super-rich, the world of low-budget horror film-making and each of these worlds has its own visual signature.

The question mark hanging over this film is, does it go too far over the top? By mainstream 1984 standards it was considered at the time to be a pretty violent sleazy film but the outlandishness goes way beyond that. The plot in its essentials is straightforward once the solution is revealed but the details are pretty outrageous. It’s an excessive film but on the whole the excessiveness works.

It’s also quite funny, and at times very funny. Hitchcock was a master of black comedy and de Palma tries his hand at some Hitchcockian black comedy, fairly successfully.

Craig Wasson is amiable and inept as Jake which is how the character is supposed to be. Jake isn’t a really smart guy but he’s just smart enough to figure out what’s going on.

Melanie Griffith makes porn star Holly both abrasive and oddly likeable. In her own way she’s the most honest straightforward person in the movie. Critics who accused the movie of misogyny just weren’t paying attention to her performance - they were distracted by the fact that Holly was a porn star and failed to notice that she was a very sympathetic character.

The UK Indicator Power House Blu-Ray release offers a fine transfer and a whole raft of extras in which de Palma and various members of the cast and crew discuss the making of the film and the vicious critical reaction to it at the time.

Body Double is a very Brian de Palma film and that’s a very good thing. It’s also a film about films and about the world of illusion and voyeurism that that entails. This is de Palma doing the things he did best. Very highly recommended.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Kiss of Her Flesh (1968)

The Kiss of Her Flesh is an infamous 1968 roughie.

The roughie was a peculiar feature of the American sexploitation cinema of the mid-60s. It emerged because although you could get away with nudity you could not get away with very much at all in terms of actual sexual content. There was however virtually no limit to what you could get away with in terms of violence. The obvious way to spice up nudie movies was to add lots of violence. Some roughies were more extreme than others. Some were much more extreme. And then there were the roughies of husband-and-wife film-making team Michael and Roberta Findlay.

It wasn’t so much the violence that made their work distinctive (although there was plenty of violence). Their films were just positively bizarre and twisted. Their most celebrated achievement was the notorious Flesh trilogy, beginning with The Touch of Her Flesh (1967), continuing with The Curse of Her Flesh (1968) and culminating with The Kiss of Her Flesh (also 1968). I’ve already reviewed the first two movies in the trilogy. It is The Kiss of Her Flesh with which we are now concerned.

Michael Findlay directed and edited, Roberta did the cinematography and the music and they share the writing and producing credits.

Richard Jennings, the psycho killer of the first two films, is back and he’s still intending to take revenge on all women, because his wife betrayed him. But for Jennings it’s not enough to kill. He has to kill in bizarre and imaginative ways. His first murder in this film is by electrocution but he has other much weirder methods up his sleeve.

Maria (Uta Erickson) hears the news that her sister’s best friend has been murdered and she just knows that Richard Jennings was responsible. She hurries to her sister’s house so they can make plans to kill Jennings. But before doing that they take time off to have sex. Then Maria returns to her hotel.

Meanwhile Jennings strikes. Posing as a doctor he commits two murders, one employing a method that is certainly original - poisoned semen. The other woman is disposed of by means of an acidified douche.

And oh yeah, he also commits murder by blowtorch. There’s also torture by lobster.

Maria is now determined to stop Jennings by any means necessary.

The content sounds disturbing and misogynistic but oddly enough it isn’t really offensive. Partly that’s because it’s so cartoonish. It’s also a bit like Russ Meyer’s movies in which men think they have the upper hand but actually they don’t. All their violence really does is to establish their powerlessness. No matter what Jennings does he’s still a loser.

Like Meyer the Findlays seem to be enjoying themselves, constantly trying to top their own outrageousness. There’s some deliciously campy dialogue (and it’s obviously deliberately campy) which constantly undercuts the violence. We’re not expected to be horrified, we’re expected to be amused and amazed. Which we are.

As in the previous two films Michael Findlay plays Richard Jennings, with trade-mark eye patch and maniacal laughter.

The Findlays were also quite technically competent, much more so than many sexploitation film-makers. They are genuinely trying to make things visually interesting. They don’t just shoot a sex scene, they use things like mirrors and key holes. These were the days when the better film-makers in the genre were still actually trying to make movies.

As with the other movies in the Flesh trilogy the opening credits are clever, with the credits on lip-shaped pieces of paper placed strategically on a woman’s naked body.

There’s a lot of nudity and it’s far more explicit than in the previous films but the overall effect is high camp rather than titillation.

And there are in-jokes that only cult movie fans would pick up on, such as Jennings masquerading as Dr Esumab (which is of course Mabuse spelt backwards).

Something Weird’s DVD release includes all three movies in the trilogy, with the transfers ranging from pretty good to excellent. You can check out my reviews of The Touch of Her Flesh and The Curse of Her Flesh.

I’d describe the movies in the Flesh trilogy as bizarre black comedies rather than proto-slasher movies. The Findlay roughies, like Russ Meyer’s movies, exist in a weird cartoon universe of their own. That was the great thing about the sexploitation genre. There were no studio execs telling film-makers they couldn’t do things because they were too weird or too silly. If you had a vision you could put it on film. And the Findlays had a vision. You might like it or not like it but it was strangely compelling. If you take it seriously you’ll probably hate. If you just go with the sleazy outrageousness you might well enjoy it. Recommended.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Iron Rose (1973), Blu-Ray review

The Iron Rose (La rose de fer) is a 1973 film by Jean Rollin. I’ve seen it before but having recently purchased it on Blu-Ray proves a fine excuse for a revisit.

This is both an untypical and a typical Jean Rollin film. Rollin’s name is indelibly linked with erotic horror films but the eroticism is very muted in The Iron Rose and there are absolutely none of the ingredients one associates with horror films. No blood, no gore, no killings, no vampires, no zombies, no monsters, no ghosts. Most people would hardly call this a horror movie.

There’s also little of the overt surrealism that one associates with Rollin. This is a very low-key film and while there’s certainly plenty of strangeness here it’s a very subtle sort of strangeness.

On the other hand this movie is still pure Jean Rollin. The tone, the mood, the visual approach, the very soul of the film is Rollinism to an extreme degree. On the rare occasions in this part of his career that Rollin departed from the erotic horror genre (in movies such as this and the underrated The Escapees) he still managed to make movies that are clearly cut from the same cloth as his vampire movies.

And there are plenty of Rollin trademarks here - there’s that beach which he loved so much and which features in so many of his movies. There’s a clown. And you expect clocks and time to feature in a Rollin movie and in this one a wrist-watch plays a vital rôle and time is certainly crucial.

Rollin intended this to be a minimalist sort of movie. There are very very brief appearance by other characters but for almost the entire running time there are just two characters, The Man and The Woman. And to an overwhelming degree the film is focused on The Woman. This clearly meant expecting a lot from the young actress playing that character, Françoise Pascal, but she delivers the goods. It’s a stunning performance and very finely judged - she knows just how far to push things. After being cast in the film Françoise Pascal did a lot of research on the subject of madness and she manages the girl’s growing detachment from the world of the real and the living quite convincingly.

The plot is also incredibly simple. The Man meets The Woman at a wedding. They arrange to meet the following day. Now if you’ve just met a girl and you’re attracted to her you naturally want to pick a romantic spot for your first date and he has just the place in mind - the local cemetery. And what girl could fail to be put in an amorous mood by the idea of making love in a crypt? Of course when you’re making love you tend to lose track of time and when they emerge from the crypt night has fallen. And finding their way back to the entrance gate to the cemetery proves to be quite a challenge. They are soon hopelessly lost.

The man reacts as you might expect. He gets frustrated and angry and takes it out on the girl. The girl reacts very differently. And that’s when the strangeness starts to kick in.

The guy is hopelessly out of his depth. Perhaps he was out of his depth the moment he met this girl. When your idea of a technique for picking up girls is to recite poems about death to them you might want to stop to ask yourself whether the kind of girl on whom this technique works is really the kind of girl you want as a girlfriend. And if she gets really turned on by the idea of making love in an open grave filled with skeletons you really might want to think twice about her as a serious relationship prospect.

The movie was shot almost entirely on location, and at night, in the cemetery at Amiens. It’s an amazing location, beautiful in a strange macabre way. It’s a perfect setting for a girl who falls in love with death. There’s some brief nudity. The sex scenes are not even remotely graphic, in fact they’re PG stuff. There is eroticism here though. It’s a very unhealthy eroticism but it’s all-pervasive. There’s also love, and the search for eternal love, but the love is pretty unhealthy as well.

As to whether the girl is mad or not she’s certainly mad by most people’s standards but perhaps she has been given a glimpse into truths that most of us cannot deal with (and which she arguably cannot deal with either). Perhaps madness and truth are one and the same thing. Of course there’s always the possibility that she has become possessed by the spirits of the dead although there are no overt hints of the supernatural.

The Redemption Blu-Ray is a huge improvement on their early DVD release. The transfer is anamorphic and the images look suitably mysterious and gothic but not quite threatening. Almost seductive. There are a few extras including a lengthy interview with Françoise Pascal (whose enthusiasm for this movie knows no bounds) and a fine essay on Rollin by Tim Lucas.

The Iron Rose is a poetic and metaphysical musing on life and death and the boundaries between the two. As a horror film it’s not particularly scary (unless like me you’re terrified of being lost at night) but it does deal with the nature of fear, and the seductive and erotic nature of fear and death. It was his most personal film up to that time (it was his fifth feature) and he ignored commercial considerations completely, which unfortunately cost the film dearly at the box office. It’s also one of Rollin’s masterpieces. Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Hot Target (1985)

Hot Target is a 1985 erotic thriller from New Zealand (despite several American cast members it actually appears to be an Anglo-New Zealand production).

Christine Webber (Simone Griffeth) is an American woman married to hard-driving wealthy business tycoon Clive Webber (Bryan Marshall). The marriage is not exactly a happy one. Clive cares about making money and destroying business rivals and that’s about all he cares for.

Taking her dogs for a walk in the park Christine meets an American named Greg Standford (Steve Marachuk). He’s pretty obviously coming on to her.

As the days pass they keep meeting in the park and he gets more insistent. He discovers who she is and her telephone number and he discovers where she lives. Maybe the alarm bells should have been ringing for her but she’s very bored and so of course they begin having an affair.

The alarm bells really should start ringing when she finds out that he’s a thief but the sex is so good and she just can’t help herself. I guess it’s the sexy bad boy rebel thing.

If she was thinking clearly she might have figured out that if Greg is a thief that might explain why he’s so interested in getting to know a rich man’s wife. Because Greg intends to rob Clive Webber.

There are several things that make this brilliant scheme of Greg’s a bad idea. If you’re a thief then mixing business with pleasure is risky. Greg might be a skilful thief but he’s arrogant and reckless. Christine might be a willing bed partner but she’s not very discreet. There’s also the fact that Clive is not completely stupid. And then there’s Ben. Ben is Clive’s personal assistant. Christine describes him as Clive’s loyal Doberman and that’s what he is. Ben doesn’t approve of Christine to start with and he’s the sort of guy who’s going to notice if his boss’s wife is behaving as if she’s having an affair.

So pretty obviously this is likely to end badly for all concerned.

The acting is OK. Simone Griffeth and Steve Marachuk do have some chemistry. Marachuk is reasonably convincing as a sexy bad boy. Simone Griffeth is adequate as an actress although one suspects that her casting had more to do with her willingness to take her clothes off, which she does very frequently. Bryan Marshall is fine as the cold controlling Clive Webber.

This is one of only two feature films directed by Dennis C. Lewiston He does a competent if uninspired job. He also wrote the screenplay, which is best described also as competent if not terribly inspired. I imagine he was aiming for something like Body Heat.

It’s not hard to predict where the story is going although there are some twists at the end.

The New Zealand locations help.

You really need to think of this as the 80s equivalent of a B-movie. It was picked up by Crown International and it’s the sort of movies destined for the drive-in market or the straight-to-video market back in those days. If you accept all that and if you accept that it’s not going to be Body Heat then it’s a perfectly acceptable second-tier slightly neo noirish erotic thriller.

What this movie mostly has going for it is that Simone Griffeth gets naked a lot and there are plenty of steamy sex scenes.

This movie pops up in a few budget DVD sets including the Mill Creek Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. The transfer is unfortunately fullframe. Image quality is acceptable. I believe there’s a better release from Scorpion Releasing but I’m not sure that I personally would bother hunting it down. If you buy the Drive-In Cult Classics collection (and you should buy it) then it’s worth giving this one a spin. It’s moderately entertaining.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

The Corruption of Chris Miller (1973)

The Corruption of Chris Miller is a 1973 Spanish giallo directed by Juan Antonio Bardem. It opens, fittingly, with a kind of prologue murder. We assume the woman is murdered by her lover whom she’s about to discard. We don’t see the murderer’s face.

Then we go to the main action which takes place in the rather palatial home of Ruth Miller (Jean Seberg), somewhere in the Spanish countryside. She lives with a young woman, her step-daughter Chris (Marisol). We soon find out that Chris is mad. She’s been under psychiatric care and she’s still very unstable.

Ruth doesn’t like men. She thinks they’re beasts. She does like women. We get the impression that she likes women as something other than just friends. Maybe she even likes Chris that way.

Then hitchhiker Barney Webster turns up while Chris is out riding. Barney thinks of himself as a bit of a stud. Ruth decides that maybe men can have their uses after all, at least in the bedroom. She makes it clear to him that she expects him to be gone before Chris gets home. But of course that doesn’t happen.

Barney doesn’t leave. He shares Ruth’s bed but he’s obviously pretty interested in Chris as well. The stage is clearly set for some emotional and sexual games.

Of course if you’re going to play such games it helps if you know the rules. It helps even more if you know who is making the rules. It’s particularly important if it’s the sort of game that has a designated victim and you don’t know you’ve been assigned to that rôle.

The answers to those questions are not at all clear. There are hints that could point to any one of the three being the designated victim. There are also hints that none of the three is entirely psychologically stable.

There’s Chris’s obsession with her father, and with rain. There’s Ruth’s obsession with locks. There’s Barney’s obsession with money and women but even more especially Barney’s obsession with Barney.

Much of the running time is taken up by the sexual game-playing. When the violence really erupts it does so in a fairly spectacular way.

Jean Seberg is terrific in this film. It’s a wonderfully ambiguous performance. In fact all three of the key performances are nicely and effectively ambiguous and the inter-relationships between the three characters are skilfully played out. All three characters have both sympathetic and unsympathetic moments. Perhaps the viewer won’t like any of them but we do want to figure out what motivates them. Actually we do, to some extent, know some of their motivations but we know just enough to make us even more uncertain how they’re going to react to those motivations.

This seems to have been Juan Antonio Bardem’s only foray into the giallo genre. He seems to have dabbled in most genres. He does a pretty assured job here. The pacing is perhaps a bit leisurely in the middle stages but that’s clearly a deliberate choice. He gives us some memorable visual moments. There’s that bizarre Charlie Chaplin-esque (yes really) opening murder, the truy operatic blood-drenched finale. And there are some oddly poignant moments.

Santiago Moncada’s screenplay is pleasingly twisted.

Vinegar Syndrome have done a fine job with this release. We get the movie on both DVD and Blu-Ray. There’s a tiny amount of print damage in the opening credits sequence but once the film gets going the Blu-Ray transfer is impeccable.

The language options present the sort of quandary that so many European genre films of this era present. Particularly with Italian films (and I assume it applies to many Spanish films as well) there’s often no original soundtrack as such - even the “original” language versions were post-dubbed. Vinegar Syndrome claim that the English language version is the original but they offer us the choice of the Spanish version as well. I watched the English language version and it’s quite satisfactory with none of the cringe-inducing qualities one sometimes encounters in English dubbed versions of European films.

They have also included an hour-long documentary on director Juan Antonio Bardem, a brief documentary on the tragic life and very up-and-down career of Jean Seberg plus they’ve given us the alternative ending of the Spanish version. Which raises other intriguing questions. In the case of most European genre films of this era there were different cuts for different markets and it’s often impossible to say which of them is the definitive cut. So you can choose the ending you prefer. I suspect most people will prefer the alternate ending. This is actually a movie that doesn’t end when you expect it to - it throws in some extra twists (how many depends on which ending you prefer).

The Corruption of Chris Miller has plenty of subtly creepy atmosphere. It has a clever literate script, three fascinatingly odd and complex central characters, psycho-sexual weirdness, fine acting and (for those who enjoy such things) plenty of blood. If Bardem was trying to prove he could do this sort of thing with as much style as the Italians then he succeeded. It really is a top-notch giallo. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Permissive (1970)

Permissive, released in 1970, is a kind of British sexploitation movie and it’s interesting for the way it differs from American sexploitation movies of the same period. The fact that it tries to come off as a warning against the hideous fate that awaits anyone who indulges in what was at that called the “permissive society” is not surprising. That had been a standard defensive technique in exploitation movies for decades, a way of (hopefully) deflecting attacks and censorship by purporting to be taking the side of traditional morality. The interesting thing about Permissive is that it takes those dreary British kitchen sink dramas of the early 60s (which are enough to destroy one’s will to live) and adds nudity, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. But the soul-destroying desolation, despair and pessimism of the kitchen sink dramas is still there.

This is combined with lots of foreshadowing of the terrible fates awaiting some of the characters, a clever technique to make sure we get depressed right from the start and stay depressed.

Permissive’s original working title was the much more appropriate Suzy Superscrew but sadly that was never going to get past the British censors.

Suzy is a blonde who arrives in town to meet up with her friend Fiona. Fiona is a groupie who hangs around with a band called Forever More. She sleeps with all of them but now she’s become obsessed by their scruffy goblin of a bass player/lead vocalist. She has, foolishly, fallen in love with him (God knows why since he’s a self-centred creep).

Fiona introduces Suzy to the world of the groupie.

Suzy takes to this world like a duck to water. Pretty soon she’s not only slept with the various members of the band and their manager but with miscellaneous members of other bands. She’ll sleep with anyone who asks her. They don’t even have to ask her nicely.

Suzy thinks the road manager likes her so she sleeps with him but then he kicks her out. She’s befriended a drifter named Pogo who seems like a bit of an acid casualty but he also seems fairly nice. He’s the only person in the film who could be described as moderately sympathetic even if he is crazy and his departure from the film accelerates Suzy’s descent into depravity.

That kitchen sink drama influence and the associated semi-documentary style ensures that the sex lacks any eroticism. Sex isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s all about suffering and emptiness. OK, being a groupie really was the ultimate dead-end lifestyle for a girl, being passed around like a slab of meat by scrofulous smelly musicians, but the lack of eroticism does tend to make it difficult to understand why girls like Fiona even bothered.

1970 was a particularly grim year for both music and fashion. Things were about to improve. Heavy metal, glam rock, disco and punk were about to arrive on the scene and make things more interesting. But in 1970 popular music was still dominated by turgid hippie rock, fashion was ghastly hippie-influenced horrors and men still sported scraggly long hair and beards. It’s sobering to reflect that even disco music and disco fashion was better than this. The music (from various bands) in this movie could I guess be described as progressive folk-rock and I have to admit a certain bias here since it’s a type of music that I’ve always heartily disliked. If you actually like this sort of music then you’ll love this film.

The main featured band, Forever More, are featured way too much and it’s a challenge to endure their songs. They were a real-life band and there is some justice in the world since their prodigious lack of success would soon lead them to break up. I have to grudgingly admit that Sylvester’s Last Voyage is their one vaguely OK song.

At this point you might be wondering - does this movie have anything at all going for it? The answer, surprisingly, is yes. Director Lindsay Shonteff was clearly trying to make a softcore sex film with some emotional resonance and with some arty touches. He succeeds, up to a point. He does throw in a few interesting cinematic tricks and the constant intercutting between the present and the future does give the movie an interestingly nonlinear narrative. And while the semi-documentary feel adds to the bleakness of an already bleak film it has to be admitted that pessimism and emotional blankness is what the director is aiming for so to that extent it works.

I assume Maggie Stride was cast because she has that waif look and she isn’t especially attractive. Suzy’s popularity with the bands is based more on her willingness to drop her knickers at any time than on her beauty. Stride gives an odd distanced performance which kind of works. The more obviously glamorous Gay Singleton is quite good as Fiona. Look out for the Collinson twins (former Playboy centrefolds and the stars of Hammer’s Twins of Evil) in bit parts.

Lindsay Shonteff had an undistinguished career as a director, making a few sexploitation features, a few spy spoofs and a couple of more serious spy films. In 1967 he did direct The Million Eyes of Sumuru which I quite liked so his career wasn’t a complete washout.

There’s a lot of nudity including quite a bit of frontal female nudity and a lot of sex. It might be deliberately un-erotic but it’s still pretty daring for a 1970 British movie. I guess it was hoped that the lack of eroticism, the touches of artiness and the general tone of bleakness would make the censors more lenient (it didn’t work and the British censors cut the film to ribbons).

The BFI’s uncut release includes the film on both Blu-Ray and DVD accompanied by quite a few extras. The movie looks reasonably good on Blu-Ray. It’s in the correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The movie was shot in colour, on a minuscule budget.

Permissive has an extraordinarily grimy, grungy, scuzzy feel to it. You can almost smell the griminess. It’s a relentlessly pessimistic movie but it has one or two interesting elements. It’s recommended if you like sex combined with artiness and misery.