Thursday 27 August 2020

Daughters of Lesbos (1968)

Daughters of Lesbos (AKA Dominique in Daughters of Lesbos) is a crazy little 1968 American sexploitation film. In case the title didn’t make it obvious enough this one is all about lesbians. So it’s your basic lesbian softcore film, except of course it isn’t. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to the kinds of softcore films that modern audiences are going to be familiar with. This is the deliriously insane world of 1960s American sexploitation. No gynaecological close-ups, no graphic simulated sex. In fact although there are many many sex scenes most are just passionate writhings.

Like many of the sexploitation features of this period there’s no synchronised dialogue, just a wild sleazy jazz soundtrack and a voiceover narration by the leader of the Daughters of Lesbos.

The title refers to a lesbian secret society, the Daughters of Lesbos. They’re having a meeting to deal with a crisis but almost the entire movie consists of lengthy flashbacks as the women remember the events that set them on the path to lesbianism.

One woman had intended to lure a sleazy businessman back to her hotel room, tease him mercilessly, and then leave him high and dry so to speak. Unfortunately for her the guy turns out to be more devious than she is. He spikes her drink. It’s not enough to knock her out, just enough to leave her conscious but incapable of resisting. He then date-rapes her. But the fiend also dropped some Spanish Fly into her drink, so to her horror she is driven into a frenzy of sexual pleasure. She vows to have her revenge on men!

Helga is a cute blonde who became addicted to self-pleasuring but what she really wanted was another woman to make love to her. She finds the right woman to help her in Monika, a counsellor. Monika realises that Helga needs some intensive hands-on counselling. She takes Helga into the woods, helps her out of her clothes, and proceeds to give her a really thorough counselling. It certainly makes Helga feel a whole lot better. And Monika is the kind of gorgeous gal with whom anybody would just love to have that kind of counselling session.

The cigar-smoking Maxine is the butch of the group. The narrator describes her as the female stud. Maxine is an unabashed sexual predator. She picks up a hippie chick hitchhiker and has her way with her (with the hippie chick putting up zero resistance).

The the leader of the Daughters, Dominique, indulges in some carnal reminiscences of her own, including the time when she was enjoying some self-pleasuring which was rudely interrupted by a prowler who raped her. Rather unusually for 1968, the guy not only removes his trousers but his shorts as well. This rape scene sets up the finale when we find out the purpose for which the meeting of the Daughters of Lesbos had been called. So technically there is a plot, but mostly the film is non-stop naked writhing.

Of course in the world of sexploitation the lesbians are all cuties. Even Maxine, the butch, is cute. And there’s an enormous amount of nudity in this movie, including copious female frontal nudity. It goes without saying that these ladies all have hair down there. This was the era in which sex scenes consisted mostly of naked writhing. Fortunately these ladies look pretty nice when they’re naked and writhing. One of the nice things about American sexploitation movies of this era is that the women are pretty but they all look like perfectly normal women, the way women look without plastic surgery.

Daughters of Lesbos isn’t great but the voiceover narration is amusingly overheated, it has that classic and unique ’60s sexploitation weirdness and it has wall-to-wall female nudity.

Something Weird paired this one with the lesbian mockumentary Chained Girls plus numerous sapphic extras. The transfer is extremely good.

The short subjects included as extras range from the mildly bizarre to the really bizarre. In The Lash of the Lesbian a naughty lesbian is caught with a man and she gets a flogging from her girlfriend. Lesbian Apartment Story is weird but fascinating. There’s virtually no nudity and there’s zero sex. It’s almost entirely just lesbians socialising and dancing. What makes it interesting is that it really does look like some kind of lesbian home movie with actual lesbians. In fact I’d be rather surprised if these were not actual lesbians. It’s a glimpse into what might be called the old school lesbian subculture of the ’50s and early ’60s, with very clearly defined butches and femmes. In Lesbian Neighbors a blonde gets seduced by a couple of lesbians in the next apartment.

Lesbian Bikers is awesome (and in colour). Who doesn’t want to watch totally naked chicks riding motorcycles round and round in circles and then making out? Then we get to the really weird stuff - Lesbian Coffin Sex. And that’s exactly what this short subject is about. This obese rich guy pays hippie chicks to have sex with each other in an open coffin floating in his swimming pool. They just don’t make movies like that any more. In Let's Make Mary Moan a naughty lesbian gets tied up and spanked. Outdoor Lesbian Love (also in colour) features two hippie girls having a bit of a frolic but mostly just displaying themselves for the camera, with lots of very very explicit nudity. Of course there are plenty of trailers for other crazy sapphic sexploitation movies as well.

While neither Chained Girls nor Daughters of Lesbos would make it to the top rank of sexploitation flicks they both offer some amusement. It’s the extras that make this disc a must-buy. Trust me, you simply must see Lesbian Bikers and Lesbian Coffin Sex. You will thank me. And Lesbian Apartment Story is certainly fascinating from a sociological perspective.

So while Daughters of Lesbos itself isn’t that great it has its moments and the disc is loaded with so much sapphic delirium that it’s highly recommended.

Thursday 20 August 2020

The Dungeon of Harrow (1962)

The Dungeon of Harrow is a very low-budget 1962 horror flick made in Texas by Pat Boyette. Boyette seems to have taken a hand in just about every aspect of the production - the directing, the writing, the editing, the scoring, even the miniatures work. This is real Z-grade movie-making.

The movies takes place in the late 19th century. It opens with a shipwreck, as an unlucky toy ship comes to grief in somebody’s bathtub. It may be the lamest opening scene in movie history.

There were only two survivors of the wreck, the captain and Aaron Fallon (Russ Harvey). Fallon is the scion of an important aristocratic family. They think they’ve been washed up on an uninhabited island but that they weren’t so lucky. This island belongs to Count Lorente de Sade (William McNulty), and he’s both mad and bad. And severely paranoid.

Count de Sade has just received some kind of occult visitation, to remind him of his many sins. The visitation is accompanied by some incredibly cheap and crude social effects. Of course the visitation might be merely his own conscience.

Meanwhile the Captain and Fallon make a grim discovery. One of the female passengers had survived the wreck, only to be torn apart by savage dogs. That explains the woman they heard screaming the previous night.

Fallon and the Captain find themselves unwilling guests of the Count. Fallon makes plenty of unpleasant discoveries but the most unwelcome is that there is no way to leave the island. No ship ever visits this cursed island.

Count de Sade has something of an obsession with pirates and he has a tendency to assume that anyone who reaches his island by sea must be a pirate. He really doesn’t like pirates at all.

There are several other people on the island. There’s the Count’s slave, a black guy with white hair. He may be the sanest person on the island. There’s Cassandra, a young woman who had been nurse to the Count’s wife. And there’s Ann. She’s mute, as the result of an encounter with pirates. The Count is convinced that Ann is trying to poison him so he has her flogged regularly. She’s not the only one who ends up in the Count’s torture dungeon.

Fallon does find out the story behind the Count’s madness. It’s pretty unoriginal but it does explain things. Fallon of course is determined to escape. Maybe he can trust Cassandra? Maybe he can trust Ann? Or maybe not. But somehow he has to get off this island of madness.

Everything about this movie is pretty bad. The low budget isn’t the biggest problem (while the special effects are terrible the sets aren’t too bad). The acting is a major problem but there’s also the pacing.

Despite all this it does have a certain odd appeal. You can feel sorry for this movie but it’s hard to bring oneself to hate it. That would be like kicking a dog that just can’t help not being able to perform even the simplest tricks.

And maybe I’m being a bit hard on it. Russ Harvey as Fallon is the biggest single problem. He may be the dullest hero in cinematic history. With some halfway decent in that rôle the movie might have had a chance. While William McNulty as the Count has his moments he doesn’t quite have the necessary presence. With someone like Vincent Price the movie might have had a very good chance of succeeding. And the ending is very neat and is almost enough to redeem the movie.

This movie was probably intended to cash in on the success Roger Corman was having with his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, the difference being that Corman could afford Vincent Price.

The Dungeon of Harrow has been released on a double-feature DVD by Vinegar Syndrome, paired with Death by Invitation. It’s obvious that not a great deal (if anything)  has been done by way of restoration but let’s face it these are not movies that people are likely to want to shell out big bucks to buy as Special Edition Blu-Ray releases. The Dungeon of Harrow at least gets a reasonably acceptable anamorphic transfer. The colours don’t look too bad. Vinegar Syndrome do deserve credit for at least making such a movie available to us.

The Dungeon of Harrow is a movie you have to be in the mood for. If you can get in the mood it has a certain disreputable scuzzy charm. It certainly has the right atmosphere of madness and despair. So it’s worth a look.

Friday 14 August 2020

The Babysitter (1969)

The Babysitter is a 1969 Crown International release so it’s very much a drive-in movie.

It starts with an outlaw motorcycle gang tying up, stripping and brutalising a young woman (just so we know this is really going to an an exploitation movie) but then almost immediately the scene switches to peaceful suburbia.

George Maxwell (Goorge E. Carey) is an ambitious middle-aged public prosecutor with high hopes of becoming District Attorney. He and his wife Edith (Anne Bellamy) have a young baby. It soon becomes evident that they’ve probably only had sex once in the last decade, with the baby as the result. Now they’re off to a dinner party (for strictly political reasons) at the Harringtons’ so they’ve hired a pretty young blonde named Candy (Patricia Wymer) as the babysitter.

So you’ve got a sexually frustrated middle-aged married man and a young sexpot babysitter. What could go wrong?

Well for starters, once the Maxwells leave for their dinner party engagement Candy invites a few of her friends over. They turn the basement play room into a discotheque, complete with band. They have a pleasant evening, grooving to the music and of course all the girls take their clothes off. Then Candy hears the Maxwells arriving home so she has to hurriedly sneak her friends out and then get her clothes back on so she can act like she’s just spent the evening watching TV and watching the baby.

George drives her home and he can’t help noticing that she’s wearing a very short skirt and she has legs that go all the way up. He’s practically drooling. Which is OK by Candy. She thinks George is a sweetie and she’s sympathetic about George not getting any sex from his wife (he didn’t tell Candy that but she figured it out pretty quickly). Candy thinks sex is good because it makes people happy. Candy likes people to be happy.

George Maxwell has a teenaged daughter named Joan and she’s just arrived back (we don’t know where she’d gone). Joan has a few of her friends over and they’re lazing by the pool. Then she and her special gal pal retire to the steam bath where they can get to know each other better. Much better. And it’s easier to get to know someone if you both take your clothes off. Yes, the respectable aspiring D.A. has a lesbian daughter.

Which is where the motorcyle gang comes into it. The woman that they brutalised died and now one of them, Larry, is being prosecuted by - you guessed it - George Maxwell. And he’ll be asking for the death penalty. Larry’s girlfriend Julie is determined to save her man and since she happens to know that young Joan Maxwell likes to make it with other girls she figures there might be a chance of blackmailing George. Julie makes friends with Joan and so she’s on the scene (with a camera) when Joan and her gal pal are getting it on in the steam bath.

While Julie is trying to take some candid snaps of Joan’s lesbian romp she notices something even more interesting - she notices George and a topless Candy cavorting in the pool in a way that George’s wife probably wouldn’t like. This place is like a blackmailer’s dream.

George is in a very awkward position. He’s obsessed by Candy’s nubile young body and by Candy’s sense of fun. Candy is the sort of bubbly cheerful girl you can have fun with even when she has her clothes on, although she’s even more fun when she’s naked. George’s sexless life with his shrewish wife seems less and less appealing. George has discovered that he likes having fun. And bridge evenings with his middle-aged friends no longer seem like fun but unendurable torture.

Of course there are those snapshots and wth the trial coming up George's life is likely to all come crashing down.

Writer-director Don Henderson only made three feature films, one of them being a 1970 sequel (or remake or reboot) of The Babysitter, Weekend with The Babysitter. As a director he’s barely competent and technically a bit on the sloppy side.

The cast mostly comprises people who had brief careers in exploitation film-making and then disappeared into obscurity. Which, in the case of Patricia Wymer, is a pity. She’s really very good (and she’s also as cute as a button). George E. Carey is good also. It’s their performances that make this film work.

Both Candy and George are likeable and they’re  little bit complex. Candy is about to take a wrecking ball to George’s life but she really means no harm. She likes George. Maybe she even loves him. She just doesn’t understand how much chaos she’s capable of causing. George would have been quite happy with his marriage if only his wife had understood that even if she’s no longer interested in sex he is. And George doesn’t want to treaty Candy like his bit on the side. He’s genuinely fallen for the girl. Neither of them really wants anybody to get hurt.

The movie ticks all the exploitation boxes - there’s plenty of T&A but no frontal nudity (and the actresses are pretty darned cute), there’s some mild simulated sex, there’s some girl-on-girl action, there’s some rough stuff with women tied up and having their underwear sliced off with knives. Everything the drive-in market wanted.

This movie is included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. The transfer is fullframe but that seems to be correct as it seems to have been shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Image quality is extremely good.

The Babysitter offers titillation, decent acting, characters who are not quite cardboard cutouts and a frequently nude Patricia Wymer (the latter obviously being its main selling point). It’s not a bad drive-in movie. Recommended.

Friday 7 August 2020

Ghosts of Mars (2001)

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars is a science fiction zombie western set on Mars in 2176. It’s a movie that nobody much liked at the time although it does have its admirers. Carpenter directed and co-wrote the screenplay (and of course provided the music).

Carpenter’s career was starting to look a bit rocky by this time and both this film and the slightly earlier (1998) Vampires tend to polarise audiences. After Ghosts of Mars his career more or less faded away.

Mars in 2176 is in the early stages of colonisation. Terraforming has produced an environment that is barely liveable, the planet now has a population of 640,000 and is ruled by a matriarchy. Mining seems to be the main industry. Most of the colonists bitterly regret signing the contracts that brought them to Mars and would leave if they could. It’s not exactly a utopia. I love the fact that the main form of transportation is trains, and the inhabitants of Mars still use real money.

A train arrives at the station at the main city, Chryse. Apart from its load of ore it contains a five-member police squad who had been detailed to bring in a murder suspect from the mining town of Shining Canyon. But now there’s only one person alive on the train, Police Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge). She is called before a hearing to explain what happened to the rest of the squad, the train crew and the prisoner. The story of the film is then told in flashback, with lots of flashbacks within flashbacks.

Everything went fine until the train left them at Shining Canyon. 

They find the place apparently deserted. The few people left alive are either crazed lunatics or seriously frightened. Even the prisoner, notorious criminal Desolation Williams (Ice Cube), is not exactly easy in his mind.  

It seems that everyone has gone crazy. Homicidally crazy. The chopping people’s heads off kind of crazy. As to what caused everyone to start lopping each other’s heads off, that remains a mystery (although it does get explained later). It seems that Mars does not want to be colonised and is taking its revenge.

The five cops, along with Desolation and his three gang members and a lady scientist (who eventually reveals the secret behind the disasters), are under siege in Shining Canyon and they will have to fight their way to the train when it arrives back at Shining Canyon.

The movie starts well, with a slow atmospheric buildup as the five cops discover one disturbing fact after another. Then the movie devolves into a zombie apocalypse gorefest, although this being a John Carpenter film it is at least done with some style.

The cast is certainly interesting. Natasha Henstridge is OK as the very serious non-nonsense but troubled cop who copes with her life by escaping into drug-fuelled dreams. Ice Cube is pretty good as Desolation Williams. It’s fun to see Pam Grier as the leader of the police squad, the lesbian Commander Braddock (whose main interest seems to be trying to seduce Melanie Ballard). Sergeant Jericho (Jason Statham) shares Commander Braddock’s obsession with getting into Melanie’s pants.

It’s the characters who are the problem. I don’t have a particular problem with Natasha Henstridge’s acting. What she does she does well enough. It’s what she’s chosen to do with the character (or what Carpenter asked her to do with the character) that is the problem. Melanie is a real ice queen. She appears to have no emotions and no sexual feelings. She is incredibly detached and remote. Her drug usage may well be connected with this but that possibility is never explored. Her motivations for escaping into drug dreams are never explored. It’s an interesting performance but it leaves the film without an emotional centre. We see everything through Melanie’s eyes but it’s as if she’s just a recording device. We have no idea what she is thinking, or feeling.

Unfortunately Ice Cube takes a similar approach with his characterisation of Desolation Williams. Why does Desolation decide to throw in his lot with the cops even though he hates and mistrusts them? Does he have some feelings for Melanie? That would explain his actions, but we aren’t shown any evidence that would support that theory. Maybe she reminds him of a woman he once cared about? Again, we’re shown nothing to indicate this might be the case. He simply goes from being a bad guy to being a good guy. There’s nothing wrong with Ice Cube’s performance but the part is badly underwritten.

We know more about Commander Braddock. We know she’s a lesbian and she wants to get Melanie into bed. But that’s all we know about her. Apart from that she’s a closed book. We don’t even get any sense of whether she’s a good cop or not.

The minor characters are just there to get killed (which is not a spoiler since we know at the beginning who is going to survive and who isn’t). There are a couple of death scenes that might have had an impact but the characters are such zeroes that the viewer is unlikely even to remember their names. Consequently we don’t care when they get killed. And none of the other characters cares when one of their own gets killed.

What this movie really needed was Snake Plissken. I believe that at one stage Carpenter considered making it the third Snake Plissken film. Kurt Russell would at least have breathed some life into the film.  

I do like the look of this movie, with everything red or in reddish shades. The locations (mostly in New Mexico) are excellent and brilliantly utilised. The movie has the right atmosphere. Ghosts of Mars borrows heavily from lots of other Carpenter films (everything from Escape from New York to Vampires to Assault on Precinct 13 to The Thing).

This is not a terrible movie by any means. It’s quite fun in its own way. But, like Lieutenant Melanie Ballard, it’s detached and remote. There’s a fair amount of excitement but it just doesn’t get the viewer really engaged. It’s frustrating because the ideas aren’t bad.

The DVD includes an audio commentary by John Carpenter (who is always fun to listen to) and Natasha Henstridge, plus a number of other extras.

Ghosts of Mars is worth a rental.

Sunday 2 August 2020

Female Teacher: In Front of the Students (1982)

Female Teacher: In Front of the Students is a 1982 entry in Nikkatsu’s roman porno cycle.

Reiko (Rushia Santô) is a new teacher at a tough high school. Her male students are rowdy and uncouth and the girls aren’t much better. Unfortunately Reiko doesn’t quite have what it takes to win their respect. Then one day, in the female teachers’ locker room, she is raped by one of her male students. She does have one clue to her assailant’s identity - a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that he dropped in the shower while raping her.

Reiko has her suspicions as to the rapist’s identity and decides to do some investigating. She thinks it might have something to do with her decision to drop one of the boys from the school tennis team. Rather unwisely she allows one of her female students, Kumi, to help her. Kumi has already tried to initiate Reiko into the joys of lesbian sex. Kumi suggests breaking into her boyfriend Takuya’s house to look for evidence and as a result Reiko not only gets raped again, she gets held prisoner and subjected to various indignities. And she learns that tennis racquets can be used for all sorts of sexual purposes. Takuya rapes her and Kumi, not to be outdone, rapes her as well. For Reiko it’s a weekend of humiliation and degradation and the most humiliating part is that the orgasms are so good. 

She also suffers the worst sexual indignity that any woman can be subjected to - having tennis balls hurled at her. I honestly had no idea that there was such a thing as tennis as a sexual fetish but it seems that there is.

Apart from countless sex scenes there is a mystery plot here. Reiko still doesn’t know who raped her the first time. She’s obsessed by the idea of finding the answer. She still has that jigsaw puzzle piece but the problem is that it seems that jigsaw puzzles are popular with all the men in this town. The piece turns out to be, fittingly, part of a female thigh from a Modigliani nude. 
She discovers that one of the downsides of being an amateur detective is that you get raped a lot. The upside is that sometimes the getting raped part is pretty good. And her friend Shoko assures her that all women like the idea of being raped. Well Shoko likes the idea anyway. 

As you may have gathered this is is not a movie that could even remotely be described as politically correct. If that bothers you, or if the idea of a movie that revolves largely around rape bothers you, then don’t even think about seeing this movie. 

Rushia Santô as Reiko is a capable enough actress and she’s a very lovely lady and she spends a sizeable part of the film’s running time naked. Rina Oka as the breathtakingly depraved Kumi is very impressive and also frequently naked. Kyôko Sagami plays Reiko’s friend Shoko and yes, she gets to take her clothes off as well. If extraordinarily beautiful nude women are something that appeals to you then this movie delivers the goods on that front. It might seem strange to say that a movie mostly about rape is a very female-centric movie but that’s the case. It’s not that the male actors aren’t competent but the focus is on the women.

As with all the Nikkatsu roman porno movies it’s all softcore and there’s no frontal nudity but the sex scenes are quite intense (and sometimes disturbing) and the three lead actresses don’t keep their clothes on for very long.

Yasuaki Uegaki spent most of his career as a director making pink films and he certainly knew how to shoot sex scenes. Apart from that he manages a few atmospheric scenes in the deserted school buildings that almost have a gothic hint to them.

Nikkatsu was a major Japanese studio and their roman porno movies tended to be well made with fairly high production values. This film is no exception.

Impulse’s DVD offers a good anamorphic transfer. There are no extras apart from a trailer but there are liner notes by pink film guru Jasper Sharp.

Nikkatsu made a whole series of Female Teacher films, all of them being unrelated apart from featuring female teachers and sex.

Female Teacher: In Front of the Students is very sleazy but it’s sleaze with a certain amount of style, and with hints of the weirdness that makes Japanese exploitation movies so fascinating. The plot does have a few twists and there’s even a love story although it’s a sleazy love story. Mostly it’s a dark sex thriller and as such it’s highly recommended.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (anime mini-series, 2016)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a 12-episode 2016 anime mini-series with lots of mayhem and a definite steampunk vibe.

There are zombies and hints of vampirism. There are cool armoured trains. There are cute girls. There are complex characters, and complex interactions between them. There's love and betrayal and honour and courage. And there's lots of carnage.

Here's the link to my review at Cult TV Lounge.