Sunday 31 July 2022

Delinquent Schoolgirls (1975)

Delinquent Schoolgirls (AKA The Sizzlers AKA Carnal Madness) is a delirious slice of drive-in movie madness.

Three sex offenders escape from a hospital for the criminally insane. One is a gay theatrical type. Then there’s Big Dick Peters (Bob Minor), a flasher and rapist. The leader of the trio is Carl (Michael Pataki), another show business type. He’s a failed impressionist. He apparently just likes scaring people.

The first stop after breaking out is a farmhouse. Earl’s wife Ellie is very sexually frustrated so she’s delighted when Big Dick rapes her. This is a very politically incorrect movie. Earl doesn’t really mind. He’s quite happy that someone else is satisfying Ellie’s sexual urges.

Their next stop will be a girls’ school, but it’s a kind of reform school. These are all bad girls. We know they’re bad girls because they talk about sex a lot and wear very short skirts. They read dirty books and giggle. This being a girls’ school there is of course some lesbian activity among the girls, but nowhere near as much as you might expect in a 70s movie of this type.

Before the lunatics get there an incident takes place which gives us a hint of the flavour of this bizarre movie. One of the girls is hopelessly in love with a middle-aged biology teacher. He asks her to help carry some books home. It might have ended there had she not bent over and given him a fantasising glimpse of her panties. So he drugs her, hypnotises her and removes her clothing, not realising that she would have enthusiastically consented.

The movie is a succession of incidents in which the lunatics become involved. These incidents range in tone from disturbing to weird to goofy slapstick to just plain incomprehensible.

Some of the episodes just go nowhere. A girl from the school, after undergoing a harrowing experience at the hands of the escaped lunatics, flags down a passing van. In the van are two very sleazy hippie types who seem much more interested in her naked breasts than in helping her. We feel that something bad or disturbing is going to happen here. And what actually happens? We have no idea. It’s as if the director simply forgot about that subplot.

Some episodes achieve true inspired weirdness. The creepy middle-aged biology teacher drugs and hypnotises a girl who has a crush on him. He strips her down to her bra and panties. He has her completely under his power. Now you can well imagine what is going to happen next, but that’s not what happens at all. Presumably he is unable to, er, consummate his lust for the girl. So he gets his pet snake to do it for him. At the moment that this scenario is interrupted by the arrival of the loonies the snake is heading for the girl’s, well I’m sure you can guess what part of her anatomy it’s heading for.

Other episodes leave you wondering whether the director was indulging in some mind-altering substances and just had no idea what he was doing, and just lost interest in some scenes or came up with the kinds of silly ideas that one does come up with under the influence of mind-altering drugs. There’s a scene in which the lunatics tie up one of the female teachers. It seems like it’s a setup for a kinky bondage scene. And what do the lunatics do to her? Nothing. They just forget all about her.

At one point the lunatics are holding ten schoolgirls hostage in the gym. They then force the girls to engage in a degrading and humiliating experience. The girls are forced to perform a chorus line number from a Busby Berkeley musical.

At another point they have two girls at their mercy. You just know what dangerous escaped sex offenders will do in such a situation. Instead of which the girls are forced to do some mud-wrestling. With each other.

This is a movie that veers between being a thriller, a teen sex comedy and a slapstick comedy. It’s problem as a thriller is that the three escaped asylum inmates are obviously not very dangerous. They’re pretty non-violent. We never really think the schoolgirls are in much danger. In fact when two of the lunatics had ten of the girls lined up in the gym I felt a bit sorry for the lunatics. The girls had been doing their karate class. It seemed pretty obvious that ten girls with martial arts training would have no trouble dealing with two unarmed guys. And this is a reform school. These are tough aggressive girls. I figured that as soon as the girls got seriously annoyed they would beat the two guys to a pulp. Which is what happened.

This is really a drive-in movie rather than a sexploitation movie. The sex scenes are very very tame and there’s only a modest amount of nudity. There are however lots and lots of panty shots and lots of bouncing boobies (these naughty delinquent girls express their rebelliousness by refusing to wear bras).

Sexploitation fans will recognise Sharon Kelly, star of such sexploitation classics as The Dirty Mind of Young Sally and Teenage Bride (a movie which features not a single teenager nor a single bride).

This movie is included in the six-movie Psychotronica boxed set from Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment. It’s a varied and interesting set, with the best film being John Lamb’s Mermaids of Tiburon, a strange dream-like slightly arty underwater erotic fantasy about, you guessed it, mermaids. Lamb was one of the great underwater cinematographers. Mondo Keyhole is a very politically incorrect sexploitation flick from John Lamb and cult movie legend Jack Hill.

As a comedy Delinquent Schoolgirls is a total wash-out. The humour is infantile and obvious and excruciating. As a sex film it’s pretty tame, although there are quite a few naked breasts. As a bizarre cinematic oddity it has a certain appeal.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Bacchanales Sexuelles (1974)

Bacchanales Sexuelles (original title Tout le monde il en a deux, released in the US in a savagely cut version as Fly Me the French Way) is one of Jean Rollin’s mid-70s softcore sex films that is usually contemptuously dismissed even by his ardent fans. That’s perhaps just a bit unfair as we will see.

It was made not long after Rollin made another softcore feature, Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (a movie that apparently features no schoolgirls and no hitchhikers and was originally titled Jeunes filles impudiques).

Valérie (Joëlle Coeur) is housesitting a luxury apartment for her cousin. She’s bored and lonely so she rings up her friend Sophie (Marie-France Morel). They get drunk and have sex and then collapse into bed. During the night Sophie is kidnapped.

Before being grabbed Sophie managed to phone her boyfriend Paul. When he arrives at the apartment Valérie finally notices that Sophie is missing. She and Paul should start searching for her immediately but they decide to have sex first. You have to get your priorities right.

We find out that Sophie has been kidnapped by Malvina (Brigitte Borghese), the high priestess of a secret society. The trouble is that they meant to snatch Valérie. Malvina thinks Valérie can tell her the identity of a traitor in her secret society. After her underlings have given Sophie a good flogging Malvina figures out she’s got the wrong girl.

It seems that Valérie’s cousin is an investigative reporter digging up dirt on Malvina’s group and maybe indulging in a little blackmail. There’s certainly blackmail involved somewhere.

Malvina needs to get someone inside Valérie’s apartment so she sends one of her underlings, Jenny (Agnès Lemercier), posing as a maid. Jenny is a rather disconcerting maid. She is wearing the shortest skirt that could possibly be imagined and when she bends over to pick up the breakfast things it’s evident that she forgot to wear underwear today.

This is unapologetically a softcore porn movie but it was made during that brief window of time when softcore porn movies were well-made and often extremely interesting for other reasons than the abundant female flesh on display. The great thing about 70s sex movies is that usually the distributors didn’t give a damn what the director did as long as there was the required quantity of nudity and simulated sex. If the director happened to be Jean Rolin then what he was going to do was to throw in some of the surreal touches that he loved so much. He was going to make a softcore sex movie but it was going to be somewhat Rollinesque.

The kidnapping, carried out by two cute girls wearing catsuits and elaborate masks, is handled in a very surreal manner. Malvina’s secret society seems to be some kind of sex cult. There’s another very surreal scene involving Malvina, a gun and some store mannequins.

And to add an even more Rollinesque touch there’s his favourite trope - twinned or doubled girls. And they’re played by the Castel twins, yes the twins from Lips of Blood and The Nude Vampire.

The sex at times has a definite kinky edge to it. Malvina has a slave girl who likes sucking her mistresses’s toes. Valérie likes to smear jam all over her nipples, and other even more intimate parts of her anatomy, so that Paul can lick it off. There’s bondage and whipping.

This is a softcore feature but it pushes the edge of the envelope at times. The sex is as graphic as it is possible to be whilst still remaining technically softcore.

Overall this is a bit like a typical Jean Rollin movie but with lots and lots of sex.

It’s usually assumed that Rollin didn’t care about this movie and was just doing it for the pay cheque. I suspect that’s only partly true. He was in this case working as a director for hire but he’s gone to so much trouble to add so many of his personal touches that I can’t believe he was totally uninterested. The man loved making movies and I think he just made the best of the situation and tried to make it as much of a Rollin film as he could. And sex and surrealism can be a potent combination.

Synapse’s DVD release offers a reasonably good transfer. The important thing is that the film is uncut.

If you’ve never sampled Jean Rollin’s movies then you definitely do not want to start with this one as it will give you entirely the wrong idea about his movies. If however you’re a seasoned Rollin fan and you’ve avoided this movie and Schoolgirl Hitchhikers on the assumption that they’re trash then you might want to reconsider. If you don’t mind lots of sex and lots of extremely hot naked women then there is a genuine Jean Rollin film hidden in here trying to get out. With just a bit more screen time devoted to the surrealist elements and a bit less devoted to sex scenes it might even have been a pretty decent Rollin movie. It’s still quite interesting in its way. Bacchanales Sexuelles is a softcore surreal slightly occult thriller. For Rollin fans it’s worth a look.

Monday 25 July 2022

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley Kubrick’s final film. It marked something of a departure for him, but then every single movie that Kubrick made marked a departure from his previous work.

It was a controversial movie at the time, and remains somewhat controversial today. Partly it was the sexual content which caused the film to run into major censorship headaches. Mostly though the controversy centres on questions such as what kind of movie was Kubrick trying to make, how seriously did he intend it to be taken, how seriously we should take the conspiracy theory angles. There were also many who thought Tom Cruise was the wrong actor for the movie and those people generally hated his performance. Most of all there’s controversy over whether Eyes Wie Shut works or not.

As with all Kubrick’s movies there’s also the aspect ratio question. Kubrick usually filmed in open matte. There are those who believe he intended his movies to be viewed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. In practice they were often screened in matted versions at 1.85:1. My old DVD copy presented the movie in 1.33:1. My new Blu-Ray copy presents it in 1.85:1.

Dr William Harford (Tom Cruise) is a successful medical practitioner. He is happily married to Alice (Nicole Kidman). They go to a party, they both have a few drinks. Dr Harford (his friends call him Bill) gets into some heavy flirting with a couple of gorgeous models. Alice gets into heavy flirting with a smooth continental charmer. They get into a discussion about it the next day. Bill thinks it was so innocent that it’s not worth talking about. He has never been unfaithful to Alice and had no intention of having sex with the models. He knows that there was no way Alice was going to go to bed with her continental charmer. He trusts himself absolutely and he trusts Alice absolutely.

Then Alice drops a bit of a bombshell. She tells him about an incident about a year earlier.

Alice had not only thought about having an affair with a young officer, she had really wanted to so. She was so hot for this guy that she’d have risked everything for one night in the sack with him. And, worst of all, the next time she and Bill made love she was fantasising that it was the officer making love to her.

Bill is stunned. Of course Alice didn’t actually do anything. She wasn’t unfaithful. In the normal course of events he’d brood about it for a couple of days and then get over it. But fate intervenes. He is about to have a very unusual night.

He gets a call. He has to go to the house of a patient who has just died (the death had been expected for some time). He has to show his respects, and offer what comfort he can to the deceased patient’s daughter. The daughter then throws herself at him, declaring her undying love for him. Of course she’s just in shock, but Bill has already had a disturbing evening and this disturbs him still more.

After leaving the patient’s house he encounters a streetwalker. Bill has never done such a thing in his life but on this night he decides he really wants to have sex with this prostitute. And she’s quite pretty, very friendly and really a rather nice girl. Just what Bill needs. Just as he’s about to jump into bed with her his phone rings. It’s Alice. He can’t go through with it with the girl, but he pays her anyway.

The night gets stranger. He goes into a club where an old friend named Nick, now a musician, is playing. Nick tells Bill that he has another gig to go to. It’s a regular gig but a strange one. The location is different every time, he’s only told the location an hour beforehand and you need a password. Bill has overheard the password and he is determined to investigate this mysterious event.

What he witnesses is a kind of ritual followed by an orgy.

This movie attracts conspiracy theories the way honey attracts bees. Bill appears to have stumbled upon a sex club for the rich and powerful. Intriguingly we get just a few hints about the real nature of the secret society involved and of course those hints might be deliberately misleading and it might just be Bill’s fever dream. You could spend several years trying to puzzle out and debate the conspiracy theories that have grown up about this spect of the film.

While the movies does contain mystery and thriller elements and there are some suspense scenes the real focus is the Harfords’ marriage. It’s a good marriage but they’re both oddly dissatisfied.

One of the interesting things about Eyes Wide Shut is the tameness of the sexual fantasies. It’s not just that the famous orgy scene isn’t very shocking or kinky. Both Bill and Alice like to fantasise about themselves as sexual outlaws but they lack imagination. The best Bill can come up with on his own is the idea of having sex with a prostitute. Alice can only manage to fantasise about having sex with a handsome naval officer. They’re the kinds of sexual fantasies that would have seemed shocking to bourgeois Vienna in 1900 and of course the movie is based on a novel written in 1925 and set in Vienna in 1900. Maybe the point Kubrick was trying to make is that Bill and Alice are not cut out to be sexual outlaws, even in fantasy. They were cut out for married monogamy.

I’m sure that I’m not revealing anything startling by referring to the interpretation of the film that states that all or most of the events are in fact dreams. And they’re the sorts of sexual dreams that Bill and Alice would have. Any genuine sexual sinister secret society would undoubtedly get up to much kinkier things than we see in the orgy scene. But if Bill is dreaming this scene he simply cannot imagine anything really shocking. To the viewer the orgy is incredibly tame but to Bill it’s the height of depravity.

To both Bill and Alice any sex at all outside of marriage is deeply shocking. When Alice has a dream about having sex with other men, men other than her husband, she is devastated and cries. To her such a thing is just horrifyingly wicked. She feels guilty about even flirting with other men.

In his nocturnal adventure (whether it’s real or a dream) Bill has lots of opportunities for illicit sex. Gorgeous women are falling over themselves to have sex with him. But he does not have a single actual sexual encounter. In the entire movie the only woman he has sex with is his wife. It seems certain that he not been unfaithful to Alice even once in his nine years of marriage. The only man Alice actually has sex with is Bill. It seems equally certain that she has never been unfaithful to him.

You can’t help thinking that Bill and Alice would be a whole lot happier if they bought themselves a few kink and fetish magazines and tried out some of the things in those magazines. It might rekindle the sexual blaze of their early married life. Being faithful is extremely admirable but perhaps they take it too far. Perhaps all their problems boil down to the fact that their sex life has become too routine.

The key scene is the one in which Alice tells Bill about almost being unfaithful to him. In 1998 convincing us that Bill had never even considered the possibility that his wife might have sexual thoughts about other men was a tough sell. If that scene doesn’t convince us then the rest of the movie makes no sense. It is the key to everything that follows. Tom Cruise manages to sell it. He really does convince us that this is a total bolt from the blue which has shaken the very foundations of his being. I doubt if any other actor could have pulled it off since it relies so much on Cruise being able to use his established screen persona. That screen persona makes us believe that his self-confidence really is so sky high that he doesn’t think Alice is capable of even thinking about betraying him, and it makes it believable that once that one illusion is shattered his whole psychological world would collapse. That scene is more than enough to justify Kubrick’s decision to cast Cruise.

Nicole Kidman is terrifyingly intense at times. Her performance works.

Eyes Wide Shut is an odd, perplexing, exasperating, bewildering movie that doesn’t entirely come off but it’s totally fascinating all the same. It’s one of those movies you change your mind about every time you see it. You find yourself thinking that particular scenes are total misfires but next time you watch it you think those same scenes are absolutely perfect. Eyes Wide Shut is highly recommended.

Friday 22 July 2022

Flower and Snake (1974)

Masaru Konuma’s Flower and Snake is one of the more notorious movies in Nikkatsu’s immensely successful “roman porno” cycle. It was released in 1974.

In 1971 the Nikkatsu studio was struggling financially. They then abandoned all other film production projects and from then until 1988 they made nothing but roman porno films. It was one of the most astute business decisions in the history of cinema. Nikkatsu went from near-bankruptcy to prosperity and the studio continues to thrive to this day.

The term “roman porno” comes from the French term for an erotic novel - roman pornographique. The name was adopted because Nikkatusu thought, quite correctly, that it sounded kind of cool.

Makoto Katagiri lives with his mother Miyo. They live comfortably since Miyo runs a successful business - she makes S&M porno films. Makoto has a few sexual problems of his own. When he was a young boy he thought that a black American serviceman was hurting his mother. He must have been hurting her since she kept moaning. So Makoto took a gun that was kept in the house and shot the serviceman. In fact of course his mother was a prostitute, the GI was a paying client and Miyo was at the time thoroughly enjoying her work. Before he died the American GI tried to strangle Makoto. So it’s not surprising that Makoto is not quite normal sexually.

With women he is impotent but he masturbates regularly and with enthusiasm tinged with bitterness.

Miyo feels no embarrassment about her line of business. Sex has always been her business and she is perfectly relaxed about it. Makoto isn’t relaxed about it at all. He still has dreams about the night he shot that GI.

Makoto’s boss Senzô Tôyama has a problem as well. He has a beautiful young wife named Shizuko but she won’t have sex with him. He’s actually rather fond of kinky sex but Shizuko but allow him to have any kind of sex with her at all.

But he has a plan to deal with the situation. He will get his loyal employee Makoto to kidnap Shizuko. Makoto’s job with then be to train Shizuko to be an obedient wife.

Senzô Tôyama thinks that Makoto is an expert in sadomasochism and bondage because he found S&M porn in Makoto’s desk. The truth is that Makoto is a bit of a bumbling amateur. It’s his mother Miyo who’s the expert. Fortunately Miyo is on hand to help with Shizuko’s training.

Makoto ends in regular reports on the progress of the training. The problem is that Tôyama starts to suspect that Makoto is enjoying the training process a little bit too much. After all the purpose is to make Shizuko an obedient wife for him, not for Makoto.

Makoto also finds that with Shizuko brutally tied up his impotence is no longer a problem.

There’s lot of potential for both sexual and emotional jealousy. Tôyama is jealous of Makoto because he suspects that Shizuko enjoys sex with Makoto. Makoto is jealous of Tôyama because Shizuko belongs to Tôyama. Miyo is jealous of any woman that Makoto is interested in sexually or emotionally. Shizuko’s faithful maid Haru is prey to all kinds of jealousies. And the apparent emotional dynamics of the situation do not necessarily reflect the real emotional dynamics.

There is some stuff in this movie that is really hard to take, unless you happen to be turned on by forced enemas. It’s not that you see anything particularly graphic but the idea is pretty off-putting. I have a pretty high tolerance for kinky erotic movies but some of this stuff was way too much for me. I should add that the bondage scenes are fairly brutal.

It’s a pity because the emotional dynamics really are interesting, and the interest is enhanced by the rather ambiguous performances of several of the actors, especially Naomi Tani as Shizuko. She gives a performance that is both subtle and disturbing. We not only have doubts about what some of the characters say about their feelings, we have doubts as to whether they understand their own feelings.

There’s also the tone of the movie which at times veers towards twisted black comedy. This is certainly not a sex comedy but some scenes are played that way, or are at least pushed to the point of deliberate absurdity. These are people who are playing kinky sex games with each other but director Masaru Konuma and writer Yôzô Tanaka are playing games with the viewer as well.

The movie is based on a novel by Oniroku Dan, a somewhat controversial Japanese writer of S&M erotica whose work was considered to have a certain decadent flavour.

Impulse’s DVD is barebones but provides a decent transfer. They’ve released it on Blu-Ray as well.

Flower and Snake is a disturbing exploration of twisted sexual desire. If you can get past the off-putting elements mentioned earlier then it’s quite an interesting film but it is definitely not for everyone.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Primitive London (1965)

The Italian mondo films of the early 60s (starting with Mondo Cane) were hugely popular and triggered off a rash of similar films. Arnold L. Miller enjoyed considerable success with London in the Raw in 1964, a kind of mondo film looking at the sleazy side of London. He followed it up with Primitive London in 1965.

Primitive London is very much a mondo film. It’s like an anthropological tour of the English capital, focusing on the strange customs of the natives. There’s a strip club, then a school for strippers. Then we get a topless fashion show, with topless evening dresses and topless bathing costumes.

The range of topics covered is bewildering, from women’s judo to hairdressing, from tattooing to Turkish baths, from beauty contests to prostitution to the most exclusive hatters in London.

Youth subcultures get quite a bit of attention. Mods, rockers and beatniks. I was surprised there were still beatniks in 1965 although many of them look like proto-hippies. In 1965 there was ongoing hysteria in the British press about violence between mods and rockers with both subcultures being regarded as dangerous and frightening.

There are also chickens and goldfish undergoing emergency surgery.

We learn that pinball machines are a symptom of social degradation.

The movie fearlessly confronts the greatest social evil of all, stand-up comedy.

And of course there is a key party. Wife-swapping was a popular subject for exploitation film-makers and writers of sleaze fiction and you could easily get the impression that it was a craze sweeping the western world.

The general tone is moralising and disapproving. As every exploitation film-maker from the 1930s to the 1970s knew, the moral disapproval was an essential ingredient. It was essential to keep the censors at bay, but it also made for sensationalism and sensationalism is what these films were all about. The moralising served the purpose of making what was often rather tame material seem shocking and exciting. It made the viewer feel delightfully naughty and daring.

The moralising reaches a fever pitch of hysteria when it comes to the wife-swapping. This is just so wicked and depraved. It’s so wicked and depraved we had to make a movie about it.

And then, for no reason whatsoever, we get a re-enactment of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Mondo movies were not supposed to make sense. The whole point was to throw as many bizarre ingredients into the pot as possible. That’s the approach taken here. If you’re bored by a particular segment don’t worry, within a couple of minutes the movie will have moved on to something different and totally unrelated. And you have to keep watching because you have no idea what will come next.

Another attraction of mondo movies of course is that you never know exactly how much is real and how much is fake.

There’s an attempt to inject some humour into the proceedings with an ongoing sketch about a television commercial and with the producer and editing arguing over what should be included in the movie.

The main attraction of this movie is the glimpse it offers into the seedy glamorous world of Soho strip clubs in the mid-60s. It’s obvious that some (possibly most) of the strip-tease routines are real but it’s likely they were toned way down for the movie. Or perhaps not. Given the oppressive atmosphere of the time and the restrictiveness of British laws in the 60s maybe this really was all they could get away with. It’s still fascinating.

Arnold L. Miller was also responsible for West End Jungle and went to to make Secrets of a Windmill Girl.

Stanley A. Long, who did the cinematography, went on to direct sex comedies in the 70s.

The BFI have done a great job with the DVD release (and they’ve released this one on Blu-Ray as well). Image quality is superb.

The extras are in some ways even more interesting than the main feature. There are three interviews from the late 60s. Nightclub owner Al Burnett explains in detail the intricacies and inanities of British licensing and gambling laws. Nightclub owner Stuart McCabe has some fascinating things to say about the stupidities of British laws governing prostitution and gives us his views on how a strip club should be run honestly and with a bit of class. Stripper Shirley gives us some insights into the motivations of the stripper. Finally there’s a 26-minute short film by John Irvin, Carousella, about the lives of three strippers. It’s both surprisingly sympathetic and well-made.

Primitive London is oddly fascinating and I recommend it although obviously you have to like this type of cinematic oddity.

London in the Raw is worth a look as well.

Saturday 16 July 2022

Galaxina (1980)

Galaxina is a 1980 science fiction movie that is perhaps best known as being one of the movies former Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten made before she was tragically murdered at the age of twenty.

Galaxina itself is very 80s. It’s obviously intended to be a sci-fi spoof. The humour is very 80s, which you’ll either enjoy or you won’t.

A thousand years in the future the police space cruiser Infinity is on a routine patrol. The crew’s main problem is boredom. There’s also the problem that the crew is entirely male, except for Galaxina. Galaxina (Dorothy Stratten) is a robot that looks exactly like a gorgeous young woman. She’s also quite relaxed but showing off her feminine charms. When she serves dinner she wears an incredibly skimpy French maid’s outfit with a skirt so short that it offers a tempting view of her lacy panties. You can well imagine what every member of the crew would like to do to her but they can’t. They can’t even touch her. If they do they get a severe electrical shock. So they have to share the spacecraft with an untouchable sexy blonde babe.

So as you might expect there’s a slightly tense atmosphere on board the Infinity.

The Infinity receives orders to head for a distant planet. The voyage will take twenty-seven years so the crew is put into cryosleep. Galaxina is left in charge of the ship.

She doesn’t have much to do except think, and she thinks about one thing only. She wants to be just like a human woman. She wants experience what real women experience. She wants love. When the crew visits a space brothel Galaxina starts to cry. She has needs as well, both physical and emotional.

She has twenty-seven years to figure out how to modify herself to make herself seem more human. She figures out how to raise her body temperature to normal human levels, and she learns how to talk. Most importantly she figures out how to modify herself so a man can touch her without getting an electric shock.

And she has twenty-seven years to think about Sergeant Thor. She decides that he’s the man for her.

An unfortunate encounter with an alien spacecraft after they reach their destination leaves the Infinity crippled on the surface of the planet. Galaxina is sent off to the nearest town to find help. The town is like something out of the Wild West but with aliens. The saloon has human heads mounted on the wall as trophies. It’s a rough town.

So Galaxina is a sort of western spoof as well as a sci-fi spoof.

A problem that becomes evident early on is the pacing. It’s just rather slow.

William Sachs wrote and directed the movie. His script just doesn’t the sparkle or the wit needed for a successful spoof. The tone is not quite right. The idea was fine. In fact it’s a good idea - a female robot that decides it wants to be a real woman. Galaxina’s story is the most interesting part of the movie and had potential to be either an offbeat romance, an intelligent speculations of what makes us human, or even a sex comedy. But Galaxina’s quest to be a woman isn’t really pursued in enough depth to provide either food for thought, laughs or titillation.

The space brothel scenes and the alien saloon scenes are amusing, but just not quite amusing enough.

It’s also a movie that should have been sexier than it is. If you’re going to make a movie about a hot robot space babe you need to sex things up just a little.

The special effects and miniatures work are both adequate, especially for what was clearly a low budget movie. The sets are quite good. The movie doesn’t really excessively cheap.

Galaxina is obviously just a little reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Dark Star, which also depicted lengthy space missions as nightmares of boredom and futility. The Infinity is not quite as grotty and squalid as the spaceship in Carpenter’s movie but we do get the impression that it’s a fairly old ship and perhaps not in the best of repair.

It’s difficult to judge Dorothy Stratten’s performance. She is after all playing a robot, and a robot that cannot talk, so she can’t be blamed for not showing any emotions. Galaxina doesn’t have any emotions. She certainly looks good.

Galaxina is silly and goofy and amusing and that’s fine, that’s the kind of movie it’s supposed to be, but it’s just not quite amusing enough. It’s by no means as terrible as its reputation would suggest. It’s just a beer and popcorn movie. If you have plenty of popcorn and a lot of beer there are worse ways of spending an hour and a half.

Tuesday 12 July 2022

Shining Sex (1976)

Shining Sex is a 1976 Jess Franco movie starring Lina Romay and at first you could be forgiven for thinking it’s going to be nothing more than a straightforward softcore porn romp. But this is a Jess Franco movie and some serious craziness is just around the corner.

Shining Sex really is a weird movie, even by Franco standards. It’s one of his two science fiction movies (the other being the gloriously insane The Sex Is Crazy from 1981).

This is one of Franco’s Eurociné releases.

The first thing that needs to be said is that this is not a movie for Franco beginners. Unless you’ve seen at least thirty or so Franco films including a representative sample of his 1960s, 1970s and 1980s output and unless you’ve seen a selection of movies from the various genres in which he specialised (eurohorror, erotica, lighthearted spy romps, women-in-prison movies, etc) you’ll be mystified by Shining Sex. This is a very experimental very untypical Franco movie. It’s a science fiction film that isn’t like any other science fiction films. It’s an erotic film that isn’t like any other erotic films. That’s not to say that you won’t spot familiar Franco themes but the feel is quite different and quite distinct. Hardened Francophiles will find plenty to enjoy but this is not the place to start your exploration of Franco’s cinematic world.

Cynthia (Lina Romay) is an erotic dancer who performs for the rich, famous and decadent. During one of her performances she catches the attention of a bored rich couple. They invite her back to their hotel room. Whether Cynthia is a call girl as well as a dancer or whether she’s just a girl who never says no to sex is left a little uncertain.

In any case Cynthia decides to introduce the obviously slightly nervous and uptight woman to the joys of sapphic sex.

The woman (we will later discover that her name is Alpha) then takes a kind of lotion or gel and spreads it on Cynthia’s lady parts, with fairly spectacular results.

By some kind of telepathic means Dr Seward (Jess Franco) becomes aware of what is happening to Cynthia. Dr Seward runs a private psychiatric clinic. Dr Seward of course was a character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Is this movie a kind of riff on Dracula? It’s possible.

Cynthia turns to Madame Pécame (Monica Swinn) for help. Madame Pécame believes that Cynthia has been in contact with her enemy. Her enemy is the woman known as Alpha. Perhaps Madame Pécame can help Cynthia. Perhaps Cynthia will cause Madame Pécame’s death. That gel that Alpha smeared over Cynthia’s body has some interesting effects. Cynthia’s vagina is now a deadly weapon. The gel also seems to have the effect of enslaving Cynthia.

We gradually realise that Alpha is not human. We will eventually learn that she is an alien being from another dimension. She wants to study us. But she’s concerned that we may learn of her existence and then we might study her. She deals with the problem by eliminating people who get too close to the truth. And she now has an effective killing machine. If Cynthia seduces somebody then she loves them to death, literally. And Cynthia can seduce anyone she wants to seduce. She’s that kind of girl. Cynthia doesn’t want to kill people but her will is no longer her own.

I don’t want to waste too much time on the plot because there really is very little actual plot.

This movie reminds me quite a bit of Female Vampire. Cynthia, like Countess Irina Karlstein in Female Vampire, destroys her victims through sex but is herself a slave to her sexual desires. And Countess Irina, like Cynthia, has little choice. Fate has made both women instruments of death.

I think Alpha can be seen as an alien sex vampire. Cynthia, like Lucy Westenra in Dracula, is both innocent victim and monster. Of course I may be reading too much into the choice of the name Dr Seward. There are several Dr Sewards in Franco’s films. I do think there is an element of vampirism here but you have to remember that Franco’s preference was for vampires who use desire as a weapon, rather than fangs. The protagonist in Doriana Grey (which I regard as Franco’s masterpiece) can be seen as to some extent vampiric. Maybe sexual desire is always potentially vampiric.

Much has been made of Franco’s voyeurism but as Stephen Thrower quite rightly points out what makes Franco’s voyeurism so interesting is the way it intersects with Lina Romay’s exhibitionism. Romay’s exhibitionism is in hyper-drive in this movie and in Shining Sex it’s the exhibitionist not the voyeur who is the active partner. Romay’s sexual abandon and her willingness to display her naked body makes her the exhibitionist as devouring tigress. She makes all men, and all women, into voyeurs. It’s another extraordinary performance by this extraordinary actress. Lina Romay in this movie is sex as the source of all power, of all destruction. She is sex as a force of nature, sex as a typhoon or an earthquake that overwhelms everything in its path. Nobody but Lina Romay could have played this rôle.

The movie also seriously questions the idea of voyeurism as a manifestation of male power. Faced with female exhibitionism and female sexual power as embodied by Lina Romay the male is in fact powerless.

Shining Sex is hypnotic and fascinating. Apart from Alpha’s alienness there are hints of the paranormal and of all kinds of hidden powers. It’s a Franco film that no serious Franco fan should overlook.

Severin have released Shining Sex on DVD and Blu-Ray, with an incredible wealth of worthwhile extras. There’s an audio commentary featuring Robert Monell, there’s another instalment of Stephen Thrower’s documentary series on Franco’s locations (and the locations used in this movie are a perfect example of Franco’s genius for finding locations which will cost him almost nothing but look stunning and mesmerising), there’s Stephen Thrower again with an in-depth analysis of the film, there’s an interview with producer Daniel Lesoeur, an interview with sound editor Gérard Kikoïne, an excellent appreciation of Franco’s work by film-maker Christophe Gans and there are some NSFW (very very not safe for work) outtakes from the hardcore version. Severin really have done a magnificent job here.

Shining Sex is a weird one, but it’s fascinatingly weird and it’s highly recommended.

Sunday 10 July 2022

Blow Out (1981)

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) was one of the iconic movies of the 60s. There are lots of things going on in Antonioni’s movie, including a fascinating evocation of Swinging London, but the central plot idea was one that has been much copied. A photographer captures something accidentally in one of his photos, something that may be evidence of a serious crime. In 1974 Francis Ford Coppola took that idea as the centrepiece of his movie The Conversation, but with the evidence being in the form of a sound recording rather than an image. The Conversation is not a bad movie but it’s much inferior to Antonioni’s masterpiece. In 1981 Brian De Palma shot Blow Out which was in effect a remake of The Conversation.

Obviously being a De Palma movie it’s stylistically a lot more interesting than Coppola’s film.

In The Conversation a surveillance guy captures a conversation on tape and becomes obsessed with the idea that it’s related to murder. In Blow Out the central character is a movie sound effects guy.

De Palma is of course well known for being massively (and very fruitfully) influenced by Hitchcock and this subject matter offers obvious possibilities for an exploration of a topic that was always dear to Hitchcock’s heart, namely voyeurism. Making the protagonist a guy involved in the movie business also offers opportunities for exploring the nature of cinema and the relationship between movies and reality (themes De Palma would explore again in his superb Body Double).

Jack Terry (John Travolta) does sound effects for low-budget slasher movies. He’s currently working on Co-Ed Frenzy. He does what he does very frequently in his line of work, he goes for a walk taking his tape recorder with him. He’s recording the sounds of a peaceful riverside. Then he hears a loud noise and then he sees a car plunge through the guard rails of a bridge into the river. The car starts to sink immediately. Jack jumps in, hoping to rescue the occupants. He cannot save the driver but he does manage to save the girl who was a passenger in the car.

He’s naturally feeling fairly pleased with himself. He’s an ordinary guy and ordinary guys very rarely get to do something heroic. He goes to the hospital to make sure the girl will be OK. The girl, Sally (Nancy Allen), was remarkably lucky. She just has a few bruises and is a bit shaken up. Being human Jack naturally tells her that in order to repay him she should have a drink with him sometime. And Sally, being human, agrees to do so.

At the hospital Jack discovers that the driver of the car, the one he wasn’t able to save, was Governor McRyan, a presidential candidate who was quite likely to be the country’s next president. And the dead candidate’s aide tells Jack to forget that there was ever a girl in the car. Jack doesn’t like this but the aide spins him a tale about sparing the feelings of McRyan’s family and he grudgingly agrees. Then he listens to the tape again, the tape he was recording at the time. That sound just before the car plunged off the bridge sounds rather like a gunshot.

From this point on the plot develops as you would expect. Jack’s paranoia steadily increases and his paranoia is justified. What he has discovered will put him in danger, and put Sally in danger. It’s a political paranoia suspense film.

There’s obviously been a conspiracy, but it may have been a conspiracy gone wrong. There’s a sinister guy called Burke (John Lithgow) who is involved but it’s not quite clear what his agenda is. Also involved is a very sleazy photographer named Manny Karp (Dennis Franz).

The plot is actually quite predictable and not very interesting. What impresses about this movie is De Palma’s breathtaking mastery of technique. He uses just about every film-making trick you can think of - split screens, extreme high-angle shots, split diopter shots, Steadicam shots. That can make a movie seem gimmick-laden but that’s the case here. De Palma uses these techniques for a reason, he uses them when they will actually enhance a scene. The movie is like a master class in film-making.

It builds to a very imaginative extended action climax.

The acting is a problem. John Travolta makes a very unsympathetic hero. Maybe De Palma wanted an unlikeable here, or maybe Travolta is just unlikeable. John Lithgow and Dennis Franz are despicable but in a not very interesting way. Nancy Allen (who was married to De Palma at the time) is the only member of the cast who provides any real interest.

There’s a great deal to admire in this movie but like most of the political paranoia movies of its era it’s all a bit too obvious. And it’s just not emotionally engaging.

Despite its problems it’s worth seeing just to see De Palma demonstrating his technical virtuosity, and the ending does provide plenty of thrills.

Blow Out is recommended, but with a few caveats.

Thursday 7 July 2022

The Sexual Story of O (1984)

The Sexual Story of O (1984) is a Jess Franco movie from his Golden Films period, an interesting period in Franco’s career. There were two major problems with this company. The first was that they were either unable or unwilling to get their movies distributed outside of Spain. As a result the movies Franco made for them were pretty much unseen and unknown outside of Spain until they started to get released on DVD.

The second problem was that the budgets they were able to offer him were practically non-existent. This was a time when Franco was making movies with no money at all.

But there was one very good thing about Golden Films. They allowed him complete freedom. Of course if you told Franco that there was no budget but he could do what he liked then he was a very happy man. He valued artistic freedom above all else.

Pauline Réage’s novel The Story of O is rightly regarded as the classic novel of sadomasochism and one of the classics of erotic literature and Franco greatly admired the novel. On the other hand he hated Just Jaeckin’s 1975 film adaptation. When Golden Films suggested The Sexual Story of O as a title Franco was delighted by the idea.

The Sexual Story of O is very much in the mould of Franco’s many movies inspired by the Marquis de Sade, but it has to be said that these movies represented his own take on the Marquis’ philosophy. Franco was no schoolboy besotted by adolescent fantasies. He was far too intelligent and too subtle for such things. I think it’s also fair to say that Franco was too fundamentally humane and decent to accept de Sade’s philosophy uncritically. He was interested in the idea of freedom and the rejection of conventional morality but he was able to see the weaknesses in de Sade’s ideas. If you treat people as mere objects for your own pleasure you’re going to end up sad and lonely. It’s also reasonable to assume that Franco genuinely liked women too much to be able to see them as mere sexual playthings.

The movie opens with a young woman (we find out that she is an American named Odile) in one hotel room and a young couple (Mario and his wife) in another hotel room across the courtyard. They have a clear view of each other’s rooms. The couple watch Odile masturbating. She watches them making love. Mario’s wife goes to Odile’s room and suggests that she joins them.

Voyeurism is an aspect of Franco’s cinema that is often overlooked. His movies often feature sexual night-club acts, essential sex as something to be watched, and his 1974 Plaisir à trois also features a decadent couple watching a young woman masturbating alone in her room. It’s an aspect that emphasises the alienation which is a major downside of attempts to emulate de Sade’s philosophy.

It seems that this is just a harmless sexual game but appearances can be deceptive. Mario and his wife make their living by kidnapping girls and selling them to an older couple, a couple with very particular sexual tastes. The older couple, the Prince von Baky and his wife, use the girls to play out their own extreme sadomasochistic fantasies. It’s the only way the prince can get sufficiently excited. These fantasies are very extreme indeed.

Mario is starting to develop a conscience and he has started to fall in love with Odile. His wife on the other hand is fully onboard with the von Baky’s tastes for sexual decadence and cruelty.

The problem for Odile is that not only is she young and naïve, she speaks no Spanish, which means that she has no idea what she is being drawn into. 

Mario understands what is going on all too well and that newly developed conscience of his troubles him more and more, which sets up the film’s finale.

This is a Franco movie that is often contemptuously dismissed, which is rather unfair. Yes, there are a lot of sex scenes. Yes, there are plenty of exploitation elements. Yes, the sadomasochism scenes are quite strong. There is however a very definite plot. It’s a simple plot but a powerful one and it’s developed in a shocking and remorseless way. This movie is similar in some ways to his Cries of Pleasure, made a year earlier, which also deals with the loneliness and alienation to which an unrestrained pursuit of pleasure leads.

The performances are quite effective. Daniel Katz is deliciously creepy as the Prince. Carmen Carrión is good as his depraved princess. Mari Carmen Nieto is excellent as Mario’s wife. Alicia Principe’s performance as Odile works because she is supposed to be a girl who doesn’t have the slightest idea what she has blundered into and Principe certainly gets that across.

This movie at first gives the impression of being shot in a surprisingly straightforward way but don’t worry there is some definite Franco trippiness in the later stages, and the surreal dream-like sequences are effectively disturbing. The fact that the surrealism is not in evidence until late in the film gives it a much greater impact. Events are spiralling out of control and the stylistic weirdness emphasises this.

Maybe his is not a major Franco film but it is a genuine Franco film that deals with the themes that obsessed him throughout his career and Franco fans will find it rewarding.

It should be stated that 80s Franco is very different from 70s Franco, just as 70s Franco was very different from 60s Franco. 80s Franco is not the best place to start for a Franco novice. But if you’re a seasoned Francophile and you’re ready to explore his 80s work this is a movie that deserves more respect than it usually gets. Highly recommended, with that caveat in mind.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Her Private Hell (1968)

Her Private Hell is a 1968 British sexploitation movie. Given the rigidity of British censorship at the time it’s unbelievably tame although the US release was slightly racier.

The movie has been described as Britain’s first sex feature film. It’s incredibly how tame it is when you consider the sex comedies that the British film industry would start turning out within a couple of years.

Her Private Hell was a huge hit at the time.

Marisa (Lucia Mudogno) is an Italian girl who arrives in London in pursuit of a modelling career. She is led to believe that she is going to become a top fashion model but then she is asked if she is willing to take her clothes off for some nude shots.

She signed up to model for a fashion magazine run by Neville, a guy who manages to be bad-tempered, irritable, controlling, creepy and sleazy in a genteel way.

Supposedly to keep her under wraps from other photographers who might seek to lure her away she is moved into Bernie’s flat, Bernie being the photographer she’s going to be working with. Pretty soon Maria and Bernie end up in bed together.

There are two other girls living in the flat and they’re not pleased about Marisa’s arrival.

One problem with this movie is that right at the start when Bernie wants to do some nude shots Marisa is quite agreeable. When the magazine’s other photographer, Matt, wants her to pose nude she is delighted. In both cases there’s not the slightest suggestion that she was coerced. And then later on when one of the pictures is published in a magazine she is shocked and outraged, and says she feels dirty. If she felt that way about posing nude why was she so relaxed about it initially? And if you pose for nude photos for a couple of magazine photographers how could you be surprised if they end up appearing in a magazine? This is the problem with Marisa as a character. She’s either incredibly dumb or her behaviour is bizarre and contradictory suggesting she might be crazy. But if she’s crazy she’s crazy in an irritating way, not an interesting way.

I could imagine a model who was starting to make a name for herself as a fashion model being a bit embarrassed about having her photos in a girlie magazine but her reaction, for 1968, seems over-the-top and melodramatic. And contrived. The plot requires her to be shocked and outraged, so she’s shocked and outraged. We get to see the photo, and it’s really just a girlie magazine photo. It’s not like she was tricked into doing hardcore porn. I can buy the idea that a woman in 1968 would be horrified by the idea of having her photo in a girlie magazine but she posed for the photos quite voluntarily.

And that’s the whole of the plot. Marisa thinks her whole life has been ruined and decides she has to escape from these wicked perverts.

British sexploitation movies of this era often come across as more risqué versions of the dreary kitchen sink dramas so beloved of British film critics in the early to mid 60s. They can be very slow moving and seriously lacking in actual sexploitation elements. They also had a tendency to take themselves much too seriously. Her Private Hell at least has the glamorous modelling background and some good modernist sets to liven things up a bit. It’s a movie that looks terrific.

In both the US and Britain there were countless sexploitation movies dealing with the sad fate of innocent young girls who dream of becoming models only to find out that what they’ve signed up for is nude modelling. The American sexploitation movies take wildly varying approaches to the subject matter, with the tones ranging from humorous to tragic to melodramatic to totally bizarre and insane. This British effort seems to operate on the assumption that taking her clothes off for a magazine is just about the most awful fate that could ever befall a woman. If that happens to a woman her life is basically over.

Lucia Mudogno’s performance never really works. She just doesn’t get a handle on the part and her confused performance makes Marisa less sympathetic. The other performances are generally quite good.

Despite a minuscule budget this is a professionally made movie which looks quite impressive. It captures the Swinging London vibe. The decor, the hairstyles, the clothes, all have a wonderful time capsule quality.

Director Norman J. Warren would go on to make cult favourites such as Prey, Satan’s Slave and Inseminoid. But Her Private Hell was his first feature and it was a commercial success for which he was always grateful.

This is the tamest sexploitation movie ever made. There are a few brief topless scenes and that’s it. Even this was too much for the British censors. They decided that society would collapse if British cinema-goers got to see women’s breasts, so those scenes were cut (but remained in the US cut). With those scenes cut the movie is just a contrived melodrama. To be brutally honest this movie needed some nudity because it doesn’t have much else going for it.

The most interesting thing about the movie is the glimpse it gives into an era in which increasing sexual freedom and freedom of speech were coming up against the stubborn resistance of the morals police. Like a lot of exploitation movies this one has a generally disapproving tone, even though it was from a commercial point of view successfully riding the wave of growing sexual freedom. It’s a fine example of our society’s desperate determination to avoid taking a grown-up view of sex, a determination which is as strong today as it was in 1968. So, despite its major flaws and its tameness, it’s of some historical interest.

As usual the BFI have packed both the Blu-Ray and DVD (it’s a combo pack) with extras. The most interesting is a 1971 documentary on nude modelling which gives us a glimpse of a number of Penthouse photoshoots (and lots and lots of nudity). Actual nude models were interviewed and they talk about how much fun they’re having and how much they enjoy posing nude. It’s refreshing after the dismal and oppressive moral panic tone of Her Private Hell