Less than a month ago reaction channels unearthed this monstrosity from deep within YouTube. The idea alone isn’t incredibly weird, but the ambiguity of the intent behind creating this video makes many wish they could simply unsee it.
AKA Hot Number
“I said, anybody who makes dirty phone calls as a life’s project is a pretty weird person. So where am I going to get the kind of material that he would be speaking? He wouldn’t be speaking anything we know. He would be talking the kind of stuff that you see on men’s room walls. “–The Telephone Book lead animator Len Glasser on his inspiration for the final sequence
DIRECTED BY: Nelson Lyon
FEATURING: Sarah Kennedy, Norman Rose
PLOT: Oversexed Alice receives an obscene phone call and falls in love with the mellifluous caller, who reveals his name to be “John Smith” of Manhattan. She searches the telephone book to find him, encountering stag film producers, perverts and lesbian seductresses in her quest. When she finally tracks him down, they share the ultimate obscene phone call, whose orgasmic power is depicted symbolically as a crude, sexually explicit surrealist cartoon.
- “superstars” Ultra Violet and Ondine appear in small roles in the film. An “intermission” scene showing himself quietly eating popcorn was cut, and the footage lost. (Still photos of the scene do exist).
- Writer/director Nelson Lyon went on to write for “Saturday Night Live” in its earliest years, but his career ended after he was involved in an infamous speedball binge that ended with John Belushi’s fatal overdose.
- The film was a complete flop on release and quickly disappeared from circulation, preserved in rare bootlegs and only resurfacing as a curiosity in the new millennium.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: In the animated sequence visually expressing the ineffable ecstasy aroused by John Smith’s erotic patter, the bottom half of a gargantuan woman—with rivets in her thighs, suggesting she’s an automaton—squats on a skyscraper and pleasures herself, while a man whose entire head is a tongue watches her with drooling interest. Sights like that have a tendency to stick in the mind.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: “Superstar” pontificating over a nude; rotating pig-masked man; tongue-headed cartoon libertine
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The last twenty minutes. Up until then, The Telephone Book is a mildly absurd pre-hardcore sexploitation comedy with art-scene pretensions; a long confessional monologue from a pig-masked pervert followed by a surreally obscene, obscenely surreal animated climax launch it into a different stratosphere of weirdness.
Original trailer for The Telephone Book
COMMENTS: The Telephone Book is a sex comedy dirty enough for Continue reading 264. THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971)
DIRECTED BY: Robert Martin Carroll
FEATURING: Paul L. Smith, Brad Dourif, Michael Boston,
PLOT: A small-town band of desert criminals steals a car with a baby in the backseat; the evil patriarch orders him to be raised as one of them.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It misses by a hair. Make no mistake, Sonny Boy is a unique, and weird, cult classic horror/comedy/genre-defying oddball. It is beautifully shot, marvelously acted, and defiantly marches to the beat of its own drummer. But its story is straightforward and linear, and it stays grounded mostly in reality. As hillbilly exploitation, it lies on a spectrum between Deliverance and Gummo. But at least 50% of its weirdness comes from David-Carradine-In-Drag, and we’ve seen much worse in any film.
COMMENTS: The opening prepares you in no way for what you’re about to see. David Carradine sings a folksy country number (written by him—we later see him perform it on the piano) that sounds like a homage to John Denver. This plays over helicopter shots of placid New Mexico heartland. Soon we’ll be seeing David in the cast, and are we in for a surprise. A minute after the credits, the infant child of two parents shot over a car-jacking gone wrong narrates, with a clown doll leering at us as the thief speeds away in their 1958 Lincoln Continental Mark III, and we find ourselves in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas territory. Welcome to Sonny Boy, enjoy your ride.
The carjacked baby ends up the adoptee of “Slue,” (Paul L. Smith, who played “Bluto” in Robert Altman‘s Popeye), the small town crime baron of Harmony, New Mexico, and his wife, David-Carradine-In-Drag (“Pearl”). Carradine dominates every scene he’s in–because that’s the Kill Bill guy in a dress, acting downright maternal. He gets more hilarious as the film wears on, turning gray and grandmotherly as Sonny’s life story unfolds. Slue’s flunkie apologizes—“I didn’t know nuthin’ ’bout no baby”—but Sonny’s fate is sealed when David-Carradine-In-Drag cradles him to his breast (?) and declares “This is MY baby!” Slue is a destructive man who blows up cars with a canon for fun, and his paternal instincts turn out to be equally warped. Slue and his merry band of henchmen live a post-apocalyptic existence, with TV sets stacked like Legos and junk cars dotting the landscape like grazing buffalo, amongst herds of roaming hogs.
We’re given glimpses of Sonny’s childhood in installments, including a birthday party with, yes, the infamous tongue-cutting scene. The festive balloons and animal masks lend the scene the eeriness of a cult ritual, which is about the right mindset for fans of this movie at this point. Sonny is raised as a psychopath-in-training, alternately dragged behind cars and staked out in a ring of fire. Eventually he is Continue reading CAPSULE: SONNY BOY (1989)
DIRECTED BY: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
FEATURING: Dennis Haysbert, Mel Harris, Sab Shimono, Michael Harris
PLOT: A poor man discovers he has a wealthy brother, who subsequently tries to kill him as part of a criminal scheme. Surviving the attempt but with his memory wiped out, he assumes his brother’s identity, begins a romantic relationship with his doctor, and finds himself the target of the would-be assassin’s effort to finish the job.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: A full-length tribute to the concept of nontraditional casting, Suture attempts to answer the question, “if you cast someone who absolutely does not fit the character description in a film where that character’s appearance is the crux of the film’s plot, does it make a difference?” Casting is the raison d’être of Suture, and the film knows it, letting its odd gimmick overwhelm every other element of the movie.
COMMENTS: So let’s get right to the twist: Brothers Clay and Vincent are repeatedly described as being near lookalikes, and marvel at their resemblance to each other. But they don’t look alike. Not even a little. They are completely different. And not in a “Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick play three generations in the same family” way. No, they are entirely different, especially in the sense that Michael Harris is a thin, slick white man, and Dennis Haysbert (later on TV’s “24”) is…not. So every mention—and there are many—of how strikingly similar the two men look is either calculated to generate a massive case of cognitive dissonance, or is an example of the most colorblind casting ever committed to film.
It’s very easy to look at this decision as an enormous joke. After all, directors McGehee and Siegel (who also penned the screenplay) demonstrate a quirky sense of humor, from placing a rich Phoenix businessman’s home inside what appears to be an abandoned bank building to scoring an attempted car-bomb-assassination to Tom Jones’ rendition of “Ring of Fire.” But any question as to whether this is a deliberate choice is erased by the dialogue that is used to describe Haysbert’s Clay: “Greco-Roman nose.” “Fine, straight hair.” This is the “Allstate” commercial guy we’re talking about. Haysbert is absolutely not the man the film says he is. So what does that mean?
One possible answer lies in McGehee and Siegel’s backgrounds as an academic and an artist, respectively. While the choice of a black actor to play a white man (coupled with stark black and white photography to reinforce the point) might seem to point to a discussion of race, they seem far more interested in exploring the nature of reality vs. representation. In her book “Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race,” Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks observes of Suture, “What we are confronted with is a screen that behaves like a Magritte canvas. ‘This is not a black man,’ it seems to say.” The filmmakers, she suggests, are actively denying that which we are seeing with our own eyes, in contrast to the manner in which cinema traditionally co-opts the audience’s willingness to accept the visual as truth. Is Dennis Haysbert as a Caucasian anymore absurd than a Transformer? McGehee and Siegel don’t think so, but they also know that, as moviegoers, we are far more willing to accept the latter.
As a metatextual analysis of the fungible nature of reality, Suture is a tremendous success. As a movie, it’s kind of sloppy. Not very much happens in the film. The plot itself is a straightforward play on the country mouse coming to the city. Mel Harris plays less a character than a collection of whatever character traits are needed in the moment: brilliant surgeon, then opera devotee, then skilled skeet shooter. A subplot about the police’s pursuit of Vincent feels more like padding than a suspense-building MacGuffin. More problematic, though, is the film’s outsized sense of self-importance. Characters frequently speak in a slow, affectless manner. They are surrounded by signifiers of their work. (The surgeon has walls of head X-rays, the psychiatrist decorates in mammoth Rorschach blots). Clay’s dreams are blatant symbols of a truth we already know, as if Gregory Peck’s hallucinations in Spellbound only came after Ingrid Bergman cracked the case. Perhaps most gallingly, the love interest is named, without a trace of irony (or payoff), Renée Descartes. The unheard soundtrack of Suture is crashing anvils.
What Suture has going for it, though, is staying power. Long after the film’s end, the scope of its oddity still bounces around in the brain pan. The film’s ending montage—the psychiatrist outlines in great detail how impossible it will be for Clay to ever find happiness in his new identity, while a slideshow clearly demonstrates Clay doing exactly that—is emblematic of the movie’s only goal: to watch the battle for dominance between what we know and what we see. Suture has one weird card to play, but it’s a doozy.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…an exceedingly smart and elegant American indie in an unusual vein. Part mystery thriller, part psychological investigation and part avant-garde experiment…”–Todd McCarthy, Variety (contemporaneous)
AKA Santa Fe Satan
DIRECTOR: Patrick McGoohan
FEATURING: Richie Havens, Lance LeGault, , Tony Joe White, Season Hubley, Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett
PLOT: An adaptation of “Othello,” set in the Santa Fe, NM area in the summer of 1967. Traveling preacher Othello (Richie Havens) comes across a remote commune in the desert and eventually settles there, becoming the defacto leader and falling in love with and marrying Desdemona. This does not sit well with Iago, who plans revenge on Othello, manipulating everyone around him, including his wife Emila.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Catch My Soul is definitely of an artifact of its time, and the merging of Shakespeare and gospel makes for a unique interpretation, but it’s a pretty straightforward presentation of the basic story.
COMMENTS: Catch My Soul was an intriguing moment in the careers of everyone involved. It was the only feature film directed by Patrick McGoohan, who’d proved himself earlier directing episodes of “Danger Man,” “Secret Agent” and “The Prisoner”; it featured the acting debuts of singers Richie Havens and Tony Joe White, as well as performances from cult favorites Susan Tyrell and Lance LeGault; and on top of all of that, the cameraman was Conrad Hall of “The Outer Limits,” In Cold Blood and Cool Hand Luke, among others. It was based on an acclaimed stage show and with that pedigree, it should have been a memorable addition to the genre of rock musicals. Instead, Catch My Soul barely opened at all—practically ignored by the public at large and garnering scathing reviews, the film disappeared from theaters only to reappear a year later under the title Santa Fe Satan, and was as successful under that title as it was under the original. The film then pretty much disappeared from view, never released on VHS and barely mentioned at all. McGoohan disowned Soul shortly before release and barely talked about it, except for one mention in a mid-90’s interview. For a long time the only available evidence of the film’s existence was the soundtrack LP, the most praised element of the film, which could be still be found in used vinyl bins even well into the 2000s. It was long thought to be a lost film, until the recent unearthing of a 35mm print in North Carolina and the subsequent discoveries of a 16mm print and the camera negative found in the bowels of 20th Century Fox studios.
Now that Soul has been rediscovered and can be seen with some 40 years of perspective, it seems that the initial reviews were too harsh and mean spirited. Far from being a hippie-themed train wreck, the film is an interesting curiosity showing how Shakespeare’s work is constantly adapted to reflect contemporary times. It’s especially fitting that McGoohan was the one to direct this, since he starred earlier as an Iago-inspired character in another musically-oriented Continue reading CAPSULE: CATCH MY SOUL (1974)
“There was nothing in his previous output—a respectable career that stretched back to the late 1940s—to prepare the viewer for this terrible outrage. Or perhaps, if you looked hard enough, there was. For the exotic and the erotic—and the downright weird—had always been part of Borowczyk’s cinematic universe.”–Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs, “Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies, 1956-1984”
DIRECTED BY: Walerian Borowczyk
FEATURING: Guy Tréjan, Lisbeth Hummel, Pierre Benedetti, Sirpa Lane
PLOT: Lucy, an impressionable young heiress, comes to France for an arranged marriage with Mathurin de l’Esperance, the socially awkward scion of an aristocratic family. The de l’Esperance family harbors many secrets, including the story of an ancestor from centuries ago who went missing and whose corset was discovered covered in claw marks. The first night she stays in the de l’Esperance chateau, Lucy has a erotic dream about a Victorian lady ravished in the forest by a beast.
- Walerian Borowczyk began his career making highly regarded surreal animated short films. He moved on to live action art house features like Goto, Island of Love (1969) and Blanche (1972), which were respectable and well-received.
- After 1972 Borowczyk’s career took a turn towards the explicitly erotic/pornographic when he began work on Immoral Tales, a portmanteau of erotic shorts based on literary sources or historical personages (Erzsebet Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia).
- The Beast was originally intended as a segment of Immoral Tales, but Borowczyk decided to expand it to feature length. The “original” Beast is the segment that now appears as Lucy’s dream. Screened as an 18-minute short entitled “La Véritable Histoire de la bête du Gévaudan,” it understandably caused quite a scandal at the 1973 London Film Festival.
- The Beast in Space (1980) was a totally unauthorized Italian “sequel” that also starred sex siren Sirpa Lane.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Beast‘s indelible image is too obscene to be mentioned in polite company. Being as circumspect and polite as possible, we’ll simply say that it has to do with the titular creature’s, ahem, “equipment.” Scrub your eyes though you may, you can’t unsee these things, so beware. If you can make it through the equine porn scene that opens the film, you should be fine. (Not surprisingly, most of The Beast‘s promotional material has focused on Sirpa Lane’s stunned face, framed by a powdered wig, as she gazes in shock at the same images that will be indelibly stained in your memory).
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Horse porn cold open; eternally spurting beast; clerical bestiality lecture
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Some movies are designed to be weird. Some movies become weird because of certain confluences of incompetencies. And then there are movies like The Beast—a nugget of explicit (if simulated) bestiality porn wrapped in a nuptial drawing room drama, made by a director on the cusp of art house stardom who seems intent on throwing it all away as dramatically as possible—that are weird simply because, if not for the evidence of your own eyes, you could not believe that they exist.
Re-release trailer for The Beast
COMMENTS: No one can accuse Walerian Borowcyzk of sandbagging. After a quote from Voltaire (“worried dreams are but a passing Continue reading 221. THE BEAST (1975)
“People have asked me if I realized how odd or strange the story was. Then and now, I never thought of it [that way]—as a slightly offbeat story, perhaps—but I’ve always thought of it as a normal story.”–George Barry, 2003 DVD introduction to Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
DIRECTED BY: George Barry
FEATURING: Rosa Luxemburg, William Russ (as Rusty Russ), Dave Marsh, voice of Patrick Spence-Thomas
PLOT: A ghost trapped in a chamber behind a painting relates the story of his companion, a bed who eats all those who lie on it. The bed was brought to life by a demon’s tears and is tied to the spirit that birthed it. Several young people stumble upon the bed and are consumed by it, until one girl arrives who, with the ghost’s help, has the power to defeat it.
- George Barry began shooting Death Bed in 1972, but did not complete the film until 1977.
- Death Bed was the only move credit for most of the cast and crew, including director Barry. One notable exception is William Russ (billed here as Rusty Russ), who went on to a long career as a character actor, with over 100 appearances in movies and TV shows.
- Barry tried to sell the completed film but could not find a distributor willing to shoulder the expense of blowing the film up from 16 millimeter to 32 millimeter. He gave up his attempts to find a distributor in the early 1980s and opened a bookstore instead. Then, while surfing a horror fan forum one night in the early 2000s, he discovered people discussing his forgotten film. Barry learned that an unscrupulous English company had screened the film and released an unlicensed VHS tape, which was then bootlegged and circulated by collectors. Discovering there was now some interest in Death Bed as a cult item, Barry was able to secure an actual official premiere and a DVD release in 2004, more than 25 years after the film had been completed.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: While shots of the bed’s digestive system in action are certainly tempting, the take home image involves the man whose hands are reduced to Halloween props after he unwisely digs into the hungry mattress.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Man behind the painting; Pepto Bismal in a bed’s belly; fleshless phalanges
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A horror movie where the antagonist is a bed would be strange enough. Death Bed, however, is even stranger; a mix of exploitation tropes, fairy tale poetry, black comedy gags, and arthouse pretensions, with deadpan amateur actors sleepwalking their way through a script that takes as many weird turns as that dyspeptic dream you had when you feel asleep after eating too much fried chicken and drinking too much red wine.
Clips from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
COMMENTS: began filming Eraserhead in California in Continue reading 213. DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS (1977)
DIRECTED BY: Amos Sefer
FEATURING: Asher Tzarfati, Lily Avidan, Tzila Karney, Shmuel Wolf
PLOT: Pursued across the globe by mysterious figures, an American Vietnam vet turned hippie goes to Israel and founds a small commune on an island.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a few very weird (and even more very stupid) moments in this earnestly bizarre Israeli/hippie artifact. But working against An American Hippie in Israel is the fact that the vast majority of the film is so damn boring. Frankly, this is the only movie I’ve ever seen where I could honestly say: it needed more mimes. It’s worth seeing once to mark off your bad-film bucket list, but it’s no forgotten treasure.
COMMENTS: It’s easy to see why film fans were desperate for An American Hippie in Israel to be a hit. So-bad-they’re-good films are rare treasures, providing an intoxication that competent films can’t replicate, but once you’ve seen the obvious classics––Plan 9 from Outer Space, Robot Monster, Troll II, The Room—pickings get slim. So when word gets out about a lost trash classic, hopes get high. And Hippie boasts a uniquely twisted take on its botched universe, including some “thoughtful”/”mind-blowing” revelations, flat amateur acting, ponderous Ed Wood quality dialogue (“you fools… stop pushing buttons… you fools!”), a balding Israeli hippie who doesn’t speak English and looks twenty years older than his companions, nonsensical scenes and plot twists (sharks!), and mimes with machine guns.
And yet, I don’t think Hippie is truly a lost cult classic, because its numerous delights are buried in a morass of slow, arid scenes of Israeli hippies being groovy. When our American arrives in Tel Aviv, he’s picked up by an incipient flower child who proceeds to take him home and make him coffee—in real time. There are lots of scenes of the characters driving through the desert in a convertible, grooving to folk songs, and doing the frug at a dance party (which is happily interrupted by mimes with machine guns). That’s right, I said mimes. Two silent white-faced characters, who symbolize (pick one) death/the Vietnam War/man’s inhumanity to man are tracking our globetrotting hippie across the globe. These marauding Marcel Marceaus, who appear without rhyme or reason, are a surreal intrusion into a movie that is otherwise a rather lame fable of youth in revolt.
The other really noteworthy section of the film is our hippie’s dream as he rides across the desert towards his island utopia. It’s a totally silent, totally slo-mo, totally symbolic montage that begins with lavender-tinted lashing and ends with our protagonist whacking a couple of cassette-tape-headed aliens (?) in three piece suits with a giant oversized novelty sledgehammer. Those fools won’t be pushing any more buttons after that bashing, you can be sure. Unfortunately, the film goes downhill from there, as the bohemian quartet make increasingly stupid choices, choosing to permanently locate to a desert island without scouting it first for food or water, or bothering to secure their precious inflatable raft when the land. Stranded on the island, they descend into savagery in a weekend, with the two male hippies quickly turning into territorial rapists. The downer ending is meant to demonstrate, we gather, that even hippies become monsters when their very survival is at stake, and that man’s darker nature is stronger than his idealism. What it really demonstrates, I think, is that stupidity is stronger than either, and that if you’re an American hippie trapped in a dumb script, you are truly doomed. What a bummer.
An American Hippie in Israel was made by one Amos Sefer, who never made another movie (his only other credit is a short which is included as a bonus on the Blu-ray). Unsurprisingly, the execrable Hippie never found distribution. Somehow, Grindhouse Releasing discovered a print of this oddity and made a trailer, which generated interest in the flick. Israelis tracked down prints and began showing the movie as an interactive midnight event, complete with commentators, folk singers (singing mocking new lyrics to the instrumentals) and performance artists, turning it into a homegrown Hebrew version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Grindhouse screened the film at American festivals and brought out a DVD in 2013.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“This weird inept movie was made by a former lifeguard with no training as a filmmaker… The film is so perplexing and maddening, that one can say without any trepidation that the filmmaker is a meshugener.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews (Blu-ray)
(This movie was nominated for review by Ryan Marshall. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
“Some argue that this kind of thing puts Ed Wood into the company of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.
Should we buy this argument? Pull the string!”–IMDB Glen or Glenda FAQ
DIRECTED BY: Ed Wood, Jr.
FEATURING: Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, Jr. (as Daniel Davis), Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell,
PLOT: A transvestite is found dead, a suicide. Seeking to understand more about this phenomenon, a police inspector visits a psychiatrist who explains transvestism to him using the example of Glen, a heterosexual man who is tormented by the question of whether he should reveal his passion for cross-dressing to his fiancée. Meanwhile, a sinister, omniscient “scientist” (played by Bela Lugosi) occasionally appears to cryptically comment on the action (“pull the string!”)
- Producer George Weiss wanted to make a film to exploit the then-current case of Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen), one of the first men to have successful sex-reassignment surgery. According to legend, Ed Wood convinced Weiss that he was the right man to direct the picture because he was a transvestite in his private life and understood gender confusion. The resulting film, shot in just four days, ended up being more about transvestism than sex-change surgery.
- Against Wood’s wishes, Weiss inserted bondage-themed imagery into the dream sequence to give the film a dash more sex.
- Wood himself plays the transvestite Glen (and Glenda) under the pseudonym Daniel Davis.
- In his own life, Wood did not take the advice he gave his character in Glen or Glenda to honestly discuss his desire to wear women’s clothes with his betrothed. Wood’s first wife had their marriage annulled in 1955, after Ed surprised her by wearing ladies’ undergarments to their honeymoon.
- This is the first of three collaborations between Wood and then down-on-his-luck and opiate-addicted Bela Lugosi. Three of Lugosi’s final four credits were Wood films.
- Some reviews of Glen or Glenda refer to Lugosi’s character as “the Spirit” rather than “the Scientist”; were there two separate sets of credits, each with a different name for the character?
- Wood’s 1963 novel “Killer in Drag” features a transvestite character named Glen whose alter-ego is named Glenda.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Such a wealth of possibilities! What about the hairy Satan who inexplicably shows up at Glen and Barbara’s dream wedding? And who can forget Bela Lugosi, yelling nonsense at the viewer while his angry face is superimposed over a herd of stampeding buffalo? The iconic image, however, is Wood’s intended emotional climax: in a ridiculously touching gesture of unconditional acceptance, Glen’s girlfriend Barbara strips off her angora sweater and hands it to the wide-eyed transvestite.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A narratively-knotted 1950s pro-transvestite pseudo-documentary, told in naively earnest rhetoric via a wandering structure that includes flashbacks inside of flashbacks, would have made for a worthwhile oddity in itself. But throw in Bela Lugosi as a one-man Greek chorus reciting fractured fairy tales, and include a fourteen-minute dream sequence mixing Freudian symbolism, bargain-basement Expressionism, bondage, and a guest appearance by the Devil and you achieve incomparable weirdness, the way only Ed Wood could serve it up—on a bed of angora.
Clip from Glen or Glenda
COMMENTS: Ed Wood had a secret, and it’s not just that he liked the feel of silk panties under his rough trousers. Transvestism, in a way, was the Continue reading 170. GLEN OR GLENDA (1953)
DIRECTED BY: F.X. Pope
FEATURING: Dorothy LeMay, Jennifer West, Andy Nichols
PLOT: Two scientists observe a woman’s erotic dreams.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As the first, and very nearly the only, movie to mix hardcore XXX action with dream logic, Nightdreams is a unique beast. As a curiosity piece it’s something to add to your bucket list, but once the novelty of surrealist porn wears off, Nightdreams is not really a great movie—and it’s worse erotica.
COMMENTS: There’s a reason plotted porn movies never took off. Narrative and intense titillation work against each other; each one is a distraction from the other. Even today, directors like Lars von Trier who toy with adding explicit sex to their movies make sure that actual acts of penetration and gynecological detail last only for a few seconds, to keep their stories from drifting into a fap-fest. Surrealism and porn don’t really go well together, either; the weird feeling inspired when a cigarette-smoking fish head pops up in bed next to a lovely lady throws cold water on those sexytime cravings. Written by a young “Hustler” copy writer named Jerry Stahl and that magazine’s “Creative Director” Stephen Sayadian (the two would continue their partnership on the XXX cult film Cafe Flesh and the softcore midnight movie Dr. Caligari), Nightdreams was made by smart people slumming in the gutter, anxious to do something erotically different a) to get themselves noticed and b) to keep from getting bored in the repetitive and formulaic world of porno. Of course, porn is repetitive and formulaic for a reason—its function is to expand viewers’ pants, not their intellectual horizons—so, while Nightdreams got some favorable notice in the scuzz press as some sort of prestige sleaze piece, it didn’t exactly found a subgenre of arthouse smut.
Nightdreams stars Dorothy LeMay as the woman whose sexual imagination is so outlandish it’s the subject of a research project by a pair of scientists in lab coats. Strawberry blond LeMay has a real-world, girl-next-door sexiness that’s refreshing compared to the plasticized glamor of today’s porn starlets, but, based on her line readings, an actress she is not. That’s okay, because she appears to enjoy the weird sex (so maybe she is a great actress, after all). Her fantasies involve sex with a Jack-in-the-box (accompanied by creepy anti-erotic laughter), a campfire threesome with two lithe cowgirls (while Wall of Voodoo sings a cool New Wave rendition of “Ring of Fire”), servicing a couple of hookah-smoking sheiks, meeting a man with a fetus in his pants, a pseudo-rape scene over a toilet, and rutting with the Devil in Hell, followed by a romantic coupling with an angelic stud in Paradise. The movie’s most memorable sequence, no doubt, is when Dorothy fellates a living rendition of a Cream of Wheat box while serenaded by a jazz version of “Old Man River.” Her head bobs back and forth to the music, and a piece of toast shows up to accompany the couple on sax. It’s an unusual sight, to say the least. Like most of Nightdreams‘ scenes, it’s too weird to be erotic, but too insistently porn-y to work as an art installation.
The Cream of Wheat scene is a trademark infringement that the Nabisco company would never condone, and I seriously doubt Johnny Cash would license the rights to “Ring of Fire” for a lesbian threesome scene, either. I suspect Nightdreams got away with these infringements because, in 1981, porn was still relatively taboo, and none of the copyright holders would admit to having seen the film.
The IMDB credits “F.X. Pope” as Nightdreams‘ director, and lists this as an alias for TV and music video director Francis Delia (who has no other porn connections). However, IMDB also lists “F.X. Pope” as one of Sayadian’s pseudonyms—I had always assumed Sayadian was the director because of the style, and also because he indisputably directed the sequel Nightdreams 2.
Others who worked on Nightdreams include Fast Steppin’ Freddie, Zoot Suit and Pez D. Spencer.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by “Andrew.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)