Tag Archives: Sexploitation

CAPSULE: APHRODISIAC! THE SEXUAL SECRET OF MARIJUANA (1971)

DIRECTED BY: Dennis Van Zak

FEATURING: John Holmes, Billy Curtis, and anonymous hippies

PLOT: A pro-pot documentary touting the aphrodisiacal properties of the titular herb, with brief

Still from Aphrodisiac!: The Sexual Secret of Marijuana (1971)

hardcore sex scenes to illustrate its key thesis.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s an absurd, exploitative historical oddity that’s worth noting, but it’s not nearly odd/hilarious enough to crack the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.

COMMENTS: Aphrodisiac! The Sexual Secret of Marijuana is an example of a type of film of enormous importance in the history of film censorship.  (Yeah, that’s why we wanted to check it out…)  In the years before Deep Throat (1972) beat the censors in court, would-be pornographers were trying to stay on the good side of the Roth obscenity test, which concluded that a work could discuss and arguably depict sex if it was not “utterly without socially redeeming importance” and so long as “the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole” did not “appeal to the prurient interest.”  A few sleaze sellers pounced on the documentary format as a promising way to provide “socially redeeming importance” while avoiding appealing “to the prurient interest” (at least, “as a whole”).  They released daring films with titles like Man & Wife: An Educational Film for Married Adults (1969), Pornography in Denmark (1970), and Sexual Liberty Now (1971) that included some hardcore sex scenes amidst the “serious” (i.e., seriously boring) discussion of social issues.  Aphrodisiac! falls into this brief tradition, but it’s extra-shameless in its willingness to meld sexploitation with drugsploitation while wrapping the whole thing in a semi-sincere wrapper of social relevance.  Aphrodisiac! bounces back and forth between documentary nuggets, obviously fake “man in the street” interviews, and graphic illustrations of cannabis’ connubial powers.  As a documentary the film is far from incisive, but really not as shoddy and misleading as you might have expected: prohibitionist Harry J. Anslinger’s central role in influencing public opinion against the “killer drug” is highlighted, as is New York City mayor Fiorella La Guardia’s much-ignored 1939 study concluding that marijuana posed little threat to public health.  We also learn (correctly) that George Washington grew Continue reading CAPSULE: APHRODISIAC! THE SEXUAL SECRET OF MARIJUANA (1971)

DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

This post was written in contemplation of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.

In 2008 documentarian Mark Hartley scored an unanticipated film festival hit with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, an examination of obscure Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s.  (Striking while the iron was hot, Hartley rolled out a spiritual sequel of sorts with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which braved the even more bizarre jungle of Filipino exploitation cinema).  2009 saw another surprise critical success in Best Worst Movie, the story of the disastrous making, and triumphant cult legacy, of the ultra-ridiculous vegetarian-goblin horror movie Troll II, which managed to score an astonishing 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.  Whatever the reason (maybe its the flowering of seeds planted by Quentin Tarantino), at this moment in time mainstream critics seem eager to recognize, examine, and even embrace the pleasures of schlock.  Since the last horror/exploitation doc cycle—the duo of The American Nightmare (2000) and Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001)—came about a decade ago, it appears the time is ripe for another down-home survey of the dark and shady sides of American cinema.

Still from Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)The thesis of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, the 2009 examination of the American horror film, is that particular social conditions and historical anxieties shape the nature of the shock genre from decade to decade.  Brian Yuzna asserts that the variety of disfigured, limbless freaks specialized in playing in the twenties were inspired by the horrors of World War I and the sights of returning veterans maimed by modern munitions.  The viewpoint that American horror is strictly linked to American angst breaks down fairly early Continue reading DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

BITCH SLAP (2009)

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DIRECTED BY: Rick Jacobson

FEATURING: Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, America Olivo

PLOT: Three chesty babes fight punk interlopers, each other, and the screenwriters’ over-infatuation with flashbacks while searching for a treasure in the desert.

Still from Bitch Slap (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s postmodern pretensions and post-Memento plotting show an ambition for the offbeat, but the producers ultimately understand that it’s cleavage shots and catfights that pay the bills. An absurdly overdeveloped plot, exaggerated B-movie archetypes, and crazy flashback set pieces staged before unconvincing but imaginative green screen vistas turn Bitch Slap a slightly weirder, but not weird enough, version of a late night cable jiggle-fest.

COMMENTS: A Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! homage made with a sub-Tarantino snarkiness, Bitch Slap plays fine if you go in with the right (i.e., low) expectations. The three actresses do well and tackle their roles with relish—Olivo is particularly memorable as Camaro, the pill-popping psycho—but the metaphysically threatening sexuality of a Tura Satana is missing from this batch of castrating Amazons. Great satire it is not, and at times too much winking self-awareness threatens to sink it, but in the end the correct spirit of silliness almost always  prevails. It’s one thing when a sleaze rock anthem starts playing and the camera goes slo-mo and split-screen while zooming  leeringly on the ladies’ sweaty bosoms and provocatively cocked hips as they shovel in the desert dressed in tank-tops or tattered evening gowns. It’s another level of goofiness altogether when the gals temporarily forget about the crime kingpin who’s hunting them down so that they can cool off by throwing jugs of ice water onto one another.

Back stories are revealed in frequent flashbacks, but these serve little function other than allowing the filmmakers to set up crazed green screen set-pieces.  There’s a magical realist scene where a sparkling angel-winged dancer takes stage as the strip club DJ improbably spins “Ave Maria,” a nunsploitation interlude, and a ridiculous shootout on the Las Vegas Strip (which plays even funnier when you realize that the characters, posed in front of scattered neon landmarks, must be firing their automatic weapons at each other from miles away with no possible lines of sight). Add into the mix a chick-fighting Japanese schoolgirl named Kinki wielding a flesh-rending yo-yo, and there’s enough craziness to keep weirdsploitation fans entertained.

In keeping with the post-feminist theme (a character conspicuously carries around a tome bearing the title “Slutty Bitches in Post-feminist America”), there’s no actual nudity from the leads. The bitch-goddess archetypes here keep their goodies conspicuously displayed on the shelf, but don’t give away free previews; their mammary charms are just bait. Men are of little use to them; the three prefer to make love (and war) with each other. The male cast are annoyances to be disposed with as quickly as possible, after they’ve been actually or symbolically castrated. This is empowering female iconography, though only to gorgeous lesbians with gigantic breasts. A major downside to the film is the fact that it goes on about twenty minutes too long; the spell the flick casts seeps away the longer it plays. This is the rare sexploitation case where drastically trimming down the lesbian love scenes and catfights would actually have helped the movie.

Another downer is the recycling of a well-known plot twist from a popular 1990s thriller; it’s not only embarrassingly obvious, but pointless, since twist endings aren’t really a feature of the genre they’re spoofing anyway. Still, if you can overlook those flaws, and the fact that the movie projects the sense that it believes it’s smarter than its Russ Meyer source material (it isn’t), you may find that Bitch Slap isn’t a total bust.

The director and producer previously worked on the syndicated television series “Hercules: The Legendary Adventures” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless and Rene O’Connor all show up in bit roles. Stunt coordinator Zoe Bell worked on “Xena” and also as a stunt double in Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..despite these (and other) glitches, there’s a grungy vigor to Bitch Slap at its very best moments…there’s also just enough carnage, cans, and plain old weirdness to keep the wheels spinning throughout. (Every time I started to get bored with the flick, it threw something new and weirder into the mix. In B-grade jiggle-action homages, that kind of stuff can go a long way.)”–Scott Weinberg, FEAR.net

4. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960)

Ein Toter hing im Netz, AKA A Corpse Hangs in the Web [literal translation], It’s Hot in Paradise, and others   

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Fritz Böttger

FEATURING: Alex D’Arcy,  , & buxom German exhibitionists

PLOT:  A plane carrying team of eight dancing girls, along with one male and one female manager, crash into the ocean en route to Singapore. There they find a cabin with the body of a man hanging in a giant spiderweb. The lone male is bitten by a spider and turns into a spider-human hybrid, who then briefly terrorizes the girls at a party to celebrate their impending rescue after two men row ashore.

BACKGROUND:

  • With some brief nudity included, this German/Yugoslavian co-production was originally released in the US as a sexploitation feature under the title It’s Hot in Paradise. After the nudity was clipped out, the movie was re-released under the present title and marketed as a horror film.
  • The movie was featured in the tenth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (show 1011).
  • Horrors of Spider Island is believed to be in the public domain.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The puppet-like evil spider, with it’s large, shiny, almost cute eyes and clawed hands.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Horrors of Spider Island takes place in an alternate universe that’s nothing like our own. The poor dubbing, including a mangled deep south accent, immediately takes us out of reality and makes suspension of disbelief impossible. The plot is thin as a wire, made to hang chauvinistic male fantasies on, and often seems to be improvised on the spur of the moment. Horrors of Spider Island already seems like a half-remembered bad dream, even as you’re still watching it.

4 minute clip from the film, including spider attack, courtesy of Something Weird video

COMMENTS: Horrors of Spider Island is a movie that falls into the “so-bad-it’s-weird” category. It’s quite obvious that the film was made with little Continue reading 4. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960)