Archive for February 18, 2012

Question : what kind of a movie features Uschi Digard, Rene Bond, and Marsha Jordan — and doesn’t have any of them, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, git nekkid?

If you answer is “a dull one,” or “one that doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing,” you’d be correct. You’d also be correct if you simply answered Swingers Massacre.

To be sure, director Ron Garcia’s 1975 subpar (at least on a purely aesthic level) exploitation effort, filmed back-to-back with Don Jones’ superior Abduction and featuring much of the same “talent” both in front of and behind the camera (be on the lookout for Jones regular Gary Kent as one of the swingin’ husbands in this one, for example — and I probably shouldn’t have put those quote marks around the word talent in the dismissive way I did given that Jones himself was the cinematographer on this one, with Garcia assuming those responsibilities on Abducted, and both are pretty good, and certainly well-respected, talents-minus-scare-quotes-to-imply-derision, with Garcia continuing to work as a cinematographer on mainstream prime-time network TV dramas like the new Hawaii Five-O to this day and Jones going on to direct much more fondly-remembered films than this one such as The Forest) is plodding, drawn out (105 minutes!), and hopelessly predictable — but don’t hold all that against it, because depending on your sensibilities, it’s also one of the downright sickest and most repugnant pieces of business you’ll ever come across, and for that alone, it’s certainly worth watching.

But first, a little plot background — and believe me when I say a little is all that’s needed. Charlie Tishman (Mikel Angel, here working under the impenetrably weird pseudonym of “Eastman Price,” and best known for his directorial work in the exploitation biz himself on such “roughie” softcore fare as The Psycho Lover) is an (apparently) successful criminal defense attorney in the Los Angeles area. He’s got money, status (the cops seems to actually like the guy, which isn’t a common thing when it comes to law enforcement and defense lawyers) and a loving-and-none-too-shabby-in-the-looks-department wife at home, Amy (Joyanne Mitchell, working pseudonymously here as well under the handle of “Jan Mitchell”). So of course he’s bored out of his mind. In between swigging down VO-and-7s (I counted him drinking at least a dozen of them over the course of the flick), he convinces the Mrs. that maybe trying out the local swingers scene isn’t such a bad idea and might jazz things up a bit as far as their love life goes. At first she’s reluctant, but after a few scenes of him doing nothing but prodding her on the subject, and a “love scene” that shows him getting on top of her and getting his rocks off in, I shit you not, exactly eight seconds, she finally agrees. You would too.

They hit a local night spot for the swingin’ set called, again I shit you not, Filthy McNasty’s (a bar that apparently even has its own theme song as the lame-ass band on stage there is playing a number called “Filthy McNasty”), meet up with some other local fun-loving couples (cue the appearances of Digard, Jordan, and Bond mentioned earlier — and again, I stress that while there is certainly a fair, though hardly copious,  amount of nudity in this flick, none of these three extremely-popular-at-the-the-time-and-all-damn-nice-looking ladies ever sheds her clothes in front of the camera — surely some kind of bizarre record, because I don’t think I’ve seen a single other film these women were in, either separately or together (and they often appeared in the same large-cast softcore productions in different scenes) where even one of them, much less all three, kept their assets concealed) and find themselves invited to a little private party at one of the couple’s homes. And that’s where the troubles begin.

That’s because the party is a big hit — but not for Charlie. Ya see, even though this whole swinging thing was his idea, once called upon to perform (geez, how’s that for putting things in the cleanest terminology possible), our guy Charlie’s junior member just can’t rise to the occasion. Amy, meanwhile, is the belle of the ball, getting down and dirty with all the guys and having, as she so demurely puts it afterwards, “a lovely time.” Soon, the other couples — guys and gals both! — are calling the Tishman home and asking for more and more of that good stuff Amy was serving up. At subsequent soirees, though, Charlie always has the same — uhhhmmm — issue : he just plain can’t get it up, while his wife is off having one “lovely time” after another.

So what’s a guy to do, I ask you? Charlie’s answer is a simple one — time to assume the role of impotent superman and kill all the guys who’ve fucked his wife. Again, even though this whole thing was his idea in the first place.

It all sounds like pretty standard stuff, doesn’t it? A mid-70s exploitation flick with an inherently anti-sex, pro-traditional-values message, in this case on the “evils” of wipe-swapping, disguised as a titillating softcore skin parade would certainly be nothing new, after all. But wait — didn’t I say this was one of the “most repugnant pieces of business you’re ever likely to see”? Why’s that? Do things get unexpectedly bloody when the killing starts or something? Nope, in fact the murders themselves are nothing particularly special or memorable (and thanks to Apprehensive Films’ recent DVD release of this film, the ones that occur at night can barely be seen at all due to the shitty, unremastered “quality” of their full-frame transfer that seriously must be a direct-from-VHS job — there are no extras on the disc to speak of apart from a few (quite hastily assembled, by the look of things) trailers for other Apprehensive titles) in the least. But the tone director Garcia takes here — well, dear readers, that’s another matter altogether, and that’s where this film really strikes sleazy gold.

From the moment Charlie can’t get his prick to pop up (for Marsha Jordan, no less), it’s pretty clear that Ron G. wants the audience to both empathize with, and frankly to assume, the limp-dicked lawyer’s point of view! In her very first tryst with another guy (on the floor, how’s that for classy?), we’re “treated” to the movie’s de facto theme song, a lazily oozing little number called “Who Knows What Goes On Inside Amy?” (the movie itself was also released under the title of Inside Amy, which at first sounds a lot less prurient and sensationalistic than Swingers Massacre until you take a moment to really consider how that moniker would sound to patrons of the still-hanging-on-for-dear-life-at-the-time softcore theatrical market — “Yeah, I’d like to get Inside Amy, too!”) , the lyrics for which tell her (and, by extension, us) that it’s Amy herself who’s headed down the road to ruin, that she’d better get home and start being a housewife again, that the nasty, filthy fantasies inside her head are going to tear her loving marriage apart — as if all this shit were her fault! Hell, once Charlie starts killing, he’s just doing what any normal, red-blooded American guy who’s wife has had a fair number of strangers’ pricks in her would do, right?

Weird as that may sound, especially given (and this is the last time I’ll bring this up, I promise!) that the whole idea of fucking around with other “good-time” couples was cooked up not “Inside Amy” but “Inside Charlie,” that’s exactly the editorial viewpoint that Garcia assumes with the rest of this flick.  It doesn’t take long for the cops investigating the case to realize the common thread that unites all the murder victims that have come their way in the last few days, and once they do it’s just a matter of doing a little more dot-connecting before the trail leads them right to the Tishman household, but this enitre time it’s pretty clear that the director’s sympathies lie with the killer, even when (stop right here if you don’t want the ending given away) Amy guns her husband down while he’s attacking her during the film’s climax (which is about as exciting as one of Charlie’s probably is to his wife given that the script telegraphs the fact that there are guns in the home via police radio a few minutes earlier) — she’s the one who wanted to step out on her old man, and he’s a martyr to her insatiable sexual desires. Or something like that. Who the hell wrote this script — Rick Santorum?

So what we’ve got here goes well beyond the simple anti-sex, puritanical messaging inherent in so many exploitation flicks that market themselves as being transgressive, footloose, and fancy-free. This crosses the line from being anti-pleasure into being straight-up, and muscularly, anti-women, in a way that even the most transparent slasher flick that kills all the girls who like sex while having the virgin save the day and be the sole survivor never could. You’d certainly never get away with anything this stridently patriarchal, not to mention openly afraid of female sexuality, today — which is probably for the best, I suppose. But seeing such retrograde attitudes displayed so openly and without pretense definitely makes Swingers Massacre an interesting viewing experience, even if it’s by no stretch of the imagaination, or definition of the term, a good one.

Get back in the kitchen, ladies — or it’ll all end in tears!

Let me know if the following setup sounds at all familiar to you —

Somewhere in deep space, Commander (of what we’re not exactly sure) Steve Krieger (the always-trying-too-hard-but-still-never-quite-understanding-that-he’s-just-not-leading-man-material Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer) is involved in a pointless shoot-out with a couple of other ships that won’t have anything to do with the rest of the story and is cribbed together from footage borrowed/swiped from an earlier production (in this case Battle Beyond The Stars). He and his robot buddy, Tinpan, survive the “ordeal,” but their craft is damaged in the process, so when they make an emergency landing in response to a distress signal issued from a top-secret scientific research lab on the isolated and remote planet of Phaebon, they’re pretty much gonna be stuck there until they can get the parts or whatever to get up and running and go “command” outer space again.

Once they’ve arrived at the lab, they find the assembled brainpower there is seeking a cure for the deadly Delta 5 virus that’s currently the scourge of the galaxy/universe (take your pick), but the eggheads start playing coy and insisting that everything’s under control and gosh they just didn’t really mean to send that distress signal after all. It’s not like they’re doing anything that could be potentially dangerous here, no sir — they just figured that they’d combat the virus by genetically engineering an even more destructive counter-virus (is that what they’re called? I honestly have no idea) and then maybe these two super-viruses can, I dunno, battle it out for viral supremacy or something. Basic logic might dictate to the average viewer at this point that any virus strong enough to kill another virus that’s already in the business of decimating the galactic (or, again, maybe it’s universal) population might pose not just a threat, but an even greater threat to us pesky humans than  the original Delta-5 bug itself, but hey, you’re thinking a little too hard there, friend.

In any case, that’s not really the problem here at all — the problem is that the new virus has mutated into an honest-to-goodness alien life form (hey, shit happens),and it’s escaped (rather forcefully, I might add) from one of the dumb suckers —- err, test subjects — it was implanted into, and now it’s changing its shape, growing in size, and stalking the humans at the base as its prey from its new home in the ventilation ducts.

Oh, and a few of the scientists are women who seem to have the hots for Krieger to one degree or another, and one is a youthful Bryan Cranston, who would of course go on to huge television success with Breaking Bad.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call a rip-off of a rip-off, folks, but this (admittedly snarky) synposis for first-time director Fred Gallo’s 1991 straight-to-video , Roger Corman-produced (okay, executive-produced — and to be perfectly fair, calling this film an SOV job isn’t technically accurate, as Corman still pulled together nominal theatrical runs (think one theater for one week in six or eight cities) for most of his Concorde releases, including this one, at this point — but he knew that home video was where the action was gonna be, so to speak, for this type of project, and put the whole thing together with an eye toward that market) shot-on- one-set, super-low-budgeter, Dead Space (no relation to the apparently-quite-popular video game or anime thing or whatever it is that came about quite a bit later) sure sounds a lot like another, admittedly much better, Corman production, namely Forbidden World, doesn’t it? And Forbidden World was pretty much just a straight cash-in attempt on the success of Alien. So what we’ve got here is, to put it kindly, pretty damn derivative in the extreme.

Of course, around these parts being derivative — hell, even being doubly-derivative — is hardly a cinematic crime. Some of my favorite films are obvious rip-off jobs. But let’s be honest — when you take Forbidden World and remove about 75% of the gore, 99% of the nudity, replace the hot women in the base with average-looking middle-aged ladies (no offense to any who may be reading this, I’m an average-looking middle-aged guy, after all), swap out Jesse Vint for Marc fucking Singer fer chrissakes!, and take the talented-and-inventive-on-a-budget Allan Holzman out from behind the camera and insert a kid right out of film school who you’re paying $7,000 (by Gallo’s own recollection, according to the commentary track on the DVD that we’ll get to in a second here — he also didn’t get to see the script until the morning they started shooting!) who’s just going with a strict “point-and-shoot” approach, the results are going to be both a)short (let’s not forget that Forbidden World itself was only 77 minutes long — this flick clocks in at a merciful 71) and b)anemic, because you’re taking out pretty much all the cool shit. The fact that the monster itself isn’t all that terrifically impressive doesn’t help matters much, either, given that this is supposed to be, ya know, a monster movie.

These days, with this production far in the past, Corman and company aren’t at all shy about admitting where this whole project originated from, although I still think the terminology they use is letting themselves off the hook a bit too easily — the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD from Shout! Factory that I caught this on (told you I’d get back to it in a second — it’s double-billed with another early-90s Corman DTV feature, the somewhat better The Terror Within, features the above-mentioned commentary with director Gallo that’s actually pretty interesting and some other Corman trailers as extras, and is presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound for serviceable if unspectacular visual and audio quality) even says right on the back-cover blurb that it’s “a loose remake of Forbidden World,” and I’ve seen it referenced on IMDB and elsewhere as “an uncredited remake of Forbidden World.”

Well, piss on that. I know it’s hardly the most rigidly-definable line to draw, but I’m sorry — there’s a big difference (although, frankly, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is — I just know it when I see it) between a “loose remake,” or even an “uncredited remake,” and Roger Corman saying “look, I’ve got this old script laying around, we can just tinker with it at the margins, re-shoot it with a different cast, put it out right on video under another title, and presto, we’ve got ourselves a whole new movie that won’t even cost us $100,000.”  I think calling it a “remake” of any sort is frankly being a little too generous — it’s more a recycling.

Look, the late 80s and early 90s probably weren’t the easiest time to be Roger Corman. The kind of stuff he cranked out was too cheap for then-contemporary theatrical audiences, but it was a little too expensive, for the most part, for the then-nascent straight-to-video market,  and Saturday night SyFy network movies were still well over a decade away. I’ll give the man credit for figuring out some angle, any angle, by which he could still survive financially in Hollywood. But when you’ve hit the point when you can’t even come up with a new idea for a blatant rip-off anymore and just start re-shooting scripts you’ve done previously and done better, then you’ve really hit rock bottom in the creativity department, not that creativity in anything apart from marketing was ever a Corman strong suit. In short, Roger should have to stuck to stealing other people’s ideas, rather than his own. Even if they weren’t his own to begin with. Does that make sense?