Posts Tagged ‘harry novak’

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What the hell, I’m in the mood to crank out one more review of a Harry Novak-produced softcore sexploitationer, so let’s close this little week-long series out with probably my favorite of the bunch — 1966’s black-and-white smutfest The Agony Of Love. What sets this one apart from the rest of its well-populated — and sadly extinct — genre? Two words : Pat Barrington.

For those who may not be familiar with the name, Ms. Barrington, who passed away in 2014, was a true standout of sultry sensuality at a time when, let’s face it, just about any woman who was willing to take off all her clothes in front of the camera could find work on these sorts of productions. This was her first crack at a “leading” role, and while she certainly displays no real acting range to speak of, that actually suits the material perfectly, given that her character, Barbara Thomas, is a bored and unsatisfied (both emotionally and sexually) well-to-do housewife who takes to renting out an apartment and prostituting herself behind the back of her cold and distant husband, Barton (played by Sam Taylor) in a fun, but ultimately fruitless,  quest for fulfillment.  Her unnamed shrink (James Brand, working under the name of R.A. Silverberg to disguise the fact that he throws on a hairpiece and portrays one of her clients later in the film) knows all about her supposedly lurid fantasies, of course, but apart from that her secret desires — most of which are pretty tame by today’s standards apart from a truly bizarre food-themed scene — are only shared with those willing to pay for her services, who are more than happy to indulge her at every turn. As they damn well should be. You’ve honestly gotta wonder who’s getting more out of the exchange — her or them?

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Given that this is a pretty early entry into the sexploitation canon, plenty of “rules” of the genre are broken, given that they hadn’t even been established yet. For one thing, rather than a guy getting it on with a lot of different ladies, this one’s about a lady getting it on with a lot of different guys. For another, no one seems to have informed director William Rotsler that all he needs to do is point the camera and shoot, and so we actually are treated to a fair number of interesting and highly effective shots.  And lastly and perhaps most importantly, The Agony Of Love is one of the far-too-few skin flicks that understands that a plot is more than some throwaway device cobbled together to have some sort of plausible explanation for why everyone is fucking all the time and can instead be utilized to make all those sex scenes matter to viewers for reasons other than just getting their rocks off. In fact, one could even argue that Ms. Barrington is given an honest-to-goodness “character arc” here and that said sex scenes further it along.

As mentioned already, emoting isn’t really one of our leading lady’s skills, but she sure can do the “blank stare” look just fine, and given her character’s mental and emotional state throughout, it’s pretty easy to read those listless expressions as purposeful “far away, empty gazes” even if they’re simply signs of either supreme uninvolvement or, more likely, just good old-fashioned inability. It’s not too terribly often that a genuine lack of skill plays to someone’s strengths, limited as they may be, but that’s definitely the case here.

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And yeah — it sure doesn’t hurt that our gal Pat is shapely in the extreme, either. She’d later go on to appear in a number of roles more, shall we say, tailored towards her specific physical endowments, such as when she popped up (and popped her shirt off) in Russ Meyer’s Mondo Topless, but it’s to Rotsler’s credit that he treats her as more than just admittedly quite delicious eye candy here and trusts her enough to actually carry a picture while providing her with a script, which he also wrote, that puts her in a position to do precisely that.

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So, now that I’ve hopefully convinced you that The Agony Of Love is actually worth seeing, where can you find it? Why, on DVD from Something Weird Video, of course, who saw fit to pair it on a double-bill with the far-more-lackluster The Girl With The Hungry Eyes. Both films are presented, as you’d expect, full frame and with mono sound, and both actually look quite good. Extras are, primarily, the usual smorgasbord of Novak-related stills, promo art, and trailers, and there are a couple of thematically-and chronologically-relevant, but by and large dull, short loops included, as well. Probably only worth buying for the sake of the main feature, but hey — that alone definitely justifies the price of admission.

 

 

 

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way first here — that’s a pretty crappy scan for the poster of 1971’s Below The Belt, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s also the one and only image I could find of it anywhere online, so we’re sort of stuck with it — and that’s kind of a shame given that, as far as Harry Novak softcore productions go, this one actually isn’t too bad.

Novak and writer/director Bethel Buckalew have traded in the barnyards and swamps of hick country for the mean. gritty streets of the (unnamed) big city in this one, and venturing out of their usual “comfort zone” injects the proceedings here with a frisson of realism that most of their collaborations fail to achieve (not that they’re really trying). Sure, it would still be a heck of a reach to claim that this is anything like a good movie, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a successful one in terms of doing what it sets out to do — even if all it “sets out to do” is show a lot of simulated sex scenes.

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For those concerned with a recap of the threadbare plot, here it is : dimwit prizefighter Sammy (played by John Tull, who “starred” in too many flicks of this nature to count) is saddled with a sleazy manager named Johnny (Steven Hodge) who’s in deep trouble with local mobster Louie (Fred Finkleloffe), which is a bad thing because Louie’s the kind of guy who doesn’t really appreciate deadbeats who don’t pay up, and he has the muscle working for him to do something about it. What’s a shady promoter to do? Why, use his charge to get him out of hot water, of course!

Johnny has to keep his fighter focused on his training regimen if he’s going to ride him to a big payday, though, and in order to do that he has to make sure that all of the big galoot’s needs are met — and so while trainer Benny (the always-awesome George “Buck” Flower) works him during daytime hours, leggy hooker Lisa (Mirka Madnadraszky — billed here simply as “Mirka”) is hired to keep him busy at night. Johnny’s definitely not a one-woman kind of guy, though, so look for him to stalk, subdue, and not exactly rape, since she eventually consents, Rene Bond (playing another hooker who’s never given a name), and to have long, slow (but, fortunately, in no way dull) poolside sex with the amazingly-endowed Uschi Digard (whose character is purportedly named “Denise,” although I don’t recall hearing her called that — or anything — in the film), as well. There’s some pseudo lesbian love-making thrown into the mix for good measure, as well, so hey — that’s always a plus.

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In fairness, this flick suffers from the same setbacks that pretty much all of these things do — cheesy theme song, repetitious music during the sex scenes, dull camera work more concerned with obscuring any actual penetration that may or may not be occurring than it is with actually making the copulation look interesting, and cheap studio and location sets, to name just a few obvious shortcomings — but in its favor, it has well-above-average performances from Hodge, Finkleloffe, and Flower, a decidedly unexpected but perfectly logical downbeat ending, and best of all Bond and Digard eating up plenty of screentime and doing what they do best.

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So yeah, what the hell — Below The Belt is definitely worth a look, and look at it you certainly can thanks to (need I even say it?) Something Weird Video, who released it on DVD some years back paired with another Novak sexploitationer, The Godson (which, if memory serves me correctly, I reviewed on this site a few years ago). Both films have been remastered to look as good as they possibly can and are presented full-frame with mono sound. Extras include the standard collection of Novak trailers and promo art, plus a couple of generally pretty decent, if quite grainy, Uschi solo loops (one of which is hidden as an “Easter egg”), which makes perfectly good sense given that she features, to one degree or another, in both films. Worth a buy if you’re a fan of these sorts of movies and can still manage to find it at anything like a semi-reasonable price.

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Voluptuous farmer’s daughter Moonbeam (played by Terry Gibson) has what passes for a “problem” in backwoods country in 1972 — she’s all of 19 years old and still unmarried. Needless to say her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Swyner  (Bruce Kimball, working under the pseudonym of “Buck Wayne,” and Gina Paluzzi, respectively) are worried about this situation to no end, but what they don’t know is that their darling not-so-little girl is getting it on with every single swinging dick the countryside has to offer, including those between the legs of local yokel stud Jasper (John Keith — who makes time with every chick in the movie), another dimwit named Wyngate (Paul Stanley —  don’t get excited Kiss fans, not that one), and even, when she drifts off to dreamland, an imaginary handsome prince (Nick Armmans) who used to be not a frog, but her prize porker, Lord Hamilton.

Running concurrently with all this in The Pigkeeper’s Daughter (which is, if you hadn’t sussed it out already, a Harry Novak production) is a secondary “plot” involving a nameless traveling salesman (Peter James) who arrives in hick country thinking he’s going to pull one over on all the locals (to the point where he even sings about it), but ends up consistently getting the wool yanked down over his eyes by every lusty  Daisy Duke-wannabe he encounters, his string of less-than-conquests beginning with a supposedly 15-year-old hitch-hiker (an uncredited Tina Smith, who’s way too — uhhhmmm — developed to fool anyone into believing that she’s really that young), and continuing on to include the likes of Moonbeam’s virgin-until-about-20-minutes-ago cousin, Patty (Peggy Church, trying to hide behind the name “Patty Smith”) and even Mrs. Swyner herself, who screws her way into a free perfume payday.

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There’s no point kidding ourselves — director Bethel Buckalew (who lensed a fair number of Novak’s softcore sleaze-fests, both rural and otherwise) isn’t offering anything up here beyond standard-issue sexploitation, and The Pigkeeper’s Daughter may even, believe it or not, have less of an actual “story” going on than most of its contemporaries, but one thing that does stand out here is what a fair approximation of the Russ Meyer formula we’re treated to , with the women (even the decidedly less attractive ones, like Paluzzi) all being of the decidedly curvy (and natural!) variety, while the men are invariably inbred dumbfucks who blindly follow their cocks into almost any obviously-stupid situation just for the promise of free and easy country pussy.

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Poor Monnbeam’s marital situation is never exactly resolved, it’s true, but that doesn’t matter so much because by about ten minutes into our roughly 90-minute (which is, frankly, way too long) runtime here, it’s crystal clear that the “script” only exists as a device for stringing the sex scenes together — and to be honest, this one gets pretty down and dirty and I wouldn’t doubt for a second that the actors were really going at it much of the time, with the camera positioned in just such a way at just the right times to obscure any actual penetration.

If that’s enough to keep your attention glued to the screen, then congratulations, you’re in for a good time, even if you have to look at a lot of hairy, pale male flesh along the way. If you’re in the mood for something that at least pretends to have aspirations of being an actual movie, though — well, you’re better off looking just about anywhere else.

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For anyone inclined to give The Pigkeeper’s Daughter a shot (or should that be a poke?), it’s available on DVD from — do I even need to say it? — Something Weird Video, where it’s paired with the genuinely bizarre (and previously-reviewed-around-these-parts) Sassy Sue. Both of these nominally-remastered flicks are presented full frame with mono sound and extras include the usual bevy of thematically-related Novak trailers, promo art, shorts, and what have you. It’s actually a pretty darn solid double-bill if you’re a fan of these sorts of horny hillbilly shenanigans, but anybody and even everybody else can safely skip it.

 

 

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When a couple of big-city musicians head out to the sticks to play a country music gig at a backwater honky-tonk, any number of things could happen, I suppose — but if they’re doing it in 1974, one thing that was almost ubiquitous along the two-lane roads (paved or otherwise) of our always-lusty country were sexy female hitch-hikers.

Unless, ya know, TV and movies have been lying to me all these years. Which is, I suppose, distinctly possible.

Still, County Hooker being a Harry Novak production and all, veracity is of little concern to the proceedings, and so our ostensible “heroes,” Dave (played by Rick Lutze) and Billy (John Paul Jones — no, Zeppelin fans, not that one) do indeed come across a pair of comely young farmer’s daughters named Sue (Rene Bond, in an early, pre-breast implants performance) and Jan (Sandy Dempsey) with their thumbs out, offer the ladies a ride, and find themselves “paid back” for their troubles in the way that men always are by grateful and/or desperate women in flicks of this sort.

When all that good backwoods fuckin’ is done, though, our quartet quickly finds that they’ve got big  problems on their hands —

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The ladies haven’t been entirely honest with the gents, you see, and not only do they work at the very same banjo-twangin’ joynt the fellas are headed to, the throaty singer, Mike (Louis Ojena) who makes his regular home on the stage there is also a bad-ass hayseed pimp, and the waitresses — including Sue and Jan (and be on the lookout for softcore stalwart Maria Arnold) — all work for him off the clock. Sue’s committed the ultimate infraction in the “pleasure business,” though, by immediately falling head over heels for Dave, but if she thinks she’s gonna get out of her — ahem! — indentured servitude and go live the life of a musician’s main squeeze, she’s got another thing coming, because nobody breaks out of Mike’s lecherous clutches without a fight.

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For about 75% of its roughly 75-minute runtime, Country Hooker plays out more or less exactly as you’d expect, with only the most threadbare of “plots” on hand to string together a fair number of distinctly unimaginative, “point-and-shoot” softcore sex scenes, but towards the end director Lew Guinn and whoever wrote the (I’m guessing) six-or eight-page screenplay decide to throw some tragedy into the mix, and tragedy of a decidedly brutal nature at that, and so one of our leading ladies — I won’t say which — meets her end at the hands of her boss in a genuinely stomach-churning (and unconscionably lengthy) rape-and-murder scene that could give even I Spit On Your Grave a run for its money.

Can you say incongruous? Sure you can, even if you were educated in a one-room country schoolhouse. And that, with apologies to Pee-Wee Herman, is our word for the day around here. Most of what’s on offer here is bog-standard rolling in the hay, with a selection of half-assed wisecracks and badly-dubbed country music to break up the monotony (not that watching Rene Bond faux-screwing is every truly dull), and it’s obvious that no one from Novak on down is taking things very seriously because there’s absolutely no reason to. And then, pretty much out of nowhere, things take a turn for the way darker, way bleaker, and way deadlier. Frankly, the whole tone of the film is shot right to hell and I honestly have to wonder how drive-in and jack-shack inner city grindhouse audiences reacted at the time, because it’s a serious mood-wrecker.

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Still, if a woody-killer is what you’re in the mood for, Country Hooker is available on DVD from (who else?) Something Weird Video where it’s paired with another Novak barnyard romp, Sweet Georgia, Both are presented full-frame with mono sound and extras are the usual SWV collection of thematically-related loops and promo materials. I’ll say this much for this movie — it’s certainly memorable, even if for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

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If you buy the 1971 copyright credit on legendary exploitation producer Harry Novak’s The Godson — and I guess there’s really no reason not to — then that means only one thing : they got this sleazy softcore number “in the can,” so to speak, in a hurry. A quick nudie cash-in on Coppola’s mob masterpiece was a given, of course, but the fact that writer/director William Rostler (who, interestingly enough, went on to a career in children’s television) was able to crank this out for Novak later during the very same year that The Godfather was released — in fact, you can rest assured Francis Ford’s opus was still playing when this one hit The Deuce and various grindhouse and drive-in screens across the country — is a fairly impressive feat, in my view. Not that my standards for what constitutes being “impressive” are all that high, mind you, but whatever.

And speaking of being impressive, a lot of the nubile female flesh on display here is precisely that. The poster for this flick proclaims their main girl, Lois Mitchell, to be “the most exciting new discovery of the decade” (keep in mind the decade was rather young), and while that might be a little bit much, she’s certainly easy on the eyes, particularly in the opening credits sequence that’s lifted more directly from the James Bond series than it is any mob movie. Sexploitation starlets Uschi Digard — who, sadly, only appears in one scene, but at least it’s a memorable one — Maria Arnold, June Allyson, and the one-time Mrs. Richard Pryor herself, Deborah McGuire (who also turned up briefly in Russ Meyer’s Supervixens , so Uschi’s  not the only “R.M. girl” to be ogled here) clock in for duty as well, so hey, there’s not a whole lot to complain about in the simulated-bumping-and-grinding department.

Unless you count that the fact that so much of it is decidedly strange, even by pre-Deep Throat standards, when you had to get inventive to get noticed because you couldn’t legally go “all the way” yet . Seriously, it’s no huge wonder that “discovery of the decade” Mitchell only went on to appear in one more film in her short career (and in a bit part, no less), given the confusing entry into the business she endured here. She shows a fair amount of gung-ho phony enthusiasm for the more “hands-on” aspects of her work, but Rostler can’t decide if he wants to make a hard-hitting misogynistic mob movie or a Benny Hill-style romp, and the end result is softcore with a decidedly split personality .  Still, that gives it a leg up over its mostly-dull competition in my view, and   trust me when I say that the keen eye will be rewarded by paying close attention to one scene in particular that Rostler offers up here. More on that in a minute, though — first we’ve gotta talk plot.

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Calling the story in this one “paper thin” is probably being a little generous, but that’s true for any early-’70s softcore effort, isn’t it? Marco (Jason Yukon) is the godson of a feared mob boss who’s determined to make his own mark in the underworld and break out from the long shadow cast by his benefactor (who, of course, he resents the hell out of) . To that end,  he double-crosses his Don by turning the previously-failing local brothel into a rip-roaring success, but his business acumen angers the wrong folks and proves to the key to his eventual downfall. Whoops, sorry for giving away the ending — suffice to say he’s not the only one who dies, though.

In between all this middling quasi-drama the girls he employs are put through a heck of a workout, and by and large seem to be having fun. Hicksploitation stalwart John Tull turns up to get his willie wet, and I vaguely recognize some of the other guys in this one as well, but the most recognizable face appears only briefly and  is obscured by two naked women positioned on his lap — none other than legendary science fiction scribe Harlan Ellison is the lucky fella in question, in a scene that sees our ladies performing an “outcall service” in the writer’s actual (as in real life) home. Yes, friends, this is most definitely the only (nominal) mob flick that depicts a post-sci fi convention geek orgy, guaranteed!

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The Godson is probably worth a watch for that fact alone, but a little more Uschi would have been welcome (I suppose you can say that about any film, though), especially since even though, as I mentioned, the other ladies all seem plenty hot to trot, she still puts ’em all to shame with her boundless bouncing and eager carnal euphoria. I have no idea if she’s anything like to always-ready-to-ride nympho she plays in every single one of her flicks, but ya know, it warms my heart to think that she might be.

Still, in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear already, The Godson is, at the very least, a decidedly different kind of sexploitation picture. Sure, it’s uneven, and frankly pretty amateurish in many places, but it’s at least never (well, never might be a reach — will you settle for almost never?) dull. I don’t really know if Rostler had a very clear idea of what he was doing here, but watching him try (and, sure, sometimes fail) to figure it out while a bunch of good-looking naked women writhe and gyrate isn’t the worst way to spend 92 minutes of your life.

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For those of you sufficiently intrigued to feast your eyes on this curiosity for  yourself, it’s available on a double-bill DVD from (of course) Something Weird Video, where’s it’s paired with the decidedly darker and more somber Below The Belt (which features a lot more of  Uschi, yay!). It’s presented in a reasonably good-looking full frame print with fairly solid mono sound, and the disc includes a veritable shitload of extras including a feature-length commentary track with Harry Novak and assorted co-conspirators, two short Uschi nudie loops including one where she meets Dracula, a generous sampling of trailers for other Novak sexploitationers,  and that “gallery of exploitation advertising art and stills” that’s ubiquitous on all of these SWV “special edition” discs they put out through Image Entertainment.  All in all it’s a heck of a nice package — and it definitely doesn’t hurt  that the main feature itself is a fair bit more interesting than most similar fare produced at the time.

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Remember what I said the other day about being done with hicksploitation for the time being? I lied.

I didn’t mean to, honest, but earlier today I was a little bored and gave 1971’s Midnight Plowboy (also released under the not-quite-alternate-per-se title of Midnite Plowboy) a go, and ya know what? By the end of it I was still bored. Maybe even more bored than I was before.

The title of this outing that unites the “talents” of producer Harry Novak, director Bethel Buckalew (once again credited only by his surname here) and star John Tull for the first (I’m assuming) time is clever enough, I suppose, given that Midnight Cowboy had just won the Oscar for best picture a couple of years previously and a number of prints of that soon-to-be-regarded-as-a-classic were still playing drive-ins all over the country, but honestly, the “humor” quotient in this one never really rises above the “so obvious you just have to groan” level — which is okay for 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes, but it’s not enough to carry an entire 84-minute feature, especially when the only thing punctuating it is bog-standard softcore sex that’s even duller than your grand-dad’s old pocket knife.

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Here’s the rundown : dumbfuck inbred hick Junior (Tull, who sure seems to gravitate toward characters with that name) decides to give it a go in Hollywood when the ladies in his po-dunk Alabama (I think, at any rate) town prove unwilling, and within minutes of hitting Tinseltown he’s getting it on in the backseat of a car with some blonde “free love” type while her hubby watches. Then he finds his way to a brothel run by a madame named — errr — Madame (played by Nan Cee — get it? Sure you do) where, despite being flat broke and smelling, no doubt, like a barnyard, he beds every single chick in the joint before being hired on as their chauffeur. Not of a limo, mind you — but of a van, given that the girls seem to work in a pack every night.

The usual inept sexual hijinks ensue — lots of anatomically impossible positions, little to no exposed male genitalia but plenty of boobs ‘n butts n’ bush , you know the drill (no pun intended — I promise) — and along the way Junior actually falls for one of the working girls (who’s portrayed by Debbie Osborne, the only chick in the flick I actually recognized) before — well, shit, that’s about it. The movie doesn’t even “end” so much as it just stops.

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Unfortunately, it probably should have stopped a lot sooner because, while the cast, to their credit, do seem to be having a fun, high-spirited time, that never translates over to the audience very much. I’m glad they all enjoyed gettin’ nekkid together, it’s just a shame that they didn’t give us any reason to enjoy watching them.

Ah well, the Novak/Buckalew/Tull triumvirate would end up following the old “practice makes perfect” adage and do a much better job of things just two short years later with Sassy Sue.

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If you feel compelled to blow off my advice, though, Midnight Plowboy is available doubled-up with another “hit” from the Novak-Buckalew creativity juggernaut, the equally dire Country Cuzzins, on DVD from Something Weird Video. Both are presented full-frame with mono sound,  the prints look reasonably good (or good enough, at any rate), and you can make out all the dialogue and canned grunting and groaning just fine. Extras are the usual smorgasbord of backwoods-lovin’-related shorts, trailers, etc. In other words, nothing too special — and maybe enough to really get me off hickspoitation once and for all. Or at least until the next time I’m bored again.

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I guess it’s pretty obvious if you’re a reg’lar ’round these here parts that yours truly has been on something of a hicksploitation kick lately, and since I never seem to know when to quit, last night I gave ultra-sleazy 1973 Harry Novak production Sassy Sue a whirl, and ya know what? I think I might just have had my fill of this extinct subgenre for awhile.

It’s not that this softcore effort directed by old skin pro Bethel Buckalew (here credited only by his last name for some reason) is all that bad, per se — it’s just that it’s hard to imagine anything sleazier or more tasteless, so I might as well quit while I’m ahead — and by “ahead” I mean, of course, at the absolute bottom of the barrel.

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To the extent that this flick can be said to have a “plot,” then,  here it is : somewhere way below the Mason-Dixon line, farmer/moonshiner Pa Willard (Patrick Wright) is worried that his dim-witted, most-likely-inbred son, Junior (John Tull) is a little too interested in the livestock — particularly Sassy Sue, one of the family cows — than he is the nubile young ladies running around the countryside in their Daisy Duke shorts (when they bother to wear anything at all, that is), and so he arranges for a bevy of hot n’  horny young honeys to come on by the homestead and give seducing his boy a go.

Pa gets it on with some of the gals, and so does Junior (thankfully), but that gol’ durn dimwit just can’t seem to keep his mind off the cow for very long —

So, yeah, the bestiality theme certainly adds an extra layer of unwholesomeness to this turgid cinematic cesspool, but beyond that the one other thing that seems to set Sassy Sue apart from its other county cuzzins is the fact that, tedious and repetitive as things get (and let’s face it, in these early ’70s nudie films that’s entirely par for the course),  the various (no doubt under-paid) actors and actresses all seem to be visibly having fun with this admittedly idiotic material. In fact, the only person who seems bored by it all is Buckalew, who never gets beyond your basic “point and shoot” approach — although, in fairness to him, it’s not like the material requires anything more than that. So the “what the fuck do you expect?” factor definitely comes into play here.

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As for the flesh on display, a veritable “who’s who” of sexploitation starlets bare it all for the camera here, most notable among them being the semi-legendary Sharon Kelly (or, as she’s better known in this day and age, Colleen Brennan), who’s joined by the likes of Tallie Cochrane, Sandy Carey, Karen Cooknell, and Jeanne Durham, to drop just a few names that fans of this brand of “entertainment” will most likely recognize. Sure, Rene Bond and/or Uschi Digard seem notable by their absence, but apart from them, it seems the gang’s all here, and they really do seem to be enjoying their various and sundry rolls in the hay — even if the guys have a habit of leaving their overalls on.

Or, heck, maybe because the guys have a habit of leaving their overalls on.

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Sassy Sue is available on DVD from Something Weird Video (who else?), where it’s paired with another Novak-produced backwoods boobs n’ butts number, The Pigkeeper’s Daughter. The full frame transfers and mono sound  on both movies are pretty darn nice all things considered, and extras are of the usual “assorted shorts and trailers that are of a piece with the main features” variety. Nothing too terribly remarkable, but it all works,  and even though at 84 minutes this one could stand to lose a good 10 to 15 to  help maintain audience interest a bit more, all in all it’s a reasonably entertaining piece of entirely predictable monkey (or , I guess, cow) business.

"The Black Connection" Movie Poster

Grimy.

If I had to sum up the 1974 Harry Novak-produced blaxploitation crime thriller “The Black Connection” in one word, that would be it. This movie is just plain grimy.

But there’s more to it than that, of course. From start to finish, this flick exudes an oppressive air of impending doom even at its most lighthearted (relatively speaking) moments. It’s beyond redemption from the get-go, and it’s taking you down with it.

I guess we might as well deal with its notorious alternate title right off the mark : as you can plainly see from the poster shown above, this film was also marketed under the title “Run Nigger Run,” which is offensive, to be sure, but in its defense — flimsy as that defense may be — this wasn’t the only 1970s-era film marketed to a black audience with the unfortunate “N word” in its title. “Boss Nigger” and “The Legend of Nigger Charlie” spring immediately to mind. So while I’m certainly not in any way, shape, or form condoning the use of said racial slur, it was a product of its time, and the times weren’t pretty.

And with that out of the way, we may as well take a look at the story itself, which, to be perfectly honest, takes a hell of a long time to get going. The first quarter (at least) of the movie features a lot of stock mobster-type characters coming and going, only some of whom really have anything to do with the actual thrust of the narrative itself. If you’re looking for a good example of plot discipline, look elsewhere.

Once things do get going, however, the story is a rather involving little crime yarn. John Harrison, a.k.a. The Graveyard Tramp, has described it as being a fusion of “Across 110th Street” and (the original) “Get Carter,” and that’s essentially an accurate summation.

Las Vegas hood Miles Carter (the wooden and uncharismatic Bobby Stevens — but we won’t hold that against him, all the acting in this flick is atrocious) is in it deep with the Italian mob over a hefty amount of missing cocaine. Hes’ tried every legit angle to get the money they want before they whack him, but when even his bank manager turns him down for an extension on the loan he owes them, he knows he’s going to have to resort to — ummm — less conventional methods of settling his scores with both the mob and the bank.

Carter’s girlfriend, Magda (Martha Washington) isn’t too keen on whatever course of action her man is taking, the white junkie chick he keeps on the side is jonesing for a fix, and his aforementioned bank manager has hired a notorious hitman named “Fats” Miller to take Carter out over the not-so-small-matter of his debt. All in all, our guy Carter looks like he’s fucked, and Vegas is getting to be a pretty hot place for him.

Then a chance encounter with Juanita, the widow of a former rival known only as “The Cuban,” offers a timely possibility — she can help him get his hands on a large quantity of premium-grade heroin, all they need to do is get down to Albuquerque to secure the smack. Carter has bigger plans, though — plans that involve setting up one last big deal to unload the heroin and then get the hell down to Mexico with Magda, leaving both his bank and the Mafia holding the bag. All is he has to do is stay alive long enough to get the smack, get it sold, and get across the border. With “Fats” hot on his trail, though, that easier said than done —

There’s nothing flashy or stylish about “The Black Connection,” to say the least. It was shot on the ultra-cheap and looks it. What’s even more important, though, is that it feels as cheap as it looks. The opening credits are simple title cards. The music, by an outfit you’ve never heard of before or since called The Checkmates, Ltd. is groovy enough, but definitely sub-standard soul fare. The acting, as mentioned earlier, is almost disconcertingly bland and straightforward. The  Las Vegas  and New Mexico locations are cool (as one commenter on the IMDB remarked, one of the most fun things to do when watching this film is to play “name the imploded hotel” in the scenes shot along the Vegas strip), but shot with no pretense toward giving them anything like a panoramic or even involving presentation by director Michael J. Finn ( by the way, this remains, understandably, his only directing credit). To refer once again to The Graveyard Tramp’s review of the film (featured on the back of the case for the DVD-R release of this movie from Something Weird Video) : “the film looks and even feels like one of those ugly, dirty XXX featurettes from the early 1970s which, much like a car wreck, you can’t help but be fascinated by.” I can’t put it much better than that, so I won’t even try.

As I mentioned in the previous review for “Massacre Mafia Style,” this movie makes a great double-bill with that Duke Mitchell classic. They each present a different side to a 1970s blacks-vs.-Italians crime story, both are dirty-ass cheap, and each offers a unique atmosphere all its own, with “Massacre Mafia Style” centered around, and anchored by, Mitchell’s charismatically unhinged performance and the possibility of positively anarchic violence thretening to erupt at any moment, and “The Black Connection” positively reeking of  the kind of malevolent and oppressive sleaze that only the lowest of budgets can convey with any sense of authenticity. Watch them back to back and have yourself one heck of a fun night scraping the absolute bottom of the exploitation movie barrel.

“The Black Connection” is available from several online DVD-R dealers, but your host recommends the previously-mentioned Something Weird release. It’s a direct-from- VHS transfer struck from a ratherage-worn (but perfectly watchable) 35mm print, but seeing this thing remastered with a crisper, clearer picture would seriously defeat the whole purpose. In addition, the SWV release also includes the original theatrical trailer at the end, and given that they’re the licensed purveyors of the entire Harry Novak back catalogue, that makes this as close to an “official” DVD release as this movie is ever going to get — or, for that matter, should get. And that’s the beauty of it.

"Hitch Hike To Hell" Title Sequece

"Hitch Hike To Hell" Title Sequence

Sure, there are the films we all know about that are famous—or infamous—for obliterating the boundaries of taste and decency and going where even the most jaded audiences didn’t think they really would. The late sixties to early eighties offered a veritable smorgasbord of such movies to choose from, and while we as a society have purportedly become more sophisticated and less prone to good old-fashioned shock, the fact remains that to the average modern viewer, taboo-smashers like “Cannibal Holocaust,” “I Spit On Your Grave,” “The Last House On The Left” and “Bloodsucking Freaks,” to name just a few, still haven’t lost any of their visceral power and on first viewing can still quite literally knock you flat on your ass even though we’ve been inundated with sadistic torture porn-lite of the “Saw”  variety for years now.

Most of the films that are considered to be the “most shocking” ever made are the stuff of semi-whispered legend (okay, until the days of the internet, now you can find raging debate and discussion on just about anything and whispers are few and far between), but the film under the TFG microscope today goes where even the flicks I mentioned a moment ago, and just about any others you’d care to add to the list, don’t.  And the damndest thing about it is—until about the last 15 minutes you sure never would expect it to.

“Hitch Hike To Hell” is another “never take a ride from a stranger” story from exploitation king Harry Novak’s Box Office International Pictures, directed by B-movie vet Irv Berwick (you may remember his son Wayne from our earlier review of “Microwave Massacre”—and the junior Berwick also worked as the sound man on this film) in 1967.  Like a lot of marginal cinematic product, it has a spotty distribution and release history. It sat around until 1970 when it finally got a limited release at the drive-in, then sat around some more until 1977 when it finally got a full nationwide release , at which point the whole thing probably looked pretty dated since 10 years is, generally speaking,  enough time for a “contemporary” piece to look anachronistic, but probably not quite long enough for it to look charming and/or nostalgic.

"Hitch Hike To Hell"'s Howard, the eternal mama's boy

"Hitch Hike To Hell"'s Howard, the eternal mama's boy

In any case, after a rather delightfully cheesy opening theme tune sung by some lady trying her level best to do a solid impression of Tammy Wynette, we’re introduced to Howard (we never get his last name), a typical B-movie mama’s boy closet psychopath played in deliriously OTT style by Robert Gribbin. Howard drives a delivery fan for a dry cleaner and his job takes him all over town. This being the late 60s, he naturally happens upon quite a few hitch hikers. Howard’s not averse to offering them rides, but depending on how you answer a few questions, you may or may not make it out of his van alive.

Howard likes to know if his passengers are running away from home or if they just need a lift. He also likes to know whether or not they love their mothers. Answer either, or both, questions incorrectly, and Howard take a wire coat hanger and wraps it around your throat.

Our guy Howard, you see, has always been a good boy. He lives at home with his doting mother even though he looks to be about 30 years old. She pampers him with root beer and home cooking and he does his part by being nice to his mom and spending his spare time in his bedroom working on model cars instead of going out and tearing it up or, heaven forbid, trying to get himself a girlfriend.

His sister Judy, on the other hand, apparently was a bit of a troublemaker. She ran away from home not too long ago and broke their mother’s heart. Evidently mom is not a “forgive and forget” type, because when stories start appearing on the news about young female hitch hikers turning up raped and murdered (Howard’s handiwork, unbeknownst to his mother), she says that while she sometimes wonders if that’s what happened to Judy, if it did it would only serve her right since she had it coming to her.

"What? You don't like your mom's cooking?"

"What? You don't like your mom's cooking?"

Howard has taken his mom’s disappointment pretty personally, evidently, because he now figures that the best way to “do her a favor” is to kill any hitch hiking girls he meets who are running away from home and don’t love their mothers sufficiently. And so our bloodbath is underway.

Only it isn’t. “Hitch Hike To Hell” is a pretty bloodless affair, all in all, and for a “psycho on the loose” movie, the body count stays pretty low (five, by my count).  In addition, even though the victims are all raped according to the news reports, Berwick never shows any of the sexual violence too graphically—he might show half a naked breast while Howard strangles one of his victims, but that’s about it.  That’s what makes the final act so shocking (even though it, too, is bloodless)—but more on that in a minute.

Howard is also a pretty dumb criminal, it must be said. He leaves the bodies of his victims on the roadside without even trying to hide them, and he’s prone to doing stupid stuff like losing his glasses at crime scenes. Not exactly an evil mastermind. He doesn’t remember his crimes too clearly afterwards, apart from the occasional flashback, but honestly, if you were as half-assed a serial killer as Howard is, you probably wouldn’t want to remember the details just out of sheer embarrassment at your incompetence.

Still, as dimwitted as Howard is, he’s an absolute genius compared to his boss at work, Mr. Baldwin, who keeps chewing Howard out for being late with his deliveries, and not even being able to offer good excuses as to why, but keeps giving him one chance after another even though he’s practically begging to be fired, and the cops, led by one Captain Shaw (played by Russell Johnson—yes, The Professor from “Gilligan’s Island”), who know the killer uses a wire coat hanger, has a van or other large vehicle, and even find a pair of his glasses—but still can’t manage to catch him until the last victim turns up with a Baldwin Cleaners delivery clutched in her dead hand!

And speaking of that last victim—Howard sticks with killing runaway girls in their upper teenage years until about an hour into the movie, when a flamboyant gay guy literally invites himself into his van while he’s taking a lunch break and, of course,  talks about how much he hates the crummy little town, his family, and especially his mom. Needless to say, the next we see of him is when The Profess—err, Captain Shaw and his partner respond to a call and find his body in a ditch. So Howard apparently will stray a bit from his MO—but just how much? Apparently quite a bit.

Little Lisa is just 11 years old and her mom and dad argue like crazy. It breaks her heart and of course, she figures the only solution is to run away from home and go live with her grandma. From the moment Lisa turns up on screen, we know she’s doomed. The only reason you introduce a character like this well over an hour into the film and show her home disastrous home life is to set the stage for her running away and meeting up with Howard, and he’s not the type to have a sudden crisis of conscience.

Okay, we don’t actually see Howard strangle her. There’s no mention of him raping her. But from the moment she tells him she’s running away, you get a sinking feeling in your gut—not one of “my God, he’s not going to, is he?,” but one of “Oh, geez, he’s really gonna do this.”  Again, no on-screen violence here, but when Captain Shaw responds to a tip and opens up a dumpster in an alley and finds her body —which they do show for a moment —you really do feel dirty just for watching this thing.  Showing a dead child on-screen is a line very few films have crossed, and to have it happen at the tail end of what is, in every other respect, a pretty tepid little “psycho-in-a-van” flick that has for the most part eschewed anything too grim or graphic—well, it tends to throw you for a loop, to say the least. The fact that it’s the friggin’ Professor from “Gilligan’s Island” who finds the body gives the scene an added frisson of the surreal, as well.

So there you have it — “Hitch Hike To Hell.” Perhaps the most understated—and certainly the most unexpected—taboo-buster in the annals of exploitation cinema.  It may not leave the strongest impression for the most part, but it definitely leaves a stain.

"Hitch Hike To Hell" DVD from Something Weird Video

"Hitch Hike To Hell" DVD from Something Weird Video

“Hitch Hike To Hell” is available on DVD on a double bill along with “Kidnapped Coed” from Something Weird Video. As with all the SWV Special Edition releases, it’s loaded with a generous serving of extras including anti-hitch hiking PSA films, a tour of Harry Novak’s office, previews of related titles, a cool gallery of exploitation movie one-sheets and press books, and more.