Sunday, 28 September 2014

Tigon’s Dirty Pick-Up: Wrong Way (1972, UK release 1981)


(In a rarity for this blog, this post looks at a title from across the pond, worthy of a mention here due to the Tigon connection and as an example of the kind of film our sexploitation seeking forefathers would have checked out alongside the home-grown tits and bums efforts)

“Do I have a very bad video copy here or does one of the actors in this film appear to have a green ass” is the infrequently asked question you may find yourself puzzling over during Ray Williams’ 1972 American sexploiter Wrong Way, worryingly the answer is actually the latter. I’m far from the first person to note similarities between Williams’ film and The Last House on the Left, which extends to beyond the casual. Not only do the two films centre around two teenage girls failing into the hands of a gang of sex criminals, but both serve up comic relief filler in the form of two knuckleheaded cops, both score graphic sexual assault scenes to downer folk music, and both cut between one of the girls’ parents expressing growing concern about her safety and the grim abuse being dished out to their offspring. It all feels more than just mere coincidence, but exactly who saw each other’s film first remains a question mark, keeping in mind both films were made in 1972.

Wrong Way does however increase your respect for the upsetting power of Last House on the Left, when you see the basically same material that in Wes Craven’s hands made for a thought provoking film with considerable shock value, here serve as fodder for a sweaty, droning softcore quickie.

 

Cast members are predictably unknowns, likely hiding out under comedy false names (Laurel Canyon, Candy Sweet, Forrest Lorne) and with few connections to other films. The exception to the rule being Ron Darby- who had quite a career in soft and hardcore films of the period, with a resume that included Flesh Gordon, Satan’s Lust, Terror at Orgy Cast and the faux-British sex film The Hand of Pleasure. A highly unattractive actor- pockmarked faced, suffering from some kind of skin condition and no great shakes in the size department- Darby is naturally at home here amongst Wrong Way’s cast of uglies. Onscreen Darby generally plays the carnal clown card, a sort of Californian Robin Askwith if you will, his very funny overacting in Satan’s Lust is a career highlight in that respect, but here Darby gets to play it straight for a change as the second in command of a hippie cult, who gets shot in the balls for his troubles.

Sleazy Rider –a 1973 film that is in a similar mode to this- had a notably anti-establishment, cop hating rhetoric to it, but Wrong Way’s mindset is in comparison muddled and reactionary. Plenty of good old boy humour is in evidence, jokes about getting crabs n’ drinking beer are calculated to get the fellas cracking up at the local drive-ins. Hippie put downs are present and correct with longhairs portrayed as itinerant rapists and drug dealers, even a lame Manson-esque figure turns up towards the end of the film. “The good news is our men had to shoot one of the hippie rats…he got it right in the balls” enthuses the knuckleheaded cops over Mr. Darby’s demise. Sentiments suggesting a greater allegiance to the forces of law and order here, and a film that spits a giant ball of mucus in the direction of hippies. Despite that Wrong Way gawps long, if not exactly hard, at the hippies’ foul sexual deeds. Gang rape scenes go on and on, and on in this, but badly mimed rape scenes and limp tallywhackers from all concerned –Mr. Green, Green Ass included- constantly give the game away that no real humping was going on here. Just to get back to the topic of he of the green ass for a moment, it does occur to me that as the main gang rape scene takes place on and up against a green van, its possible that performing outdoor, simulated rape under the hot Californian sun might have caused some of the van’s paintwork to come off on our man’s ass. A likely reason for this unfortunate onscreen ailment, the mark of Wrong Way, betya he had a hard time explaining that to his old lady when he got home.

wrong way's brand of shame
 


Wrong Way never shies away from the fact that the verbal and physical abuse of women is meant as a constant source of amusement and arousal here. The occasionally inspired ugliness of the screenplay is best illustrated in a subplot that sees two white slave traders shooting up a woman with heroin and taking advantage of the merchandise before they sell her to a brothel across the border. “You mean you’d destroy a human being for a few lousy dollars” she protests, to which her captor cackles back “absolutely not, we’re nice guys, we’re gonna trade you for H”, and his equally mangy partner in crime contributes to the conversation “you’re a nympho, and you know it”. The subsequent threesome between these three lovebirds finds the woman –the person people had paid to see go nude- obscured under all the hairy, potbellied, male gooseflesh of her two co-stars, a reoccurring problem in Wrong Way’s gross sex scenes.

Although it has all the hallmarks of the kind of third rate, obscure as rocking horse shit film that never saw the light of day till video came along, Wrong Way did surprisingly have a British theatrical release as part of a porno triple bill package put together by Tigon in 1981. Eric Godwin, a kindly, well liked elderly gentleman had the job of buying the majority of Tigon’s American acquisitions at the time. Godwin was prone to voicing despair over the growing explicitness of the American product he was being offered during film buying trips to Los Angeles, not on account of any prudishness, but because of the inevitable problems it would give him with the British censor “they won’t leave us with anything left to show” he was known to complain.

Unlike many of Tigon’s porno acquisitions of the early 1980s, Wrong Way hadn’t started life as hardcore, but still proved Godwin’s worst fears correct when it came to the British censor who cut around 20 minutes out of it for the British theatrical release. Sure the later, uncut video release is the way any exploitation aficionado would therefore want to see this thing, but even with heavy cuts the sleaze impact of Wrong Way on the big screen must have made for a tremendous culture shock. Imagine Wrong Way blown up to the size of a bungalow, encountered in the intimidating atmosphere of a porno cinema, and at a time before video had yet to fully expose British audiences to the sub-amateur side of American exploitation cinema, with films like this hundreds of miles removed in terms of attitude and filmmaking skill to the Hollywood fare that a British audiences of 1981 would have been more accustomed to.

Video, bootleg DVDr, maybe laptops, are of course the only way we’ll get to see films like Wrong Way these days, but like the down and dirtiest examples of American sexploitation- Sleazy Rider, Sinner’s Blood, The Bad, Bad Gang, Golden Gate Pay-Off, et al- the deeply unerotic nature of the sex, the overwhelming hatred of women and the equally overwhelming sense that those behind the camera barely knew what they were doing, all succeed in holding the attention, overriding any impulse to turn away from the abyss.

  

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Lemon Scented Ladies


The welcome return of TOTP repeats on BBC4 this Thursday also means the return of the lemon scented Legs & Co….


 
Showing Patti’s bum is one of the few things 1982’s ‘Nutcracker’ has going for it.
 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review: The Yes Girls (1971, Lindsay Shonteff)



The Yes Girls often feels like Lindsay Shonteff had decided to remake his previous film ‘Permissive’, what with both films telling similar cautionary tales of young women who journey to London and enter into a cycle of being exploited and exploiting others themselves. The main difference being that whereas Permissive took place in the longhaired music scene of the early 70s, The Yes Girls focuses on more familiar territory for Shonteff, the low budget film industry of the time.

Sarcastically subtitled ‘The Story of a High Class Film’, The Yes Girls centres around Maria Carter (Sue Bond) a juvenile delinquent stuck in a boring girls school for young offenders in Sunderland. A suggestive wink and a flash of her knickers at an elderly gardener is enough to convince the randy, green-fingered old sod to help Maria escape from the school. “I’d give anything to get out of his place” she tells him, music to the ears of the oldster who agrees to leave the school gates open that night and be on hand with a change of clothes for her. Maria’s great escape doesn’t go as planned however, as while she is changing into her new clothes the gardener gets an eyeful of her breasts, the sight of which causes him to have a fatal heart attack and keel over.

Maria goes on the run anyway, only to get collared for shoplifting in a clothes shop the moment she arrives in London. The bald, menacing shop owner threatens to call the police, causing Maria to panic and pull off the clothes she had been stealing, leaving her topless and cowering in his office. The sight of her breasts doesn’t manage to kill this old geezer off, but it does convince him that a grope and a fumble about with Maria in his office would be preferable to making that phone call to the cops. Afterwards the shop owner reveals what a mean piece of work he is when he refuses to let her keep the stolen clothes, dismissing her claims that her sexual favours should count for something; “I paid for them, didn’t I” she protests.

Maria’s luck appears to improve when she hooks up with Angela (Sally Muggeridge) and Caron (Felicity Oliver), two snooty, constantly out of work actresses. The pair allow the penniless Maria to crash at their flat, an act of kindness that belies an ulterior motive, since both girls are heavily behind with their rent and their landlord Philpott (Fred Hugh) is bothering them for sex. Angela and Caron’s plan is to offer up Maria to him in exchange for not paying that month’s rent, a plan that nearly works since Maria is willing, if not exactly eager, to have sex with the repulsive, dirty mac wearing Philpott (who introduces himself to Maria with “come on luv, I’ve got real hot pants for you”) as an alternative way of paying the rent. Unfortunately Philpott is so taken by the idea of having a busty blonde at his disposal that he moves into the flat himself and kicks Angela and Caron out.

Feeling guilty at having cost Angela and Caron a roof over their heads, Maria accompanies Angela to an audition for moral support. An outing that takes them to the offices of Ritzy Film Productions, a company headed by sweary, obnoxious film producer Jack Shulton (Ray Chiarella). Shulton enters the film shouting his philosophy towards filmmaking at an underling “who the hell gives a shit about art, all we want are tits and asses, bare flesh” he rants “and if the broads are stupid, then so much the better”. Shulton’s partner in crime is King Reiter (Jack May) a miserabilist, third rate Ken Russell who dreams of directing historical epics but is always being brought down by his association with Shulton, and of course his own total lack of talent.

One look at Maria and Shulton is hankering to cast her as the lead in his latest sex film, ignoring the small matter that she isn’t even an actress. A turn of events that dismays proper thesps Angela and Caron who are only able to secure bit parts in it. Of course with a crook like Shulton at the helm, the film isn’t exactly the big budget extravaganza that he’d promised. Instead the three girls find themselves acting in a film called ‘The Flesh in the Fields’, a less than glorious experience which mainly involves them running around naked in the middle of a cow field.

Ostensibly a comedy The Yes Girls exhibits little of the zaniness of Shonteff’s Big Zapper films or the various James Bond spoofs he’d make over the years, and finds its director still clinging to the bleak, cynical world view of his previous films Night, After Night, After Night and Permissive. An outlook that fitted those two films like a glove, but needless to say works against The Yes Girls’ purpose as a comedy.

The Yes Girls is though very in keeping with the comedown mood of the early 1970s, when the optimism of the previous decade had begun to sour and counter culture lifestyles had begun to look less appealing. Angela and Caron are like female versions of the lead characters in Withnail and I, jobbing thespians destined for a life of crummy digs, forever dreaming of big acting breaks that will never come, and involving themselves in loser schemes that only succeed in getting them deeper into trouble. Maria herself is depicted as a virtually feral character, dressed in rags, hitchhiking rides and munching on sugar cubes in cafes because she doesn’t have the money for real food.

Actress Sue Bond undoubtedly had the life experiences to relate to a character like Maria, with her own humble career beginnings including stints modelling for top shelf magazines in the late Sixties (sometimes under the porn de plume ‘Heidi Kessler’) and starring in bizarre 8mm sex films like ‘Hot Teddy’ which required her to simulate sex with a giant teddy bear. At the time she appeared in The Yes Girls Sue was in the middle of a three year stint appearing on The Benny Hill Show and would go on to achieve mainstream success as a regular fixture in TV sitcoms, albeit forever typecast as comedy blondes and tart girlfriends. The Yes Girls then deserves credit for recognising Sue’s potential as leading lady material and letting her play a realistic, streetwise character for a change, one whose tough cookie persona is- by all accounts- something else Sue Bond could relate to in real life.

Not entirely the bimbo she first appears to be, Maria displays an awareness throughout the film that her body gives her a degree of power over men, especially of the wrinkly variety, and that there is no tricky situation she can’t get herself out of by flashing her boobs in a guy’s direction. Maria reacts to the death of the gardener with all the icy detachment that the heroine of Permissive did to seeing a friend expire at the end of that film. Then again the world of The Yes Girls is so black hearted that it is understandable why Maria needs to have a thick skin and be a bit mercenary minded just to get by. The only time characters aren’t being unpleasant or nasty towards Maria is when they are perving after her, or using her in some other way. A subplot about Maria hiring a private detective (Jack Smethurst) to find her long lost mother reeks of screenplay padding, but the payoff perfectly illustrates just how misanthropic this thing can get. Predictably there are no smiles or warm welcome awaiting Maria when she catches up with her mom, just a fleeting encounter with a woman who can barely be bothered to give Maria the time of day, casually tells Maria she has had five other children that she has managed to ditch along the way, and that “if I’d known you were coming, I’d have moved”.



Sue Bond: the early years
 


As with other low budget British films that write the very film industry they sprung from into their plots, from Cover Girl Killer (1959) to Cliff Twemlow’s The Ibiza Connection (1984) and Michael J Murphy’s Bloodstream (1985), The Yes Girls plays a guessing game with its audience over just how much the filmmaking shenanigans seen onscreen mirrored real life. Dialogue and characters here do have a horribly believable ring of truth to them, witness a meek scriptwriter being told his work is worthless (“you couldn’t write to your own mother” Shulman barks at him) or Angela complaining that sex film work is beneath her “I’m not used to running around naked in front of a load of men, I spent two years in drama school”.

Shonteff appears especially appalled and fixated by the Jack Shulman character, who comes across as the ultimate nightmare figure of any ethical and/or artistically inclined filmmaker. Whole scenes are dedicated to this monster bullying and yelling at others, complaining about paying for crew members’ transport and referring to actresses as ‘dogs’. Shulman is a real storm of shit that blows into, and dominates, the later half of the film. The running gag in all his scenes being that he is exploiting and bullshitting all around him, the girls promise of a trip to the south of France to shoot the film coming to nothing (“the air in Broadstairs is better” they are told), ditto his hints at a glitzy world première for the film, which actually takes place at a scuzzy sex cinema in Brighton. While in Eskimo Nell, Roy Kinnear had played a similar character as a lovable rogue, Shulman and King Reiter are simply hateful characters rather the source of any amusement. The only time The Yes Girls really pulls itself together as a comedy is the grand unveiling of ‘The Flesh in the Fields’ itself. Shot on the cheap in black and white and without sound, the film within a film turns out to be a pretentious piece of garbage involving the girls prancing about a field and beckoning to a man on horseback, complete with idiotic attempts at symbolism such as the sight of him loading his shotgun being juxtaposed with out of focus shots of Maria’s cleavage. “Black and White, it’s like watching a classic at the BFT” proclaims Angela. Maria on the other hand can’t make heads or tails of it and is patronisingly told by Caron that the reason for that is “you’re not a member of the BFT, I go there three times a week.” The digs at art-house cinema, its elitist followers and what sounds suspiciously like a thinly veiled attack on the BFI, proves that Shonteff had enough scorn here to pour over high culture as well as low. A move likely to guarantee that The Yes Girls will never be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by the BFI Flipside, as well as making The Yes Girls a hard sell to the type of film snobs who have predictably embraced Eskimo Nell and use that film as a means to look down on this genre. For The Yes Girls doesn’t let the intelligentsia off the hook when it comes to dishing out the venom.


As hell-bent as The Yes Girls is on unflatteringly portraying the Jack Shulmans and King Reiters of this world, the film does sail close to being a textbook example of Shulman’s “all we want are tits and asses, bare flesh” approach to filmmaking itself at times. The opening scene plays like a very post watershed version of one of Sue’s old Benny Hill sketches, right down to the casting of a bald, elderly man as the gardener who closely resembles regular Hill stooge Jackie Wright. Had the sight of Maria’s breasts not given him the fatal heart attack you suspect the scene that follows his death, in which Maria jogs around topless, her breasts bouncing around ten to the dozen in slow-motion, would have surely finished the old fart off. In fact the entire casting in The Yes Girls appears calculated to appeal to its target audience. Just about all of Maria’s creepy admirers in the film, the gardener, the shop owner, the landlord, the private eye, tend to fit the mental image of the type of person who’d be lured into a cinema by a film called The Yes Girls (poster tag line ‘they never said no’). No doubt many a paunchy, balding, middle aged cinemagoer could closely identify with these characters, with the film simultaneously feeding their daydreams that a Sue Bond type might one day need to throw some sex in their direction in order to pay that month’s rent or for them to turn a blind eye to a spot of shoplifting.

 

The Yes Girls might be a little too much of a cinematic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for many, one minute heroically exposing the ugly side of the X-rated film biz, the next drooling over Sue Bond’s breasts and ungallantly obsessing over why her character never wears a bra. You’re never quite sure of where you are up to with The Yes Girls, but its many contradictions aren’t without interest. After all it is a film that gives Sue her lengthiest acting role but has her playing a woman who can’t act, it is a film that titillates but constantly reminds you of the misery and bad time experience that the film industry can be, and it is a film whose attractive lead spends a third of it dressed in baggy trousers and a tatty shirt belonging to a dead, old gardener.

As bumpy a ride as the film is, The Yes Girls was still a big hit, distributors retitled the film (junking Shonteff’s original, shooting title ‘Take Some Girls’) and it played in cinemas for over two years. A run that would see a billboard for the film- complete with giant sized photo of Sue Bond- loom over Leicester Square at one point and one sex cinema get so much play out of The Yes Girls that -according to legend- it wore out three 35mm prints of the film in the process. Sally Muggeridge’s appearance in the film also generated a fair amount of tabloid interest on account of the young actress being the real life niece of the author Malcolm Muggeridge, who just happened to be a leading figure in the vehemently anti-porn Festival of Light movement of the time. The Sunday Mirror quickly picked up on the family connection, and gave The Yes Girls some free publicity by running an ‘expose’ on her involvement in it and publishing a topless photo of her from the film. An incident which so tickled the British sex film community that it lead to Sally Muggeridge herself being parodied in Eskimo Nell, ‘Hermione Longhorn’, the character played by Katy Manning in that film, being loosely based on Sally. The Yes Girls does inadvertently make you appreciate Manning’s performance in Eskimo Nell all the more, being able to view the blueprint for her character here, reveals just how spot on Manning was in her impersonation of Muggeridge.

Ironically the aftermath of The Yes Girls’ release would have perfectly slotted into the plot of the film itself. Indeed the idea of Maria having her face plastered around Leicester Square, a sex cinema wearing out three prints of The Flesh in the Fields, and Angela turning out to be related to a famous anti-smut campaigner would have arguably made for a more satisfying conclusion to the film than the one Shonteff dreamt up. In the case of this Lindsay Shonteff film real life truly was stranger than any British sex film fiction.



A meeting of great girls: Sue ‘the yes girls’ Bond and Esme ‘Groupie Girl’ Johns
 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Cinema Xs


Some more cinema marquees from the good old, bad old days of the 'X' and 'AA' certificates, photos originally posed by Dusasshenka and Klaus Hiltscher/Affendaddy at Flickr and LenGazzard at Cinematreasures.



“the ABC in Harrogate is full of married men, with wives who never understand”


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Mini-Review: Happy Birthday Harry (1980, Marius Mattei)

Terry-Thomas ending his career in an Italian made, London set, sex comedy? Afraid so. Only obscurity (I can find no record of a UK release or even an English dubbed version existing) appears to have prevented Happy Birthday Harry from acquiring the kind of notoriety afforded to inglorious last films, or ones which find formerly dignified stars in close proximity to T&A material.

The titular Harry (John Richardson) is a David Sullivan-esque Men’s magazine publisher whose wealth and bestselling mags means that he is regularly mobbed by gangs of wannabe starlets on the streets of London. His upcoming 40th birthday brings him into close contact with such groupies, as well as ex-lovers, his magazine’s staff and a crazy doctor (Terry-Thomas). Evidence of brief UK filming manifests itself in the form of lots of shots of Big Ben, footage of Richardson walking along Westminster Bridge, around Piccadilly Circus and Soho (showing nothing of historical interest), before its back to interior scenes shot in Rome.
 



Terry-Thomas looks in even poorer shape than he did in Side by Side and Hound of the Baskervilles, but is in good company. Richardson, once handsome star of One Million Years BC, here resembles Jack from On The Buses, former peplum star Gordon Mitchell takes his shirt off to show some tired flesh, Marisa Mell fares a tiny bit better but shows signs of relying on heavy make-up, maybe even plastic surgery, to hold on to her youthful looks. The aged cast, bad comedy and unappealing nudity all conspire to make this the Italian equivalent of Carry on Emmannuelle, you have been warned.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Come Play With More4


My friend Suzy Mandel was one of the people interviewed for the documentary that is on More4 this Saturday at 10pm http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-golden-rules-of-porn

Aside from the press release I don’t know that much else about it, apart from the fact that David McGillivray is also in it, oh… and I sold the production company a copy of ‘Sexy Secrets of the Kissogram Girls’ so there is the possibility of archive footage of Pauline Hickey being in there.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Review: Sex with the Stars (1980, Anwar Kawadri)



There are certain British sex films that appear to have an immediate read on their audience, tapping into their fantasies, hang ups and secret anxieties, then playing up to all these on the big screen. For older geezers we’re talking here about films like Secrets of a Superstud (1975) and Pete Walker’s School for Sex (1968). It’s not hard to imagine gentlemen of a certain age buying a ticket to either of those films and imagining that they were Anthony Kenyon or Derek Aylward for an afternoon, what with storylines that not only saw those two aging bachelors constantly surrounded by gorgeous women, but in the case of School for Sex living a privileged lifestyle through them. Neither of these films can quite resist taunting their target audience with moments of uncomfortable reality though. The spectre of male impotence trails the narrative of Secrets of a Superstud, and in School for Sex there is the scene where Aylward stops by a strip club to observe the clientele: old men decaying away in the darkness, balding heads, grey mackintoshes on laps to mask the obvious, stationery save for occasionally rising from their seats to make a snail’s pace grab for the talent on stage. When Mr Grey Mac watched School for Sex and saw Derek Aylward-smooth, smoking jacket wearing charmer to the ladies- he saw the man he wanted to be, when he saw the men in the strip club scene he saw the man he really was. Just P. Walker having fun at his audience’s expense, but such a sadistically funny scene to include in the film, no wonder he ended up making horror films.


1980’s Sex with the Stars, might have its eye on a younger male audience than School for Sex and Secrets of a Superstud, but it is no less perceptive when it comes to knowing what its audience was all about, and why they flocked to films like this. For an audience of men in their twenties, addled with unfulfilling city jobs and having had limited contact with the opposite sex, the appeal here lay in seeing the sexual misadventures of someone just like them. In fact for that crowd the experience of watching Sex with the Stars in a cinema must have felt like one of their own had got up from their seat, walked on into the screen and became the star, nay, hero of his own British sex comedy. Peter Bates (Martin Burrows) is a timid, sexually repressed 24 year old virgin, who to add to his woes is stuck in a humiliating Fleet Street job ghost-writing his aunt’s astrology column ‘Clara looks at the stars’. Peter’s emasculating job coupled with a non-existent sex life making it at least easy for him to pass himself off as an astrological spinster in print.

 Enter his new boss Mr Terson (Thick Wilson) an aggressively ambitious, grossly overweight American media mogul. Seemingly a long lost American cousin of Eskimo Nell’s Benny U Murdoch, as with that character, Terson’s comedic appeal stems from his relentless crassness and unshakable belief in the selling power of sex. Terson’s smart, expensive office –where a great deal of Sex with the Stars’ plot plays out- is awash with character defining details: big tit magazines scattered about his desk, a cut out photo of Joan Collins in The Bitch glued to one of the walls, a painting of a charging rhinoceros hanging in the vicinity. The latter being a particularly apt piece of set design, for Terson is that beast: horny, and rampaging despite all the excess weight he is carrying. Explaining his success in turning around the fortunes of a staid publication called Wife and Family, Terson tells Peter “I fired everybody, changed the title to ‘John Thomas Weekly’, and wham up went the figures, you see that’s a title for the Eighties”.

Convinced a similar makeover is needed on ‘Happy Homes’, the publication Peter ghost-writes for, Terson changes the title to Horny Homes and goes about firing the staff, Peter only being spared the axe after a moment of inspiration sees him pitch the idea of a sexed-up astrology column for the revamped mag. Inexplicably Sex with the Stars then briefly adopts a faux vox-pop format as Peter takes to the streets of London, microphone and tape recorder in hand, to record Joe and Josephine Public’s thoughts on whether a person’s astrological sign affects their sex life. “My sex life is only affected by the availability of contraceptives” quips one saucy Cockney woman to him. The authenticity of these sound bites comes under question when one of Peter’s interview subjects turns out to be Max Roman, a chubby Greek porn filmmaker who resembled Telly Savalas’ brother George, and who four years later would give the definitive portrayal of a Santa Claus who has his penis cut off in Don’t Open Till Christmas. Seen here outside of the Santa costume, and fortunately allowed to keep his genitals intact, Roman basically appears to be playing himself, a gregarious Greek pornographer doing battle with his second-language English in order to sing the praises of sex “I need…a woman…every day… fantastic….it’s a good…fantastic…very beautiful”.

Alas, transcripts of people talking about sex isn’t enough for Terson who demands that Peter go out into the field for a bit of first hand research into the sexual characteristics of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Seeking out and sleeping with twelve women each with a different star sign then writing about it is a task that a bespectacled, prematurely balding 24 year old virgin isn’t exactly suited for. “You’ve been given an assignment that would make a sex maniac hesitate” remarks Terson’s secretary, Suzy (Janie Love). Fortunately Suzy takes pity on him, and touched by his ‘little boy lost’ demeanour seizes the opportunity to have his cherry and grant him insight into the mind and body of the Sagittarius woman. “Sagittarians often wear themselves out in their anxiety to get the job done” is Peter’s post-coital observation, at which point the real life Peters watching Sex with the Stars in a cinema probably wished real life could be like this.
 

A transcript of Peter and Suzy’s erotic encounter is summarily typed up and delivered to Terson, who regards it as porn gold. Wanting more of the same, he hands Peter a fortnight deadline for bedding the other 11 women “one a day, and three days to spare” he estimates. Bagging a Gemini turns out to be easier than expected after Suzy reluctantly leaves Peter at the mercy of her man-eating best friend Shirley (Susie Silvey) the subject of the funniest (but most uncomfortable looking) sex scene in the film that involves Shirley and Martin going at it against a piano. Shirley’s arse banging down on the keys and ensuring that the pair of them make anything but sweet music together. It is one of Susie Silvey’s few memorable British sex film roles, probably in part because as a post-1979 role she didn’t feel the need to….. (CENSORED).

Growing in confidence, Peter goes it alone for the remaining ten sexual encounters, due to the discovery that advanced knowledge of astrology, and talking to women at great length about their star signs is –according to this film at least- the best way to get inside their knickers. Peter’s leap from “Christian Surbiton to Sodom and Gomorrah” comes at a price however, jeopardising his relationship with Suzy, and when one of his later conquests is revealed to be Terson’s wife (fucked on the bonnet of Terson’s Rolls Royce no less) it looks as if he’ll be out of the running for an ‘employee of the month’ award.


Sex with the Stars was a truly multinational affair, bringing together a Greek producer (future cannon films honcho Panos Nicolaou), Syrian funding and a Syrian director in Anwar Kawadri, a Frenchman on soundtrack duties (Pierre Bachelet, best known for his musical contributions to the original Emmanuelle film) and home-grown talent in the shape of scriptwriter Tudor Gates and director of photography Peter Jessop. The presence of overseas filmmakers is evident from the get-go thanks to an opening title sequence that is reminiscent of 1970s giallo thrillers and their tendency to boast about having briefly filmed in the UK by giving just about every London landmark they could spot a visual name check. The excitable, tourist guide visuals here practically shouting through a megaphone “first up we have Big Ben, then if you look to your left you can see Westminster Bridge, now we find ourselves on Fleet Street, and just over there is St Paul's Cathedral, and now we’re back on Fleet Street just in time to see our lead actor getting off one of those jolly double-decker buses”.

  Peter Bates and Terson embody every cliché going concerning British and American men, and their cultures’ attitudes towards sex. Bates, clueless, and embarrassed by the subject. Terson, loud, massively obese, a mind obsessed by sex and artless ways to commercialise it. These two messes are the main source of comedy for the overseas filmmakers sniggering away behind the camera with a sense of cultural superiority. As Terson, actor Thick Wilson is spectacularly used in a scene that finds him attempting to hurry Peter up to the payoff of one of his sexual anecdotes, Thick hollering “did she screw, did she screw” over and over as his considerable weight shudders in sexual frustration. Presumably in reverence to its producer’s nationality, Sex with the Stars then finds a way of shoehorning Greek dancing into the proceedings when Peter and Terson get dragged into a group Sintaki dance at a Soho nightclub, only for Terson to get carried away and fall on his arse at the end. As in the earlier ‘did she screw’ scene, the extremely committed Thick Wilson looks as if he is seconds away from a heart attack. Perhaps due to the levelling input of a British scriptwriter and a predominantly British cast though, the ‘outsider’ filmmaker take on the London of the era, and the often impenetrable nature of British culture to others, isn’t as greatly felt here as in, say, An American Werewolf in London or Boys and Girls Together.



The impression you get is that the filmmakers regarded the Tudor Gates script and its astrology based premise as Sex with the Stars’ chief weakness, based on the manner in which they become marginalised as the film progresses. Set aside in favour of the perceived strengths; an uninhibited female cast, the greater sexual freedoms afforded filmmakers by the late 1970s, and the sensual Pierre Bachelet soundtrack, part of the era’s ‘space disco’ musical sub-genre. Towards the end of the film scenes between Peter and Terson, and Jane and Peter serve as little other than dot-to-dot connecting links between a series of erotic set pieces. As if the filmmakers took to heart Terson’s orders to hurry along to the raison d’etre of it all; “did she screw, did she screw” etc. Fortunately given this decision to emphasize explicitness over everything else, Anwar Kawadri proves to be up to the job of being an inspired, erotic filmmaker. Typical male fantasy scenarios and time honoured female sexual stereotypes are in abundance here, as Peter goes from having libidinous designs on the working class female, as in the case of his bathroom seduction of a cleaning lady, to playing about above his station by also sleeping with her employer, a rich socialite, from being a lothario to Stud-era disco dollies within his own age bracket to acting as sexual liberator to older women. These sexual conquests are largely played by also ran, wannabe sex symbols who arrived too late to British sex films to make a great deal of impact on the genre, but the film can lay claim to two standout appearances by the only fleetingly in the spotlight Rosemary England and long-time Brit sexploitation fixture Nicola Austin.


Rosemary is a visual delight here, cast as a mystery woman who meets Peter in a park then leads him on a teasing chase through misty woodlands, losing her symbolically white dress in order to run naked through the forest, culminating in the couple making love against a tree. Capitalising on soft focus lensing and natural lighting techniques, it is a beautiful sequence that allows Rosemary to fully live up to the ‘English Rose’ connotations of her name, and the use of slow motion to capture the bouncing sight of Rosemary’s melon heavy breasts. Suffering for their art, Rosemary and actor Martin Burrows do show considerable dedication to the noble art of onscreen kit-offery, taking into account the sight of their frozen breath in the preceding dialogue scene hinting at a chilly, early morning shooting schedule.

Equally stunning is Nicola Austin –the face that launched a thousand pop chart cover version albums- playing Peter’s older woman conquest, Mrs. Doyle. It speaks volumes about the sheer longevity of Nicola’s career that it began with young dolly bird roles in the late 1960s and drew to a close with her being eroticized as a ‘mature woman’. Classily attired and initially haughty in her altitude towards Peter, it doesn’t take much of Peter’s astrological mumbo jumbo speak to get Mrs Doyle to change her mind. Deciding to trade in her respectably for multiple orgasms, she straddles Peter on top of a waterbed, the pair’s exhaustive sex session causing the bed to rupture and water to gush out and rain down on them- a piece of money shot symbolism if ever there was one. It’s a performance that has last role written all over it (Nicola actually had one further, forgettable bit part to go), a career best sexy turn and what a decade’s worth of prolific but undistinguished nude walk on roles had been building up to. Sex with the Stars finds Nicola going out whilst –figuratively and literally- on top. Her character proving that, as Doris Hare might have put it “just because there is snow on the roof doesn’t mean the fire has gone out”.

The casting of Rosemary and Nicola is made all that more special by the fact that neither would be around films a great deal longer, Sex with the Stars being Rosemary’s cinematic swansong and –as noted- Nicola’s penultimate film appearance. Soon the pair of them would walk away from this period of their lives, and haven’t stopped walking since. Nicola and Rosemary being two ladies who maintain a closed mouth stance on discussing the sex film era to this very day. Although only Rosemary had the foresight to use a fake name on the film, billing herself as ‘Poula-Grifith Jada’ in the end credits. A one-shot pseudonym apparently constructed by Rosemary by using her real first name Jada as a surname, and adding it to Poula-Grifith a ‘foreign’ spelling variation on the name of a fashion model called Paula Griffin, whose name and profile often appeared in close proximity to Rosemary/Jada’s own in model directories.
‘Poula-Grifith Jada’ is born
 


For cinema audiences of the time, astrological themed sex comedies may well have seemed like buses, they waited for one to come along, only for two to show up at the same time, what with Sex with the Stars and Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair being released within months of each other by Tigon. To confuse matters Tigon quickly re-issued and re-titled the two films, giving them new names that were sound-alikes of each other’s original titles. Thus Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair became ‘Sex Star’ in late 1980, and Sex with the Stars was rechristened ‘Confessions of the Naughty Nymphos’ around the same time. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, Tigon’s Naughty Nymphos poster campaign plagiarised the poster for ‘The Ecstasy Girls’, a 1979 American hard-core film which Tigon was also distributing –in heavily cut form- in 1981. As a result not even consulting their horoscopes probably helped a perplexed public decipher if they were going to see a retitled Sex with the Stars, a bowdlerised version of The Ecstasy Girls, or –if they’d really done something bad in a past life- the wretched David Galaxy film.


the org. Ecstasy Girls poster and sex with the stars revamped
 


For a last minute addition to a near dead genre, and one extremely short on plot, Sex with the Stars does deliver several twists on the tried and tested British sex film formula. The pairing of the shy, well-educated sounding Peter with the extroverted and down to earth Suzy going against the established, ‘Confessions’ derived genre penchant for romantically bringing together cocky working class lads with reserved, posh girlfriends. As played by Page 3 girl and bit-part actress Janie Love, Suzy’s no-nonsense personality and unapologetically low-class accent guarantees she always dominates her and Peter’s verbal slanging matches. Sex with the Stars is one of few British sex comedies to realistically consider the consequences of its hero’s job leading him to quickie sexual encounters, and the detrimental effect this would have on forming meaningful relationships and keeping hold of a girlfriend. Racked with guilt over his inability to be faithful to Suzy and terrified by his own, suddenly very active sex life (“I used to think it was bad enough when I had a quiet wank, but now I’m a sex maniac” he frets)…that man, he sure got the British sex film blues.

Sensitive soul Peter even attempts suicide at one point, only to botch the job and inadvertently find himself in the midst of yet another anonymous sexual encounter. On account of moments such as that Sex with the Stars certainly goes places other genre efforts feared to tread, although the uneasy tone born out of switching from light comedy to suicidal thoughts and back again, does illustrate why British sex films often and wisely shunned the idea of having a ‘serious’ side to them. Sex with the Stars can also claim to be the only British sex film to feature a rubber, used during a scene where Peter saves a woman (Loretta Smith) from drowning, then tries to convince her that removing her clothes and having protective sex is all par for the course during artificial respiration (she remains sceptical, but appreciative of this extra ‘concern’ for her wellbeing). As an apparent stab at espousing a responsible, safe sex message, it is a little hard to take seriously within the context of a film that has our man Peter frequently engaging in unprotected sex with women he has just met, and if I were Loretta Smith I would feel rather insulted at being cast as the sole female character that the hero obviously must consider an STD risk.

Even so, the use of a condom and acceptance that contraception isn’t just a woman’s responsibility is one of a number of factors that points to Sex with the Stars being conceived as a more mature take on the British sex film. It’s a film that is open minded enough to the idea that women can be as predatory as men, and in the case of the Peter/Suzy relationship that women can possess greater sexual knowledge and experience than the man. Refreshingly Sex with the Stars is notably allot more comfortable, and less prone to moralising, around the subject of female promiscuity than British sex films of old. The laid back attitude shown towards Susie Silvey’s bed-hopping party girl and Terson’s unfaithful wife here is a far cry from the dirty looks and hydro themed revenge afforded the Olivia Munday and Linda Hayden characters in Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Sex with the Stars even acknowledges that by 1980 women could hold positions of power, beyond of course being on top in sex scenes taking place on waterbeds. In the climatic twist Terson’s wife takes control of the company, demotes Terson, spits in his mouth (Andy Milligan would’ve loved that bit), dismisses ‘Horny Homes’ as puerile male nonsense and reverts it back to the original family friendly, Happy Homes format. A topical plot development for a film roughly made around the time of Thatcher first coming to power, and an unfortunately prophetic one in the way it unintentionally predicts the rise of conservative, moral majoritism in the 1980s. Something that would spell the end of the line for films of this nature. Its genre- like Horny Homes- thrown into the trash bin at the start of the decade.


At risk of being accused of pretentiousness, I will reign in the temptation to comment at length about how another of Sex with the Star’s subplots, where Peter’s sexploits briefly come to a halt after he falls ill and takes to bed with flu like symptoms now sits uncomfortably with the knowledge of the real life sexual plague that would be terrorising the world a few years later. Lest I should pick up my horoscope tomorrow and find Clara is advising me “this month Pisceans are at risk of disappearing up their own backsides, as this has been known to occur during the writing up of thirty odd year old British sex comedies that nobody really cares less about, interpreting their subplots as ‘really’ being about the AIDS crisis is therefore best avoided. Piscean males should however complement themselves on the restraint they’ve shown in not divulging the potentially libellous story they know about Susie Silvey, and opting to write the word censored in block capitals instead”.


Sex with the Stars wraps up with another reoccurring theme for the genre, that of its hero hanging up his sex comedy hat in favour of a life of monogamy, marriage and fatherhood. Earlier British sex films ‘Girls Come First’ and ‘Secrets of a Superstud’ had carried the exact same conclusion (minus the astrological observations that Peter signs off with here). The last minute grabs for respectably sort by these ‘happy endings’ never really ring true though, at best feeling like an empty gesture designed to appease the censors, or maybe ease the audience’s guilty conscience, or even the filmmakers’ own. Sex with the Stars, Girls Come First and Secrets of a Superstud all revel a little too enthusiastically in the preceding 80 minutes or so of fun and games, and their protagonists getting their leg over with the likes of Rosemary England, Nicola Austin and Susie Silvey, to then successfully sell the idea that the men onscreen could give up those kind of horizontal pleasures and settle for a mundane family life instead. Still it is a reminder that films like these were the products of men who while embracing and commercially profiteering from 1970s’ permissiveness, couldn’t entirely break free from the conservatism and conformity imposed on previous generations.

Call it hypocrisy, call in cowardliness, call it a copout, call it wanting your crumpet and eating it, with Sex with the Stars the genre goes to its grave without fully resolving this inner conflict, but then again if we’ve learnt nothing else from our sex films it is that the British take on sex can be a complicated affair.