Friday, 23 September 2011

Review: Sexy Strip (1967) and Macabre (1968, Harrison Marks)

Monique Deveraux was a sight no man could ever forget, a jet black haired German beauty with a supremely 1960s beehive, and rather less common for her era a set of surgically enhanced breasts, Monique definitely left an impression on George Harrison Marks. ‘If you are looking for a beautiful face here it is, if you are looking for personality, it’s here, maybe you’re a leg man? Monique foots the bill’ Marks enthusiastically wrote on the back of the 8mm box of Magnificent Monique, one of several 8mm films he made of her. ‘Harrison Marks says he has discovered the greatest’ the box proudly triumphs.

Actually there does appear to be evidence that Marks wasn’t the first glamour photographer to get his hands on her. Billed as plain old Monique she appeared in anonymously made 8mm glamour films like ‘Massage’ and ‘Daughter of Venus’. Everything one remembers about Monique, the hair, the boobs, those equally large fake eyelashes and the drawn on beauty spot are all present and correct in these early films, but the flat, unimaginative filmmaking on display hardly does her justice, and it would take Marks’ talent behind the camera to truly make Monique magnificent.

In his 8mm film CASBAR, Monique is a topless genie let out of the lamp by a pith helmet wearing British adventurer, only for her to transform into an old witch in the film’s closing moments. Funnier still is THE WONDERBED. Hailing from a period when Marks obviously felt stronger material needed a flimsy, socially redeeming justification for its existence, The Wonderbed finds Marks espousing the value of healthy exercise in order to show Monique working out in the nude. Throughout the film Marks can barely contain his bemusement at having to use exercise demonstrations as an excuse to show off Monique’s boobs and crotch. “Your entire torso consists of a series of different muscles each requiring particular attention”, an intertitle proclaims in a mock serious fashion before the film cheekily cuts to a close-up of Monique’s pubes.

By the time of SEXY STRIP (1967) Marks clearly felt Monique could carry a film all by herself and dispenses of such silly gimmickry. Sexy Strip draws on footage Marks shot of Monique that eventually filled up two separate 8mm films. ‘Volcano’, released in black and white in the UK, was the less explicit of the two films and mostly allows Monique to keep her knickers on, whilst Sexy Strip –released in Germany in colour- offered Monique’s countrymen a lengthy look at her full frontally nude. Both these films are quite literally ‘glamour home movies’, and were shot in Marks’ own front room. A quintessential late 1960s bachelor pad, it boasts such of the period trappings as a soda syphon and a lava lamb –a huge close-up of which opens ‘Volcano’, presumably as a visual pun on the title. Personal items flesh out the d├ęcor, portraits of Marks’ favourite models adorn the walls, there is a well-stocked bar, and ornament statues of cats are everywhere (Marks being a cat lover and connoisseur of all things feline). And of course what bigger indication do we need that we are at Marks’ own gaff than the fact that there is a semi-naked fraulein seductively pacing about the place, undressing out of lingerie and smoking a big cigar. Marks throws in enormous close ups of Monique rolling that cigar around in her mouth, the phallic symbolism of which is outrageously blatant for a 1967 film. Sexy Strip is essentially a late 60s version of the nude posing films that kick-started Marks’ film career nearly a decade earlier, only a lot less asexual in tone. Raunchy camera placing, an intimate setting, and Monique’s enthusiastic cigar sucking reactions to being erotised on film, all contribute to an extremely pre- coital feel to the piece. By the film’s end Monique is naked on a couch and Marks’ camera practically mounting her as she signs off the film with one last cigar smoke filled breath and a provocative wink to the camera. Although it is unclear whether Monique was among the 1000 beautiful women Marks modestly claimed to have slept with over the years, the besotted nature of Magnificent Monique’s box notes and the aura of late night lust evoked in Sexy Strip, do put forth a convincing case for the pair of them having fucked each other’s brains out the moment the camera stopped rolling on the film. Whatever went on behind the scenes, in Sexy Strip Marks vividly brings Monique’s sex appeal to life in a way that the hacks who cranked out Daughter of Venus could only dream of.

(‘Sexy Strip’ was once screened on German TV in a full colour version as part of “Liebe Sunde” a sex magazine show that occasionally threw in clips from old glamour and stag films for a dash of nostalgia, although the only known commercial DVD release of the film is in black and white.)

Even in simple striptease affairs like Sexy Strip, Monique sticks in the memory as being quite different to any Harrison Marks model that had come before. While able to be as playfully girlie as the best of them, her enjoyment of cigars and knowledge of her way around a bar in Sexy Strip, gives the impression of her also being ‘one of the boys’ and it is easy to imagine Monique holding her own in late night drinking and smoking sessions with Marks or challenging Marks’ bodybuilder friend Howard ‘Vanderhorn’ Nelson to arm wrestling competitions in between glamour shoots. There is certainly a dash of Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill era sexual aggressiveness about Monique, a side to her that Marks played up in a few of his films. In his feature film The Nine Ages of Nakedness (1969) he cast her as an outer space dominatrix, and in Pattern of Evil aka Fornicon, aka Blue Perfume aka Don’t Change Hands (1967), she is female sadist and murder suspect Greta Marr who gets the tables turned on her in the film’s climax when she is placed on a medieval torture-rack by the hero. Now considered a lost film, Pattern of Evil was financed by shady American characters, possibly connected to New York’s Swank magazine, and as was the case with the majority of his feature films Marks ended up with a bum deal and saw little profit from the film. Stills from Pattern of Evil, which are allot easier to find than the film itself, suggest a ‘hands across the ocean’ affair that wedded Marks’ eye for female talent and uniquely British approach to sexploitation with what was floating New York’s boat at the time, which meant the ‘Olga’ films and the roughie output of Stan Borden and Distribpix. S&M, medieval themed orgies, and women in leather supervising dungeon tortures are what drives the wheels of Pattern of Evil according to the stills.

Back on the 8mm market, Marks made the similar themed MACABRE (1968) that reunites two of Pattern of Evil’s stars, Monique and Howard Nelson. In fact Macabre bears such a close resemblance to stills from Pattern of Evil that there has been some confusion over the years as to whether Macabre was merely a scene from the film released as a standalone short, or an entirely separate entity that Marks put together with leftover costumes, props and cast members from the feature film. Having now seen Macabre I feel inclined to go for the latter option. Stylistically it has the look of something shot for the 8mm market, a big giveaway being that the two performers avoid anything but the most rudimentary dialogue exchanges, which surely wouldn’t be the case if this were a stray clip from a narrative film.

In Macabre, Howard Nelson plays a door to door salesman paying a house call on Monique. Howard is immediately distracted from his sales pitch by a copy of 1960s femdom magazine ‘Bizarre Life’ on her coffee table, followed by Monique flashing a tit in his direction , two sights which Howard reacts to with nervousness bordering on fear. The worse is yet to come as Monique spikes Howard’s drink, causing him to pass out. Cue a quick dissolve, followed by Howard waking up shirtless and tied to a rack in a torture dungeon. Monique has undergone a costume change herself, and re-emerges dressed in leather and wielding a whip, much to Howard’s horror. Macabre then turns severe, with Monique whipping the bejesus out of Howard, blood flying in his face and his torso and features quickly becoming a barely distinguishable blur of muscle and blood, all intercut with Monique cracking the whip with such vigour that Marks goes in for a close up of her chest just as it looks like her cleavage might pop out of that leather outfit. Evidentially Monique didn’t spend as much effort in tying Howard down as she does whipping him, as Howard manages to break free of the rack and pursues his leather clad tormentor around the dungeon. In spite of Howard’s bodybuilder frame, he and Monique seem like an equal match for each other as they wrestle about the floor of the dungeon. With Howard weakened from the whipping however it is Monique who eventually gains the upper hand, throwing an oversized skull at Howard which leaves him with a massive head wound and vomiting up a mouthful of blood.

The violence in Macabre is the real turn up for the books here- given that there is little else in Marks’ career to suggest he was a gorehound- yet Macabre positively revels in hurling stage blood over its lead actor. Curiously the nudity in the film is extremely light by Marks’ standards and plays second fiddle to the sadism, indicating the film was an attempt by Marks to diversify and court the leather, blood and whips crowd that Pattern of Evil was seemingly aimed at. Whilst the gore in Macabre is ultimately over the top and unrealistic in a H.G. Lewis fashion, it is a textbook example of how the unregulated 8mm film world could often be more daring than the censor controlled British feature films of the time were able to be. Compare and contrast Macabre with Tigon’s horror film Curse of the Crimson Altar- made the same year- whose dungeon scenes are somewhat Marks-ian in their utilization of out of work glamour models and musclemen, but whose attempts at sadism inevitably fell foul of the censors and look tame indeed compared to what Marks was getting away with here.

Macabre might be an atypical production for Marks- no men with fake comedy moustaches or Stuart Samuels looking shocked at the sight of naked birds are on display here- buts it is perfectly cast. Monique truly bares her claws, in a way that can be jarring especially if your mental image of her is informed by the cute, alluring creature you encounter in Sexy Strip and Volcano, still it is hard to deny that she is every bit as spectacular in her kinky boots and skin tight leather gear. Howard Nelson also seems to be in his element, looking every inch like the star of a 1960s Italian peplum and cast in a role that sees him play out the bodybuilder fantasy of being envisioned as the shirtless, muscular hero able to break free of his chains and take on his tormentor.

On the basis of Macabre, Pattern of Evil- which tantalisingly offers the prospect of a feature length version of this kinky diversion in Marks’ career- could well turn out to be a doozy should it one day escape from its current obscurity.

No comments: