Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Bedabbled magazine

Just a quick shout out for Bedabbled #3 which I received in the post the other day and contains some fine pieces on the last two Hammer Dracula films, Mike Raven, Incense for the Damned (plus interview with Francoise Pascal about said film). According to their blog this issue has already sold out its print run, however I’ve had an email from Martin telling me that “there are still copies on the Strange Vice and Hemlock Books sites” should anyone fancy picking up any of the few remaining copies. Incidentally I’ve been asked to pen material for the 4th issue, which has given me the excuse to revisit films that are very dear to me, and write up a few that I don’t think I’ve ever properly nailed before. Issue 4# looks to be due around summer 2013.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Psychomania video cover

I’ve seen Psychomania a dozen times over the years but couldn’t resist picking up this video release whilst in the states recently just for the inspired cover alone, depicting what appears to be a zombified Charles Manson on a bike!! Psychomania seems to have had numerous video releases in the states during the 80s and 90s, in contrast in the UK where as far as I’m aware it never had a post-cert video release, I guess it (and Crucible of Terror) were so common on late night British TV during that period that no one thought it was worth putting out on tape.

Collinson Twins Birthday Card

Tesco Birthday Card featuring the Collinson Twins

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Review: Moralpisser (Harrison Marks, 197?)

As regular readers of this blog will know George Harrison Marks is a filmmaker frequently championed around these parts. Aside from perhaps Derek Ford, no one quite personalised the British sex film as much as Marks. With his early 8mm glamour films and big screen outings like ‘The 9 Ages of Nakedness’ Marks reshaped the genre into his own little universe. Resulting in films whose plots were a showcase for Marks’ vivid imagination, starred the women he knew and loved, featured his mates (Stuart Samuels, Tony Roberts, Howard Nelson) in bit parts, and consolidated Marks’ damaged ego as a failed 1950s variety performer by not only making him famous, but allowing him to get his face and personality in front of the camera. The enthralling aspect to Marks is that the full extent of his career has clearly yet to be documented, what with forgotten or anonymously made 8mm films constantly resurfacing, fuelling further interest in the man, his times and his work, as well as rewarding the inquisitive.

A particularly exciting discovery of late is Marks’ hardcore short ‘Moralpisser’. Likely to have been made in the mid-seventies, it is from a time when Marks was still investing a degree of creativity into his hardcore sex films, and just before he began to find making them a chore, resulting in the films themselves deteriorating into generic, 9 to 5 pornography. A bit of detective work suggests that Moralpisser was a hardcore take on a storyline Marks had also used for a softcore short of his called ‘Medium Rare’. While I have yet to see Medium Rare- which starred a bewigged Monique Deveraux- a plot synopsis of that film matches up with the one in Moralpisser, with both films concerning phony mediums whose powers aren’t as inauthentic as they think. The premise of Moralpisser, which is worthy of a connecting sequence in an Amicus horror anthology, sees five strangers meeting up for a séance at the flat of a renowned medium. Four of this bunch (3 gals and 1 guy) are played by little known 1970s porn performers, the odd one out is a bearded older man who seems strangely familiar…… yes, its Marks himself, unable to keep his face off camera, in spite of the fact that he was meant to be directing the film anonymously.


Moralpisser captures Marks at possibly the most dilapidated he ever appeared on film. His unshaven appearance, hung-over demeanour and long greasy hair is both testament to his lifestyle having caught up with him by the 1970s and all of the good times he must have had to end up looking that way. Marks is strictly in this film for comic relief, throwing in a few effeminate glances and shrugs at his female co-stars, which recalls all the mincing about he did in The Window Dresser years beforehand. The actor playing the medium, who is attired in a kaftan worthy of Demis Roussos, is recognizable from umpteen soft and hardcore Marks shorts from this period (fellow porn actor Short Jack Gold recalls this man’s first name being ‘Paul’). The séance quickly gets underway and involves the motely group holding hands, swaying about and orgasmically moaning in an attempt to contact the spirit world. All however is not as it seems given that the medium has a couple of tricks up his sleeve, quite literally as the ‘hands’ of his the others are holding onto are actually false hands. While the others are caught up in the séance, the medium uses his real hands (which are hidden under the table) to operate a reel to reel tape recorder that plays soothing music designed to place the others into a trance. With everyone well and truly under the medium’s spell his guests are all instructed into another room, all except poor old Marks who is left on his lonesome at the table, and continues to sway about and mumble nonsense to the spirit world. Once the others are in the next room the amorous nature of the medium’s dastardly plan becomes apparent, with everyone ordered to disrobe which soon leads on to the medium presiding over a sex orgy. All very clever and conniving, even if you can’t help feeling that there must have been an easier way for a moderately handsome, big dicked fellow like him to get laid in the 1970s other than to pose as a medium and employ a set of fake hands and hypnotising music. Still, on the basis of what we see onscreen it was evidently worth all the effort, and the medium gets to have his wicked way with each of the three women, all of whom seem to dig him sexually. Enthusiastic performances, a variety of sexual positions and a more than average amount of money shots in this one present a convincing case for the cast having had a whale of a time making the film.


Marks’ previous shorts from the 1970s like A Night at the Bistro Bordello and Dolly Mixture, had been shot at a studio in Faulkner’s Alley and benefited from the set designs of Tony Roberts, who had transformed Marks’ studio into a French Bistro for the former and a mad scientist’s laboratory for the latter. Sadly this was a luxury unavailable to Marks by the time of Moralpisser (reportedly the landlord at the Faulkner’s Alley studio kicked Marks out when he discovered what was being filmed there), which was instead made at the place Marks called home, a ground floor flat at 'The Hall', an apartment block on Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood, a place Marks had been living at since the mid-1960s. To watch Marks’ films from the 1960s and 1970s is to become extremely familiar with this place, it pops up constantly as a filming location in his work during that period. Shooting at his own gaff offering the obvious benefit of privacy to Marks, which would have been essential given the legal question mark that existed over shooting blue movies during this period. Marks’ very own bed is the setting for the sex orgy centrepiece of Moralpisser. Tony Roberts’ sets and creative input might be noticeable by their absence in Moralpisser, but Marks’ own abode is every bit as visually striking as any film set, with each room seemingly boasting its own colour scheme. Bright reds worthy of double decker buses and telephone boxes appear as the dominant colour of choice for Marks’ living room, which has red walls, red chairs, a red table, pretty much red everything. It’s the kind of place that you suspect you’d never be able to forget if you’d ever been there, in fact I’d wager a bet that even today Moralpisser cast members would still be able to recall the day they ventured into Marks’ ‘red room’. Conveniently for Marks it lends itself well to doubling as the lair of a fake medium here, making you wonder if Marks hadn’t made this comparison himself and dreamt up the narrative for this film on that basis.


Just to get slightly get away from Moralpisser for the moment, and go all Sherlock Holmes on everyone, also present in Marks’ living room and visible in Moralpisser are several yellowed documents that Marks had put on display on his walls, preserved inside of picture frames with distinct, gold coloured edges. My memory bank of minute details remembered from 1970s porn tells me that the same framed documents appeared as background in a hardcore lesbian shoot that ran in the continental porn magazine ‘Pleasure’. A shoot that is notable for featuring a pre-fame Mary Millington participating in mixed combo action with an afroed black woman and masturbating with a banana (see here). The presence of the framed documents and the further giveaway of bright red walls in the Pleasure magazine shoot meaning that Marks must have taken these photographs of Mary at his Grove End Road pad at some point in time. The fact that the photos capture Mary prior to her nose job and the work done on her teeth, indicates they were taken before her meeting David Sullivan in 1975, and points to them being from very early on in her career. Whilst it is now known that Mary did work for Marks before Come Play With Me, by starring in his softcore short ‘Sex is My Business’, the Pleasure magazine photo-shoot is the first evidence to emerge of Marks employing her in a hardcore capacity in her early days too. Somehow though I doubt the current residents of 'The Hall' in Grove End Road - a building which still stands- will be in any hurry to erect a blue plaque commemorating the fact that Marks made blue films there, or that Mary Millington once pleasured herself with a banana on the premises.

Marks’ ‘red room’ in Moralpisser

Everything about Moralpisser from Marks’ played for laughs cameo to the good time sex scenes have a light-hearted tone to them, leading you to assume that the film will end on a similar note. So it comes as a surprise when Marks royally pulls the rug from under us by taking things in the completely opposite direction. Finally exhausted from all the sex they’ve been having the medium and his guests return back to the séance expecting to find Marks there on his own. Instead they are confronted by the sight of themselves still sitting around the table. The medium and his guests scream wildly at this sight, as the versions of themselves sat around the table turn around and glower at them menacingly. The final shot in the film sees them vanishing into thin air. It’s a puzzler of an ending; have the medium and his guests been dead all along? or have their bodies become possessed by evil spirits during the séance?, or did the séance cause them to lose their souls which drifted away for an orgy and failed to realise they’d become separated from their bodies till the shock ending? Whichever way you interpret this, it is a chilling conclusion and one that takes you totally off guard. Like the onscreen characters, the audience really got more than they bargained for in their pursuit of sexual cheap thrills with Moralpisser, but you can’t help admire the mischievous nature in Marks for pulling a head wrecker of a twist like that on his audience who probably didn’t expect it to be the hairs on the back of their necks that were left standing by the film. So that’s Moralpisser then, a film with laughs, another memorable Marks cameo, raunchy sex, a horror movie worthy ending and clues to a hitherto unknown Marks/Mary Millington connection. What more could you ask for from 1970s pornography?, to quote the board held up by Marks at the end of his 1964 glamour film The Four Poster “what do you want blood?”

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Stanley Long RIP 1933-2012

Veteran British sex filmmaker Stanley Long died earlier this week aged 78. I can’t make any claim to have known him, save for several email exchanges a few years ago in which he voiced dissatisfaction over the current DVD releases of his films The Wife Swappers and Groupie Girl, and tried to persuade me to buy the then forthcoming DVD boxset of his ‘Adventures of a…’ series instead… not that I needed much persuading there. I did though have a hand in reuniting him with a copy of his 1975 rarity ‘It Could Happen to You’ and his early 8mm glamour film ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and I may have once pissed him off by writing up a certain fact concerning his unmade 1979 horror film ‘Plasmid’.

The British sex film genre could boast to having many distinct characters (Derek Ford, Antony Balch, Harrison Marks) each with their own unique way of looking at the world, but Long had a brilliant, finger on the pulse intuition over what the British public wanted to see. To the degree that his career not only spans the entire history of the genre but also acts as a microcosm of its various trends and changing attitudes. Long was there right from the start, shooting 8mm glamour films in the late 1950s and his subsequent feature film career encompasses the carefree nudist film boom of the early 60s to the cautionary ‘tut, tut and leer’ approach of his mega hit The Wife Swappers at the decade’s end, before the more relaxed attitude of the early 70s allowed Long the chance to make more overtly comic sex films like Sex and the Other Woman, culminating in his massively popular ‘Adventures’ films, beginning with Adventures of a Taxi Driver in 1975, followed by Adventures of a Private Eye in 1977, and Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate in 1978. Success after success within the genre proved that Long was far more in touch with the tastes of the average man on the street than any so-called film ‘experts’ or critics. To this day cinema snobs still recoil in disgust over the fact that Long’s Adventures of a Taxi Driver out grossed Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver during its original run, but clearly as far as 1975 was concerned the average British cinemagoer was more interested in seeing Barry Evans lose his trousers then they were in seeing Robert De Niro losing his marbles.

While many British sex films fell into obscurity during the 1980s and 1990s the Adventures films -along with the Confessions series- continued to be kept in circulation via video releases and late night TV airings- ensuring these films played a vital part in forming the public’s mental image of what 1970s British sex comedies were all about. Outside of sex films Long also acted as cinematographer on The Blood Beast Terror (1967)- shooting its ridiculous moth woman monster, and became a footnote to the careers of Roman Polanski and Michael Reeves by acting as cameraman on Repulsion (1965) and The Sorcerers (1967), going way beyond the call of duty for the latter by agreeing to being strapped to the top of a police car in order to film the climactic car chase.

Personally my own introduction to Long’s films –and the two that made the biggest impression on me- were The Wife Swappers (1969) and Eskimo Nell (1974), surely the genre’s most unintentionally and intentionally funniest moments. How can anyone ever forget The Wife Swappers?, after all there isn’t a single scene in that film that isn’t memorable for some reason or another, whether it is the sight of Leonard and his wife who has fallen victim to a post-dubbing job, the hopeless actor being passed off as an ‘eminent London psychiatrist’ who is only convincing as a psychiatrist in the sense that it is hard to believe he was a proper actor, or such hysterical dialogue as “you’ve taken the act of love and dirtied it”.

With Eskimo Nell, Long got to have his cake and eat it by producing a satire on the very film industry he himself lorded over, sending up everyone from crooked film distributors to the Whitehouse/Longford/Festival of Light mob. Catching up with that film in the 1990s, further piqued my curiosity over the film world that Eskimo Nell lampooned and encouraged me to delve deeper into Britain’s saucy past.


I suspect Long rarity, if ever, saw any decent critical notices for his films while he was making them “a ninth rate skin flick with the ugliest, spottiest, dirtiest assembly of misshapen non-actors since Tod Browning’s Freaks” was Films and Filming’s take on Groupie Girl, “listless documentary about prostitution through the ages, with lots of hammy recreations from different periods. All the women have exceptionally large breasts” moaned Time Out on the subject of 1973’s On the Game. So it was rather gratifying to see a recent flurry of critical interest in Long’s films, with his ‘London in the Raw’ and ‘Primitive London’ both being screened at the BFI Southbank and released on DVD and Blu-Ray, inspiring highbrow reappraisals in the likes of The Guardian. After years of deriding the genre Long worked in ‘the intelligentsia’ had finally come grovelling. Long himself began making regular appearances at film screenings and conventions, as well as popping up on such disparate television programmes as Balderdash and Piffle, British Film Forever and the antiques show Trust Me I’m a Dealer. Even forgotten obscurities like West End Jungle (1961) managed to get dusted off, released on DVD, screened on BBC4 and inspire a Marc Almond music video (2010’s ‘Varity’). Sad as Long’s passing is, and that such a vital link to our cinematic past is now gone, there is the reassuring knowledge that he lived long enough to see his films being appreciated again, and got to tell all (or at least as much as libel laws would allow) in his 2008 biography ‘X Rated - Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker’.

Check out the book and the DVD releases. The former is full of great stories about his life and times, and the films themselves are rich in memorable moments. I know sights like the badly made up Marilyn Monroe lookalike in West End Jungle, a bunch of actors pretending to be beatniks eating what is meant to be cat food but was actually tins of tuna in London in the Raw, Jane Cardew’s breasts in Sex and the Other Woman, and the maniacal Punch and Judy man in Screamtime, will forever be burnt into my grey matter. Stanley Long was responsible for all of that, and I’m very grateful for it.


Long strapped to the top of a car during the making of The Sorcerers

Thursday, 30 August 2012

8mm sex film adverts

A selection of 8mm sex film ads from the 60s and 70s

“whatever your tastes, fuck films are fun. And although there’s still room for improvement, it’s a most enjoyable way to spend an hour”- Antony Balch, 1972.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Betrayed Revisited

Incredibly someone (not me) has managed to trace the location used for the exterior scenes of the early Mary Millington film ‘Betrayed’. Goodness knows how, given that you see it only fleetingly in the film and the location has changed quite a bit since then. It is in Amsterdam, and when John Lindsay made the film was obviously some kind of a pub or bistro (as in the context of the film it is where the men go to down a few pints) but is now ‘San Jovany’ an Italian restaurant. Although all these years later they still have a sign plugging Heineken beer outside!! It you want to look it up on Google earth the street address is “San Jovany, Westermarkt 23, Amsterdam, Nederland”.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Back to the Eighties: MOONSTALKER (1986)

MOONSTALKER (1986) (aka Predator the Quietus) Directed by Leslie McCarthy

The late, great Cliff Twemlow was a true working class renaissance man who- until his death in 1993- tried his hand at everything from stints as a nightclub bouncer, library music composer and horror paperback writer, finally settling on a dual career as an actor and DIY filmmaker. Twemlow’s best known film ‘G.B.H’ (1983), the violent story of a Mancunian nightclub bouncer- autobiographically played by Cliff himself- was a fondly remembered good time rental from the early days of British video. Its ballsy claim to be “more brutal than The Long Good Friday”, non-stop action and one-liners worthy of Gene Hunt himself, easily winning audiences over, despite GBH’s humble, shot on videotape origins.

Stories about the so-called “Beast of Exmoor” proved to be the inspiration behind this 1986 effort which adds horror elements to Twemlow’s tried and tested GBH formula. “The Beast”, if you remember, was all over the papers in the 1980s thanks to constant tabloid speculation that a high amount of sheep deaths were the result of a giant, panther like cat being loose in the countryside. Clearly not even this angle was sensationalist enough for Twemlow, nor Moonstalker director Leslie McCarthy, who instead use the film to posit the theory that the beast was in fact a werewolf!!! Given such a spin on the story like that it’s no surprise that a New York newspaper dispatches ace reporter Kelly O’Neil (Cordelia Roche) to a little village in England to investigate the apparent werewolf attacks. The paper also hires big game hunter Daniel Kane (Twemlow) in order to provide the back-up brawn to her brains. Clearly taking no chances, Kane arrives in the UK carrying with him machine guns and “an image that’s as wholesome as sewerage”. The fact that you are not really allowed to run around the English countryside tooled up like Rambo is cheekily dismissed by a line claiming that Kane has been granted a special permit to bear arms by the Freemasons!! “Charles Bronson eat your heart out” wisecracks one character.

Kelly’s initial scepticism starts to crumble when Mr Rooney and Mr Clancy, a pair of old Irish drunkards, start feeding her stories about the werewolf’s exploits. The drunken duo’s merry demeanour and habit of injecting exclamations of “bejesus” and “Mary, Mother of God” into their conversations quickly endearing them to Kelly. “That’s real Irish charm” an easily impressed Kelly tells Kane. Kelly inadvertently gives Rooney and Clancy a flash of inspiration about how they can settle their bar tab when she mentions the cash reward on offer for the werewolf’s capture. Setting into motion several attempts to find the werewolf by the ‘Oirish’ double act, whose well pissed antics provide the film’s idea of comic relief. The werewolf itself occasionally surfaces to polish off livestock and a few minor characters as well as scare a pair of randy teenagers off having a quick bonk in a field. Just to add to the village’s problem of having a lycanthrope on their doorstep, a local biker gang have started throwing their weight around- as well as the odd Molotov cocktail- too. Sporting names like Weasel and Badger, and looking like they’ve escaped from the set of Death Wish 3, the motley bike gang are naturally destined for a run in with a certain big game hunter. After Kane beats up all of Badger’s gang, Badger sneers “not bad with boys are you old man, how do you make out with men”, only for Kane to shoot back at him the film’s funniest line “I don’t, my scene is with women, but I respect the preferences of others”.

As if the film didn’t have enough support characters to be going on with, we also get to meet the delightfully named Wilbur Sledge (Darryl Marchant), a strange young man who appears to know more about the werewolf than he is letting on. Wilbur serves as a mouthpiece for a surprisingly poetic and philosophical side to Twemlow’s screenwriting, and his script offers Wilbur plenty of opportunity to wander about the countryside delivering eccentric soliloquies about trees (“You are such a statuesque tree, proud and mighty, why did you anger the lord of lightening”), passing rabbits, and even the werewolf itself (“The beast is lonely…it needs my friendship”). An utterly unique presence in the film played an equally unique looking actor -imagine a Gary Numan lookalike and a Roddy McDowall sound alike, dressed as a farmer and delivering dialogue that suggests Twemlow trying to channel the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, and you have Mr Wilbur Sledge. Such a character would make for an incongruous presence in pretty much any film, and stands out even further here thanks to having being dropped in amidst such quintessential 1980s action film stables as a gun totting mercenary and a bike gang. The fact that Darryl Marchant looks to have never been troubled by the acting world before or since, and as far as I can tell remains a one film wonder, only adds to his and the his character’s mystic. Every moment Marchant is onscreen you are completely captivated by him and left wondering “what the fuck was his story?” and “where on earth did Twemlow find this guy?”

Initially built up as a likely werewolf suspect, Wilbur instead ends up taking on a friend/spiritual adviser role to Kane. After Kane gets injured by the werewolf, Wilbur even volunteers to stitch him back up with a needle and thread, a scene that acts as Moonstalker’s one real stab at gore. It probably would have been advisable for Kane to have just gone to hospital, but as it turns out Kane is impervious to pain anyway having mastered “jungle law”, so that’s alright then!!! An impressive werewolf finally takes centre stage in the expected Kane vs. Werewolf climax. Even if it is all slightly bungled by post brawl revelations that first suggest a Scooby-Doo type explanation for the werewolf, only to then take it all back and opt for a genuine ‘monster on the loose’ explanation instead. Presumably sparing Twemlow and Co the wraith of any believers in the real life Beast of Exmoor in the process.

Moonstalker gives the impression of having a greater amount of money and ambition behind it than the average Cliff Twemlow vehicle, with shooting done on film instead of the usual Twemlow medium of videotape. The film makes a decent attempt at bamboozling the audience into thinking its opening scenes were filmed in New York. Thanks to some NYC stock footage and shots of actors pretending to be junkies and roaming what in reality were the mean streets of the North West of England rather than the East Coast of America. Yet for all of the upgrade to film and illusory ‘overseas location’ work, Moonstaker still retains all the recognizable hallmarks of Twemlow’s small scale, but enthusiastic film work. Twemlow’s eye for action scenes and ear for brilliant, tough guy movie dialogue are on fine form. Little known areas of Twemlow’s beloved North West are predominantly what are offered up as background scenery, Moonstalker being partly filmed in the sleepy village of Chipping and an off-season scout camp in Worsley. The cast includes such Twemlow regulars as Maxton G. Beesley and Brian Sterling-Vete, adding to the strong sense of a close-knit filmmaking troupe at work.


Peek in at any stage of Cliff Twemlow’s life and career and what immediately strikes you is that here was a man who gave his all to whatever offbeat path life was pointing him in the direction of. His career as a nightclub bouncer, documented by himself in his autobiography ‘The Tuxedo Warrior’, would see him pay multiple visits to the hospital over the years (by the end of the book he is back there again with broken ribs and a fractured skull), his stint as a library music composer resulted in ‘two thousand’ pieces of music, and his 1970s fitness regime, also documented in The Tuxedo Warrior, saw him daily attempt 400 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and three mile jogging sessions (with lead weights tied to his legs- according to local legend). This drive and determination was clearly the central force behind his film career, and the fact that he even had one and was able to carve out a mini-film industry for himself in 1980s Britain, was perhaps his most remarkable achievement in life. While even seasoned low-budget filmmakers like Norman J Warren and Lindsay Shonteff struggled to get film projects off the ground during this decade, Twemlow was highly prolific in comparison, and seemingly doing what he did purely out of a love of making movies rather than for fame or money, since neither came his way on account of his film work. In fact, ‘G.B.H’ aside, his films were so invisible to the general public while he was making them, that it is really only now, years after the fact that we’re discovering later films like Moonstalker exist at all. By rights Twemlow should be an inspiration to all low-budget filmmakers out there, perhaps one day he’ll get his due.

Behind the scenes stories about Moonstalker further add to the idea of Twemlow as the sort who’d jump through rings of fire in order to see a film get completed, and at times threaten to rival the onscreen incidents in terms of entertainment value. According to one Moonstalker cast member the production was plagued by weird, supernatural occurrences and an actual ghost can briefly be seen in the film itself (although if this is true I’ve failed miserably to spot it every time I’ve watched the film). Given such hair-raising production troubles, a quick title change at the last minute (the original title ‘Predator the Quietus’ being unusable when it emerged that Hollywood was about to unleash a ‘Predator’ of its own) must have been a comparatively minor problem for Twemlow. Another moment of low-budget ingenuity saw Twemlow talk a local Fiat car dealer into providing transport for the production in return for some obvious product placement in the finished film. A handshake that resulted in poor Kane having to spend the film searching for a werewolf in a Fiat Panda, a less than macho mode of transport that characters unconvincingly insist is a jeep.

To be fair the presence of Kane’s not really a “Jeep” doesn’t hurt Moonstalker too much. In the event the miscast vehicle fits in conveniently well with Twemlow’s penchant for giving his characters quirky traits that go against audience expectations, generating intentional laughs in the process. In G.B.H, Twemlow had shown his hard as nails bouncer character sharing a bed with a giant teddy bear, and in Moonstalker he makes Kane a strict teetotaller. Resulting in a priceless onscreen moment when Twemlow- a man built like a brick shithouse- goes to a restaurant and asks for “a glass of orange juice, please”. Scenes that illustrate Twemlow’s ability to gamely take the piss out of himself in a way that the egos of far bigger Hollywood action heroes would never have allowed. Well, when was the last time you saw Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal in bed with a giant teddy bear? In spite of Twemlow taking on roles as the film’s male lead, writer, co-producer and fight arranger, there is an egolessness on display here, with the majority of his co-stars given a respectable amount of screen time and moments to shine too, a generosity that also extends to non-acting performers, witness the routine of a nightclub singer (“Jade at the Meridiana restaurant courtesy of Mr John Leyton” according to the end credits) being crowbarred into the film.

Twemlow quickly followed up Moonstalker with 1987’s The Eye of Satan, a similar hybrid of gung-ho action and horror that once again saw him playing a mercenary who answers to the name of Kane. Quite whether The Eye of Satan was conceived as a direct sequel to Moonstalker is a moot point though, since Kane sports rather different characteristics in his second outing. Namely an allegiance to the devil and glowing green eyes!! ( he managed to ditch the Fiat in between films as well.) The Eye of Satan also features several Moonstalker actors in different roles to the earlier film, indicating that Twemlow actually envisioned the two films as being unrelated to each other save for their similar main character. Perhaps this was just as well, since while The Eye of Satan was afforded an obscure video release and a few satellite TV airings on the HVC channel, a dispute with a film developing laboratory in Yorkshire initially resulted in Moonstalker being left on the shelf. In the early 1990s the rights to the film were acquired by Hemdale Film Corporation, a company that had been set up by the actor David Hemmings and his manager in the 1960s. When Hemdale went bankrupt in 1995, Moonstalker and the rest of the Hemdale library ended up the property of the Hollywood giant MGM. The sensible money would have been on MGM regarding the film as a low-priority and burying it, however to everyone’s great surprise MGM have in fact recently chosen to re-master Moonstalker in high definition, subsequently broadcasting a HD version of the film several times on American television in 2010 and making it available on the Netflix service. Quite an achievement for a previously unreleased film starring nobody anyone in America will have ever heard off, and featuring locations and accents that are equally obscure to a US audience. An unlikely happy ending to the saga of Moonstalker, and one which offers hope that all the other lost, forgotten or barely released horror films currently out there gathering dust may one day emerge from the vaults and have their day too.

Back in the UK, Moonstalker had its belated British premiere- nearly 25 years after it was made- as part of the 2010 Salford Film Festival. In true Cliff Twemlow fashion the première was held above a pub located just outside of Manchester City Centre. If the true litmus paper test of a film’s entertainment value is how it plays before a live audience then the film passed with flying colours. Proving a real crowd pleaser, Moonstalker had its audience laughing along with its knowingly implausible storyline, cheering when Cliff’s face first appeared onscreen, while even the slightest hint of an upcoming action scene was greeted by wrestling match like shouts of “Go on Cliff!!”. Me thinks Mr Twemlow would have approved.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Back to the Eighties: DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1983)


Directed by Edmund Purdom, Derek Ford and Ray Selfe

(In the first in an occasional series of write-ups of forgotten films from the 1980s I thought I’d demonstrate my ability to bore for England on the subject of ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’)

Don’t Open Till Christmas is a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, stitched together from elements of the American slasher genre and homegrown sleaze, imbued with the personalities of three different directors and let loose on the video renting public in late 1985. The man who flicked the switch that brought this shambling creation to life was American film producer Dick Randall. The archetypal, chubby, cigar smoking B movie mogul, Randall spent much of the 1960s and 1970s based in Rome and Hong Kong, producing countless exploitation films in the process. The Randall back catalogue boasted every conceivable kind of exploitation film, from Mondo movies to softcore frolics, to Kung-Fu capers starring Bruce Lee look-alikes, rip-offs of ET and Superman, and even a James Bond spoof starring a three and a half foot Filipino midget.

At some point in the early 1980s Randall relocated to London where he would find himself making British horror films, appropriately enough choosing an office on the ground floor of Hammer House in Wardour Street as his new base of operations. This first offering to emerge from The Dick Randall House of Horror looks to have been an attempt to emulate the success of the 1982 horror film ‘Pieces’, a Randall produced gorefest that saw former matinee idol Edmund Purdom play a chainsaw maniac. Applying an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ logic Don’t Open Till Christmas shares that film’s co-producer Steve Minasian and its love of ultra-violent set pieces. Edmund Purdom was also back on board, having been relinquished of chainsaw duties in favour of roles as the new film’s director and leading man. If the rest of the credits of Don’t Open Till Christmas are anything to go by Dick Randall wasted no time in finding individuals in London who were on his wavelength, with many of the cast and crew veterans of British Exploitation filmmaking. Randall probably thought it was safe bet allowing his good friend Purdom into the director’s chair, especially with all these hardened exploitation film vets around to support the actor and first time director. In reality Randall couldn’t have ended up with a bigger mess on his hands if he’d put Frank Spencer in the director’s chair.

Don’t Open Till Christmas sees Cliff Boyd (Gerry Sundquist) and girlfriend Kate Briovski (Belinda Mayne) drawn into a series of Yuletide murders after a masked man gate crashes their Xmas party. Incensed at Kate’s father being dressed as Santa Claus the masked man promptly spears Kate’s father through the head before disappearing into the night. Inspector Harris (Purdom) and Detective Powell (Mark Jones) are the baffled policemen on the trail of this psychopath who has made quite a habit of going round the West End bumping off anyone dressed as Santa Claus. “It was the costume that he was wearing” Harris explains to Kate “he was the victim of another Santa murder”.

By day Cliff and Kate are buskers in the London underground, an occupation that brings them into contact with Cliff’s old friend Gerry (Kevin Lloyd) a porn photographer. Gerry invites the couple over to his studio for tea, only its crumpet that Gerry really has on his mind. He and Cliff conspire to get Kate to pose for some topless girl on girl photographs with Gerry’s model Sharon (Pat Astley). After all what better way to overcome the recent death of a loved one than to embark on a porn career? Proper girl that Kate is, she is horrified at this suggestion and the men’s plan really goes haywire when Gerry insensitively gets out a Santa costume for the planned photos. After Kate storms out, Sharon ends up donning the Santa costume and goes on to make a drunken pass at Cliff outside the studio. This evening then takes a further farcical turn when the police show up, forcing Mother Christmas and Cliff to make a run for it fearing they’ve been mistaken for “a couple of gays”. Following a quick dash around the block Sharon escapes the police only to find herself face to face with the Santa-hating masked man. Although since the mystery man only holds a grudge against male Santas, he merely touches her up with a cut throat razor to establish she is a woman, before legging it. “His eyes, they seem to smile” Sharon tells the police who cart her away for indecent exposure anyway.

At this point a slovenly newspaper hack called Giles Morgan (Alan Lake) pops up to drop hints that Harris has quite a few skeletons in his closet and implies that Powell would do himself a favour by solving the crimes himself. With ‘only three more killing days till Christmas’ (as one of Giles’ tabloid headlines puts it) the cops and the killer certainly have their work cut out for them. Anticipating the Christmas rush Santa impersonators are everywhere! One lonely department store Santa even goes to a Soho peep show dressed in his work clothes. The ‘experience’ Santa (as the character is billed in the credits) isn’t about to experience anything of interest as the peep show girl (Kelly Baker) only makes bad jokes and ‘X’-mas themed dirty talk from behind a pane of glass. ‘Santa’ becomes more and more nervous and frustrated. Unimpressed by her terrible dancing (“what do you expect Flashdance?” she complains) this Santa is clearly after unloading his sack. “I’d like to have you sitting on my knee” he pervs, just as the killer bursts into the peep show booth and butchers him in front of the girl’s eyes.

With Harris cracking under pressure, Powell goes over his head to arrange a stakeout (seemingly at a circus’ toilet!) that entails two undercover policemen dressing up as ‘decoy’ Santas. All merrily goes well with the cop Santas handing out toys to children, that is until the killer shows up with a blade attached to his shoe and kicks one Santa in the groin. A backup Santa gets more of the same, giving some weight to Harris’ earlier observation that “Christmas is no time to be a policeman”. Back at Scotland Yard the girl from the peep show (named Cherry in the film and more bluntly ‘Experience Girl’ in the end credits) refuses 24 hour police protection and heads back to her old peep-show haunt. When Cherry’s first customer turns out to be he of ‘smiling eyes’, a chase around London streets ensues, ending with her being dragged down into a cellar. In the process Cherry gets a good look at the killer, why it is none other than newspaper hack Giles. “I hate Christmas, I hate everything it stands for” Giles complains in a sinister put on voice. Flashbacks elaborate to reveal that as a child Giles discovered his Santa dressed father having sex with a blonde family friend, then witnessed this naughty Santa throwing his mother down the stairs.

Unbeknown to Giles, Kate in the course of her own investigation into the murders has become aware of who the killer is and his motives. Information she strangely doesn’t bother to share with Harris (who she has a dinner date with) or Cliff (who enviously tries to break up the dinner date). No matter, since later that night Giles pays Kate a surprise visit and reveals that he is in fact Harris’ mad brother. “I thought I’d give him a real case to work on” Giles explains before strangling and stabbing the film’s heroine to death. Across town Harris also reaches the end of his mortal coil when he learns the hard way why the film is called Don’t Open Till Christmas. All of which leaves Cherry alone to face off against mad Giles who plans to make her “the supreme sacrifice to all the evil Christmas is”.

Despite Edmund Purdom’s claim to be ‘a born director’, he clearly was nothing of the sort. Although in fairness Purdom can’t be held solely responsible for Don’t Open Till Christmas, and the production itself seems to have been plagued by an almost supernatural run of bad luck. Originally planned as a quickie shoot around Christmas 1983, the film eventually took over a year to make. Delays that dragged the production into summertime and forced the cast to don wintery clothes and Santa costumes throughout Summer 1984 in order to maintain the Yuletide setting of the film. While the cast sweated it out, the film’s script was also re-written at one point and several roles recast, with Randall’s friend – Alan ‘Killer’s Moon’ Birkinshaw- drafted in to oversee the rewriting and recasting. Soon after the production ended one of the film’s stars, Alan Lake, gave a grim postscript to the onscreen madness by committing suicide. By the time Don’t Open till Christmas was finally completed it had not only seen off one of its actors, but had seen several men fill then vacate the director’s chair. According to the late Ray Selfe, Edmund Purdom made a complete hash of directing the film and a second director had to be found in former British sex filmmaker Derek Ford. When Ford himself then got fired from the project, it was left to Selfe to finish directing Don’t Open Till Christmas. As the film’s editor Selfe also had the unenviable task of making his efforts and the aborted work of his two predecessors resemble a film.

Purdom’s footage -by far the most amateurish of the bunch- recalls the kind of quota quickie that Butchers films and EJ Fancey had been financing more than two decades earlier. The cheaper end of the 1960s British film world is especially evoked in reoccurring exterior shots of New Scotland Yard, and scenes of Purdom and Mark Jones discussing the case in a room that has been dressed in a threadbare fashion to resemble a Scotland Yard office. Such old fashioned sleuthing is in sharp contrast to the very 1980s slasher scenes themselves that find various Santas wandering onto the screen only to meet their maker at the hands of Alan Lake’s psychopath (or at least Lake’s masked stand-in) a few moments later. As with the chainsaw murders in Pieces, these sequences go hugely over the top in the gore department. Faces instead of chestnuts are roasted on an open fire, eyeballs are punched out, machetes embedded in heads and brains blown out. Don’t Open Till Christmas’ bad taste highlight and the scene that no one forgets, finds a department store Santa (played by Greek pornographer Max Roman) using a urinal only to be caught short when the killer creeps out of a toilet cubical and castrates him.

Of the three directors, it is arguably Derek Ford whose personality can be felt the most in the film. Unlike fellow British sex filmmaker Stanley Long whose horror shorts from this period (Do You Believe in Fairies?, That’s the way to do it!, Dreamhouse) offer no clue as to their director’s saucy background, Ford clearly found it harder to shake off his past. As a result Don’t Open Till Christmas sure loves its sleaze, from the dirty talk in the Soho peep booth, to Pat Astley’s glamour photo shoot and the killer later molesting a semi-nude Pat with a cut throat razor. This pornographic undercurrent to the film certainly distances Don’t Open Till Christmas from the typical American slasher films of the period, almost as much as the Purdom directed footage does. A running theme in Derek Ford’s work manages to find an unlikely outlet here thanks to Cliff’s transformation from a nice guy in the early scenes to a swinging opportunist trying to capitalize on his girlfriend’s grief by coercing her to appear in a lesbian photo-shoot. Hardly the typical behaviour of a clean cut horror film hero, but pure Derek Ford, whose earlier sex films like The Wife Swappers and Commuter Husbands display a deep obsession with swinging suburbia and outwardly ‘respectable’ people leading hedonistic double lives. Obsessions that, by all accounts, Ford didn’t just restrict to his film work. The premise for the scene and Kate’s predictably appalled reaction to Cliff’s suggestion feels like someone’s memory of a swinger’s party gone awry than anything belonging to a horror film.

The casting of 1970s sex film thespians Mark Jones, Alan Lake and the always fun to watch Pat Astley only adds to Don’t Open Till Christmas’ overall blurring of British sexploitation and horror genres. Alan Lake is a shocker here, unshaven and with his hair reverting to its natural grey, it is all a far cry from the tanned, medallion man superstuds Lake had been playing only a few years earlier. By this stage Lake’s hell raising lifestyle was evidentially taking its toll, and he looks every bit the man who has attended one too many amyl nitrate fuelled parties. So dishevelled is the actor’s appearance that his character Giles resembles a street person rather than the Fleet Street journalist he is meant to be. While clearly not keeping it together off-screen, Lake manages to put in a decent enough final performance. The aura of danger and unpredictability that Lake carried round with him all his life is successfully channelled into his onscreen character, bringing an authentic sense of menace to the actor’s final scenes. There really is a look of madness in those smiling eyes of his. Lake’s co-star Mark Jones doesn’t fare as well, having drawn the short straw of a role that puts him in close contact with the film’s most ludicrous dialogue. Unlike Alan Lake, Jones did live to see Don’t Open Till Christmas and reportedly hated it. Solid acting pro that Jones was, there are moments in the film where even he can’t disguise the fact that he so obviously just wants the ground to open up and swallow him. Then there is Pat Astley, a Blackpool born glamour model, sex film starlet and TV extra generally relegated to playing leggy nurses and often dubbed on the rare occurrences she was ever given dialogue. Here however Pat finally gets to shine in her last, but lengthiest big screen role before she stepped back into the anonymity of TV extra work and retired from showbiz in the early 1990s, you even get to hear her flat Lancastrian accent in all its glory. Pat basically comes across as herself, a bubbly Northern lass who seems barely able to conceal her amusement at being asked to deliver an acting performance. Nevertheless Pat is extremely sweet in a way that makes you want to defend her corner and turn a blind eye to her limited acting ability. Don’t Open Till Christmas agreeably lets Blackpool Patricia’s big screen career end on a note of triumph as she memorably exits the film flashing her tits at Edmund Purdom whilst proudly proclaiming “I’m a professional”. Indeed she was.

As fundamentally fucked up as Don’t Open Till Christmas is, its hard not to admire the showman in Dick Randall and his attempts to throw anything into the film that could save the day and endear it to a horror film audience. The discovery that his friend George Dugdale was married to erstwhile Bond girl and horror film icon Caroline Munro, resulted in Randall talking her into appearing in the film. Munro’s subsequent cameo in which she plays herself and performs a song on stage called “The Warrior of Love” was shot in just one afternoon. It was a sequence clearly meant to be mutually beneficial to both parties, giving Munro a chance to resurrect her long dormant singing career as well as give Randall another name to put on the video box. It also gave the filmmakers an excuse to throw in further rubbish gore effects, since Munro’s performance is intercut with -what else- another Santa murder. To add to this coup, Randall managed to talk the owners of the London Dungeon into letting the filmmakers use the famous wax museum in Don’t Open Till Christmas as well. No prizes for guessing that in the film the wax museum ends up as the backdrop to yet another Santa slashing. Someone who saw the latter scene from an unusual angle -namely an upside down one- was ex-porn star Paula Meadows. A veteran of top shelf magazines and early Mike Freeman videos, Paula was roped into appearing in the London dungeon scene. Quite literally, as she plays a secretary who bumps into the killer during his pursuit of a Santa Claus victim, only to end up dead and hung upside down naked herself. Needless to say it is not one of Paula’s more cherished memories from her career. “The shooting of that scene was horribly uncomfortable once I was hanging upside-down from my feet, I began to feel dizzy and nauseous and start to panic. Derek Ford came to the rescue and held up my head in between takes” recalls Paula “I never saw the film because I had no desire to see myself as a naked corpse with blood dripping from my throat!” For a long time afterwards the London Dungeon were said to be extremely hesitant to let anyone shoot in there again, claiming this S&M flavoured scene was ‘a bit too much’. Not that Paula would have been up for a repeat performance “I couldn't wait to be cut down” she remembers “I wouldn't want to enter the portals of the London Dungeon again”. It should be said that Paula isn’t the only person involved in the film who doesn’t hold the finished product in high regard. Another former crew member flatly denied ever having even worked on the film, complaining to me over the phone in his heavy scots accent “I didna doooo Don’t Open Till Christmas” clearly forgetting the fact that his name features prominently in the end credits or that he was filmed working on the production for a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary about Don’t Open Till Christmas that Randall had commissioned.

This highly calamitous introduction to British horror films clearly didn’t put Dick Randall off continuing to fly the flag for the genre. By the decade’s end he had produced three further horror films and two genre themed documentaries. If anything Randall could be accused of being a little too dedicated to making horror films and a workaholic lifestyle in general. As one former employee noted, the work done during this period “probably helped drive him to an early grave”. Yet Randall remains perhaps the closest the 1980s had to a Tony Tenser figure. Like Tenser, Randall was a truly larger than life character whose producing career kept older filmmakers in work, not to mention giving new talent like George Dugdale and Paul Hart-Wilden a foothold into the filmbiz, and of course Randall got to line his own pockets with the proceeds as well. “Artistic sensitivity was not his concern!” remembers Paula Meadows “he was a good natured man with an infectious smile, who just wanted to get on and make a movie in the simplest, cheapest way and rake in the most money possible!”

If truth be told Don’t Open Till Christmas is definitely the runt of the Randall litter, his second British horror production Slaughter High (1985) pulls off the concept of a home-grown stalk and slash movie far more efficiently. So Don’t Open Till Christmas has to settle for being a disreputable, unloved abnormality. A film released at the height of the Video Nasty hysteria in which so much stage blood is flung about that the filmmakers offer special thanks to the company that made the red stuff in the end credits. One that is unashamedly geared to the exploitation market as anything else with Dick Randall’s name attached to it, making it look like something made in another universe to such strands of 1980s British cinema as the period piece film world of Merchant-Ivory or the dramas of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. None of whom ever thought to include a scene of Santa being castrated in a public toilet in their films. All these years later Don’t Open Till Christmas stills retains a certain car crash fascination. Its unpretentious approach to sleaze, wild outbursts of gore and baggage retained from the tackier elements of British cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, means it especially calls out to those with such cinematic interests.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Gypsy Dave Cooper – the birthday card

Now available in all good supermarkets; a birthday card featuring ‘Gypsy’ Dave
Cooper (a.k.a. the bloke with the tattoos who shouts at Linzi Drew in An American Werewolf in London), and Paula Meadows (‘you might remember her from being hung upside down in Don’t Open Till Christmas’). Photo originates from an old issue of ‘Rustler’, probably the only photo from the shoot that they could get away with displaying in Tesco.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review: Love for Sale (1960s)

Down a murky street, stiletto clad feet patrol the pavements of London in “Love for Sale”, an 8mm film made at some point in the 1960s by the rather unfortunately named S.S. Film Productions. Love for Sale is as if somebody had seen Arnold Louis Miller’s West End Jungle, thought the absolute world of it, and been inspired to go out and make their own variation on the same theme.

The two films share an identical landscape; a world of grey, dirty buildings, rain battered streets, suggestively worded adverts pinned to public notice boards, Soho stairways leading men up to a sexual adventure or some kind of folly. Love for Sale opens with a woman being dropped off in a car; a shot of her tucking cash down the front of her dress leaves you in no doubt as to what her occupation is. But it seems a prostitute’s work is never done, as no sooner has she reached for a cigarette then her next client emerges from an alley to offer her a light and a proposition. An obsession for close-ups visually dominates Love for Sale, with their trip back to her flat depicted by a close-up of their feet walking down a street, followed by a close up of their feet entering a doorway, and ending with a close up of his feet- by now at her flat- as he sits down on a chair. Once at the flat Love for Sale becomes a visualisation of a line from the film Cover Girl Killer “undressing for tired businessmen… bit of a dead end job”.

The term 8mm glamour film, feels ridiculously inappropriate here, given the decidedly un-glamorous worldview constructed by this film. Unconsciously- or perhaps not- Love for Sale breaks many rules of the game. The prostitution theme being deeply at odds with the still at this point asexual scenarios that figured in Russell Gay and Harrison Marks’ 8mm films of the time. Love for Sale’s female lead is also as far removed as you can get from the ‘look but don’t touch’ fantasy figures that inhabited other 8mm glamour films, more than a little jaded looking she is mostly seen frowning that is when she isn’t lighting up another cigarette. While not unattractive, she is a few steps down from a Harrison Marks model in terms of looks, casting that greatly works in this film’s favour, since the use of a better known or better looking model would have instantly killed the realism here. Love for Sale really goes where other glamour films feared to tread when it begins focusing on her preparing herself for her client in the next room, adjusting her wig, applying lipstick, visuals that seem to constantly point out what a chore she really finds making herself look sexy and glamorous to be. As for the male lead, who knows what he looks like, given that the film always keeps his face off- screen. An anonymity that allows the filmmakers to indulge in further close-ups, which in turn force you to instead build up a mental image of him. Shots highlighting well-polished shoes and a smart trousers and suit compo suggesting a well moneyed city businessman, yet with a demeanour of someone who is a bag of nerves, evidenced by close-ups of him crossing his legs, close-ups of him impatiently drumming his fingers on the chair, close-ups of him uncrossing his legs, close-ups of him reaching into a pack of Rothmans for a cigarette. The fact that the majority of her striptease is intercut with such close-ups of him only emphasizes the voyeuristic drive that is at the heart of the glamour film genre.

As the collector who supplied me with a copy of this film accurately pointed out the tone of Love for Sale is so relentlessly grimy and downbeat it is hard to believe anyone ever got aroused by this thing. Yet Love for Sale clearly does have its eye on titillation, a kind of titillation that is extremely specific to its own time and place, the film’s delight at the sight of suspender belts, the peeling off of nylon stockings and big tits squeezed into a black bra being very much a product of that ‘Spick and Span’ mentality

The little known S.S. Films were also responsible for ‘Stage Struck’ in which another busty brunette (Margaret Middleton) is lured to a film studio where she is spied upon getting undressed by a creepy looking, bearded man. On the basis of these two films, S.S. Films were truly having their cake and eating it back then, producing films that are rich in authentically sleazy atmosphere whilst at the same time keep within the boundaries of what was socially acceptable for that era by never actually showing anything more than women undressing. The semi-professional execution of both these films and the utilization of a film studio in Stage Struck hint that we are dealing here with the output of people with a background in real films or glamour photography, rather than rank amateurs fumbling their way into the sex industry.

For an appropriate audio accompaniment, a screening of Love for Sale surely begs to be accompanied by the Cole Porter song of the same name, which in all likelihood inspired the film’s title in the first place. Zebedy Colt’s spirited, late 1960s rendition of the song from his ‘I’ll Sing for You’ album, works especially well with the film.

Love for Sale (or rather ‘Love for Sale: Part One’ as its billed on its title card) ends with a wonderful visual stand-in for the hanky panky its prostitute and her client are about to indulge in, as they discard their cigarettes into the same ashtray, lit ends placed together, causing them to smoulder away into the night. Does Love for Sale Part Two go on to show what those cigarettes are meant to symbolise? an educated guess would suggest it is unlikely. Since as the client in Love for Sale must know only too well, you’d have to open your wallet a bit wider and venture down even further murky alleys to find that kind of thing in 1960s London.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Groping in the Dark

Pursuing and attempting to document 1970s British pornography so many years after the fact is rather like being a blind man at an orgy, you can but only grope around in the dark, not knowing what you’re going to find but hoping what you eventually get hold of turns out to be …….something special.

Unlike the British sex feature films of the 1960s and 70s, which have been the recipient of their fair share of overdue attention in the last couple of years, the soft and hardcore 8mm shorts that co-existed alongside the likes of the ‘Confessions’ and ‘Adventures’ films in the 1970s, remain uncharted cinematic territory. No one was reviewing these films at the time, and with the exception of John Lindsay few of these film’s makers invited any publicity into what they were doing. After all what they were doing was far from socially acceptable, and in the case of blue filmmakers like Lindsay, a legal question mark. Likewise the performers in these films courted anonymity. In spite of this, a certain kind of star system clearly existed in this shadowy film world, with familiar faces popping up from film to film. The fact that these people never received onscreen credit means you often have to resort to the art of thinking up nicknames for the performers- based on physical characteristics and prior credits. I sincerely wish I had something more dignified to refer to a regular female performer in this stuff other than “her with the big ears who was also in Hot Flesh”. But given that she appears to have had a prolific career in 8mm porn without ever having had to use a real or stage name, it looks like “Miss Big Ears” she will have to remain. Not even porn actor Short Jack Gold- who co-starred with Big Ears in ‘Sex is My Business’ and briefly dated her for a while- could remember her actual name.

With no name performers, unknown directors, and zero prior written information to act as a guide map into this netherworld, it remains pot luck whether that 8mm film you have your beady eye on will turn out to be a forgotten erotic classic, a film with some redeemable unintentionally funny element to it, or just leave you totally unmoved. Recently my fellow smut archaeologist ‘Sgt. Rock’ took a gamble on having a few old 8mm sex films transferred to DVD, all of which have otherwise long been forgotten about by the world. The back of one of these film’s 8mm boxes contained listings for further films, ones with hard-to-believe-they-really-exist titles like ‘Pervert’s Mass Orgy’, ‘Nazi Brutality’ and ‘The Plumbers and the Schoolgirl’. Heavy duty themed, but wild and crazy sounding nonetheless.

Rather less outrageous is the output of Mountain films who commissioned a number of short softcore sex films in the early to mid-1970s, which were released under the banner of “Impact Double X Films”. One of these productions ‘Wild Lovers’-starring a pre-fame Mary Millington- was unearthed by Sgt. Rock back in May of last year, and now thanks to the Sarge we have two further Mountain efforts to put under the magnifying glass.

EMMANUELLE FROM BANGKOK, is –as its title suggests- Mountain’s imitation of the 1974 French bonkbuster Emmanuelle, and in its brief running time goes about recreating that film’s iconic imagery in the cheekiest, threadbare fashion possible. A brunette –the film’s Emmanuelle character- sits in a wicker chair flicking through a Thailand holiday brochure and masturbating, which in turn triggers numerous sex and Thailand themed flashbacks. Unlike the rest of the films in Sgt. Rock’s haul, Emmanuelle From Bangkok did actually survive on into the video era, when it and two other Mountain shorts ‘Hot Flesh’ and ‘The Handyman’ (both starring the enigmatic Miss Big Ears) were compiled into a video called Emmanuelle and Friends and linked by tagged on narration meant to be from the films’ lead characters. In a rare example of after the fact dubbing actually adding to a British sex film short the narration goes some way into clearing up Emmanuelle from Bangkok’s fragmented narrative, giving backstories to the various characters seen in the sex scenes (“Amanda bought some friends along, then things really hotted up”) and explaining the Thailand footage away as Emmanuelle’s memories of holidaying there, with the voiceover forever singing Thailand’s praises. Without the narration to contextualise it, this short must have caused a great amount of head scratching in its original b/w, silent 8mm incarnation. The structure of the film could be politely described as ‘dreamlike’ or if you’re feeling less charitable ‘incomprehensible’, with disconnected scenes of sex, Emmanuelle masturbating and touristy shots of Thailand edited together with little rhyme or reason. Sans narration, you’re never quite sure if what you are seeing is meant to be flashbacks or fantasy scenes. Likewise it is hard to see what the sex scenes- all of which take place in the same bedroom- and Thailand footage have to do with each other, whilst the Thai footage is utilised in the manner of location establishing shots, the sex scenes never move away from that one location. The Thailand footage itself-which is totally asexual- ranges from mondo movie type glimpses of kickboxing, stick fighting and views of temples filmed from a riverboat to nothing special street scenes and shots of boat people who never in a million years could imagine they’d one day be cut into a softcore British short. Mountain’s penchant for group sex means that Emmanuelle’s bed soon becomes a very crowded place to be, with further and further sexual partners appearing on it without explanation every time the film cuts back from yet another glimpse of Thailand. Just about every variation is played out from a lesbian twosome, to two guys and two girls, to one guy and three girls.

While the use of exotic locations and adventurous sex does occasionally evoke not only the original Emmanuelle, but Peter Shillingford’s Naughty Girls (1975), unlike those films which managed to fly their casts out to those locations, here however it is clear that the budget could only stretch to buying up stock footage and applying it to home-grown sex scenes. A more honest title for the film would have been “Emmanuelle doesn’t go to Bangkok”. Overall Emmanuelle from Bangkok plays like the kind of travelogue you’d expect to see used by a 1980s game show to illustrate a foreign holiday prize into which some joker has mischievously inserted lots of soft porn footage. The silent 8mm version does at least avoid the contradiction raised by the later, added on narration- that if Emmanuelle loves the sights, sounds and people of Thailand so much why does she seemingly spend all of her holiday in her hotel room shagging people she already knows from back home? After all aren’t holidays all about seeing the sights and meeting new people??

Set in more familiar Mountain film territory of British suburbia, HOT PASSION stars Peter Vernon, that hardworking superstud of 1970s soft and hard 8mm porn. When this blog last touched on Peter Vernon he was shamelessly camping it up under a leather mask and getting to grips with Clyda Rosen in “Unaccustomed As I Am”, but here for a change of pace he is cast as a normal 9-5 suburban hubby. A paean to early morning lust, Hot Passion sees a couple’s attempts to get ready for work in the morning hampered by their inability to keep their hands off each other. Well photographed and raunchy scenes of Peter Vernon having his missus from behind and the pair of them sharing an amorous bath are amusingly intercut with comedy scenes of him panicking about how late it is getting and rushing round to get dressed, until he once again catches sight of her naked and they both get the urge to start fucking once more.

While lacking any real narrative eccentricities, Hot Passion strikes up an agreeably sweet, mellow tone, the leads have a genuine chemistry together and effort is made by both the performers and the filmmakers to convincingly portray their characters as a loving, happy and very horny couple. The eye catching interiors- including a collection of old western guns and cavalry swords hung on the walls- reveal this to be shot in the same house used in ‘Hot Flesh’ and ‘The Handyman’, a location that also popped up in photo-shoots published in David Sullivan magazines of the time- pointing to the unknown auteur behind these films having been a jobbing glamour photographer who used his own abode for such things. The presence of an experienced glamour photographer behind the camera also seems evident in the wife’s nude bathing scene which feels like a sexed up for the 1970s version of an old 8mm striptease film. Hot Passion ends on a characteristically romantic- and distinctly British- note, as Vernon finally makes it to the front door just as The Sunday Times comes through the letterbox, and at the risk of being even later for work he pops back upstairs to give his wife something to read in bed, what a gent!!

For an altogether rawer experience we sail into the land of blue, with the anonymously made and hardcore short ORGY TRIP, which depicts a rave up between four 1970s porn archetypes, a longhaired hippie guy, a black chick and a comparatively straight-laced looking white couple. The actor playing the straight-laced guy is David Grey and seemingly the only cast member with connections to other films. Physically lanky in appearance-as if possibly anorexic in real life- and facially a lookalike of British horror film director Norman J Warren, Grey is familiar as the male lead in Harrison Marks’ The Casting Couch and Demonstration Model. As with Peter Vernon, Grey also had slight connections to mainstream British sex comedies having played Victorian erotic photographer Henry Hayler in the Stanley Long film Naughty, and briefly appearing in Derek Ford’s Commuter Husbands in 1972. Grey’s blue movie form here means it is highly likely he participated in the hardcore scenes shot for the export version of that particular Ford film.

Orgy Trip is notable for a kaleidoscopic, ‘fly’s eye view’ type visual effect used extensively in its early scenes, that sees each cast members’ face projected multiple times on screen and then revolving round in a circular fashion. The implication of this trippy visual appears to be that what the characters are smoking isn’t legal. Drinking and pot smoking begets heavy petting, which begets a foursome that- like the entire film- takes place on a couch. Once the sex gets going the film becomes visually conventional, only fleetingly returning to the kaleidoscope effect during an oral sex scene, long enough to give you the idea of what a blowjob must look like through the eyes of a fly. The men in the film look to be much more into it than the women, the black girl’s mind seems like, a hundred other places during this film and she gives the hippie a blowjob that is comical in its lifelessness. Indifferently putting his erect penis in her mouth then doing little else, suggesting someone unfamiliar with the mechanics of oral sex in real life, she stares into the camera a lot during this scene, doing little to mask the fact that she is obviously taking direction. (Incidentally, while no one is likely to accuse moi of political correctness, I should like to point that I’m only referring to the two women in the film in terms of skin colour as an easy way of distinguishing between the two performers).

Perhaps due to this non-professional turn Orgy Trip is a film that constantly reminds you that you’re watching people who are strangers to each other thrown together to have sex for money, an aspect that films like Hot Passion are politely able to cover up thanks to decent acting and keeping the sex simulated. Whilst the white girl is more accommodating, giving David Grey a blowjob as the hippie takes her from behind in one of the film’s scant erotic moments, incredibly in a show of terrible taste a snapshot from the black girl’s unerotic blowjob scene- complete with the woman’s ‘deer caught in the highlights’ expression- was chosen to illustrate Orgy Trip’s 8mm box.

Unfortunately the shadow of bad sex seems destined to hang over the cast members as the film progresses. The hippie uses a lot of force during his sex scene with the black girl, considerably greater than he does on the white girl, possibly to compensate for her lifelessness. In the poor woman’s mind she probably thought she was conveying sexual exhaustion at the end of this scene, instead it simply looks like she has fallen asleep through boredom. David Grey also has his problems, magnified by having the film stubbornly stay with a close-up of him thrusting between the girl’s legs, at one point he pulls his cock out of her, tries to produce the money shot by jerking off, then when that fails inserts himself back into her. When he does finally manage to come he appears genuinely relieved, and embraces his female co-star while smiling… leaving Orgy Trip to expire on what might be seen as an upbeat note.

The next two films represent the real find in Sgt. Rock’s haul, and offer reassurance to the film historian that for all the inroads made into researching the British sex film there are still long forgotten filmmakers out there whose oeuvre has just that right amount of quirks, distinct hallmarks and intended and unintended effects to charm their way into the memory bank. Such is the case with the output of “Anglo Continental Films”, a moniker that I keep mistaking with “Anglo Titanic Films” the fictional porn studio, located behind a Kocher butcher shop that Brendan Price’s character gets mixed up with in Secrets of a Door to Door Salesman. Given that Door to Door Salesman’s producer David Hamilton Grant had an obsessive interest in pornography, you almost wonder if Grant didn’t encounter a few Anglo Continental productions on his travels, was knocked out by them, and decided to have some fun by giving the porn studio in his film a sound-a-like name in their honour. What really fascinates about Anglo Continental though is that the films showcase a degree of talent that is destined to forever butt heads with an equal amount of filmmaking ineptitude. Anglo Continental might well be in the gutter, but they are forever looking up at the stars.

The opening shot of Anglo Continental’s LADY JANE could well define their entire output. A night time exterior shot of a hotel established by a close up of a neon sign. Nervously the camera pans away from the ‘HOTEL’ sign then quickly hurries back to it as if the cameraman had moved away from the sign too early. The camera then pans away again half-capturing the shot it has been aiming to get, that of a car pulling in to the hotel’s car park. Still it is a wonderfully atmospheric opening, albeit slightly fucked up in the execution, establishing that it is very late at night, somewhere in 1970s Britain and people are on their way to doing rude things at the sort of place that the film West End Jungle referred to as “grimy backstreet hotels where no questions are asked”. A classy looking couple, the man seemingly dressed for a night at the opera, smooch in a hotel room as the staff go about putting the finishing touches to the room, the concierge bringing their bags to the room and a maid making sure the room is stocked up on drink. After the staff have finished bothering them the couple really get down to business, lots of heavy petting, the chap masturbating the woman, presumably the ‘Lady Jane’ of the title. Lady Jane strips off everything bar her leather boots, the guy loses his shirt and trousers in order to receive a blowjob from her, although long shots reveals that in the time honoured stag film tradition he has left his socks on. The French farce favour of Anglo Continental’s films kicks in when the maid returns unexpectedly, catches an eyeful, drops her tray of drinks and flees the room. Seeking solace, she relates what she has seen to the concierge, played by an actor who I’ve elected to nickname “The Moustache”, on account of his extravagant tache, the sort popularized by Salvador Dali, and Kenneth Cope in Carry On At Your Convenience.

Feigning outrage The Moustache hurries over to the room, apparently to vent his spleen, of course once he arrives and the maid is out of sight, he changes his tune and is encouraged to drop his trousers for her ladyship. The narrative then completely disintegrates when in the midst of this threesome; a further bloke enters into the proceedings. Who he? No one seems to know or care, one minute he isn’t in the scene then suddenly, as if by magic, he is seen in between Lady Jane’s legs. This brings us on to another distinct aspect to Anglo Continental’s films- that of having two or three guys fucking in the same scene none of whom seem remotely intimidated by having to be in such close proximity to each other. Nor are these guys going the usual porn actor route of mentally blocking out each other’s presence, on the contrary all three show quite the interest in what the others are doing. At one point the older guy who plays Lady Jane’s lover thoughtfully moves her legs about so that she is in a better position for The Moustache to eat her pussy. Then during a later sex scene that sees Lady Jane straddle the mystery man, her older lover and The Moustache even act as helpers, using their hands to guide Lady Jane up and down on the guy, a task that conventional pornography would always relegate to females.

With this amount of going against the sexual norm moments, the film could have carelessly become homoerotic, but the filmmakers prove themselves focussed enough to remember to keep Lady Jane and her erotic responses centre stage, preventing her from getting lost amidst a sea of thrusting male bodies. A wise decision too, since the actress heroically throws herself into the role with enough sexual abandonment to convince as a well-moneyed libertine who doesn’t mind taking on any interested third parties during her dirty weekend. The actors are decided 2nd or 3rd division in the looks department, but register in a character actor sense and are well suited to their roles, the actor playing Lady Jane’s older lover looks every bit the middle aged roué you can imagine ordering champagne and cavorting with strippers at the Raymond Revue bar. In that respect he occupies the same British sex film turf as, say, Derek Aylward and Neil Hallett.

Lady Jane is in by far the worse shape of all these films. The film survives, but only just and it looks like we got to this one just as it was still salvageable. At several points during the film the image deteriorates into nothing but crumbs of film flying about an ethereally white screen, before the film comes back to life and returns from 8mm porn heaven. The irony is that such is 21st century filmmakers’ obsession with recreating the effects of damaged or scratched film, it has the knock on effect of making genuine film damage like the examples on display in Lady Jane now look instead like a stylistic decision by its filmmakers, adding a further –albeit unintentional- layer to Anglo Continental’s mystique.

All that is memorable about Lady Jane is replicated verbatim in another Anglo Continental film PRIVATE PRACTICE. ‘Doctors and Nurses’ themed it sees the return of The Moustache, this time cast as a sickly patent being attended to by a busty blonde nurse. The Tache taking pills, and her taking down notes, leads on to The Moustache having a ridiculous dick examination that involves the nurse measuring his prick with a tape measure. The settings once again look to be the room of a sleazebag hotel, likely the same hotel used in Lady Jane, hinting that the setting of that film was born out of necessity rather than by choice. Sparse attempts to dress the place up to appear to be something other than a hotel room mainly consist of hanging erotic art on the walls, including a painting of a giant dick emerging from under a beach, as well as another painting that also doubled as the film’s misspelt title card, with the misspelt title ‘Private Pratice’ (sic) still visible on its 2nd appearance in the film.

Now, there are certain things you see on film that you instantly know you’re never going to forget, no matter how you try. Such is the case with the next few moments of Private Practice which introduce another character, a man whose appearance is a tremendous shocker the first time you set eyes on him, such does the casting of him go against what is considered conventionally attractive. I call him ‘Muscles’. Muscular and sporting tattoos, suggesting a Navy background but with a beer gut indicating those days are far behind him, he has an awful comp over that is losing the battle to mask his growing baldness. Facial hair similar to The Moustache, but less impressive, making him look like an unsuccessful attempt at cloning The Moustache. Andy Milligan would have loved to have cast this guy in one of his films, preferably as a sympathetic hunchback.

Muscles appears to be playing another patient of the nurse and is encouraged by her to strip off down to a pair of unbecoming Y-fronts, these too soon come off revealing his tiny dick. Muscles unceremoniously plonks himself down on the bed next to The Moustache and the two men start to jerk off- again that Anglo Continental trait of having guys in close proximity to each other, in this case shoulder to shoulder, jerking off in bed together. Muscles has lots of trouble getting it up, even when peeking in on the nurse fucking The Moustache in bed next to him. Fed up with Muscles tugging on himself, the Nurse pulls on what is obviously a bedroom light switch but in the parallel world of Anglo Continental must also act as a way of calling for room service, since a French Maid is instantly on hand to tend to Muscles’ needs. Its’ easy to turn Muscles into a figure of fun, yeah I know, I’m guilty of this a bit myself, but at some point during Private Practice a certain male sympathy kicks in, one that causes you to optimistically root for this noble savage to rise to the occasion, and not embarrass himself too much on film.

The casting of someone so sexually inadequate might lead you to the idea that the filmmakers had a sadistic streak to them, personally I’d like to think otherwise as there is a playful attitude that bounces around in Anglo Continental Films. Everyone appears to be there to have fun, and there exists a selfless quality to the performers who seem to be equally concerned with getting others off as they do getting off themselves. Both women at various points in the film volunteer to give Muscles a blowjob, and politely ignore the fact that this has little effect on his limpness. Both men take time out from pursuing their own erections to use sex aid devices on the women, of the buzzing, plugged into the wall socket variety, causing wires to be dangerously stretched all over the bed, wires that clumsy ol’ Muscles nearly gets himself tangled up in at one point (I bet no one will ever make a public information film highlighting this type of electrical hazard!!). Refreshingly Private Practice isn’t just fixated by run of the mill hardcore action, and has lots of fun with its nurse and French maid characters who are constantly seen dressing up and down in their outfits as well as bending over to give Muscles and The Moustache a flash of their knickers, imagery that links Private Practice to the more mainstream British sauciness of the Carry On… series or The Benny Hill Show.

There is a degree of imagination and sexy creativity at work here, thought obviously has been given to the films scenarios, use of male turn on figures (like nurses and French maids) and uniform fetishism, positives that often are at risk of being thwarted by the negatives of cramped hotel room settings and filmmaking that isn’t up to the John Lindsay standard of professionalism. From the looks of it every second of footage shot for Private Practice found its way into the finished film, making you suspect that someone found editing beyond them or a chore. A decision that leaves in moments a regular pornographer would have surely cut out, including shots of actors taking direction and matter of fact details like The Moustache wiping his dick in between sex acts and the nurse similarly wiping her privates after she has finished getting herself off with a vibrator. Anglo Continental’s juggling act of greatness and wretchedness continues right up until the final moments of Private Practice, which sees Muscles supposedly delivering a money shot that doesn’t remotely convince, and consists of the nurse drooling a white substance, possibly milk, over Muscles’ limp, not at all erect dick. Someone’s surreal idea of a blowjob. It should feel like a cheat ending, but instead is perfectly in keeping with the unreality of everything you have just witnessed.

In truth all of the 8mm films in this piece have something to offer, each having their own different way of looking at and perceiving sex, yet the Anglo Continental films go beyond even this level, idiosyncratic qualities are strong in these films, making them feel like they truly belong in their own little universe. A sexual Twilight Zone of a place where nothing looks the same as it should do in the real world, where the same actors and characters pop up from film to film constantly intruding on each other, as if forever doomed to haunt that crappy hotel and keep walking in on each other having sex in the same old rooms- all this can be experienced when you check in, and go groping in the dark, at the Anglo Continental Hotel.