(In a rarity for this blog, this post looks at a title from across the pond, worthy of a mention here due to the Tigon connection and as an example of the kind of film our sexploitation seeking forefathers would have checked out alongside the home-grown tits and bums efforts)
“Do I have a very bad video copy here or does one of the actors in this film appear to have a green ass” is the infrequently asked question you may find yourself puzzling over during Ray Williams’ 1972 American sexploiter Wrong Way, worryingly the answer is actually the latter. I’m far from the first person to note similarities between Williams’ film and The Last House on the Left, which extends to beyond the casual. Not only do the two films centre around two teenage girls failing into the hands of a gang of sex criminals, but both serve up comic relief filler in the form of two knuckleheaded cops, both score graphic sexual assault scenes to downer folk music, and both cut between one of the girls’ parents expressing growing concern about her safety and the grim abuse being dished out to their offspring. It all feels more than just mere coincidence, but exactly who saw each other’s film first remains a question mark, keeping in mind both films were made in 1972.
Wrong Way does however increase your respect for the upsetting power of Last House on the Left, when you see the basically same material that in Wes Craven’s hands made for a thought provoking film with considerable shock value, here serve as fodder for a sweaty, droning softcore quickie.
Cast members are predictably unknowns, likely hiding out under comedy false names (Laurel Canyon, Candy Sweet, Forrest Lorne) and with few connections to other films. The exception to the rule being Ron Darby- who had quite a career in soft and hardcore films of the period, with a resume that included Flesh Gordon, Satan’s Lust, Terror at Orgy Cast and the faux-British sex film The Hand of Pleasure. A highly unattractive actor- pockmarked faced, suffering from some kind of skin condition and no great shakes in the size department- Darby is naturally at home here amongst Wrong Way’s cast of uglies. Onscreen Darby generally plays the carnal clown card, a sort of Californian Robin Askwith if you will, his very funny overacting in Satan’s Lust is a career highlight in that respect, but here Darby gets to play it straight for a change as the second in command of a hippie cult, who gets shot in the balls for his troubles.
Sleazy Rider –a 1973 film that is in a similar mode to this- had a notably anti-establishment, cop hating rhetoric to it, but Wrong Way’s mindset is in comparison muddled and reactionary. Plenty of good old boy humour is in evidence, jokes about getting crabs n’ drinking beer are calculated to get the fellas cracking up at the local drive-ins. Hippie put downs are present and correct with longhairs portrayed as itinerant rapists and drug dealers, even a lame Manson-esque figure turns up towards the end of the film. “The good news is our men had to shoot one of the hippie rats…he got it right in the balls” enthuses the knuckleheaded cops over Mr. Darby’s demise. Sentiments suggesting a greater allegiance to the forces of law and order here, and a film that spits a giant ball of mucus in the direction of hippies. Despite that Wrong Way gawps long, if not exactly hard, at the hippies’ foul sexual deeds. Gang rape scenes go on and on, and on in this, but badly mimed rape scenes and limp tallywhackers from all concerned –Mr. Green, Green Ass included- constantly give the game away that no real humping was going on here. Just to get back to the topic of he of the green ass for a moment, it does occur to me that as the main gang rape scene takes place on and up against a green van, its possible that performing outdoor, simulated rape under the hot Californian sun might have caused some of the van’s paintwork to come off on our man’s ass. A likely reason for this unfortunate onscreen ailment, the mark of Wrong Way, betya he had a hard time explaining that to his old lady when he got home.
Wrong Way never shies away from the fact that the verbal and physical abuse of women is meant as a constant source of amusement and arousal here. The occasionally inspired ugliness of the screenplay is best illustrated in a subplot that sees two white slave traders shooting up a woman with heroin and taking advantage of the merchandise before they sell her to a brothel across the border. “You mean you’d destroy a human being for a few lousy dollars” she protests, to which her captor cackles back “absolutely not, we’re nice guys, we’re gonna trade you for H”, and his equally mangy partner in crime contributes to the conversation “you’re a nympho, and you know it”. The subsequent threesome between these three lovebirds finds the woman –the person people had paid to see go nude- obscured under all the hairy, potbellied, male gooseflesh of her two co-stars, a reoccurring problem in Wrong Way’s gross sex scenes.
Although it has all the hallmarks of the kind of third rate, obscure as rocking horse shit film that never saw the light of day till video came along, Wrong Way did surprisingly have a British theatrical release as part of a porno triple bill package put together by Tigon in 1981. Eric Godwin, a kindly, well liked elderly gentleman had the job of buying the majority of Tigon’s American acquisitions at the time. Godwin was prone to voicing despair over the growing explicitness of the American product he was being offered during film buying trips to Los Angeles, not on account of any prudishness, but because of the inevitable problems it would give him with the British censor “they won’t leave us with anything left to show” he was known to complain.
Unlike many of Tigon’s porno acquisitions of the early 1980s, Wrong Way hadn’t started life as hardcore, but still proved Godwin’s worst fears correct when it came to the British censor who cut around 20 minutes out of it for the British theatrical release. Sure the later, uncut video release is the way any exploitation aficionado would therefore want to see this thing, but even with heavy cuts the sleaze impact of Wrong Way on the big screen must have made for a tremendous culture shock. Imagine Wrong Way blown up to the size of a bungalow, encountered in the intimidating atmosphere of a porno cinema, and at a time before video had yet to fully expose British audiences to the sub-amateur side of American exploitation cinema, with films like this hundreds of miles removed in terms of attitude and filmmaking skill to the Hollywood fare that a British audiences of 1981 would have been more accustomed to.
Video, bootleg DVDr, maybe laptops, are of course the only way we’ll get to see films like Wrong Way these days, but like the down and dirtiest examples of American sexploitation- Sleazy Rider, Sinner’s Blood, The Bad, Bad Gang, Golden Gate Pay-Off, et al- the deeply unerotic nature of the sex, the overwhelming hatred of women and the equally overwhelming sense that those behind the camera barely knew what they were doing, all succeed in holding the attention, overriding any impulse to turn away from the abyss.