Thursday, 11 February 2016
(above) Russell Gay’s magazine and Mistral film line gets some free publicity thanks to a 1978 episode of LWT’s Mind Your Language.
As a sort of follow on/appendix to the piece on Bloodlust and Russell Gay I thought it would be worth posting several 1970s adverts for the Mistral films, and information about the films’ re-emergence on tape in the video era, by which time Gay appears to have sold out to the brothers Ralph and David Gold. These ads come from the collections of ‘Sgt. Rock’ and ‘Hellochas’.
By the dawn of the 1980s the British public was spoilt for choice when it came to ways to watch Gay’s Mistral productions on the newfangled home video format. Ralph and David Gold’s Lydcare company issued “The Best of Blue Movies” video series. Eventually lasting for nine volumes, each of these video releases contained two or three of the Mistral shorts, kicking off with a double-bill of Open for Anything and The Office Affair for Vol. 1, which appeared in 1981. Slightly more value for money was “The Connoisseurs Collection”, another video series put out by the Gold Brothers, which reached five volumes, and generally consisted of four Mistral shorts per video.
The Brothers Gold were also responsible for ‘The Juicy Cuts’, yet another video compilation of Mistral films but this time mixed with other material. A collaboration between Lydcare and Mike Lee’s Vipco company, as well as containing clips from the Mistral films The Juicy Cuts also draws on footage taken from Vipco’s early video releases of Immoral (1980, Claude Mulot) and The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974, Radley Metzger). Vipco having initially released several adult titles before moving onto the extreme horror films that the company would become synonymous with and infamous for. Unlike The Best of Blue Movies and The Connoisseurs’ Collection tapes, which presented the same 15 minutes or so versions of the Mistral shorts that were released on 8mm, The Juicy Cuts compilation whittled the Mistral films down to about 5 minutes worth of ‘highlights’, exorcising the opening and closing credits and much plot exposition in the process. What is noteworthy about The Juicy Cuts tape is that it draws on more sexually explicit versions of the Mistral shorts than appeared on the other Gold Brothers video releases. For instance the footage from the Mistral short 'Hot Vibrations' that appears on The Juicy Cuts video includes shots of the lead actor’s erection and mild hardcore imagery (cunnilingus, finger and vibrator penetration) that are absent from the version of Hot Vibrations which appeared on The Connoisseurs’ Collections Vol 3. The reasoning why The Gold Brothers thought to remove this footage from their Connoisseurs’ Collection release, but included it in this compilation remains unclear. After all we are talking about videos that were released by the same people and in roughly the same time frame here (The Juicy Cuts appeared in 1980, The Connoisseurs’ Collection series was rolled out over 1981-82). A newly shot linking sequence for all the Juicy Cuts clips features host ‘Tanya’ knocking back champagne, suggestively sucking on a cherry, popping porno tapes into her VHS machine and having a wank. The cutting between the clips and someone watching them on a VHS player makes The Juicy Cuts something of the porno equivalent of Stanley Long’s Screamtime. As with the Long film, the prominent use of a giant sized, top loading video player in The Juicy Cuts is sure to induce a slight feeling of nostalgia in anyone who grew up during the 1980s and a more than slight feeling of astonishment for anyone born afterwards.
If this story didn’t involve enough porn barons already, a certain David Sullivan - who had a hand in distributing Vipco’s adult VHS releases- eventually began to issue his own ‘Juicy Cuts’ compilation tapes as well, although their exact content remains unknown. In all likelihood these Gold Brothers videos represent the end of the distribution line for many of these Mistral shorts, with the majority of these films unseen since these VHS releases from the early 1980s. As of this writing only Response (1974) and BloodLust (1979) have so far made it onto DVD.
Thursday, 4 February 2016
Russell Gay was a man with his fingers in many pies, albeit nearly all of them being of the X-rated variety. For over three decades Gay published top shelf magazines, ran a sex aid mail order company and filmed and distributed 8mm porn. Exploits that kept Gay a very busy man, and made him a very wealthy one too. A contemporary of Harrison Marks and Stanley Long, Gay was a glamour photographer who first took up the film camera to make 8mm glamour films in the early 1960s. Unlike Marks and Long however, Gay appears to have had little interest in progressing to feature length filmmaking. His only feature film credit was producing ‘World Without Shame’, a now forgotten and seemingly lost nudist film from 1962. While Gay and mainstream cinema were largely strangers, he was no slouch when it came to making shorts for the 8mm market. As the old style glamour films of the 1960s gave way to explicit material, Gay went with the times and by the early 1970s was directing solo masturbation loops like ‘The Heat of the Matter’. From then on a move to simulated sex film shorts was perhaps inevitable. On the sly Gay even made blue movies in the late 1970s which were released in Germany with Gay’s name kept off the credits. Mary Millington worked as the female cast members’ make up lady on several of these hardcore shorts, much to the amazement of the porn actresses involved, who couldn’t figure out why a famous person like Millington would be working in such a lowly capacity on films like these. Gay’s anonymous hardcore output included ‘Kameraclub’ and ‘Pop Concert’, the latter being a belated example of the ‘groupie’ themed sex film sub-genre that had been kicked off by the likes of Permissive and Groupie Girl in the early Seventies. Gay had a taste for the finer things in life, loved big cigars and sports cars, and lived with a younger wife and a black maid in a Georgian house near Regent’s Park. An exclusive address that would often be used for exterior shots in his films.
The softcore shorts that Gay made for release in the UK went under the banner ‘Mistral Films’ and were heavily advertised in Gay’s own magazines and also sold on super 8mm at the Ann Summers sex shop chain. Dusted off and given the magnifying glass treatment by smut historians today, the Mistral films tend to come in a disappointingly distant third to the films of Harrison Marks and John Lindsay in terms of worthwhile cinematic excavations. While professionally made the Mistral films are often hindered by nothing special premises and boring, badly mimed sex scenes. As softcore productions they lack the pornographic immediacy of Lindsay’s work, while their storylines often appear mundane compared to the boozed up music hall eccentricity of Harrison Marks. Lesser Mistrals only tend to avoid blurring together in the memory due to their differing locations and the titular puns on them, ‘Gripped in Lust’ sees sex occur during a judo class, ‘Gem of a Lay’ finds people having sex in a jewellers, and a retro 1950s American diner is the setting for the hilariously entitled ‘Rock Around the Cock’. To give credit where it is due, Gay did occasionally have his good days, and a handful of the Mistral titles are still worth tracking down. Stand-out Mistral films include: Response, Stolen Sex, Wet Dreams (aka A Tramp in Paradise), Blood Lust and The Office Affair, the latter being especially enlivened by the presence of imported French sex star Brigitte Lahaie.
Blood Lust, which was released in Germany under a title that translates back into English as ‘Dracula and his Sharp Teeth’, finds Gay dipping his toe into horror film territory. Its opening scene is a guaranteed attention grabber which sees vampire Carmilla (Elizabeth Anne Hughes) crawl out of her grave, and after a bit of a struggle, emerge from it full frontally nude. “The dead are all too easily forgotten” claims the film’s narrator “but the dead are merely sleeping, and when awakened, return to seek the food of life- Blood!!” The neck Carmilla has her eye on this night belongs to Jennifer, a sexually frustrated virgin whose attempts at masturbation are constantly being interrupted, first by the ghostly laughter of an unseen man, then by Carmilla herself appearing at Jennifer’s bedroom window. After the briefest of dialogue exchanges the two women are soon making love, culminating in Carmilla biting Jennifer’s breast (with Jennifer’s orgasmic approval) then going down on her. Having satisfied her own desires Carmilla goes on to spirit Jennifer away to a crypt where a male vampire rises from his coffin amidst considerable fanfare from Carmilla, who introduces him as “my master… the prince of darkness….the lord of depravity… Count Dracula”. Back at Jennifer’s apartment, her disappearance and the blood on her bed arouses the suspicion of her boyfriend, who is dressed in 1970s businessman attire, a look that feels at odds with what otherwise could pass as being a gothic period piece. “Don’t be frightened” Dracula tells Jennifer, a bit of an ask for a woman who has just been bitten on the tit and taken away from her bedroom to meet a man with sharp teeth, not to mention an echo chamber voice. At Dracula’s request the women resume their lovemaking before the Count throws aside his cape and joins in, receiving a blowjob from Jennifer, then fucking Carmilla on an altar. Sex however proves to be Dracula’s undoing when Jennifer’s boyfriend makes a surprise appearance at the crypt. Ordering “stop you fiend”, Jennifer’s boyfriend provides the ultimate form of coitus interruptus by plunging a stake through both vampires, allowing them just enough time for one last, bloody kiss before Carmilla expires, and Count Dracula turns into a mouldy corpse.
Blood Lust is yet another Mistral short that suggests Russell Gay’s big thing was lesbianism, he is certainly at his most erotically inspired and alive as a filmmaker when depicting it. Carmilla’s bedroom seduction of Jennifer is a passionate, highly charged encounter. On the other hand the scenes involving Dracula and the two women don’t command the same amount of screen time, and the sex that occurs is far less tender and more brutish and frenzied. Strictly a case of ‘wham, bam, thank you, Bride of Dracula’, these later sex scenes lack the sensuality Gay brings to the earlier girl on girl encounter. Gay appears self-aware of his differing approaches when it comes to shooting lesbian and heterosexual sex scenes. He deliberately draws attention to it in his 1974 Mistral short ‘Response’ whose heroine dreams herself out of some grunting, sweaty bad sex with her boyfriend by imagining a far more satisfactory sexual encounter with a female co-worker. Considering Mistral films were almost entirely aimed at a male audience it seems an unusual, if not a self-destructive, move for Gay to depict male sexual failure and straight sex as an unsatisfactory experience for a woman. While this isn’t emphasised as greatly in Blood Lust as it is in Response, the two films do put forward a credible case that lesbianism held a greater erotic mystique for Gay than depicting his own sexual preferences onscreen. The straight sex in Mistral shorts always tends to concur with Johnny Rotten’s opinion of sex being “just two minutes of squeaking noises".
Perhaps because of the fact that Gay’s fortune came from masturbatory aids and mass produced top shelf magazines there is a tendency to regard him entirely as a businessman rather than a person with artistic inclinations. Therefore it is a pleasant surprise to find that Blood Lust is actually satisfying and engaging on a horror film level, and makes you wish Gay had worked the genre into his film work more often (his only other known horror themed short was ‘It Just Ghost To Show You’, an early 8mm glamour film of his, set in a haunted castle.) True to its title Blood Lust isn’t shy of showing the red stuff, the gothic sets are first rate, and the vampire seduction scenes are lit with an appropriately blood red colour scheme. The film takes its horror elements mercifully serious, right from its striking opening sequence of Carmilla crawling her way out of her grave and emerging full frontally nude its clear we’re dealing with something in an altogether different league to the half-hearted horror hi-jinks of say, Frank Thring and Lindsay Honey’s Death Shock (1982).
Gay also appears well versed in both horror literature and cinema, the opening scenes being –as if the name doesn’t already give the game away- a pornographic take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871’s gothic novella Carmilla. Given the influence Le Fanu’s story had on Hammer films’ early 1970s output, it is no surprise to find crossover material with Hammer here too. Bloodlust’s Carmilla enjoys the same pastime of biting her victims on the breasts as the female vampires of Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil. Gay even has his Dracula slice open his chest for the heroine to drink from a la Christopher Lee in Dracula, Prince of Darkness . Of course given the market that Blood Lust was aimed at, Gay does go allot further sexually than Hammer were ever prepared to go, you certainly never got to see Christopher Lee taking his leading lady from behind whilst proclaiming “I want you Jennifer, I want you to become the Bride of Dracula”.
Blood Lust’s soundtrack, recorded for its sound release on super 8mm and later used for its video release, is something of a mixed bag. Whoever provided the voice for Dracula is unfortunately more John Forbes-Robertson than Christopher Lee. While the soundtrack doesn’t completely kill the film, if anything Bloodlust actually benefits from the opening voiceover and the well-chosen library music, the largely indifferent line delivery from the people who put words into the mouths of Dracula and Co brings unwanted laughability to the proceedings.
The porn actor Gay chose to play Dracula answered to the name of Brett Shaw and remains a suitably creepy presence throughout his screen time. Balding on top, lanky, and facially a look-a-like of Adrian Edmondson, Shaw was –to put it as kindly as possible- far closer to people’s idea of what a vampire should look like than anyone’s mental image of a 1970s porn actor. However the casting of him displays willingness on Gay’s part to use facially distinctive character types rather than go for the conventionally good looking. A mere pretty boy, such as fellow blue movie actor Timothy Blackstone, would never have been able to inject the same sense of threat and perverted decadence that our man Shaw brings to the role. Brett was an unlikely fixture of late 1970s British pornography, he turns up again to give an equally memorable turn in Gay’s Pop Concert, playing a sleazy, double crossing roadie, and as a down and out in Gay’s Kameraclub.
Off-screen Brett was romantically involved with Lisa Taylor, a fellow hardcore performer who occasionally snagged bit parts for herself and Brett in legit feature films. In 1977’s Let’s Get Laid, Lisa plays Robin Askwith’s prostitute pal, while Brett has a blink and you’ll miss him appearance as one of her tricks. Brett and Lisa’s relationship was so detested by her father that he offered to buy her an expensive two bedroomed apartment in Fulham on the condition that she agree to sever all ties with Brett. Only for true love, or maybe just great sex to win the day, “Brett was amazing with his tongue and loved using it” one of his co-stars later remembered “it made him very popular”. Ultimately Lisa accepted the offer of the apartment but kept Brett around anyway, and in Blood Lust Brett gets to give a soft-core rendition of the kind of sexual talents that evidently were worth jeopardising a two bedroom apartment in Fulham for.
Looking back over the 1970s period these days you do have to concede that British cinema was rarely able to offer up much competition to filmmakers from the rest of Europe when it came to vampire films that really delivered the goods in terms of heavy bloodletting and genuine eroticism. Still, Gay’s short film along with José Larraz’s feature length Vampyres are notable examples of home-grown cinema that can truly stand shoulder to shoulder with the works of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin in this cinematic realm. Blood Lust is a real reward for those adventurous souls prepared to seek out the horror genre in the unlikeliest of places, and it is certainly the bloodiest thing ever to be sold in a branch of Ann Summers!!!
Update: Darrell Buxton informs me that Blood Lust turned up on DVD in the states last year courtesy of Redemption/Kino Lorber films who put it out as an extra feature on their DVD release of The Last Step Down (1970).