The Film (3.5/5):
Produced by the late Mike Vraney, the founder of Something Weird Video, and directed by Frank Henenlotter - who, in addition to directing cult classics like Basket Case and Frankenhooker, has a long history with Vraney and Something Weird - That’s Sexploitation! Is a breezy, fun and informative history of the pre-hardcore sexploitation era that makes good use of Something Weird’s back catalog. Many of the film clips included are from pioneering sexpoitation filmmaker David F. Friedman, who offers an entertaining, personalized narrative spanning five decades of dirty movies.
Aside from bookends featuring Henenlotter visiting a strip club, most of the movie is made up of Friedman narrating over clips of dozens of movies from the Something Weird vault. That’s Sexploitation! starts off with the peep show loops and stag films of the 1920s before covering everything from the “sex hygeine” movies of the 1930s, the “nudie cuties” of the 1940s, WWII-era pin ups and burlesque, the “sex education” films of the 1950s and the raunchier fare of the 1960s that ushered in the era of hardcore. Along the way, the movie touches on familiar names like Dwain Esper, Doris Wishman, Hershel Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer and many more. Friedman’s narration, at once affectionate and gently mocking, does a fine job of holding the movie together; as he’s also passed away, his interview has a bittersweet quality, though, as he never takes himself seriously, the movie itself keeps things light.
The most interesting running theme is how sexploitation producers in different eras found creative ways to sidestep censorship by justifying the movies’ artistic and educational worth, whether it was warning about VD or offering a (surely very serious) documentary-style expose at life at a nudist colony. I especially got a kick out of the bait-and-switch of sex ed movies like Mom and Dad (which, Friedman claims, grossed over 60 million dollars), which would lure customers in with the promise of T&A only to hit them with graphic scenes of childbirth or detailed illustrations of the effects of VD.
While I learned a lot from That’s Sexploitation!, I suspect that much of this is familiar territory for sexploitation fans. With its 136-running time, That’s Sexploitation! Is comprehensive but perhaps best enjoyed by newcomers to the subject matter. That said, the treasure trove of clips included here should be enough for newbies and experts to enjoy. In addition to its subject matter, That’s Sexploitation serves as a celebration of the depth of Mike Vraney’s company and the depth of its catalog.
Severin Films presents That’s Sexploitation! In a 1080i (not a typo) transfer preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio (the aspect ratio of the clips included vary, obviously). The newly shot footage looks crisp and detailed, while the clips included vary greatly in quality (though, as some of them date back to the silent era, it’s a pleasure just to have them included). The English LPCM mono audio track sounds clear throughout; again, the quality varies with the clips, but it’s never distracting.
A commentary featuring Henenlotter and Vraney’s wife, Lisa Petrucci, offers more contextual detail about many of the films included and makes for an interesting listen. The highlight of the disc is over three and a half hours of additional clips from Something Weird’s catalog - everything from The Wood Nymphs to House on Bare Mountain to Bat Pussy. A theatrical trailer for That’s Sexploitation! Is also included.
While this might be familiar territory of fans of sexploitation, That’s Sexploitation! Is a great introduction to the history of the genre for newcomers. And even experts will find a lot to enjoy in the treasure trove of clips that Something Weird has included.