The Films (2/5)
This triple feature of films by director Don Davis is considerably tamer than much of Vinegar Syndrome’s catalog. It’d be a stretch to even call them softcore – they could more accurately be described as lurid melodramas frequently punctuated by T&A. Even at the time of their release in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they were gentle fare compared to most drive-in sexploitation movies; now, they seem downright quaint. They’re still of historical interest, though, as it’s hard to imagine them being made at any other moment in American cinema besides that brief window between the end of the production code and the rise of hardcore.
The first, Marsha the Erotic Housewife, stars Marsha Jordan as a newlywed who, soon after their child is born, suspects her husband (Mark Reynolds) of having an affair with his secretary (Luanne Roberts). Marsha eventually decides to get even, and the second half of the movie follows her dalliances with men at a local bar, the Vegas strip and, eventually, an awkward encounter with some neighbors in a laundry room that prompts her to reassess her situation. The movie is basically a giant contradiction, teasing at the idea of decadent sexual behavior behind the façade of married life before ultimately affirming the virtues of fidelity. I’m probably giving Davis too much credit for having thought that much about what his movie is about – the point is, it’s a T&A movie that has no idea what it’s doing or who it’s for.
I enjoyed For Swinging Singles Only more, if only because I have a thing for dated depictions of the swinger lifestyle as embodied by topless women with ‘60s perms. There’s plenty of that on display here, particularly stars Heide Anderson and Sharon Sanford as a couple who leave a commune to move into an apartment building that carries the titular disclaimer in its newspaper ad. The gratuitous nudity here is plentiful and appreciated, but the square artlessness of it all keeps things from ever feeling truly kinky. As with Marsha the Erotic Housewife, the movie only hints at truly perverse things going on in this wacky apartment building before retreating, with the movie’s highlight being its weird, tonally jarring ending. At times, I hoped that the parasites from the singles apartment complex in David Cronenberg’s Shivers would show up to make things more interesting.
Marsha Jordan returns in Her Odd Tastes, which plays like a drive-in version of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Jordan plays Chris, a woman with insatiable sexual appetites who finds a job doing demos for a vibrator company (!) before falling into a relationship with a medical researcher. After accidentally killing him during some kinky sex play (!!), she’s helped by a guy named John (Mike Perry) who discovers that using Chris for research into his own experiments in sexuality. John encourages her to continue Chris’s research, because why not, and she embarks on a series of globe-trotting sexual exploits, which include a Sapphic encounter at a Hong Kong brothel, unwitting participation in a Satanic orgy, and an encounter with a father-son pair of hunters in Africa. Like For Swinging Singles Only, Her Odd Tastes has an amusingly out-of-nowhere ending, though this one is considerably more dark.
Her Odd Tastes is a little bolder than the other films in that it at least involves its heroine in some truly transgressive adventures. Like the others, though, the sex is only suggested and simulated. There are plenty of ways to do this effectively, but in all three movies, that means countless scenes of the characters softly moaning while awkwardly dry humping each other, usually while clearly still wearing their underpants. There’s a clumsiness to the movies’ handling of sex that extends to the filmmaking in general, which is made up of bland, static cinematography and unimaginative set design. It’s hard to rate these movies, because they’re so much a product of their time, though that’s also why they have some historical interest today. As movies were gaining more freedom to be explicit, films like these feel like the first, understandably awkward attempts at taking advantage of that freedom.
All three films have been restored in 2K from director Don Davis’ personal prints. The video quality is considerably below average for the distributor, though this is clearly the result of the source elements and not the transfer. The faded, pinkish prints display some damage but, given what the company had to work with, the transfers are surprisingly clear and detailed. The mono audio track is surprisingly clear, given the condition of the elements.
No extras are included.
While this triple feature isn’t likely to appeal to fans of Vinegar Syndrome’s more explicit fare, it is an interesting time capsule of a step in the evolution of exploitation movies and adult cinema. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone looking for thrills, but for anyone with a historical interest in the subject matter, it’s worth checking out.