Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead (1991)

Given the title, you’d expect Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead to be a schlocky zombie movie. It turns out it’s more of a horror-tinged nudie cutie. This “erotic” martial arts fantasy horror stars Donnie Yen and a gaggle of Topless Babes (give or take one warrior princess) in a fight against a supernatural horndog Moon Monster. The monster is more of a moon-dwelling cannibal wizard with glowing eyes than a walking corpse, and he’s far more interested in ripping blouses off unsuspecting women than he is in eating brains. If it weren’t for the gore & the fight choreography, this film could pass as an old-fashioned nudist comedy along the lines of The Immoral Mr. Teas or Nude on the Moon. It’s incredibly sleazy late-night trash that’s so endlessly fascinated with bare breasts it’s also somehow adorably quaint.

If there’s any element in Holy Virgin that justifies the “Evil Dead” half of its title, it’s in the drastic comic book camera angles and low-to-the-ground tracking shots it lifts directly from Sam Raimi’s playbook. Those images only come in flashes during the Moon Monster attacks, though. The rest of the film is an oddly straight-forward police procedural in which a college professor (Yen) is suspected of stripping & murdering his female students. Meanwhile, the audience knows the truth: a cult that worships a mustachioed goddess has summoned a boobs-obsessed lunar ghoul to do the job. Duh! Thankfully, a badass virgin princess with a laser sword takes over the investigation halfway through to save the professor’s hide (and to put an end to the violent strippings, of course). Rapid-paced fight choreography & wuxia-style wire work ensues, until the whole thing concludes with a police shootout in a cave decorated with giallo-style crosslighting.

It’s impossible to describe Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead without overselling it. Even its own impatient opening credits sequence that previews the gore & nudity to come feels like hyperbolic hype the movie never lives up to. Still, it’s a delightful late-night curio that touches on an incredibly vast range of genre payoffs: dark fantasy, 80s splatter horror, police procedurals, martial arts epics, softcore porno, etc. The fact that its Skinemax-era sexuality and post-Raimi horror signifiers have become increasingly outdated in the decades since its release only make it more charming to the modern schlock-gobbling viewer. It’s a weirdly adorable film for something so gore-soaked & sexually violent, almost as if it were produced for an audience of perverse children. I wish I had first seen it when I was 10 years old, anyway.

-Brandon Ledet

Dildo Heaven (2002)

Schlock legend Doris Wishman made an honest-to-God, shot-on-video nudie cutie in the early 00s, about four decades after the nudie cutie genre was no longer of any real use to anyone (thanks to the legalization and increased accessibility of actual pornography). Wishman filmed Dildo Heaven in her 80s while working in a Florida sex shop called The Pink Pussy Cat (which is proudly featured in the film). She recycled footage from better-funded works in her heyday to pad out the runtime, further drawing attention to Dildo Heaven‘s jarring quality as a nudie cutie dislodged from its proper place in time. While it’s nowhere near the pinnacle of Wishman’s accomplishments as a smut-peddling auteur (that honor likely belongs to her 1970s collaborations with Chesty Morgan), it’s still a fascinating document of a filmmaker continuing to do her thing whether or not anyone else was interested. Wishman was the master of unerotic erotica, a schlockteur whose work prompted the question “Who is this for?” even when she was on top of her game; watching her stick to her guns four decades after appropriately-timed nudie cuties like Nude on the Moon only makes that question more humorously bizarre.

Three hot-to-trot roommates scheme to seduce their bosses: thoroughly uncharismatic men whose small-time authority make them irresistible to the bored nymphs. Meanwhile, the girls’ Peeping Tom neighbor (an adult man who dresses & acts like a schoolboy) occasionally checks in to hopefully catch them naked in their own apartment. That’s it; that’s the plot. As written-on-a-bar-napkin simple as that premise sounds, Wishman still felt the need to introduce each of these characters and their shallow motivations in an opening exposition dump, narrated like a movie trailer. This is mostly an effort to sweep any pedestrian narrative concerns out of the way so that she can get to the true business at hand: shoehorning in clips from nudie cuties, roughies, and other sexploitation ephemera from her heyday. In the laziest examples of this device, Wishman’s old movies happen to be playing on television while the girls are lounging around their shared apartment, waiting for the right time to jump their bosses’ bones. More frequently, the clips are integrated through the Peeping Tom’s adventures outside the apartment as he peers into keyholes, shrubs, and curtainless windows looking for some action. Even then, the clips are amusingly disjointed from the movie’s SOV reality, often represented with black & white film grain or roaming TV bars as if the Peeping Tom were tapping into an alternate dimension just on the other side of a keyhole.

If there’s any true letdown in Dildo Heaven, it’s that the movie doesn’t incorporate a lot of genuine dildo content. It mostly blows its load in an opening title sequence where deliriously repetitive images of clouds accompany a low-energy rap song about reaching for your dildo because it’s “HIV negative” and “fills the void” left by sexually unskilled men. Otherwise, there’s only one physical dildo that genuinely factors into the “story” Wishman tells. One of the three roommates purchases that dildo from the aforementioned Pink Pussy Cat after being haunted by the sex toys advertised in its display window on a casual afternoon stroll. This monumental purchase only really amounts to two significant moments: a nightmare sequence in which floating dildos swarm the poor girl’s bedroom while she tosses in her sheets and a hilariously dull Pink Pussy Cat store clerk explaining in exhausting, monotone detail the technical difference between a dildo and a vibrator. That’s hardly the dildo quota you’d think a movie would have to hit to declare itself a dildo heaven, but that kind of unerotic letdown is, in a way, Wishman’s personal stamp as an auteur. Her entire career was packed with sex movies that are thoroughly uninterested in sex – something that had to be a personal, artistic choice as she continued it into the long-obsolete days of early-2000s softcore.

Even beyond the absurd anachronism of brining the nudie cutie into the VHS era and the jarring frugality of Wishman pilfering her own back catalog, Dildo Heaven has plenty of minor quirks & gags that keep it entertaining as a lost trash relic throughout: winking fantasies where a man sprouts a second boner to facilitate a threesome, go-nowhere montages of girls idly hanging out on playground equipment while incongruous thriller music sets an ominous tone, a movie-length gag about the world’s cheapest wig, etc. Best of all, it’s readily apparent that Wishman was having fun while filming this unrepentant trash, enjoying her late-career celebrity as “The Female Ed Wood.” She allows herself a Hitchcockian cameo where she practically winks at the camera as she strolls by, directs a character to exclaim “What a cool magazine!” while flipping through an issue of Psychotronic Video, and even promoted the film on a legendarily bizarre episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien where she got to tease Roger Ebert for his boyish crush on Chesty Morgan. The best quality of the nudie cutie as a genre was that it was having lighthearted, knowingly campy fun with the idea of erotic titillation (a welcome contrast to the dark days of the roughies that followed). While the genre may have been long-obsolete by the time Wishman made Dildo Heaven, the novelty of that kind of playful, weirdly innocent erotica is eternal.

-Brandon Ledet

Nude on the Moon (1961)

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While we were performing our various autopsies on the best movies we watched in 2016, I noticed something embarrassing about my own viewing habits. Out of the near-400 films I watched last year, less than 40, a mere 10%, were directed by women. As a minor corrective to this massive oversight, I’ve decided to take the 52 Films by Women pledge this year, a very simplistic resolution that only urges that you watch one film a week directed by a filmmaker. It’s very little to ask of someone who watches film with any regularity, but I think it’s an important means of consciously paying attention to who’s behind the camera in your media production. My first step in achieving this goal, and my first viewing experience of this year overall, is proof positive that this 52 Films by Women pledge will in no way limit the variety of films I’m watching in terms of genre, style, or content; it will only make sure that a woman is behind them. The light sci-fi nudie cutie Nude on the Moon, directed by undercelebrated sexploitation filmmaker Doris Wishman (under the psuedonym Anthony Brooks), is not likely to be a typical inclusion on most people’s 52 Films by Women lists. It was a solid start for the year in my mind, though, considering how much it tickled my lowbrow sensibilities.

Two amateur rocket scientists tinker away with vaguely defined bleep bloop machines & chem lab beakers in order to pull off a self-funded trip to the moon. Ignoring the all-too-obvious romantic desire of his sheepish, but buxom secretary, the youngest scientist buries his head in his work until an inheritance payment from a deceased uncle fully funds the trip, newly energizing the ultra-macho nerd. The two-man expedition to the moon goes beautifully smooth . . . almost too beautifully smooth. The men land in a crater teeming with unexpected treasures: water, plants, “moon gold,” and, most treasurable of all, half-naked space aliens. The citizens of the moon are beautiful humanoid specimens, both male & female, who wear only shiny lamé booty shorts & dumb little antennas that allow for telepathic communication. Much like in the similar erotic fantasy piece Cat-Women of the Moon, they follow a matriarchal Moon Queen, except in this case the monarch is topless & means no harm for the Earthmen. Our two rocket scientist heroes frolic in this nudist colony for as long as they’re allowed, then return to Earth unharmed, but without proof of what they’ve witnessed. The only thing that’s changed upon their return is that the hunkier professor finally notices that his adoring secretary looks an awful lot like his beloved Moon Queen (both roles were played by an actress billed simply as “Marietta”) and he rapturously returns her affection.

As the title suggests, there’s not much more to Nude on the Moon than an indulgence in light-hearted kitsch. The main innovation Doris Wishman brings to the post-Immoral Mr. Teas nudie cutie genre is in transporting the typical nude colony setting to an extraterrestrial locale. Adding a sci-fi touch to its genre’s flimsy excuses to leer at beautiful, naked bodies makes the film a memorable novelty, especially in its dinky rocket ship model & ASMR telepathic space alien whispers. Nude on the Moon is careful not to frame its actors in the same shot as its kids’ science fair project moon rocket, which is only shown from a distance. We do get a close look at the astronauts’ space suits, though, which feature exposed skin where the helmet doesn’t meet the body and vaguely resemble either the green Power Ranger’s 90s getup or The History of Future Folk, I can’t decide. The dialogue is exactly as goofy as you’d expect, given the circumstances. For instance, an astronaut points for his Earth-buddy to notice a ladder that’s leaning on a wall, only to tell him in perfect deadpan, “This leads to the top of the wall.” All of this cheap sci-fi silliness combines with an original lounge crooner number “Moon Doll,” set to a a picturesque, starry sky moonscape, to pad out the film’s opening half, which has been tasked with the dubious honor of entertaining audiences before the film delivers on the nudity promised in the title. It’s all delightfully inane.

Don’t be surprised if when I recap the films I watched for the 52 Films by Women pledge at the end of the year, over half of my selections are Doris Wishman productions. Although this light nudie cutie territory is far-removed from the nastier “roughies” genre pictures her career would eventually devolve into (strangely mirroring Russ Meyer’s own sexploitation career path), it was wildly entertaining stuff. Making an interesting picture solely out of near-nude actors & cheap sci-fi effects is a much more difficult kind of genre film alchemy than you might imagine. Although Nude on the Moon didn’t quite match my enthusiasm for the less bawdy, but similar-in-spirit Cat-Women of the Moon, it was still a delightful novelty and I can’t wait to see what else Wishman delivered with that innate understanding of what makes this kind of half-cooked frivolity so appealing to audiences like me.

-Brandon Ledet

The Satanist (1968)

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Hooboy, this one was a stinker. Directed by Zoltan G. Spencer (nee Spence Crilly), The Satanist is a B&W horror nudie (a kind of subset/cousin of the genre of nudie cuties that Brandon has been writing about of late) that was released in 1968 and was thought to be irretrievably lost after its last screening in 1971; film archivists generally agree that only five prints of the film were ever made, and the single surviving print was unearthed only a year ago. It has been screened only two or three times since then, including at the Forgotten Film Festival in Philadelphia last summer, and most recently at the Alamo Ritz for the Halloween season. Unfortunately, of all the missing films out there in the world that are begging to be found, this is one whose discovery doesn’t enrich the world all that much.

The plot follows a writer who has recently experienced a nervous break and is, under orders from his doctor, trying to get some stress-free rest in the country with his beautiful wife, Mary. In short order, the two meet their neighbor Shawna, a “student of the occult” whose home is decorated with “numerous” “arcane” objects. The writer sees an apparition of a topless woman in a mirror, but does not share this with his wife, chalking it up to his nervous exhaustion. Later, he returns to Shawna’s home and spies through her window as she feels up another woman before turning into a man and engaging in softcore intercourse with her. His wife catches Shawna attempting some rite with his glasses (topless, of course), and the two decide to leave, but feel obligated to attend a party that Shawna had invited them to before they discovered her witchy ways. Obviously, this is a bacchanal during which the writer is tied up and forced to watch as Mary becomes the bride of Satan, as each man in attendance dons a ridiculous-looking ram’s head and thrusts vainly in the general direction of her nethers. The film then ends with the writer back in the frame story, where he sits in a wheelchair stating that it is up to you, the viewer, to determine whether or not his experience was real or the result of his mental breakdown. Of course, his doctor sure does look an awful lot like Shawna, doesn’t she?

There is nothing that could save this movie, not even an ending that mocks The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. At only 64 minutes, this movie feels as if it is hours long, and there’s nothing to do for long stretches of it while topless women roll around in relative chastity with hairy, mustachioed men. There’s no exchange of dialogue at all in the film, as all lines are delivered by the writer in voiceover, expositing here and explaining there, and any fun that comes from the film is in the pompous verbosity and overwrought delivery. Even the titles for the director’s later works, like Terror at Orgy Castle and Sister in Leather, are more automatically engaging than this film. There are monologues here that are begging to be sampled and looped, but that does not make up for the long stretches of screentime that are devoted to titillation. Even as an esoteric, forgotten piece of cinema, this is one to avoid.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Heavenly Bodies! (1963)

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In the four years following the breakout success of Russ Meyer’s debut film The Immoral Mr. Teas, the director mired himself (pun intended) in soulless repetition, churning out a mostly dull sequence of Teas-imitating nudie cuties that nearly broke his spirit by the time he made his fourth picture, Wild Gals of the Naked West. Obviously bored with his own creation, Meyer began to branch out genre-wise in the delightfully hateful shockumentary Europe in the Raw & started to show his true colors as an eccentric misanthrope. That, however, didn’t stop him from returning to the well one last time for a fifth & final nudie cutie, the enjoyably low-key Heavenly Bodies!. Meyer was reportedly not particularly proud of the way Heavenly Bodies! came out, both because of his growing boredom with the nudie cutie as a genre & because of the public’s similar boredom that lead the film to flop financially, but I find that to be a shame. Heavenly Bodies! is not quite as historically significant as The Immoral Mr. Teas or Europe in the Raw, but it does feel like a warm, fond farewell to the director’s pin-up & nudie cutie work, effectively closing that chapter of his life before the next, darker saga began.

Heavenly Bodies! is such a fitting tribute to the culmination of Meyer’s previous works that the subject of the film itself is a love letter to nude photography. It opens with intense close-ups of belly buttons, hair, kneecaps, and (of course) breasts while an industrial film-style narrator (Vic Perrin, who also voiced Europe in the Raw) helpfully explains that “You have just seen the component parts of a woman, a very voluptuous woman.” Meyer’s script goes on to espouse lofty platitudes about how nude models have been the main focus of photography since the invention of the camera & even the most beautiful paintings from fine art masters of the past can’t match the beauty of a nude photograph. Meyer isn’t even content to stop there, continuing to claim that nude photographs, the kind that he himself produced for “glamor magazines”, were the backbone of the US economy. Perrin dryly intones, “It is by no means far fetched to state that America’s entire vast fabric of prosperity, from automobiles to frozen foods, depends on this affinity between beautiful women, camera, and cameraman.” Why is that “by no means far fetched”? Because sex sells, dummy.

Although Heavenly Bodies! is by all means Russ’ love letter to himself, one that even name-checks the director as “Russ Meyer, one of Hollywood’s best known glamor photographers,” it at least vaguely pretends to be something more significant: a documentary on nude photography as a business. An early reenactment in the film retraces “glamor photography” back 30 years to stage a silent film shoot on the beach featuring Meyer vet Princess Livingston rolling around in a swimsuit. Anyone familiar with the elderly Princess Livingston’s toothless, maniacal screen presence (first seen in Wild Gals of the Naked West) should have a ball picturing the lovable coot sarcastically pretending to vamp it up for the camera. Another sequence depicts a pin-up cameraman who learned his trade as a combat photographer in the Army Corps during WWII (just like Meyer) feverishly snapping “glamor” photographs of two beautiful models lounging poolside & (in a particularly intense moment) jumping rope. All the while, the narration rattles off long, detailed lists of camera equipment that the Russ-surrogate is using, drooling just as much over the gear as it is over the bare breasted models. Another excursion involves Meyer himself & his real-life 166th Signal Corps war buddies retreating to the woods with two more cuties to snap more “glamor” photos and drool over more top notch analog camera equipment. The narrator cheekily asks, “Was your class reunion ever like this?” The film more or less goes on this way.

In these scenes, all of Meyer’s pin-up & nudie cutie calling cards are present: the rapid-fire editing, the swanky music, the besides the point narration, the self-glorifying cameos & bit roles for his war buddies, the otherworldly pastel voids, the navel gazing philosophy on the nature of photography, and the lingering effects of WWII. By the time he made Heavenly Bodies! Meyer may have have become bored with the nudie cutie as a format, but he also became extremely adept at injecting his eccentric personality into these by-the-numbers pictures, something he had struggled to do since he created the genre in The Immoral Mr. Teas. In every silly, frivolous minute, Heavenly Bodies! is easily recognizable as a Russ Meyer film, something that’s difficult to say about long stretches of lesser titles like Eve & The Handyman & Erotica. It’s by no means a mind-blowing picture, but it is a fairly enjoyable one.

-Brandon Ledet

Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962)

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After the vignette structure that loosely held together his third “nudie cutie” picture, Erotica, Russ Meyer returned to feature length narratives for his fourth film, Wild Gals of the Naked West. Unfortunately, the same narrative slightness that worked well enough for The Immoral Mr. Teas to become a breakout success & singlehandedly launch the nudie cutie genre had become tiresome as soon as Meyer’s second picture, the impossibly dull Eve & The Handyman, and near sadistic by the time Meyer made Wild Gals of the Naked West. Wild Gals expands upon the strange quick cuts & surreal pastel-colored voids that distinguish Meyer’s work from other Mr. Teas imitators, but outside of a couple sparse visual quirks there’s nothing too remarkable about the film. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that Wild Gals was more or less an an excuse for Meyer & friends to play Western-themed dress up in the desert. And, of course, to display bare breasts.

Our host for this burlesque take on playing cowboys & Indians is an old, drunken Western coot played by Jack Moran. Moran had previously provided the besides-the-point narration that made Erotica a mildly enjoyable, disorienting experience, but this was his first full collaboration with Meyer, both as an onscreen presence & as the sole credited screenwriter. Moran would later go on to pen some of Meyer’s best work of the 1960s (including the cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), but it’s hard to see too much promise in the razor thin screenplay he provides for Wild Gals of the Naked West. Even less dignified than his razor-thin screeplay is his onscreen portrayal of the old coot narrator, decked out in a hideously cheap costume complete with horrendously fake-looking eyebrows & mustache.

Much more exciting in her introduction to the Russ Meyer landscape is the actual old coot Princess Livingston, a toothless howl of a loon that would later appear in notable Meyer pictures like Mudhoney & Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (not to mention an appearance in the Pufnstuff movie, of all things). Princess Livingston has a wild authenticity to her, making crazy eyes for the camera, cackling like a drunken witch, and calling to mind future featured players in Meyer-devotee John Waters’ films like the late, great Edith Massey. Wild Gals of the Naked West tries its best to cultivate a sense of unbridled chaos in shoddy, vaudevillian gags involving gorilla costumes, crossdressing, and pranks involving outhouses, but none of the film’s thematic shenanigans can even approach the cinematic lunacy Princess Livingston commands simply by being her wonderful self.

Besides the introductions of Jack Moran & Princess Livingston, Wild Gals is mostly significant in its over-indulgence in the pastel voids that made The Immoral Mr. Teas‘ hallucinogenic glimpses of nudity quaintly fascinating. Here, all visions of Old West saloons & brothels are confined to these otherworldly, pastel-colored spaces, populated by quick cuts of hand-drawn pianos, pasties-covered breasts, hideous drunks downing untold gallons of liquor, strange rubber masks, and six-shooters going off indiscriminately. If the entirety of the film’s action was contained in these nudity-filled bursts of drunken chaos, Wild Gals of the Naked West might be among the best of Russ Meyer’s nudie cutie work. Instead it’s severely bogged down by hokey gags involving the aforementioned gorilla suit, sex workers lassoing johns onto second floor balconies, and truly awful Native American caricatures (although I did admittedly enjoy the ones where the Native men were operating WWII gear like grenade launchers & Tommy guns). All in all, Wild Gals may be mildly fascinating for a Russ Meyer completist looking for early glimpses of Jack Moran, Princess Livingston, and the director’s trademark rapid-fire editing, but after previously watching three similarly vapid nudie cuties from Meyer in a row, I found the ordeal somewhat tiresome.

-Brandon Ledet

Erotica (1961)

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After the somewhat labored narratives of his first two nudie cutie films, The Immoral Mr. Teas and Eve & The Handyman, Russ Meyer stripped away a few layers of narrative pretense for his third feature, Erotica. A series of ostensibly erotic vignettes, Erotica is little more than a loosely connected series of in-motion pin-up shoots strung together to reach a feature length (barely more than an hour, all things told). After the mundane & oddly nudity-light slightness of Eve & The Handyman, however, Erotica‘s loose anthology of naked girls & disorienting narration set-ups feel like a godsend. Just as the narrator of Mr. Teas hilariously droned on about such non sequiturs as the absurdities of modern life & the history of bathing while the screen was filled with the film’s true main attraction (bare breasts), Erotica‘s vignettes are each nudity-filled exercises in dissonance, establishing a strange contrast between the images on display & the completely besides the point narration (provided by Jack Moran, who would later write one of Meyer’s undeniable classics, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) that compliment them.

The wraparound

The segment that binds this loose anthology is a self-reflective piece about the production of nudie cuties in general. In Erotica‘s opening minutes Moran rambles on about how a film evolves from an idea to an outline to a treatment to a shooting script until, eventually, “projectors explode their images across the movie screens of America.” Posing the nudie cutie to follow as a series of “intimate, moving portraits of women […] made by adults, for adults”, Erotica bends over backwards to remind you that it is but a simple, entertaining diversion that amounts to “one hour, a very small segment of the day”. In other words, don’t get your hopes up for anything too significant.

“Naked Innocence”

Perhaps the least disorienting of the film’s five segments, “Naked Innocence” makes the brave decision to actually match the off-screen narration to the action on display. A woman explains that she was, more or less, just too damned horny & tired of being stared at by strange men on city streets so she retreated to the woods to calm down. Stripping nude & enjoying an impromptu tanning session & nude dip in a stream, our narrator starts to muse about how even Nature is trying to seduce her. She describes the Sun as a “hot, burning eye probing my bareness” & the feeling of water on skin like “many hands moving against you.” Originally escaping city life to avoid the oppressive male gaze, she discovers that even in Nature she is not safe from salacious oggling. If nothing else, this is a much stranger idea than anything you’d encounter in Mr. Teas or The Handyman, but at the same time all three properties really don’t amount to much more than a reason to gawk at naked women, the very thing this character is trying to escape.

“Beauties, Bubbles”

The second vignette keeps the first’s weirdness improbably rolling with an even stranger idea. Upping the on-screen nudity from not one, but three beauties, “Beauties, Bubbles” depicts a trio of nude models bathing each other in a swimming pool in what, without the narration, could’ve just have easily been titled “Boobs, Boobies”. As with the first segment, it’s the narration that makes the accompanying images so odd. As the girls bathe each other using swimming pools, trash cans, and army helmets full of soapy water (sometimes in the pastel voids that populate Meyer’s other nudie cuties), an offscreen East Coast plumber poses the segment as a PSA to help promote the act of daily bathing in hopes of boosting work for plumbers in general. There’s a goofy dissonance between the plummer’s nonsensical words & the pin-ups in motion imagery at here that’s enjoyably disorienting . . . when it’s not testing your patience.

“The Bare & The Bear”

Speaking of testing your patience, the exact same format from the plummer’s segment is repeated in “The Bare & The Bear”. There’s only one mild variation: instead of promoting bathing, this segment is promoting the sales of bearskins by, how else, showing a nude model wearing nothing but a bearskin intercut with images of real life bears. It’s a very strange sensation to flip back & forth from monstrous bears to a woman rolling around in the nude, especially once the narrator goes off on tangents about “beatniks & coffee drinkin’,” but back to back with the plumber segment the weight of the film’s mercifully short runtime becomes a little laborious.

“Nudists on the High Seas!”

Continuing the diminishing returns of the film’s segments, a narrator drones on about “damsel deckhands” & the history of women being excluded from sailing as the titular “Nudists on the High Seas” sun their nude selves of the deck of a sailboat. It’s nothing much to speak of.

“The Nymphs”

Seemingly becoming bored with itself, Erotica completely devolves here. The narration erratically switches from rambling about subjects as varied as botanical gardens, the sex life of the amoeba, and proper card-playing etiquette, the movie just completely falls apart & loses faith in itself in an irreverent & self-referential way as the models combine previous segments’ affinity for bathing & sunbathing into a single incomprehensible vignette.

“Bikini Busters!”

Falling apart even further, Erotica concludes with a chaotic segment about the history of the bikini. In the only segment to approach the purple prose absurdity of the “Naked Innocence” opener, “Bikini Busters!” features this insane thought: “This is a bathing suit. And this is a girl. Separately these are both in a sense aesthetic, appealing, but together a certain chemistry takes place & the living compliments the inanimate.” “Bikini Busters!” is deliciously empty work that features not only Meyer’s affinity for visually comparing a well-built woman to a well-built steel structure, but it also calls back to both the half-hearted disgust with the male gaze of the first segment (this time featuring the only on-screen men of the film, all ogglers) & the self-referential musings about the nature of the nudie cutie in the wraparound segment, making direct nods to the two Meyer pictures that precede Erotica by displaying their advertisements poolside. “Bikini Busters!” follows the history of the bathing suit from the time the biblical Eve first covered herself with a leaf through a possible future of space-age pasties, a very silly & improbable endeavour that I doubt was well-researched.

By the time an over-excited Russ Meyer (presumably playing himself) falls into a swimming pool trying to film the nude models on display & breaks his (amusingly fake-looking) camera at the end of “Bikini Busters!” Erotica reveals itself as what it truly is: a light romp without too much of anything on its mind outside of bare breasts & cheap jokes. It’s neither the height nor the depth of Meyer’s nudie cutie work, but it is occasionally amusing in its narrative dissonance & surprising attacks on the male gaze in its opening & closing segments (considering that the film itself is an act of leering). However, you could easily cut out at least three of the film’s six segments & retain its full range of amusement, which isn’t exactly high praise for an anthology film that barely lasts an hour from front to end.

-Brandon Ledet

Eve & The Handyman (1961)

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Russ Meyer’s goof of a debut film, The Immoral Mr. Teas, made the future cult cinema giant a filthy pile of money for something that was basically a pin-up picture in motion. Even Meyer himself, usually prone to larger than life arrogance, admitted that Teas was  dumb idea that happened to get lucky due to excellent cultural timing. He once explained to biographer David K. Frasier, “It musn’t come across as some kind of great planning. I did it as I went along. […] Teas was a fluke, an absolute fluke. I had no real idea when I started. All I had was [Bill] Teas, three girls, and my dentist and my attorney for assistants.” Filmed over just a few days with limited resources, Mr. Teas, fluke or not, earned a name for Meyer & established an entire new genre of exploitation film-making: the “nudie cutie” (essentially a mainstream, winking, soft-core version of the stag film). It’s no wonder, then, that Meyer immediately returned to the Mr. Teas format & basically imitated his own creation for his next five features. There are varying levels of quality to Meyer’s Teas-imitating, by-the-numbers nudie cutie pictures, but it’s fairly safe to say that his second feature, Eve & The Handyman, is the worst, most unimaginative one of the bunch.

The titular Eve of this nudie cutie stinker is no other than Eve Meyer, the second (but by no means the last) wife of the film’s pervert director. In his pre-movie career, Russ had a ball photographing his buxom wife in the nude for “glamor magazines” & pin-ups. When it came to committing her body to moving pictures, however, Russ refused to deliver the goods & hides her top model body behind a loose-fitting trench coat for much of the film. The only charm that overlaps with Mr. Teas is in Eve’s off-screen narration (which she reportedly wrote herself, despite Meyer’s “written by” credit at the film’s beginning) which coos vague phrasings like “I’m a big girl in a big town with a big job” as she silently spies on a handyman for reasons that are withheld until the film’s final gag. There’s much less nudity than there was in Mr. Teas (with none contributed by the titular Eve), which means that the strange pastel voids that added a visual flair to most of Russ’ nudie cutie work is mostly absent, save a few isolated scenes. When it comes to the climactic moment that the extended burlesque act has been building to, Eve drops the spy act & removes her trenchcoat, revealing herself to be a “Strump Brushes” salesman hunting down the titular handyman for a business deal. It’s possible that revealing that gag in this review may have spoiled the movie for you uninitiated, but I promise watching it in real time spoils the experience even more.

Eve & The Handyman is, above all, a waste of time. The film starts with an ungodly gag in which a shrill alarm clock rings incessantly despite attempts to turn it off. At first I was turned off by this incessant annoyance, but by the end of the picture I was desperate for the alarm clock to return & make me feel anything at all. The best laugh I got of out of the entire film was the opening credits, in which Russ thoroughly makes sure that you know he produced, directed, wrote, photographed, and edited the picture himself. As for Eve Meyer, she was far from a captivating screen presence here, but her contributions to Russ’ sexploitation work thankfully didn’t stop with this nudie cutie stinker. Eve went on to produce nearly all of Russ’ 1960s films under the moniker Eve Pictures well after the dissolution of their marriage, proving to be extremely useful both in taking financial risks on his batshit insane visions and in nailing down distribution deals & getting deadbeat cinemas to pay up their share. I hope that Eve & The Handyman served as some kind of cherished compensation for all she did for Russ down the line (especially considering how awful he could be to women), because it’s doubtful the film will bring much pleasure to anyone other than Eve herself.

-Brandon Ledet

The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

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In more ways than one, The Immoral Mr. Teas is a right place, right time kind of motion picture success. Long before legendary cult movie director & eccentric asshole Russ Meyer set the world on fire with films like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls & Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, he was a combat photographer that found a post-WWII career shooting pin-up models for “glamor magazines”. With nudist camp “exposés” & the high class pornography of Playboy magazine paving the way for mainstream acceptance of nude modeling on film, it was only a matter of time until someone brought nude photography out of underground screenings of stag films to much more visible (not to mention more profitable), conventional cinemas. With The Immoral Mr. Teas, Russ Meyer simply filled a need. While many exploitative sex films of the time heavily moralized & scolded the very salaciousness they depicted in order to sneak pass the censors, The Immoral Mr. Teas combined moving pictures of naked girls with the comedy genre for the first time since the Hays Code first took its chokehold on Hollywood. Although it’s hard to see exactly what the fuss about the relatively tame & decidedly hokey film was in the context of modern sensibilities, Mr. Teas essentially opened the floodgates for playful nudity on film, giving birth to a genre adorably named “the nudie cutie” & fighting many a censorship battle across the country, from which Hollywood would later benefit greatly.

Presented as a sort of comedic documentary on modern living, Mr. Teas only thinly pretends to be anything more than an excuse to display naked breasts. As the only dialogue heard throughout the film is a hilariously overwritten narration, the film’s endless visual gags & gradual stripteasing call to mind both the artforms of vaudeville & burlesque. The titular Mr. Teas, played by Meyers’ war buddy Bill Teas, is a horny, bargain basement version of Charlie Chaplan’s Tramp. Early in the film Teas openly oggles the barely-covered breasts of dental assistants & barkeeps in a leering way that well earns his “immoral” moniker in the film’s title. True to burlesque fashion, Meyer’s camera gradually reveals more & more female skin as the nudity escalates. What starts with cleavage escalates to a leg being bared to a pin-up photo shoot on the beach (as a nod to Meyer’s profession/passion) where breasts are cleverly obscured from the audience behind objects like a well-placed elbow or a camera. After a loosely defined incident at the dentist that leaves Teas magically altered by Novocaine, our peeping tom protagonist is suddenly struck by intense reveries that overrides his mind with hallucinations of every woman he meets in the nude, giving birth to the “nudie cutie” picture. At this point, the narration fades a great deal, leaving us alone with a shrill, accordion-heavy soundtrack & what will eventually become Meyer’s onscreen calling cards: insane editing choices & strikingly large breasts.

Although lighthearted nudity in motion obviously doesn’t hold the same shock value today that it would’ve fifty-six years ago, there’s plenty of jarring weirdness to The Immoral Mr, Teas that makes it worthwhile as a cultural relic. Much of the charm is dependent on the overreaching narration, which adds a level of snarky commentary on the absurdities of modern living that feels very much in tune to the early works of (my favorite band of all time) DEVO. Much like the gradual escalation of nudity, the narration ratchets up its absurdity over time. It starts by contrasting the calming nature of rocks & trees to the much more constricting traffic, pills, and tight underwear of modern man, but eventually gives way to over-the-top, Criswell-esque statements like “Modern man must, in the course of his endeavors, always keep his eyes on the future. For who knows how the windy zephyrs of fate may twist & cross two lives?” & “And so ends another day, another seeming eternity in the complex scheme of things.” I think the best laugh I got from the entire film was when the off-screen narrator, voiced by Edward J. Lasko, droned about photosynthesis, the density of water, famous discoveries made by sea, and the history of bathing all to justify Teas peeping on women as they skinny dip. It’s a ridiculous, disorienting moment & a tactic that Meyer will repeat several times in his five redundant nudie cuties that immediately followed Mr. Teas.

In addition to the film’s historical significance & ludicrous narration, Mr. Teas is also an early glimpse into the visual weirdness Meyer would eventually push to absurd extremes in Faster, Pussycat & Beyond the Valley. His odd Dutch angles, rapid cuts of mechanical equipment & ample bussoms, and general sense of feverish horndoggery are all present in the film, just on a smaller scale. In order to avoid having the film’s shoots shut down for indecency, he also filmed all of Teas’ hallucinations indoors, placing the film’s naked women in these strange pastel-colored voids that feel like they exist outside of space & time. It’s a genuinely strange touch that, like the besides-the-point narration, would be repeated incessantly in his five nudie cutie follow-ups to Teas. You can tell that Meyer had a ball filming & editing his first foray into motion pictures & it’s no coincidence that the director’s cameo in the film is as a rowdy strip club patron shouting emphatically at a burlesque dancer. The Immoral Mr. Teas is nowhere near the heights (or the depths, honestly) of where Meyer’s career would eventually go, but it is an appropriately silly start for a man whose passion was making movies about large breasts.

-Brandon Ledet