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

The Story of O (1975)

For the first half of the 2010s we lived on a street that was absolutely perfect for yard sales. Our version of Spring Cleaning was always kicked off by a seasonal yard sale to get as much accumulated junk out of the house as possible (a tradition that has since been supplanted by the hassle of hauling our excess bullshit to thrift stores & second-hand shops), and they were always a success. They were such a success, in fact, that friends & family would dump their junk on us to help distribute it into the ether (for a very minor payout). This ritual frequently involved my sister handing off giant Rubbermaid bins overflowing with DVDs she was eager to get rid of as streaming movies online became more of her standard entertainment routine over that half-decade. The shameless movie nerd that I am, I’d always pick through those bins myself before offering them up to the vulturous public and pull out a few titles here or there to store up in my own house, where they’d also go unwatched. My sister’s cinematic castoffs were usually recognizable mainstream movies (often good ones), but there were always one or two deeply strange outliers in there if I was committed enough to search for them. I don’t remember many specific examples, but I do remember this: No film was ever as strange to find in my sister’s discarded DVDs than the X-rated softcore drama The Story of O. It was, of course, one of the DVDs I kept for my own collection before dragging the rest of the bin to our old porch steps. I don’t want to dwell for too long on why my sister purchased this vintage S&M smut or why she chose to get rid of it, which is partly why it took me over a half-decade to finally watch the film myself – allowing it to collect dust along with the rest of my dreaded Shame Pile in the meantime. I do know why I’ll finally be selling this disc off after just one single viewing, though, which is all I can dare to report on this blog.

The Story of O arrived in an era where pornography had delusions of going mainstream, initially under the guise of being distributed as European “art films.” This particular example of French erotica wasn’t nearly as seedy as its NYC contemporaries from the 42nd street epicenter of smut, but it was still considered filthy enough to earn an “X” rating in America and an across-the-board ban in Britain all the way until the year 2000 (a familiar treatment for the appropriately-named director Just Jaeckin, who had just experienced the same censorship for his debut feature Emmanuelle). The Story of O‘s eponymous source novel had experienced prudish censorship in its own time as well, penned under a pseudonym by journalist Anne Desclos in the 1950s only to face obscenity charges (in France of all places). It’s a modern continuation of the Marquis de Sade brand of S&M, where secret societies of immense wealth torture (in this case, consenting) women in cult-like rituals for communal sexual gratification. This movie adaptation wastes no time diving headfirst into that shamelessly contrived premise. The titular O (whose full name is never disclosed) is introduced en route to her masochistic training facility, on a car ride where her lover (a baby-faced Udo Kier) instructs her on what to wear and how to act as she suffers the ritualistic torture to come. We don’t learn until many whippings later that O is a fashion photographer with an inner life & artistic sense of control all of her own, since her submission to this secret sex cult is entirely predicated on her transformation into a pleasure object (and, later, a recruitment tool to draw in future pleasure objects from her industry). It’s an absurdly artificial scenario that immediately becomes grotesquely immoral if you prod at it in terms of real-world gender & sex politics, but it’s also a familiar one to anyone who’s ever spent a minimum of ten minutes reading erotica.

I was immediately struck by the soft-focus psychedelia of this film’s imagery, with its archaic occult S&M costuming and its obsessive reflections of mirrors against mirrors to achieve a kaleidoscope effect. It has all the gorgeous visual trappings of the artsy-fartsy Euro horrors of its era, just with the straight razor giallo murders being supplanted by sadistic sex acts. And, honestly, my only chance of ever truly loving the movie was if it had applied its soft-psychedelic imagery to the horror genre instead, since its repetitive tableaus of women “willingly” being whipped while saying “No” wasn’t really My Thing (in every implied meaning of that phrase). Its total lack of pre-play negotiation, agreed-upon safe words, and tender aftercare didn’t jive at all with how I engage with S&M in my own (admittedly modern) understanding of these sexual power dynamics. At risk exposing too much of my own internal erotic imagination here, I’ll admit that I did perk up once O started exhibiting control as a top in the dungeonous playpens where the movie gets its kicks (and in her fashion photography shoots, where she commands her models in a position of excited authority), but that’s more of a last-minute afterthought than a genuine engagement with any particular theme. The most interesting narrative thread in the film is about how the cathartic power play staged in the secret society’s closed-off rooms affects O’s public persona in “real” society (and how she gradually learns the pleasures of being the objectifier, not just the object). The only problem is that The Story of O is much less interested in themes & narrative than it is in the imagery of women being sadistically bound & whipped by men, which is either going to be Your Thing or it isn’t. No amount of visual aesthetic nor historical interest can save a niche porno you just don’t find pruriently enticing, just like how no stylistic flares can save a comedy you don’t find funny.

Speaking as an outsider to this particular corner of kink, it’s probably best to avoid passing any kind of moral judgement on the erotic imagination illustrated here. There are troubling ways in which this material is reflected in real-life misogynist violence, but that’s probably a large part of what makes the taboo so enticing in the first place. Also, not for nothing, the film is ultimately about female pleasure & self-discovery, whether or not it takes a rocky, roundabout way of getting there. All I can say is that it wasn’t really My Thing, which is something I already knew as soon as I picked it out of the Yard Sale pile. In retrospect, I probably would have gotten more pleasure out of seeing which of the curbside weirdos picked it out of the Yard Sale bin instead of hoarding it for myself.

-Brandon Ledet

Evils of the Night (1985)

At the center of every early 80s slasher is a self-contradictory attitude towards sex. As a genre, slashers are obsessed with teenage horniness. However, they also reinforce old-fashioned values towards sexuality by punishing teen libidos with swift deaths, usually before the desire is consummated. The slasher is an evolution of the classic “road to ruin” exploitation picture in that way, allowing its audience to indulge in the thrill of young people (especially women) misbehaving, only to be brutally punished for the transgression. The 1985 sci-fi horror Evils of the Night starts as a brilliant subversion of that prudish, self-contradictory moralism. Evils of the Night begins the way most slashers do: gawking at teens as they make love in the woods, then are attacked by a mysterious, masked assailant. What’s different is how far the violence-inciting lovemaking goes. Implied cunnilingus & a young woman licking her male partner’s chest hairs immediately indicate that Evils of the Night is willing to push its prurient obsession with teenage horniness beyond the sheepish boundaries of the typical slasher. Then the young dummies start fucking, like, for real. The sex is likely simulated, but it is graphic, falling an insertion shot short of hardcore pornography. A dimwitted teen is still choked to death by an off-screen killer mid-coitus, so the movie easily qualifies as a genuine slasher specimen. It’s also a softcore porno, though, one where 80s pornstar Amber Lynn is joined by the likes of aged television personalities John Carradine, Julie Newmar (Catwoman), and Tina Louise (Ginger, of Gilligan’s Island). And as if that weren’t enough bizarro energy for a 74 minute horror cheapie, the movie is also overrun with 1950s-style space aliens, just because.

On Wikipedia, Evils of the Night is listed as a “science fiction/porno horror” hybrid. This is technically accurate, but it’s difficult to say if any one of the three genres listed in that descriptor are fully satisfied by the film as a finished product. The first half of Evils of the Night is a delightful novelty. Most cheap horror films are usually criticized for having porn-level acting & sets anyway, so it’s oddly refreshing to see one follow through on that (usually unintended) atmosphere. Suntanned idiots pound cheap beer & skinny-dip in a secluded campsite lake while an 80s pop music soundtrack inanely rattles, “Boys will be boys, that’s how they’ll always be.” The only thing that feels out of place is that the genre’s juvenile fixation on naked breasts is dragged out to an absurd length, to the point where two girls are sensually rubbing suntan lotion on each other’s areolas in a display of true, helpful friendship. This gaggle of horned-up teen idiots are incrementally thinned out by elderly garage mechanics in ski masks, who abduct them in small batches and sell them alive to a nearby “hospital” run by space aliens who trade gold coins for teen blood. The sci-fi costuming of the hospital nursing staff looks like an Atomic Age diner-themed strip club uniform, but the nurses themselves never get in on the lurid sex action enjoyed by the pre-abducted teens (outside some mild lesbian caresses). Instead, they shoot stun gun laser beams out of their space alien finger rings and await orders from the bombshell doctor in charge (Newmar), as if this were a colorized Ed Wood picture instead of a slasher-spoofing “porno horror.” Unfortunately, the two halves of the film, the sex slasher and the retro sci-throwback, never converge with any satisfaction. Instead, the movie is seemingly zapped of all its energy (and budget) midway through and wastes an alarming portion of its runtime in the wicked mechanics’ garage, patiently waiting for the credits to roll.

The first shot of Evils of the Night is an impressive special effects display of a UFO landing in the woods, teasing a grand sci-fi spectacle the movie has no intention to deliver. By the time you realize the entire third act is going to be staged in an unadorned garage, however, it becomes clear that special effects footage was lifted from a better-funded production. Had the sci-fi portion of the film led to the hospital staff’s grotesque practical effects transformations into alien beasts it could have made a substantial mark as a late-right cult film oddity. Instead, it drops the two things that make it notable as a variation on the slasher genre (the aliens and the sex) and concludes with two greasy creeps wielding phallic industrial drills, a display we’ve seen pulled off before (and better) in titles like Slumber Party Massacre & Body Double. It’s almost bizarre enough in that opening, pornographic stretch to make the third act’s doldrums worthwhile, though. Evils of the Night only becomes bland once it stops having sex and starts playing its straight-forward slasher beats as if they were inherently interesting on their own. With a more punched-up conclusion (either through space alien transformations or more lakeside skin-lotioning) it could have been a midnight movie classic. Instead, it’s the kind of midnight movie that starts as perversely thrilling, then puts you to sleep halfway through.

-Brandon Ledet

Double Agent 73 (1974)

One of the most oddly entertaining aspects of Doris Wishman’s first collaboration with the impossibly buxom Chesty Morgan, Deadly Weapons, was how frustrating it was in its avoidance of delivering on its premise. As the title suggests, Deadly Weapons was billed to feature Chesty Morgan dispensing of bad-guy criminals by killing them with her enormous breasts. It’s a novelty that only occurs twice onscreen in the film, absurdly late into its comically short runtime. Wishman’s punk amateurism & effortless ability to de-sex the sexploitation genre carried the movie through as a bizarre delight, and the film was followed up with a “spiritual sequel” in Double Agent 73. There’s only one boob-related kill in Double Agent 73, and it involves Chesty’s chest being smothered in poison instead of crushing or suffocating her criminal victim. Her titty-enabled espionage takes on an entirely different flavor in this follow-up, one that elevates the entire concept to an even more absurd level of camp cinema delight. Here, Morgan’s weaponized bosom is made to be an espionage tool instead of a lethal weapon. Through surgery, her rack is fashioned into essentially being the world’s largest, most conspicuous “hidden” camera. The results aren’t as sexy as they may have been intended to be, but they are far more hilariously absurd & more plentifully deployed than the killer tits conceit of Deadly Weapons, which stands out as the lesser Wishman-Morgan collaboration (a minor distinction, but an important one).

Chesty Morgan stars as the titular Agent 73, a James Bond-modeled international spy who hides in plain sight as a burlesque dancer. Her latest mission is to assassinate an evil syndicate of heroin dealers headed by the mysterious crime boss Toplar (sometimes humorously referred to as “Mr. T” for short). Toplar’s true identity and Agent 73’s descent down the heroin crime ring rabbit hole are obviously not the main draw in this soft-core nudie thriller. The glory of the movie’s hook it that a spy camera is surgically implanted in the buxom agent’s ample breasts. She’s instructed by her higher-ups to assassinate several men within the heroin ring and to take a picture of every kill after completion, a mission that conveniently requires her to frequently strip to the waist. Her camera isn’t necessarily aimed at anything in particular when she snaps these photos and every deployment of it is matched with a loud shutter sound that consistently elicits giggles. It’s difficult to pick a favorite deployment of the titty-cam conceit in the film: The post-surgery nurse-kill where she takes a picture even though the camera is still covered by a bandage? The scene where she sneaks into a criminal’s office to whip out her titties over a stack of top secret documents? The Deadly Weapons callback with the poison bosom? Double Agent 73 gets a lot more mileage out of its booby-themed espionage than its predecessor, while still sticking to that sweet, sweet 70min runtime.

I’m still getting accustomed to what distinguishes A Doris Wishman Film from other examples of blissfully absurd sexploitation, but Double Agent 73 more than earns her signature cartoon title card in the opening credits. Wishman has a distinctly anti-erotic approach to filmmaking that’s on full display in this movie’s uncomfortable close-ups, heavy breathing, and bizarre intrusions of bloody violence. A trip to a nudist camp recalls her early nudie cutie works like Nude on the Moon. A bizarrely edited homage to the shower scene from Psycho recalls her total-meltdown slasher A Night to Dismember. The snazzy jazz & sped-up fistfights recall her roughies like Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day, Another Man. In its own way, Double Agent 73 might be the distilled ideal of a Doris Wishman film: it’s short, blissfully absurd, oversaturated in aggressively unerotic nudity, and follows through on its over-the-top premise in a way more of her films could stand to. There’s a consistency to Wishman’s D.I.Y., unerotic filmmaking craft that never changed over her decades as a schlockteur, for better or for worse. The gems in her catalog, then, are naturally going to be the ones built on ludicrous premises like Double Agent 73’s. It’s not only her best collaboration with Chesty Morgan; it’s likely one her most worthwhile films overall.

-Brandon Ledet