Not everything inside the grindhouse is groovy and good-natured. Sometimes, the exploitation genre really ratchets up the repulsion, and unless you are prepared for it, the slimy, oily feeling you get watching these exercises in extremist erotica will soil your soul like an infant's diaper after a burrito breakfast. Filmmakers fashioning their fetid flesh festivals to feed the raincoat crowd knew that certain sketchy subjects usually resulted in verifiable B.O. gold (with complimentary odiferousness). Far beyond the T&A, there was the B&D, the S&M, and the A&E (translation - Anything and Everything). Nowhere was this depraved design better realized - and overemphasized - than in the Roughie. These urban nightmares of degradation and domination were the grimmest of sin cinema's skin flicks.
As the second DVD release by Something Weird Video in October, the triple feature The Sin Syndicate/ She Came on the Bus/ Sin Magazine offers up prime examples of this violence and violation as vice ideal. The Sin Syndicate is Michael Findlay's take on racketeering and that most foul of female trouble - white slavery! She Came on the Bus is a juvenile delinquency romp crossed with a Manson Family recruitment film, while Sin Magazine is a soap opera about a flesh rag and the totally trucked up family who runs it. Each one presents its fiction in highly stylized strategies, and all three contain macho leads that give new meaning to the notion of male menopause. But it's the babes who suffer the most here. By the time this triplet of tainted treats ends, we feel filthy for how much they've suffered - and how much we enjoyed it.
What is it about Michael Findlay and his oeuvre of outstandingly fusty films that fires the exploitation imagination? This decadent director, responsible for what is perhaps the gold standard in violent skin flicks, the Flesh Trilogy (The Touch of Her Flesh, The Kiss of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh) loves to make his movies into the most miserable, depressing and perverted experiences one can imagine. The Sin Syndicate is no exception. Over the course of this crazy narrative, we learn about the hard knock life of "zero girls", ladies who use their bodies to provide aid and comfort to the gin fueled and tobacco tanked. Our quartet of roughshod rug burners each get to tell their story, and when it comes to commonality, these dames got it in sexual servitude spades.
The Sin Syndicate is mesmerizing...just not in the ways you expect. Trying to figure out what Michael Findlay wanted to say in this cobbled together collection of strip teases, dubbed dialogue, and stock footage of the bombing of Britain and the Cuban Revolution (?) would keep MENSA members up at night wondering in confused conniptions. The sacrifice in logic is electric, the lack of a coherent concept subversively brilliant. The movie starts out as a racketeering expose. But once Lansing, the greasy crime boss at the center of the skirt storm tells the Congress to kiss his Fifth Amendmented keister, the movie turns into a flashback filled foray into the dead-end dramas of four hired whores.
Dolores was a dancer in Batista's Havana, a smutty little strutter who fancied herself an "artist". Her act consisted of bopping around, dropping various articles of clothing, and shaking her skin flaps while looking enflamed. Talk about your vain Van Gogh! No sooner does that card Castro taken over the island nation than the slutty seniorita is sold to the syndicate. Before making her way to New York, she is taught the ways of wickedness by Xavier Cugat's celebrity imposter. This entire rebel set plays out before us in strange stock footage - most of it without narrative - that shows looting and pillaging as part of the vow to the newfound Marxist regime.
The stories of Lorna and Candy are so similar that Finley shuttles between them within the same sequence. The only difference is that Lorna misunderstands the concept of "erotic" in erotic dancing and is raped in the back of a truck for her efforts (in a truly inventive and wild scene). Candy must lament her loss of innocence while shots of the Nazi blitz of Britain blow off in her brain (it's a memory from childhood - she's not THAT old). Naturally, they both end up giving their goodies to goons gloaming onto the glamorous life of a mafia stooge - and occasionally showering together. Finally we learn how Monica went from street corner pickup to a same sex session of Sappho slobbering. As Dolores does a far more miserable fan dance for her fellow freelance fornicators, each actress gets her depression on. Eventually, Findlay's film is so dire that it just has to stop. Dolores gives us a voice-over salute and we're out of the dreary den of iniquity. As usual Mr. F understands how to film filth. You will never feel grungier in all your life than after you've sat through his newsreel-like nastiness.
If you think Findlay's freak fest about the hopelessly hopeless lives of hookers for the mob is enough to snuff your senses, you haven't seen anything until you've witnessed She Came on the Bus. This movie is nothing more than a set-up - a group of "kids" (each looking about 25 years old and rising) are out to have "fun and games" (obvious JD slang for the commission of multiple capital offenses) and they decide that a local housewife returning from the store is their ticket to tawdriness. Before you can say Death Wish (or any of its sequels) the gang has crashed the joint, rummaged through the groceries, and defiled the tootsie rolls! When Suzy Homemaker walks in on the scene, she is in for a surprise - and a gang bang.
Thus begins this movie's maddeningly manic softcore shuffle. There is sex in the bedroom, sex on the kitchen floor, sex in a car and sex in a full sized Greyhound. See, the hoods grow weary of screwing inside the comfort of a house. So they decide to hijack a bus and get down to some serious cross-country carnality. As one of them drives around aimlessly the rest get to rumbling in the air-conditioned comfort of an overloaded land cruiser. They eventually pick up some gals who are headed out to do some shopping. Instead, they "do" something quite different as it's The Last Bus Stop on the Left time. Our heroines get hornswaggled to within an inch of their garter belted lives. Oh course, these "thrill seekers" grow weary of leaving the driving to...one of them, and head back to the house. There they check on their previous paramours and have a few more rig frigs, just to be on the safe side.
Talk about your fudged up films! This blight on polite society is like someone's idea of a stark realistic drama, filled with all manner of cinematic forewarning and somber narrative distress. But what co-directors Curt Ledger and Harry Vincent really want to accomplish here is the creation of the next big buck passion pit play date. Certainly She Came on the Bus looks like an 'untamed youth on the loose' lesson, but it can't hold a carnal candle to better examples of the anti-social spree spirit (this is no Just For the Hell of It, let's make that crystal clear). Indeed, this is akin to standard Pussycat Club propaganda, with the narrative functioning as a guidepost, for consistent corpus-to-corpus crackalacking. Most of the actors are awkward and amused, covering up smiles that destroy the dynamic of dread. Still, with its unique approach (who ever thought about turning an exploitation film into a moveable flesh feast???) and a fine sampling of skin, this is another tarnished treasure in the SWV oeuvre.
Then there is Sin Magazine. With a title that promises a look behind the seedy scenes of the risqué rag publishing trade, our appetite for ampleness is good and wetted. But once we see our hero, Ross, have his face sliced open as part of a nightmare, we know we're in for an unusual take on centerfold shilling. Indeed, the periodical angle is almost immediately forgotten (it returns in a single smutless montage) to focus on Ross's revved up mental morass. What we end up with is something akin to the portrait of a pornographer on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with our angry anti-hero taking his imaginary pixie problems out on his wife, mistress and brothers.
Like a soiled Southern Gothic relocated to the tree-dappled Northeast, this puerile Peyton Place is all overheated hints and super-sleazy suggestion. Bill has just returned from Europe after serving in the army - and he's brought along a little bit of easy Euro-trash to give his siblings groin gastritis. Ross has been playing around on Pat, his money hungry harpy of a wife, but once he sees Lisa, his libido clashes with his lunacy, and suddenly, he's a crazed creep with mayhem on his mind. Their other brother, Otis, takes the photos for the magazine, and he's up to his hips in available model meat. His preferred method of monkey lovin' is the 1/2 night's stand. He expects his conquests to hit the bricks even before dawn has a chance to splinter. Of course, he find Bill's babe utterly approachable, and it's not long before business meets pleasure meets mass murder in what has to be one of the oddest endings ever in an exploitation film.
Since it relies so heavily on its dialogue and drama, you'd think Sin Magazine would have little time for nudity - and you'd be right. This is probably the first film about flesh peddling where the tit is tertiary to all the silent seething and clipped conversations going on. Even when Bill seduces a publishing assistant in a bid for his magazine's national distribution, nothing happens. We get more randiness in an episode of The Real World. Ross's former mistress drops robe a couple of times, but all we witness is a rather ample rump roped into some granny panties. You want this movie to expose the world of girls gone glamour shot, and provide the kind of bountiful bodkin that makes a trip to the sleazy side that much more memorable. The only thing unforgettable here is the strange, almost surreal sense of filmmaking. Al Mitchel, in his one and only movie, adds odd little touches (a screeching close-up of a cat, a first person POV date) and a raucous rock and roll soundtrack to what should be some oversexed serialized drama. Instead of being a sudser, however, this is a psychotic relative gone postal panorama, with the closing bloodbath almost noir-esque in its execution.
Of course, the corporeal centerpiece here is rape - and lots of it. Sin Syndicate treats such sexual battery like a calling card for the "love for sale" crowd. None of our gals want to find themselves pinned down by sweaty Teamsters trading favors and money for political power and influence, but you can practically smell the stale cigar and Beefeater belches of the men as they mount their "merchandise". She Came on the Bus is nothing but non-consensual sex. The housewife, the Avon Lady (yep, a member of the Mary Kay set gets gored by our pork crazed criminals) and the casual commuters are all unwilling members in this group gratuitous grope ideal. Indeed, the only film to almost fail in the "wham bam no thank you man" concept is Sin Magazine. It takes a good long time to get there, but Lisa the foreign fem that Bill brought along as a trophy bride ends up under Otis, who obviously learned his violation lessons via correspondence course. He barely gets a hand up a skirt before he meets his foul fate at the end of Ross's killer tree limb.
Yet it's interesting to note how inexcusably entertaining each film is. The Sin Syndicate is like an educational short for the wannabe trollop set. The "true life" traumas of the zero girls might be heavy on the horseplay (do we really need to see Dolores dance topless for 30 minutes???), but director Findlay finds a way - usually centered around stock footage of past history and current events - to keep us from thinking about how sour these situations really are. Sin Magazine, on the other hand, intrigues by how non-exploitative it strives to be. It sets up believable characters, creates nice family tension, and does a terrific job of balancing Ross's belfry bats with the growing ambitions of brother Bill and the tricky sticky wicket of the ornery Otis. She Came on the Bus basically succeeds because of how odd the premise is. The long bus rides filled with fornicating are like cinematic opportunities in free association. We start to question the grand philosophical questions of existence while the street urchins shark down on unwitting women. By teasing and sleazing our idle inclinations and far too proper proclivities, Something Weird delivers another terrific title well worth a lewd look-see.
For those unfamiliar with the SWV way of DVD construction, a triple feature usually means that the normal prosperity of bonus features is cut back substantially. Sadly, this is the case here. We get a collection of trailers, and the standard sexploitation gallery with radio ad rarities playing in the background. All three movies suffer from rarity remastery syndrome, meaning that the original stock elements were so shoddy that even with the company's excellent track record with transfers, these films look flawed. She Came on the Bus is probably the worst, the 1.33:1 image being far too bright and borderline solarized. It is not unwatchable, but it pales in comparison to its companions. The Sin Syndicate has some initial editing errors, but then settles down to deliver a dark and brooding full frame monochrome vista. Sin Magazine probably looks best, with a kind of 4x3 crispness and clear black and white dichotomy that's hard to hate.
Though the subject matter might be loathsome, and the approach less than professional, the exploitation field always knew just where its bawdy bread was banefully buttered. As feminists started to fight for their right to refuse the advances of miserable men, the filmmakers and movie mavens of the grindhouse delivered stinging indictments of the growing girl power. These nonsensical, often nasty fantasy fests were designed to make men feel meaningful, to fuel their desire to dominate the damsels without putting a gratuitous glass ceiling in place. Rape is not a pretty or proud subject, but it is part and parcel of the raincoat realm. Thank goodness times changed...and thank goodness we have these reminders of why they had to.
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