They call it the world's oldest profession, and when it comes to the exploitation industry, it's almost always film facet numero uno. Though most producers probably won't admit it, sex for sale is standard operating procedure in the grindhouse game, and though they may not be called by the naughty nom de plume, most of its stars are just like those long lamented ladies of ill repute. Granted, the meaning here is mostly metaphysical - the actresses used in the sleazy sex films of the '50s and '60s weren't real working girls (well, on occasion...). No, what we had in the gratuity game were women ready and willing to sell their modesty and their virtue for a few hundred dollars and the promise of a potential career in pictures. While it's not exactly like peddling your flesh on the street, you get the idea.
As part of their March releases, Something Weird Video digs up two iconic examples of the way harlots were depicted for the purveyors of motion picture perversion. In The Hookers, misguided men who mean nothing but monkey business lure three unwitting young girls into the lascivious lifestyle with nothing more than the threat of physical abuse, while in Barry Mahon's preposterous P.P.S. (Prostitutes Protective Society) our laughable ladies of the evening decide to turn violent and vigilante when the local mob boss tries to move in on their randy racket. In both movies, sex is presented as gritty and grimy, and the providers of poon conspicuously shown as damsels in distress - emotionally, physically and morally. While there is lots of faux fornication to be had, the overall message is one of misery, manipulation and men as pathetic, predatory pigs.
When Callie Sue arrived in the big city, all she wanted to do was forget her past as a picked upon 'colored girl' in a racially repugnant South. For Julia, the lure of potential acting jobs brought her to the flash and fantasy of metropolitan life. And as for harried housewife Barbara, her boredom at being a suburban spouse has caused her to play the ponies now and then. Eventually, what all three ladies learn is that the paternalistic parts of the 60s social structure won't let them alone. Callie Sue will always be seen as a ready-to-rape Nubian novelty by even the most dumpy and derelict of her co-workers. Julia will jump at the chance to audition for a powerful producer - that is, until she learns that the only interest he has in her is with regards to her performance...in the boudoir. And Barbara? She's more than happy to turn a trick or two if it will keep her brawny mobster bookie from breaking her vulnerable, varicose veined legs. Indeed, all three put upon babes will soon accept being loved, especially when they have to sell it wholesale to the local riff raff. Make no doubt about it, you can try to fancy up their current career change, by they will always be known as The Hookers.
Though it's title suggests a rip roaring ho-down of carnally craven call girls, a better title for this movie might be Prelude to Hooking. Or maybe a more confessional How I Came to Hook. After all, for most of the narrative, there is nary a trick turned. Oh sure, Callie Sue finally sells herself to the porcine sales rep who seems pretty used to doling out the dough for some sugar, but Julie just resigns herself to her fate while Barbara basks in the afterglow of a job well...considered? Director Jalo Miklos Horthy, a figure more or less unknown to most exploitation fans, tries to enhance his otherwise tawdry tale with healthy doses of social commentary and one truly freaked-out fetishist. During the excruciatingly racist Callie Sue sequence (this is a vignette style storyline, with a narrator linking the material together anecdotally) we are forced to listen to a couple of rebel yell rejects basically talking their way into taking advantage of our poor black heroine. One even uses his supposed strength (he lifts an oil drum over his head) as a rationale for rape. During this uncomfortable confrontation, Horthy films a chase scene through a cornfield, trying to fancy up what is more or less a miscarriage of human justice. He will do this all throughout The Hookers, from the jokey gyrations Julie calls dancing to the boozed out Bickerson's dialogue between Barb and her beefy hubby.
And yet, The Hookers succeeds because it so readily refuses to jump on the standard sexploitation bandwagon. Very little nudity is offered, the most being a quick glimpse of breast or a momentary peek at posterior. Far more time is taken up with prickly conversations, mindless manhandling, and the single strangest scene in any grindhouse gala. When Julie goes to "entertain" a famed producer, he turns out to be a whacked out weirdo who likes everything "slow" and "neat". As our whore in training turns on her inner Frug, we get goofy close-ups of the impresario mentally soiling himself over the dish doing the Watusi in front of him. Whenever she screws up though, he shrieks like a woman and berates her in the most menacing of fashions. As he pitches his horrifying hissy, he growls "NO!..slowly..and NEATLY!" Considering that the actor hired to play the part looks like a corpse about to slump over and puddle into a pool of putrescence, there is an uneasy aura to the entire narrative. Something similar occurs when Barbara's maid makes a play for the miserable man of the house. Looking like a character out of John Kricfalusi's most fevered 50s dream, our henpecked hubby is mauled by our overripe servant, fat folds vibrating in unrequited passion. Naturally, he rejects her advances. Apparently, this means she too will soon be selling her goodies on the loading docks around town.
Even more perplexing is Barry Mahon's P.P.S. While it might sound like a particularly wicked warning sign of a woman's impending monthly cycle, it is actually a surreal crime drama dressed - or make that undressed - up as an exposé on the selling of sex by women of indiscriminate accents. When Madam Sue learns that a diabolic mobster named Carny Bill has decided to muscle in on her territory, and in turn, her girls, she decides to stand her ground. Before she knows it, bodies are piling up like corporeal cordwood. The mad Mafioso with a penchant for amusement parks (thus the name) sends his hitmen out on an all out whore killing spree, and it's not long before Sue realizes that her potential concubines are being eliminated, thus minimizing their money making potential. She and the remaining gals decide to do it for themselves, meaning that they take up arms and start garroting the hired goons before they have a chance to permanently punch a lady's lewd dance card. It's a regular risqué rumble as slatterns take on slayers in an all out war for control of the sex for sawbucks trade. Thankfully, these tarts have formed their own Prostitutes Protective Society. Otherwise, they'd all be just so many dead cocottes.
Jeez - some young thang must have really messed up Barry Mahon when he was a hormonally raging adolescent. His obvious misogyny, minor as it may actually appear, is written all over his oeuvre. From the perfectly titled The Beast that Killed Women to the psychologically insightful Sex Killer, Mahon believes that the best way to sell skin is with a little slaughter thrown in on top. Or in the case of P.P.S., a LOT of slaughter. Purposefully premised like a mock documentary, with the heavily accented Madame Sue telling us her sad, slice and dice saga, Mahon makes with slasher-style horror movie strategies. Indeed, the first half of the film is mostly hes shiving shes. The last half is babes brutalizing bullies. We get stabbings, shootings, hangings, strangulations and drownings. In between the occasional flashes of flesh, Mahon also takes us to an amusement park to watch Carny get his kicks, gives us a glimpse of the less than stellar rump shaking at the local hooker bar, and offers enough amateur acting to make today's independent moviemaker feel right at home. Everything about P.P.S. is simultaneously over and underdone. The dialogue is dreary, but delivered in such a campy, unkempt manner by the novice cast that you just can't help but laugh. And while the murders are dull and derivative, Mahon's attempts to make them menacing actually increase the film's fun factor.
Indeed, Prostitutes Protective Society can really be seen as a kind of faux feminist manifesto. Mahon makes it clear, in a very Sin City sort of way, that if left to their own devilish devices, whores and hookers are more than capable of taking care of themselves. It is only when oily, unctuous men show up, dark suits hiding a heart as greasy as their slicked down hair, that things begin to go haywire. Since the law is about the only things these paid paramours don't regularly take into their own hands, we feel a sense of purpose when, after a dozen or so deaths, these dames decide it's payback time. Oh, there is some sex here. One of the girls is a cruising lesbian, and loves to "initiate" all the newbies who come through the door. Unlike your modern strip club, however, Madame Sue is against such same sex fraternizing. The reason? She believes it undermines the ladies' spirit and makes them feel used. Right, and sleeping with a couple dozen longshoremen for $20 bucks won't have the same effect. With not a single wire hanger wrapped in a pillowcase anywhere is sight, and nary a mention of that other "P" word (playas know it as "pimp"), Mahon's misguided morality play is a seedy yet singular delight.
One of the more amazing aspects of both films, aside from their conscious decision to avoid any and or all of the actual elements of hooking, is how cost-effective the narratives are. In The Hookers, Callie Sue actually negotiates with her potential John as she strips off her skivvies and offers up the inventory. Julie's racketeering boyfriend is into his anonymous gangster for $50 large - that's fifty whole DOLLARS - and yet he needs his gal pal, and several other of her ilk, to pay off this massive debt. At least housewife Barbara has been betting large. Her IOU is up to $350, and you can only con so many designer dress payments out of your soused spouse before he starts to get suspicious. It's the same in the P.P.S.. All throughout the film, men are miffed at carnal quotes in the range of $10 to $20. Now, granted, a 1960s Benjamin might just pay off one of these dude's squalid loft apartments for a couple of months, but hearing them hem and haw over what is essentially the price of a trip to the food court nowadays has a certain nutty nostalgia to it.
Thankfully, these dorks didn't 'hook' up with the gals in the added feature mini-movie, Meeting on 69th Street. SWV adds this tainted tale of three Florida femmes opening a cathouse in Long Island to bolster the DVDs overall skin quotient. There is more ersatz erotica here than in both main movies combined. Once we get past the set-up, and a group of sailors arrive, it's mattress mambo time for all involved. And talk about the PRICES?!? One lady named Lana promises to give her sea-faring bedmate a $1000 special for free. In the corporeal context of the narrative, it's hard to tell which is more outrageous - the cost...or the fact that someone once paid this ditzy dullard a grand to "shoot the works". Part sad sack stupidity (one of our brawny brave seamen is actually intimidated by girls - awwww!), part squirming excuse for traditional smut, Meeting is monotonous and meandering, turning its sex into something as exciting as an ear ache. While it does give exploitation fans the flesh they've been craving all along, the subliminal costs may be a little to dear for some to take.
As with most of their monochrome offerings, Something Weird Video delivers a delightful set of black and white transfers. When they stay inside for their arousal action, both The Hookers and P.P.S. have a clear, crisp set of light and dark contrasts. You can almost feel the silky lingerie worn by this collection of craven slucks. When each film ventures out into the existing cityscape however, the lack of lighting and the inability to control other external elements really damages the image. The Hookers starts with an interesting shot of the Pan Am Building, but it's wobbly, faded and almost always out of focus. When Madame Sue walks down 42nd Street, the mind-numbing neon is all we really see. Still, for incredibly rare movies from an era gone by, these 1.33:1 full frame movies look really good. Meeting on 69th Street is another issue all together. It's dirty, fully of scratches, and looks like it was rarely, if ever well cared for. Along with a collection of highly enjoyable trailers (including titles like the tantalizing All My Men, and the totally ridiculous House of Cats) and the standard SWV gallery of sexploitation ad art with exploitation audio, this is a near triple feature of stupefying and strange sex for sale.
Though many of them fail to have that mythical heart of gold, the slags and skanks featured in The Hookers and P.P.S. (Prostitutes Protective Society) prove that, as grindhouse icons, the lady of the evening represented more than just an easy lay for your average beery businessman. Through the eyes of the mostly anonymous moviemakers who hoped to earn some scratch off the back of some nude gal's...back, the whore holds a special place in the poon for pay hierarchy. She represents ease of availability and carnal companionship without all the intricacies of interpersonal relationships. Like the exotic dancer or the modern stripper, they out Oklahoma Ado Annie by being girls that we know, by mandate, cannot say "No". While issues of degradation and humiliation are just part of the reason why prostitution remains a sour subject in our modern thinking, civilized society, in the world of exploitation it was just a jumping off point for horny gals to earn something for scratching that most taboo of itches. At least they're upfront about their motives for maximizing their exploitation exchange rate. And, believe it or not, the raincoat crowd kind of liked it that way.
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