There are lots of famous names in exploitation, instantly recognizable monikers which make up even the most casual fans database of flesh film knowledge. As part of the production pantheon, David F. Friedman and Harry Novak held carnal court, while someone like Manuel S. Conde hoped for a place in their bawdy brotherhood. In the domain of directors Michael Findlay, Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman divvied up the decadence dynamic, while wild wannabes like Barry Mahon and Joe Campos cluttered up the grindhouse with their ripe rip-offerings. Then there were the barrel bottom feeders, the bandwagon jumpers who failed to find a single saleable way of keeping their moniker in The Big Book of Bodkin. These derivative, dim lights of the gratuity genre never got the accolades of their fellow flesh peddlers for one simple reason – they didn't make movies worth two piles of hot horse apples. Their mundane, middling efforts made a few bucks on the circuit, then died the quick death they so rightly deserved.
Such is the case for the otherwise unknown. Dale Berry. Certainly the die-hard grindhouse buff knows his perplexing, perverted motion picture. This Texas sleaze merchant was responsible for such memorable examples of semi-smut as The Girl and the Geek, and Hot-Blooded Woman. He also produced The Hot Bed and acted in such sullied classics as Common Law Wife and Naughty Dallas. Similar to a fellow Lone Star staple, the conspiracy theory maverick Larry Buchanan, Berry saw the rising importance of places like Florida in the shilling of skin and sin and wondered why his larger than life state couldn't participate equally. The answers lie within Berry himself. A total 'tard behind the lens, this celluloid incompetent didn't believe in basic entertainment elements like plotting or characterization. Instead, he played point and shoot with his almost always amateur casts, the results being some of the most mesmerizingly misguided movies ever made.
As part of a pair of titles release by Something Weird Video in April, the Criterion of Carnality are presenting two of Berry's more baffling efforts. In Hip, Hot & 21, a white trash gal named Diane gets sold to a city boy for a "loan" of $50. When hubby does a wedding night 'wham bam thank you ma'am', the heartbroken hillbilly seeks solace from a noisy-body neighbor, who just so happens to be involved in drug dealing. Illogical hi-jinx ensue. Crime is also at the center of Hot Thrills and Warm Chills. When felonious fashion plate Toni invites her former girl gang pals to celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, she has more than champagne on the brain. Apparently a little larceny's in order, and Toni has just the target – the diamond "sex" crown worn by the King of the carnival. Both films offer proof positive that, as a moviemaker, Berry had an eye for female pulchritude. But when it came to capturing said sexiness on camera, this faux filmmaker was all befuddled thumbs.
You can see it all throughout the pre-credits sequence for Hip, Hot & 21. With an upcoming arranged marriage hanging over her head, Diane McClunkey decides to whine incessantly for minutes on end until her pappy relents. But since Dad is someone who rarely changes his overalls, let alone his mind, it's not long before Diane is handed over to her preplanned paramour – but not before we get an extended exchange filled with lame fornication entendres. Thereafter things move rather quickly in Diane's life. She's married, interrupted on her wedding night, dumped the morning after and suddenly part of a dope selling syndicate. In between, she meets up with one of the most instantly unlikeable characters in the history of cinema, exploitation or otherwise – Lousy Pervert Ernie. A drooling, deranged mess, Ernie likes his "fun" on the rough, and routinely fatal, side and he's got Diane – or at least any number of her barhopping gal pals, in his murderous sites. It will take a foot chase and a gun-slinging shoot out with the cops to put this perplexing story to rest.
Violating every tenet of its title, Hip, Hot & 21 is creepy, cold, and as aged as a bucket of bad cheese. Trying for a combination of cornpone and crime, but only delivering more of director Dale Berry's delusions, this film practically foams at the mouth with its rabid ridiculousness. Take the opening setup. Diane doesn't want to leave her home, arguing that she shouldn't be forced into a loveless marriage. But once we see the one room shack that she calls "abode" we wonder why she'd ever want to stay. Her father is a surly cuss who looks like the coughed up core of a rotten apple, momma's a mountain and the whole place reeks of a serial killer's secret sanctuary. Once you begin to consider the sleeping arrangements and other more private particulars, the movie becomes even more malodorous. When we get to the city, things clean up only slightly. Diane hangs around the hags who work at the local strip club, almost all of whom deal dope for some foreign fop named Al. As she gets in deeper and deeper, we witness a down and out junkie kill herself, an asexual bedroom romp featuring the beefiest, most menacing gal ever to put her piggish mug on screen, and an elongated dance number by a bikinied Lorna Maitland.
Yet it's at the point where Lousy Pervert Ernie shows up that the film falls off the logical train and derails itself over and over again. This pile of pandering portliness, looking like a shop teacher with the shivers, is a less macho Joe Besser with a jones for beating the bejesus out of babes. As he stutters and stammers, pawing at the visiting vixens with saliva-filled seediness, we suddenly feel the need to shower in industrial strength battery acid. Where it was previously a farce with even more mindless underpinnings, the arrival of this slimy sex fiend gives Hip, Hot & 21 an oily snuff film quality. And there's not a great deal that Dale Berry can do about it. Since he is a filmmaker who doesn't believe in the simplest of cinematic ideals, like continuity, internal narrative logic, or acting prowess, he is left with the lingering aroma of said filmic feces filling the air. Like the celluloid version of an acid trip, Berry is banking on his bevy of bodacious babes to save the day. But when you have one actress who resembles a human skin tag, and another who never gets past the shimmy in the asset shaking department, there's not a lot of lewdness to deposit into your arousal account. Hip, Hot & 21 is a tainted treat, the kind of film that makes you question why exploitation was ever a popular product in the first place.
Thankfully, things are a lot less unctuous down in the fabulous French Quarter, and reformed robber Toni wants her gal pals to drink in all the decadence. She has a few freaked-out glamour fits before letting in her former friends, and they proceed to dish the dirt about the men who make their life miserable. Kitten tells a story about her wedding night, and the bridesmaid who bedded her dim as a dirt clod husband. She then informs the others about a "gorgeous hunk" of insurance salesman that she planned on porking, only to have her naked roommate Chris steal him away. All Dody has to say is that she's married to a CPA named Lester P. Chester and the conversation immediately turns to crime. See, Toni has one more score for her girl gang, and if the others are willing, they plan on procuring the Mardi Gras crown of "King Sex". With the $500K the bauble is worth, the can all fly down to the Caribbean and live like slutty queens. There is only one thing keeping them from a successful haul, and it's not their combined single digit IQ. No, Toni is all touchy feely with a local law enforcement officer, and when the cops learn of the upcoming larceny, they set up the she mob. The robbery goes sour, Toni and Dody end up running through the New Orleans streets during the big parade, and Chris shows up to have sex with anyone whose willing.
Just as Lousy Pervert Ernie "made" Hip, Hot & 21, spreading his stink all over the screen, famed NOLA stripper Rita Alexander is the groovy, gratuitous, guiding light of Hot Thrills and Warm Chills. With a voice so Creole you'd swear she was smothered in filé and served with a side of andouille sausage, and hair so teased and tweezed it looks like carnal cotton candy, this drag queen icon wannabe percolates like an out of whack coffee pot all throughout this sham of a sex crime caper. Berry is up to his usual cinematic tricks – soundtrack overdosing on local (in this case, Tex-Mex???) color, flashbacks that fail to follow the set-up, fugly females daring to do the dirty boogie – but with Ms. Alexander at the helm, we happily follow along. Maybe it's her drawn in eyebrows, pre-arched in smug surprise. Perhaps it's her stacked and racked body particulars. It could also be her advertised talent of balancing cocktail glasses on her bosom (which she does demonstrate). Whatever it is, it's Alexander and her terrifically tacky Toni that keeps us glued to our seats. She's like a post-liposuction Divine, lost in her own world of weird line readings, spastic gesturing, and some of the most questionably odd sex faces any fornication faking actress has ever made.
Another improvement over Hip, Hot & 21 is the attempt at an actual storyline. The entire narrative is leading up to the heist, and we begin to visualize just how a director like Berry will handle the clockwork concept. The answer is fairly obvious. Since such an elaborate crown caper would require a mansion, some pyrotechnics, and a lot of extras, we never see the deed. Instead, Berry plants a hidden camera among the Mardi Gras crowd and has Alexander and her pal run rampant. Intermittently, a fake cop arrives and fires into the sea of people. This being a drunk debacle of a celebration, no one really seems to mind. Eventually our mandated foot chase lands in a New Orleans cemetery, and we get one dazzling dozy of a finale. It features Toni, a locked mausoleum, and the approaching dusk. After the previous sequences of linebacker-like women wiggling in their birthday suits, rotund Rotarians frolicking with the femmes, and an endlessly looping set of sex noises that become their own kind of risqué rhythm section ,we are totally taken with the eerie ending. It proves that with the right performer, the proper place, and the slightest amount of skill, anyone can create a compelling sequence of sinister surrealism. While the title may be a bit confusing (can "chills" really be warm???), Berry actually delivers a semi-straightforward film.
In truth, Dale Berry is a grindhouse cheat. He doesn't fully explore the avenues of exploitation like many of the far more familiar flesh filmmakers, and his movies meter out their fun in forced, flaccid sequences that often contradict each other. Like a book report written by a grade schooler, Berry summarizes the elements that make up sin and skin and then adds his own strange shorthand to the mix. When Toni is "raped" by a man during Hot Thrills and Warm Chills, he spends all his time "downtown", much to the victim's obvious pleasure. Equally arcane are all of his normal sex acts, which appear to exist exclusively from the shoulders up. We never see torso, or tushy, or even legs for that matter as couples copulate in supposed passion. Many of the guy/girl grapplings look like horizontal wrestling matches, not actual ersatz erotica. If Sarno is the Stravinsky of staged smut, and Mahon is the McDonald's of the nudie cutie, Dale Berry is the generic beer of bare bodkin. His movies resemble their exploitation betters, but they also have a foul, funky aftertaste that reminds you that, all T&A aside, you are settling for some substandard salaciousness.
Since he's a lesser light in the world of the wanton, Something Weird Video obviously had a hard time locating pristine prints of these films. Both Hip, Hot & 21 and Hot Thrills and Warm Chills are riddled with scratches, loaded with dirt, and occasionally scuttled by inappropriate edits (as if material was removed and then later placed back in). Still, with all these distracting elements, the 1.33:1 full screen transfers have a crisp, monochrome finish, offering basic black and white cinematography in all its light/shadow spectacle. On the sound side, Berry employs some incredibly bizarre backing tracks (call it Pablo Reverie and the Raiders meets a tired Tito Puente) and the Dolby Digital Mono delivers them all in shrill, sonic statements. The dialogue occasionally gets lost in the din, but overall, there's a nice nostalgic ring to the reverberations. As for bonus features, SWV treats us to three archival peep show loops, a trio of trailers featuring fabulous titles like Eat, Drink and Make Merrie and Miss Jessica is Pregnant, and a Gallery of Underground Sexploitation Movie Magazine covers with Audio Oddities. While nothing here is as instantly memorable as the main features, one of the shorts, something called Cherry Flip, features the unappetizing idea of a naked female soda jerk. Just don't ask where the "hot fudge" comes from and everything will be all right.
So if you're looking for a new exploitation maven to champion. If you've worked your way through the perverted productions of Conde, Novak, and Friedman, if the directing dimensions of Findlay, Wishman and Sarno have long since stopped satisfying your craving for carnality, if you need a respite from the Mahons and the Cresses and the Campas of the world, Dale Berry just might settle your horny hash. Like a set of corporeal Cliffs Notes, these paltry pleasure domes deliver more brain busting than groin grabbing, and frequently substitute kitsch and camp for slap and tickle. Still, there is something to be said about this director's disturbing lack of cinematic consideration. It's like taking an introductory class in moviemaking. As Hip, Hot & 21 /Hot Thrill and Warm Chills flail across their film stock, you can pick out examples of bad framing, incomplete compositions, awkward optical tricks (why all the mirrors, Dale?) and a true lack of storytelling talent. In a realm where artistry is a rarity, Dale Berry represents the longshoreman style of exploitation. If you like it aesthetically rough, but perplexingly prurient, give this DVD a try. But be warned – this Berry is more sour than sweet.
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