If you were to ask the average film fan what Troma is most famous for, you'd definitely get more responses pointing in the direction of the monster/horror genre than the sex/flesh format. Granted, the company made its name on the irradiated back of the Toxic Avenger and the surreal Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD. But the iconic Indie entity has also championed some of the more memorable skin flicks in the carnal category's history. An overview of their catalog reveals several scintillating titles – Sugar Cookies, When Nature Calls, Foreplay, Eve's Beach Fantasy, Stuck on You! and the famed First Turn On. Now they can add Video Vixens to the list. A randy retort of the mid-70s sexual mindset, this awards show spoof meshed with Network-like critiques of the media is a clever combination of commentary and cleavage. Sure, there are ample examples of nubile naughtiness here, but the more amazing aspect of this film is not its flesh. There is actually a pretty acute message about pandering present, with accusatory fingers pointing at all aspects of the entertainment industry.
Gordon Bradley is a man with a mission. His TV station is on the verge of collapse and he believes he knows the reason why. In his mind, conservative crackpots with a desire to destroy the sex drive of all Americans are undermining the business by denying the power of porn. He wants to change all that, as well as challenge the conspiracy started by such asexual saboteurs. His plan? He wants to create an Academy Awards style showcase for the stag film industry, and he wants local adult merchants to sponsor the shindig. After proposing the program to hardcore auteur Rex Boorski and his ample assistant Inga, Bradley gets the flesh peddlers on board. All that's left is finding a frontman for the show – and Bradley believes his hyper-arrogant film critic Gordon Gordon is the perfect patsy for the job. As the broadcast approaches, everyone is on network needles and pins. The presentation of smut on American airwaves promises to push a lot of buttons. But Bradley hopes to stir something else. He hopes his Video Vixens will expose the anti-arousal cabal and bring the three "B"s (butt, boobs and bush) back to the skin loving citizenry where they belong.
Imagine a softcore pornographer mashing together bits of Dr. Strangelove, a healthy dose of the Groove Tube, and a real insiders look at the proto-smut industry of stag films. Then sprinkle liberally with '70s body issues, douse the entire enterprise in a combination Boone's Farm Strawberry Wine and Love's Baby Soft, and feed this freakish combination an ample helping of hallucinogenic mushrooms and amyl nitrate and you might have a basic idea of what Video Vixens is all about. Helmed by that auteur of adult films Henri Pachard (under the pseudonym Ronald Sullivan), famous for such hardcore classics as Babylon Pink and Vagina Town, this oddball entry into the far more mild sex farce category is a horny hoot and a half. Though its chief selling point is T&A – LOTS of T&A – there is a devilish bit of satire going on here. Writer Joel Gross may have thought he was merely riffing on porno chic while taking potshots at the General Jack D. Ripper character from Kubrick's landmark anti-war film, but he manages to concoct a lively lampoon of smut peddlers and their staunch if strangled opponents. In between all the fake ads, phony stag clips and flippy floppy flapjacks are some interesting ideas of how the media manipulates flesh to simultaneously tantalize and criticize its audience.
At the center of the story are three amazing performances. On the one hand there is Norman Fields, taking on the role of Gordon Bradley. An exploitation fixture with roles in Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song, A Scream in the Streets and Black Alley Cats, Fields gives new meaning to the concept of the slow burn. With a bad comb over and even more appalling attitude, his twisted TV exec (who believes a conspiracy of conservatives is using a certain drug to destroy America's sex drive) just seethes with unresolved, repressed issues. His onscreen speeches are testaments to smart scripting, and though their delivery can at times seem sloppy and a little too loose, his character provides the solid center for the rest of the ridiculousness going on. Equally good is Harrison Phillips as the goody two shoes film critic Gordon Gordon. Using a voice several octaves higher than his normal speaking range, Phillips delivers a truly memorable turn as the fey film expert. His anti-sleaze tirades are the perfect antithesis to Bradley's bawdy bombast. When he is chosen to host these adult Oscars, his uncomfortable shock is sensational. Even when he takes the stage and stumbles his way through the show, his urge to object is written all over his prickly persona. His last act transformation – libido fueled by fame – is marvelous, as is the montage of moments where he and his wife "get it on".
But this movie's main selling point, aside from the skin, is the laid back cornpone perversion of the late, great George "Buck" Flowers. A staple of skin and schlock cinema, many may know this unforgettable letch from his work in John Carpenter's They Live or from one of his numerous appearances in direct to cable carnality like Taking It All Off or hack horror efforts such as Berserker or Skeeter. Here, Flowers is free to indulge in his most depraved desires, as he plays the walking wedge of wantonness known as stag film director Rex Boorski. With one hand always scratching an armpit or digging in his nose, Flowers finds the consistent comic gold in his raunchy, rude character and generates a nice level of lewdness with his blue language bravado. Whenever he appears onscreen, our anticipation of amusement peaks, since we know he's good for a goofy line reading or two. His sex scene (sorry ladies, Buck remains mostly clothed throughout) is hilarious, as is his awkward audition of a less than willing actress. Flowers perfectly illustrates the flesh peddler clichés that the film wants to challenge, and with the foxy, fetching Robyn Hilton as his ever-present assistant (yes gents, the babe from Blazing Saddles does expose those tantalizing ta-tas of hers), he makes the most of Boorski's comfortable coarseness.
As for the rest of the film, the vignette style approach is fairly hit or miss. Pachard does however knock many of his attempts at humor right out of the park. The fake commercials for several strange sex products are spot on, delivering some scatological laughs in the process. The stag film scenes are another story. The first, involving an obese milkman, a horny housewife, and various whipping devices, is absolutely hilarious. The next sequence, featuring a horny psychiatrist and his unwilling patient is rather predictable. Buck Flowers' solo outing is resplendently ridiculous, and a Dragnet-esque take off on a serial rapist case is wonderfully weird. Certainly there are subplots that go nowhere (Gordon Gordon has a son who pointlessly preaches a Puritanical view of pleasure) and there's a last minute press conference that allows Flowers to freestyle some awkward, anarchic, ad libs. Such slights aside, Video Vixens is a great deal of fun. It recalls an era when any mention of gratuity was greeted with simultaneous calls of censure and/or celebration. Nudity was just leaving the exploitation arena and taking up shop in the movie mainstream. Thanks to the efforts of Gross and Pachard, this skin flick ends up being a smart, sunny spoof of the growing morass between the different medias. It's not perfect, but it sure beats the pants off similar adult-oriented offerings.
While it looks like it was made three decades ago, Video Vixens gets a nice, clean transfer from Troma. The 1.33:1 image has a minimum of defects and presents the picture in a fresh, if slightly faded, set of colors and details. Fans of flesh also require the following carnal caveat – this is the era of natural breasts, unshaved areas and wild male body hair. If any of these ideals slight your sex drive, you may find the nudity here a little hard to handle.
Since Video Vixens offers very little to listen to besides the dialogue and occasional musical underscoring, the Dolby Digital Mono makes no real impression. Even in a sequence where bad folly produces a befuddling array of lame sound effects, the aural elements here are nothing special.
Troma tricks out this release with some very minor added content. Mr. Skin, from Mr. Skin.com is around to add his two minutes worth about the movie, delivering such in-depth items as how many "muffs" we see during the running time. He does help those with a proclivity toward classic porn by pointing out the famous faces from the adult/drive-in industry. Company Head Lloyd Kaufmann is also on hand to provide one of his patented pointless introductions. He is joined by Debbie Rochon and a gaggle of Tromatic interns. Aside from the typical outlay of corporate clips (ads for Poultrygeist and the Make Your Own Damn Movie DVD boxset) there is very little else here to complement the Video Vixen release. It's too bad really. Pachard has been open to discussing his work (he appeared on the recent release of Babylon Pink) and it would have been intriguing to hear his take on this prescient bit of prurience.
Though he could easily award this title a Highly Recommended rating, this critic realizes that some will find this film another example of decades old dullness. They will see the natural nudes and hirsute he-men and reject the risqué realities of such a '70s concept of sensuality. Others will miss the point of the plot and consider the narrative a mere excuse for the naughtiness. As a result, the score will be reluctantly lowered to Recommended, though it is done under a shroud of metaphysical protest. For anyone with a window into the workings of the TV/T&A industries, Video Vixens is a smart, sassy send-up. The bountiful bosom and behind is just the enticing icing on the otherwise satiric cake. While Troma would likely never trade its connection to the creepy for a position with the prurient, it's a shame more fans don't know about the company's collection of carnal cavalcades. Not all are as engaging or insightful as this well-written slice of wantonness, but they do have their individual joys. For anyone looking to get into their back catalog of the corporeal, Video Vixens would be a wonderful place to start. It's one of Troma's more jaded, jaundiced joys.
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