Joel M. Reed is practically unknown to fans of exploitation. Sure, he had '70s horror geeks good and gored with his epic ipecac Bloodsucking Freaks, while also adding his uniquely unsettling touch to such similarly gamy genre offerings as Blood Bath (1976) and Night of the Zombie (1981). Yet aside from a brief stint in the world of action and espionage (the certifiably surreal GI Executioner) Reed's oeuvre is limited indeed. In fact, the only other films mentioned in his IMDb listing are two examples of raincoat crowd cravenness. While it's not usual to see independent filmmakers of the era move from one cinematic category to another, Reed seemed to careen almost randomly from miscreant melodrama to something in the semi-snuff film territory. And since his efforts in flesh peddling remained unseen for years, the freak show facets of his landmark torture title more or less colored his entire career.
As part of their May releases, Something Weird Video dives into Reed's back catalog to uncork those two lost attempts at grindhouse fodder. Both belie his aesthetic ideals as well as his unsettling undercurrents. The first film, Career Bed, is a tawdry, twisted affair. Using the standard storyline of a girl trying to sleep her way to the top, the film plays a lot like Gypsy, except in this version of the stage mother manipulating daughter saga, our Rosalind Russell wannabe gets as much action as her on-the-make offspring. In Sex by Advertisement, we get a fragmented faux documentary (featuring many familiar faces from our previous feature) that wants to uncover the lurid side of classified carnality. Using a varied vignette style, including interviews, stock footage, and a completely fictional trip to a domination den of inequity, we are supposed to learn that the procurement of prurient interests via Madison Avenue has it's decided downside. What we realize, instead, is that the scandalous skin flick is pretty dull when done in a dopey cinema vérité style.
You got to hand it to Emily Potter. Through drive, determination, and a healthy dose of delusion, she's got her daughter's acting career in superstar mode. The funny thing is, the diva wannabe Susan has yet to do a significant amount of performing – or any, for that matter. In fact, all she's managed so far is a portfolio of glamour shots and several dates with a collection of 'grope and grab' geezers. While she is constantly propositioned, her manipulative mammy won't allow her to do the Shakespeare shimmy under the sheets. Before Mom 'sells' her child's choice virtue, the potential poon bidder must offers a contractual guarantee of fame, fortune, and a little finder's fee on the side. When a psycho photographer who specializes in taking pictures of inflatable bunnies lays his eyes on Susan, he starts to palpitate. Not only will she satisfy his sexual needs, but the fey film producer who 'loves 'em young' will pay handsomely for such a honey. Of course, the minute movie man Ross Miller looks at the untouched and untamed youth, he's ready to ride, wicked writ of celebrity in hand. Momma accepts the deal, and it's not long before Susan is corrupted by the confusing confines of her Career Bed. One thing's for sure, however. Her mammy will be mighty unhappy when she learns her little girl can finally stand up – and out – for herself.
Containing one of the most aggressive, aggravating characters in the history of the exploitation genre (and that's quite a feat) and loaded with the kind of dialogue that drag queens covet, Career Bed is one malicious movie. Reed must have real issues with his own mother to portray mean-spirited matriarch Emily Potter is such a completely corrupt light. Using her child-like chattel in a game of vicarious validation, the elder Potter is pure evil, so unbelievably vile that you'll wonder how she managed to marry and procreate. As this stark raving relative, actress Honey Hunter is not afraid to be unlikeable…or unclothed. She drops her dreary late '60s fashion faux paxs so often you fear there's some unwritten law against modest mothers in Manhattan. Add to that her absolutely dreadful personality, one pickled in a constant flow of highballs and an overwhelming hatred for the human race and you've got a sick, subversive icon to all that is rotten and repugnant in the business of show. Hunter literally walks away with this film, making it her own from the first moments we see her onscreen. Even with the well endowed Jennifer Welles exposing her siliconed skin sacks every few minutes, the aura of awfulness created by Hunter both helps, and hurts, this hyper-stylized bit of balderdash.
Frankly, as a narrative, Career Bed is downright ridiculous. All the men are portrayed as either over-sexed serial rapists who can't wait to violate the nearest available action, or intelligent if inert idiots who can't climb past Mother Potter to save her brainwashed bimbo daughter. The film opens with a fiancé character who is supposedly so devoted to Susan that he'd travel all the way to the Big Apple to secure her hand in matrimony. However, the minute our gratuitous guardian unhooks her bra, lover boy looses it, and enters into a passionate grapple with the manipulative matron. Of course, the seduction is all a scam, a way of getting the boyfriend in bad with his bride to be. And how can we tell that this stint of wanton wrestling means nothing to Momma? Why, she takes out her package of Pall Mall's and lights up during the middle of the diddle. There are lots of moments like this in Career Bed, scenes that absolutely reek of the seedy and the sleazy. In the end, Susan succumbs to the skanky strategy her mother manufactured, but it's not the finale we fancy. We want Emily Potter to pay for being such a shiftless shrew. Sadly, her comeuppance is casual, not the foul, fatal flip off we've been praying for.
There is no such bad-ass bitch at the center of Sex by Advertisement, but that doesn't mean the movie is any less aggravating. Dr. Jo Ann Richfield, a supposed scholar on the world of fornication via publication, sits before the camera to preach and teach. She is willing to confide in us her most secret, scandalous findings – in complete violation of all that is professionally ethical. Apparently, in the late '60s world of smut, people found that using the Fourth Estate elevated their ability to practice their perversions. When the classifieds became to tenuous, however, they resorted to coded bulletin board messages, exclusive secret societies, and the most malevolent of all, the perverted postcard offering an opportunity for some "bird" watching. Through interviews with those who dwell within such a lewd lunatic fringe, we discover that, unlike most people on the planet, these Eros eccentrics only enjoy the most shameful of sensual pleasures. How else would you describe the desires of a man who cruises toilets looking for the most unattractive and filthy (literally) partners as he can uncover? Or the servants who succumb to their employers' raging lust? It's all a matter of consenting adults and available loft space for these flesh freaks – and oddly enough, Dr. Richfield is not really that outraged.
It has to be said right up front that nothing about Sex by Advertisement is 'fact'. This movie is about as much a documentary as The Blair Witch Project, and it's twice as tiring. Reed's purpose here is pretty obvious – discuss the ways in which the world gets wanton, and then illustrate these evils in a readily recognizable 'Mondo' style. Using future XXX star Georgina Spelvin as his expert in editorial erotica, and cobbling together footage from all facets of the fetish world, Reed wants to shock as much as expose. There are several sequences here that test the tightrope of tastefulness. A homosexual who hungers for his half-nude boy toy is so fey and foppish that Quentin Crisp should sue for copyright infringement. Similarly, a man who gets his jollies by cruising the Port Authority and peeping into stalls defends his right to play voyeur by arguing that he actually enjoys "dirty" things. While some of Spelvin's statements are just common sense concepts in carnality (people enjoy watching porno – duh!) we do learn how complex cryptograms are utilized to secretly signal weirdos as to where to get their kicks. Perhaps the most hilarious moment is the exchange between our mock doc Doc and another expert over the moral gumption of using the press as a means of finding flesh. While Spelvin glowers over the top of her glasses, her gray haired colleague exposes an 'if it feels good, do it' philosophy.
Where Sex by Advertisement really loses its moorings is during the climatic tale of a leather artist, his chance meeting with a masher in Central Park, and an eventual invitation to a sordid S&M swingers party. Reminiscent of a similar sequence in the mind-boggling 50,000 B.C. (Before Clothing), what we get is a non-stop showcase of grinding Greenwich Villagers, all decked out in cheap-ass Halloween masks (and nothing else), bumping booties while a non-stop loop of sex sounds play in the background. Kind of like a bad techno take on porn, these grunts and groans start to develop their own independent patterns after a while. Though the talent aren't purposely trying to rock and roll to the bawdy beat, the whole repugnant revue is like watching a dive bar production of Oh! Calcutta!. For nearly twenty minutes, this atonal symphony of smacking whips and wagging lips burrows deeper and deeper into our entertainment subconscious, until we just want to scream for a little mercy (and modesty). With Reed himself on hand as the leader of this lash loving bunch, there really is no chance that the scene will be downplayed. Instead, it becomes the signature sequence by which the rest of Sex by Advertisement can be judged. Unfortunately, the verdict is uneven at best.
There are certain things you see in Reed's work that jump out at you like pimples on a potential playmate's cellulite-riddled buttocks. He is clearly a filmmaker who loves to beat women. He just loves to see ladies facing a flogging. During Sex by Advertisement, we get extended shots of belts beating backsides, crops cracking corpus and whips wailing on wenches. Frankly, if he could make a movie that was nothing but non-stop abuse, here's betting he'd do it (oh wait, isn't that the plot of Bloodsucking Freaks?). There is also an evil undercurrent to Reed's carnality, one that finds a fetid kinship with the work of Michael Findlay. The founder of the unforgettable Flesh Trilogy was definitely a devotee of the assault and battery school of sexuality, and enjoyed creating more and more complex ways of torturing his onscreen victims. While Reed is less inventive, he is no less dedicated to such deviance. Everyone in his films are similarly sick – Momma Potter, her slutty spawn Susan, the various show business buffoons, and the supposed subjects of Advertisement's faux-fact showcase. Never mixing in levity, ethos or sentiment, Reed creates a brazen beeline to the baser instincts in humans. He knows that sex and violence fill a fundamental void in the primordial make-up of man. While exploitation often addressed this emptiness, Reed's efforts did away with the switch and stayed completely locked in the baneful bait.
As a result, we have a couple of rarities in the seemingly endless and expansive genre, and Something Weird Video treats them with corrupt kid gloves. On the image side, the monochrome transfers are adequate, if far from perfect. The 1.33:1 full frame prints are problematic, with lots of editing issues, scratches and age defects. Of the two, Advertisement is the messiest, which makes sense, since it is the least known. Career Bed has its blemishes, but looks less fuzzy and faded overall. Anyone hoping for an arousing aural experience will be less than satisfied. The Dolby Digital Mono delivers occasionally overmodulated music, and the ever-present peskiness of that sonic demon, distortion.
Where this package really shines is in the added content department. Offered up as part of the extras are trailers (including such winning previews as The Smut Peddler and The Molesters), the typical gallery of sex stills, and a sincerely whacked out delight: a flabbergasting featurette entitled The Filth Shop. While a voice over vixen drones on and on about being a messenger from Satan, we watch a poorly dressed dope paw through some magazines in a 42nd street adult arcade. Our narrator calls herself Lola Lust and claims to be visiting our hero – whose name is Osmo??? – to lure him into a life of sin, and via libido logic, a date with the Devil. What we get are bad pseudo-stag scenes staged with added commentary that would make Howard Cosell seem sexy. With its simultaneously irritating/intriguing monologue meandering around (old Scratch even shows up to add his amoral motivational missive toward the end) and the concentration on grade-Z action, this is an appropriately titled short. If you're looking for something filthy, this sordid shop has it in soiled spades.
Actually, that's a good way to sum up this pair of problematic pictures. While exploitation icons like Findlay and Sarno could get away with basically doing the same thing over and over again, Reed offers no clear clue that he could maintain such a strict artistic design. Watching Career Bed/Sex by Advertisement, you get the indication of stumbling into a pair of interchangeable narratives with only the characters and the outcomes defining the differences. While Bed overbakes its storyline to include every casting couch cliché know at the time (and a few Reed was making up right there on the spot), Advertisement now plays like a necessary outtake from a less comic Kentucky Fried Movie. There are reasons why names drop out of the lexicon of the lewd. Occasionally, films get lost and are only recalled in often misty memories. At other times, talent took its toll, with many amateur auteur falling away due to their lack of grindhouse gravitas. In the case of Reed, it's his later efforts that secure his early skin flicks. Without Bloodsucking Freaks, it's hard to imagine anyone would care about these nominal efforts. In the environment of exploitation, they are more or less minor. You'll probably enjoy them, but feel pretty unclean afterwards.
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