It's 50 years later and we still find it shocking. Individuals locked in intolerant ideologies love to shout it down, consistently blocking any real chances for change. Those within the community continue to fight, even if it seems the social stigma is as direct and damning as it ever was. The truth be told, being a member of the gay/lesbian/alternative lifestyle populace shouldn't require you to work so hard for understanding. After all, they're not out to turn the world to their way of thinking. They just want to be respected. They'll even accept outright dismissal. They just don't want to be socially singled out as some manner of immoral blight.
As part of their June release schedule, Something Weird Video has unleashed a peculiar pair of cinematic lessons in chromosomal carnality. She-Man finds several scandal-plagued persons suffering under the torturous gender-bending tutelage of a psychotic shimbo blackmailer. Yet after the strange set up, all we get is a lumbering La Cage Aux Folles. Sins of Rachel, on the other hand is like watching a rainbow-oriented interpretation of the entire Judith Krantz canon. It's a murder mystery covered in boy-to-boy baiting. Both films flaunt obvious bows to troublesome '60s/'70s archetypes. They are quick to demonize those who don't play for the proper passion squad, while simultaneous suggesting some sympathy for these closeted "out"siders. Separately they offer varying degrees of pros and controversy. Together they're a trip into an entire Stonewall of surrealism.
Albert Rose really enjoys his life as a swinging single jet setter. You can tell by the way he rapidly opens and closes his legs while sitting poolside. Upon receiving a nasty note from an anonymous blackmailer, he ends up in a sleazy motel listening to a condemning audiotape. Seems Albert's service in Korea was less than stellar, and our unseen host has his cajones in a court-martial over possible charges of desertion. If he agrees to spend one year with the extortionist, who turns out to be a platinum blond bad-ass named Dominita, he will gain access to the incriminating information about his Southeast Asian mistake. Rose agrees and is taken to his new Mistress's Florida fortress, where he meets up with a sympathetic gal who also serves as Dominita's secretary. Apparently, the riding crop wielding witch has dozens of denizens at her Sunshine State facility, and all of them must go through a 'transformation', or endure her puerile punishments. In essence, every girl 'becomes' a guy while every gent gets the total drag queen experience. It's not long before Arthur Rose is Rose Arthur, a personal maid who looks more like a halfback during a hazing ritual than a sexy servant. Desperate to escape, Arthur/Rose gets his lesbo lady friend to help him dig up the dirt on Dominita. What he discovers will unmask this mysterious She-Man once and for all.
Directed by known name Bob Clark (who would redefine the dirty movie with his 1982's offal opus Porky's) She-Man is like a queer combination of Homicidal and Wigstock. While it offers a clinical quack, eager to pontificate on the psychological "truth" behind the title, what we actually end up with is a turgid twist ending in search of a film to flummox not that She-Man can't coldcock it's own celluloid, thank you. This is one purposely perplexing motion picture, nothing more than an excuse to see a meat and potatoes palooka turned into a grindhouse version of Jim Bailey. One of the more unruly elements of the narrative is the entire blackmail angle. From our post-modern perspective, someone soiling your reputation is often viewed as a smart career move. You get the chance for vindication if they're proven wrong, and public humiliation and redemption if your sins are significant enough. But every member of Dominita's hit list instantly wets him or herself the minute she threatens to expose their problems. Yet, by agreeing to a gender redefining makeover, aren't they only making matters worse? While actor Leslie Marlowe's transformation reminds one of Ed Asner's interpretation of Shirley Booth, the real star of our saga is the demented Dorian Wayne. Sporting a severe hairdo loaded with sinister sweeps and wicked waves, and modeling clothes from Coco Chanel's new cross dressing couture line, Wayne walks a fine line between camp and CRAZY as the villainous vixen. With an ever present riding crop attached to 'her' hand, and a collection of commands that sound like bad S&M improve, she's the sole reason to sit through this otherwise unhinged experience.
What She-Man lacks is a real angle of atrocity to keep us good and interested. Again, the only real threat here is Dominita throwing a she-male hissy fit, while simultaneously letting the world know that you frequently wet the bed. Had the she/he been more like that vixen of vice, the cruel and heartless whore monger Olga, we'd have a substantial smut fest on our hands. Wayne really wants to work the skid row sleaze ideal, playing rough and ramshackle over his victims' emotional state. But then Clark backs off, introducing introspection, and lots of shots of Marlowe in a maid's outfit, to distract us from the decadence. Had he really let go and turned on the skin and sin, an exploitation extravaganza with She-Man's premise would be one of the genre's most outstanding entries. Sadly, what we end up here is Lipsynca without a lick of charm or wit.
Next up, things go from perverse to merely potboiler as we follow a tale of murder, motive and emasculation. It seems that Rachel Waring used to be a well-known nightclub singer. Now she's gone to sloppy, scotch-scented seed. Quite the scandal in her little California burg, she turns up the heat significantly with a tell-all tome that promises to expose the unseemly side of life out of the limelight. Currently paying local rough trade to service her sexual needs, at one time she also banked most of the men in town. Naturally, this makes her already confused son Jimmy even lighter in the loafers. Smitten with a local kung fu fella named Bruce, Jim can't quite figure out why this motorcycle-riding macho man stirs his loins so. Yet all same sex love has to be put aside for the moment when Rachel winds up dead, the unfortunate victim of several stunning blows to the brainpan. Everyone's a suspect Jimmy, his wannbe bed buddy Bruce, a visiting acquaintance of the retired tart who wanted to publish her memoirs, even the bare butted boy toy that Rachel ran around with. It is up to the languid law enforcement skills of a droning detective to uncover the truth about the crime. But he gets to the bottom of more than just murder when he interrogates the suspects concerning their lives, loves, and Sins of Rachel.
If you ever wanted to see how the paternalistic part of society responded to the newfound women's movement, Sins of Rachel will stand as your wide-eyed wake-up call. This movie might as well be subtitled Death to All Drunken Domineering Mothers as it paints quite a noxious portrait of a pickled parent well past her prime. Actually, as played by screenwriter Ann Noble, it's hard to imagine Rachel ever having a legitimate star turn. She reminds the viewer of Hermione Baddeley crossed with some moldy Yorkshire Pudding, her animated British accent the auditory equivalent of a plate of bubble and squeak spitting up. At first, we think we're witnessing another She-Man moment. We keep waiting for someone to rip off our lead lady's locks and expose her/him as the Sheffield factory foreman he/she really is. Yet when we come to the realization that Rachel is indeed a she albeit a slovenly, horny old goat version of femininity our brains begin to deconstruct the narrative, wondering what all the taboo hubbub is about. In truth, it should be painfully obvious from all the shots of Brett Marriott riding around town sans shirt. The way Rachel's son Jimmy stares at him, you'd swear the two were trading spit.
Amazingly enough, that's exactly what they are doing. In one of this film's most brazen and brave elements, director Dick Fontaine (responsible for such posing strap/posing pouch movies as In the Days of the Greek Gods and Muscles from Outer Space, as well as The Beatles at Shea Stadium???) does everything he can, save actually showing guy on guy action, to suggest that Jimmy and Bruce are more than just "buddies". To put it in Miller's Crossing terms, both of these "amigos" are "real swell Gs". As the camera holds on loving looks and confused close-ups, our two manly co-stars subliminally steam up the screen with their unspoken male musk lust, and it's not long before we get the single most shocking scene in the story Jimmy asking a boxer shorted Bruce if he can share his bed. His new significant other's touch is all Jim needs to forget his mom's attempted molestation. The rest of Sins of Rachel is routine. Told almost completely in flashback (sometimes with a memory included in such backward reminiscing) we get the typical whodunit selection of red herrings, MacGuffins, dead ends and false assumptions. Eventually, the mystery unwinds when the character we least expect of being responsible has a third act case of causality and starts doing a confessional guilty boogie. While the wrap-up is routine, the unrequited love story is not, and this makes Sins of Rachel a great deal of flummoxing fun.
Like the previous gay-oriented release of The Meatrack/ Sticks and Stones, Something Weird's look into the same/alternative sex section of the exploitation genre is enlightening. Just getting an opportunity to see how society, several decades removed, viewed homosexual/transsexual issues is as fascinating and frustrating as how those ersatz porn provocateurs of the grindhouse game thought they could take advantage of the subject matter. Sometimes, they just made straightforward lifestyle exposés, mock documentaries and Mondo movies that explored the community in sensationalized ersatz fact. At other times, they took the She-Man/Sins of Rachel approach. Instead of giving us reality, they melded gay and far out fetish elements into the standard skin flick narrative. Neither movie is blessed with bountiful bare bodkin. There may be a single stray tit here and there, and a shot of gravity gripped ass once in a while, but the purpose here is more shock value than sensuality. We're supposed to gasp when Dominita is revealed, and arch an eyebrow and perhaps more when Jimmy and Bruce get nice and chummy. Yet thanks to their deranged dynamics, we are more baffled than incensed by these delightfully demented movies.
As is the case for the terrific time capsule company, the transfers of She-Man and Sins of Rachel are the best that can be acquired. That means Clark's cavalcade of crossdressing is a monochrome delight. The 1.33:1 full frame image is alive with pure black and white delights. On the other hand, Sins of Rachel has so many emulsion defects that you begin to believe they were part of Fontaine's cinematic aesthetic. There is nary a frame of this 4x3 feature that's not loaded with the little green dots. On the sound side, both movies offer middling Dolby Digital Mono mixes. Rachel even tries to up the ante with a few surreal same sex power ballads. It almost works, as the songs are strange indeed.
As for added features, SWV can usually be counted on for super supplements and creative complements. She-Man/Sins of Rachel is no different. We are treated to a wealth of self-described "lavender tinged" trailers, including ads for films like Gay Liberation and My Third Wife George, along with an odd come-on for a personal appearance by Ken "Mr. Madame" Marlowe (???). A collection of archival shorts reveal a naked cowboy, some small packaged peon sunbathing at the beach, a chance to see a Jamie Foxx like Jean La Rue do his/her famous "truffle shuffle" dance routine, and a visit to the private boudoir of professional bodybuilder Warren Frederick. Along with the typical collection of exploitation art and radio rarities, this is another winning installment in SWV's continued calling to preserve the peculiar.
Without their obvious alternative lifestyle themes, both films would still be antithetical to the entire raincoat crowd dynamic. Men wanted to see gals getting naked, not a confused Momma's boy bedding down with a chopper riding Judo jock. They required any scene of Sappho satisfaction have BOTH partners solidly in the lady line of genetics, not just dressed up like one. Sure, transvestites, homosexuals, lesbians and other fetish aficionados were constantly stumbling around the edges of your typical exploitation fare, but as She-Man/Sins of Rachel argues, when they finally took center stage, the results were often campy AND controversial. There is a great deal of craven kitsch to be found inside these unusual offerings. You just have to push past all the subliminal shame heaped on the cast of characters to find it.
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