For cinephiles of a certain bent, Something Weird Video is the best kind of reverse-prestige label, a kind of cretin's Criterion Collection. Where that justly celebrated imprint crams its packages with historically-minded, informative documentaries, commentary by renowned scholars and other bells and whistles, Something Weird chooses instead to re-package the experience of seeing its titles as their original patrons might have - in a double feature, interspersed with previews, ads, shorts, cartoons and any and all other manner of cinematic folderol. Head Weirdo Mike Vrany draws on what must be a mammoth personal collection of old films for this; the very least you can say about a SWV release is that it is always a heroic feat of research and preservation.
Alright, so their presentation isn't exactly novel, certainly not anymore. The 25 cent copy of Pick-Up Summer that I snagged at my local grocery store the other day doesn't even have a proper case - its shielded from the elements by only a thin cardboard envelope - but even that disc has the decency to throw a couple of cartoons and trailers into the mix. But where even the most threadbare, fly-by-night operation will include a trickle of supplements, SWV unleashes a torrent. The disc under review, a double feature of The Joys of Jezebel and My Tale Is Hot, contains the two features, a bonus short feature, Go Down, Death - about which more later - trailers for nearly a dozen others and a virtual gallery of vintage advertising. Something Weird further sets itself apart by organizing all of this material into a consistent theme for each of their discs, taking care to bundle everything up just right. The disc under review keeps to this standard admirably; even if the films themselves probably aren't everyone's cup of tea, anyone who is even a little curious about the golden age of exploitation films ought to give this one a look. For what its worth, I enjoyed both films quite a bit, although I wouldn't say that either was exactly a classic of its genre.
Those of you who remember the first Book of Kings will recall that Jezebel, the wicked queen of ancient Israel, met her untimely end after being ejected from a window and left to become a dog's dinner. What the Bible didn't tell you is that, shortly thereafter, she struck a deal with Satan and was allowed to return in order to take vengeance on those responsible for her demise, at least if The Joys of Jezebel (1970) is to be trusted. Christine Murray plays the title character, now trapped in Hell after her previous escapades. She convinces the priapric Lucifer (Christopher Stone) to send her back to the land of the living if she agrees to deliver the soul of the young virgin princess, Rachel (Dixie Donovan). She agrees, and upon arrival, somehow arranges to switch bodies with Rachel, sending the younger girl to Hell in her body. The plot starts to make even less sense from here on in, if you can believe it, but this is of little concern, as The Joys is mostly a succession of softcore sex scenes strung together on the flimsiest of narratives. As these things go, its not bad, with some nifty setpieces, one highlight being the "Pit of Nymphs", a special chamber of Hell reserved for those condemned to live in a state of constant, insatiable sexual arousal. The actors are all energetic and attractive (well, the female ones are, anyway - most of the men are the excessively hirsute types who unfortunately plagued the sexploitation scene in the 1970s), the jokes just dumb enough to be funny and the whole thing is carried off with a reasonably light touch, making The Joys of Jezebel fun but, for those without any particular attachment to the genre, inessential.
My Tale is Hot (1964) - billed here as Always on a Monday - is much more up my alley, which is not to say its necessarily a better movie. Just barely qualifying for feature length at 59 minutes, this has the feel of an extended skit rather than a movie; once again, Satan, Hell and copious nudity are involved. The Devil (the obviously pseudonymous Manny Goodtimes, who wears a red suit and cape) reads in the paper about Ben-Hur Ova (Jack Little), the world's most faithful husband. Always up for a wager, he shuttles up to the surface to tempt Ben-Hur with a parade of foxy nude women. Similarities aside, My Tale Is Hot and The Joys of Jezebel may as well be from different planets; where The Joys is a genuinely salacious product of the great loosening-up of the 1960s, My Tale Is Hot is, figuratively speaking, your grandfather's smut movie (and it may well have been, literally speaking). From its punny title on down to its Honeymooners-like sense of gender relations, this movie is a relic of the burlesque era, a time that was beginning to circle the drain even in the early 1960s, soon to be replaced by a leaner, meaner brand of smut. I like this kind of stuff: jokes so bad that they're not so much shooting for laughs as for "laffs", women with enough curves that they make the pathetic current crop of starlets resemble a halogen lamp, and production values that were literally nonexistent. You have to have a certain kind of (or is it lack of?) taste to enjoy this, but I'm pretty sure that my fellow dirty old men will yuk it up at this glimpse of a simpler time.
The image quality is just fine throughout The Joys of Jezebel, featuring overall sharp image with just a little bit of color bleed (particularly the reds). Things aren't so hot over in My Tale Is Hot, mostly due to the crummy shape that the source print is in - colors fade in and out, the overall look is washed-out, and scratches abound. Image quality varies throughout the rest of the offerings, although it gets particularly crummy at certain points in Go Down, Death. As with most other Something Weird releases, an obvious effort has been made to clean things up as much as possible, and this is as good as most of this is bound to look. Everything is in full-frame (1.33:1)
The Joys of Jezebel has a perfectly acceptable mono track; its a little flat, but probably not too much worse than it sounded on its first theatrical run. I feel the need to mention here that The Joys of Jezebel features outstandingly weird music. My Tale Is Hot's soundtrack suffers from the same wear-and-tear that the image does; it wasn't terribly well-recorded in the first place, suffering from obvious edits and distortion, but at least everything is perfectly audible. Once again, audio quality varies throughout the extras depending on the quality of the original source print. Nothing here is going to knock your socks off, sonically speaking, but you'll certainly find it to be perfectly adequate.
This probably properly belongs in the body of the main review, but this was under the Extras menu, so here it is. Included on this disc is a third mini-feature, Go Down, Death. In many ways, this is the most interesting of the three features included here. Go Down, Death is an "all-black cast" movie from the 1940s, which would qualify it for interest even if the movie itself was lousy. As it is, its enthusiastically but amateurishly shot and acted, with a heavy-handed "go-to-church" message that would elicit laughs if it weren't for the evident sincerity of all involved. A local gangster (director Spencer Williams, who later played Andy in the Amos N Andy TV show) worries that the arrival of a charismatic new preacher will cripple his illicit gin-joint trade, and so arranges to blackmail the minister with bogus photographic evidence of him carousing with liquor and loose women. The criminal's pious step-mother tries to intervene, with disastrous results. There are a few interesting nuggets in this film, most notably some nifty dancing to old jazz at the gangster's club as well as a fun scene at the end in which the gangster violently loses his marbles, hallucinating a wild vision of hell culled from some old silent film. But this is mostly historical-value material, fascinating to contemplate but not something you'll watch more than once.
Included are trailers for devil-themed vintage sexploitationers The Touch of Satan, The Naked Witch, Olga's Dance Hall Girls, Soul Lovers, The Devil's Garden and Up in Smoke the one with Huntz Hall and the Bowry Boys, not the one with Cheech and Chong). You also get a short cartoon - Satan in Church - which has to be seen to be believed.
The whole thing is topped off by the usual parade of posters, lobby cards, press kits, radio ads and other promotional material in a virtual gallery.
While not quite up to the standards of their classic Violent Years / Girl Gang or Teenage Gang Debs / Teen-Age Strangler discs, The Joys of Jezebel / My Tale Is Hot is another fine entry in Something Weird's chroncles of the exploitation past. The films, while certainly enjoyable, are neither good enough to transcend their lowly origins nor crashingly bad enough to be particularly memorable, but completists will want to pick this up.