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Alice In Wonderland
A silly sex story and its looser, less attractive cousin
Loves: Good parodies, silly comedies
Likes: gratuitous nudity, Non-gratuitous nudity
Dislikes: Bad pacing
Why is it that the world gets to be less fun as time moves forward? Try to imagine your local multiplex showing Star Wars and a musical adult parody of Alice in Wonderland. It just couldn't happen today, unless you wanted the wide stance of the so-called moral majority to start the protests and boycotts. Were there simple no children back then for someone to think of? Or was everyone just too high to care?
Either way, today, no one would bother to make a silly comedy aimed at adults, no less distribute it in theaters. And when the word silly is used here, it doesn't mean stupid, like the many lame R-rated comedies that are built on either bad taste or mean-spiritedness. Just silly fun, the kind that proliferated in the '70s. There's a real lack of silliness out there now, and only by looking back to the past are we able to fill that void.
Bill Osco's Alice in Wonderland was the first adult film I ever saw. I was probably 12 or 13, and was looking through my dad's videotapes for George Carlin specials. I found one, his fantastic UCLA show, and enjoyed it, but also on the tape was a show with a hypnotist and some Penthouse Pets, and Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was a bit odd that there was a kids movie on this tape, so obviously I watched it.
Despite being of an age where a bare ankle might have been enough to send me over the edge, I didn't have that kind of reaction to the nudity in Alice in Wonderland or the allusions to sex and just off-screen antics. Instead, I thought it was pretty funny. It was as if Benny Hill finally crossed the imaginary line in the sand and made a porno, with many Catskills-worthy one-liners, meta jokes that break the fourth wall, and goofy set-ups. There's nothing here to offend, unless some nudity and jokes about and references to sex bother you (though the fast-cut orgy scene will give you an eyeful.)
The story is pretty much the same as you remember, though Alice (Playboy playmate Kristine DeBell) is a bit older, working in a library, avoiding her sex-crazed boyfriend. When working late, she's approached by a man-sized rabbit, whom she follows through a mirror, into a fantasy land. There, she encounters a number of odd, sexually adventurous creatures who slowly, but surely bring her out of her shell. Whether it's the Mad Hatter, whose hat number reveals a different kind of size, or Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who are much closer than siblings should be, everyone in Wonderland seems to want to get a piece. That goes double for the Red Queen, who wants to put Alice in her "service," which leads to a wacky trial that wouldn't be out of place on "Laugh In."
The movie isn't close to a classic, but the thing that struck me most in re-watching the film is just how high the production values are for an adult film. After the recent return of hardcore sex to cinemas (thanks to movies like Shortbus), it's a bit less odd to see a film have real dialogue, actual sets and lots of sex and nudity, but the film doesn't feel like porno thanks to how well put-together it is. From the humorous dialogue to the out-there character designs and the overall "innocent" feel of the film, it just feels like something someone put some thought into, instead of a bunch of sex hook-ups someone taped with their home-video camera.
What also helps make it fun and "movie-like" is the songs. The musical numbers, including the funk/gospel "Each and Every Moment," the heroine's anthem "Busy Growing Up," and the ridiculous "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing on a Knight Like This," could possibly be edited a bit and fit in perfectly with a Disney movie or a Broadway show, while the score is extremely catchy, and supports the on-screen action perfectly. If you watch the movie, don't be surprised if it results in the first adult-film soundtrack that gets stuck in your head. Try to picture this movie on Broadway in a show like "Spamalot." It's much easier than you might think.
Subversive Cinema easily could have just released their restored version of the film, and it would have been considered a treat, but they went the extra mile, and compiled a releasable edition of the rather obscure XXX-rated version of the film. Truthfully, I thought there was just the one version of the film, and that the "scene missing" cards and cut-aways were just gags that winked at the audience. But as the scenes returned to the film here, seven in all, show, the original movie was much more explicit, including full-penetration sex and close-up nudity. Though you can see the actors' faces, at many times, the scenes don't really fit in with the movie that surrounds them, like they were added later, instead of cut out to get a softer rating. Since the softcore portions of the film move rather quickly, when not stuck in trippy montages, these extended sex scenes tend to drag, and are of such a different tone, it's as if someone sat on the remote and changed the channel. You'd have to be rather hard-up for porn to watch this movie with the purpose of getting turned on (even if the scenes feature a good deal of sex, including the more traditional porn scene with the incestuous Tweedledee and Tweedledum.) More likely than not, the reason most people will want to watch this version is to see a Playboy Playmate engage in hardcore sex (several times.)
Originally announced as a two-disc set, it's just one now, packed in standard-width white keepcase. The DVD features an animated anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to choose which version of the film to watch, check out the special feature and select scenes. The scene selections only include the X-rated version of the film, not the harder version, while the menus are a bit annoying, as the animation that precedes the options replays every time you access them.
At the beginning of the X-rated version, a short comparison of the condition of the print before and after Subversive's restoration is shown, and the difference is night and day, though I remember the videotape pretty clearly, and it didn't look nearly as bad as the "before" clip. That said, the anamorphic widescreen "after" on this DVD looks its age (and budget,) but is quite nice, though certainly not perfect. A large portion of the dirt and damage evident is now gone, leaving a few specks and scratches, and a couple of jitters, in a rather soft image that's light on detail. The color is bright, though in no way vivid, and once in a while the grain can get excessive. Consistency seems to be the biggest problem, as some scenes are so bright that the whites glow like a bulb, and others have a sunset-level darkness to them, while others look to be coated in a thin film, rendering them blurry and dull. This might be a problem inherent in the original filming, but it's here either way. There doesn't seem to be any digital artifacts added to the image though.
The XXX-rated version is a much different story. The hardcore segments were much harder to find in any good condition, and as a result, this version has a very stitched together feel (which actually helps in a way, as it's easy to see what's been added, as it's often much darker and always in much worse shape, though oddly, the color looks richer (though yellowed.) It's strange but all the close-ups of the explicit sexual action are blurry, as if they were done secretly, without the actors' knowledge. The only exception is the insert with the nurses during Humpty Dumpty's scene, which actually looks better than the majority of the restored film.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is just what you'd expect from a film of its status and age, though it's consistently good, with the songs, seemingly studio recorded, coming across much stronger than the dialogue. The mix is straightforward, delivering a center-focused presentation with no noticeable dynamic sound.
Th only extra, besides credits, is a 37-minute featurette looking back at the film, 30 years later, featuring interviews with Larry Gelman (The White Rabbit), porn actress Lena Romane and adult industry mainstay William Margold. For Gelman, it's a personal remembrance of the production, while Margold provides memories of the film from the time of its release, and Romane offers a more recent retrospective opinion. Margold's portions are very focused on the film in relation to the porn industry (as one would expect), with Romane and Gelman coming off more personal, which is why Margold brings the most information and entertainment of the three. Even so, Romane and Gelman (who is constantly laughing throughout his hazy memories) help give good context to what the movie means to people and those involved. It's rare that you get such depth and insight into an adult film, the history of the industry and where it stands today, including some fascinating thoughts from Margold about where porn is headed.
Disappointingly, a CD version of the film's soundtrack was supposed to accompany this DVD, but it was cancelled shortly before release.
The Bottom Line
Even looking past my own personal nostalgia for the film, this X-rated edition of the Alice in Wonderland story is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek (and elsewhere) fun, using innuendo and suggestion to being a sexy sense of humor to the tale. It's not going to win any awards for filmmaking, but with the right group of friends, the silly and corny low-budget comedy should be good for a night of laughs. The XXX-version is another story, as it's actually hampered by the rarely-seen hardcore scenes, but it's inclusion is good for history's sake, if nothing else. Thanks to a restoration, the film looks pretty good, and the sound on this musical comedy is solid, while the one extra is substantial enough to make it easy to recommend. For a cheeky piece of indie film's past, it's worth taking a look at this movie, especially for fans of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex... and The Kentucky Fried Movie.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.