Sunday, August 4, 2013

Adventures in Downloading!! Vol. 1

I honestly don't know where I'd be without Cinemageddon or TV Vault, two invite-only torrent sites that provide a never-ending smorgasbord of entertainment for the simple and cost-effective price of maintaining a fair download ratio. I maintain one major rule when downloading: I only download titles that are not commercially available on region 1 DVD. I have a preference for rare VHS rips, fan-subbed international titles, and obscure TV movies and shows that will probably never see the light of day on DVD or download.

The Great American Beauty Contest (1973)
Ah, the days of the ABC Movie of the Week. Ever reliable TV trash icons Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg bring us this brisk 75-minute look into the beauty pageant world, pre-dating the 70s classic Smile by two years. It's not nearly as much campy fun as the later TV-movie offering Miss All-American Beauty (1982), with Diane Lane hamming it up as a stressed out teen queen, but features enough interesting casting choices and memorable dialogue exchanges to make it
well worth seeking out. Eleanor Parker (so good in the previous year's Home for the Holidays, also for Spelling-Goldberg) stars as Peggy Lowery, a former Miss American Beauty winner who is now running the show and gearing up for one of the most exciting competitions in years. Her right-hand man Dan (Robert Cummings, looking and acting like Tony Randall) is nervous about a fix in the works, but Peggy assures both him and the press that such a thing simply isn't possible. Slimy Hollywood producer Ralph Dupree (Louis Jordan in his slumming years) is a surprise returning judge, and has his eye out for new promising talent while also reminding Peggy how she won years ago... The story conflicts are lightweight, but with plenty of pretty girls parading around and sordid peeks into the cheesecake pageant scene, what's not to love here?

The best part of watching 70s TV movies is spotting all the wonderful familiar faces and names! Take a gander at this line-up! JoAnna Cameron, the mighty Isis herself, is Gloria Rockwell, Miss Oklahoma, a closet feminist planning to make a political speech if she wins, flanked by women's lib pals Carol Bagdasarian (daughter of Ross) and Julie Mannix. Patricia Barry (the irritating family friend in Kitten with a Whip) is her matronly chaperone. The oddly-named Christopher Norris (Ron Howard's girl in Eat My Dust) is naive Janice Brock, Miss Utah. Myrna Fahey (Madeline Usher in Corman's House of Usher) died the same year she appeared here as Janice's chaperone. Striking Tracy Reed (Fred Williamson's squeeze in No Way Out) is Pamela Parker, the bitter wise-cracking black Miss New Jersey. Kathy Baumann (a long way from Chrome and Hot Leather and The Thing with Two Heads) is the nervous Melinda, Miss Ohio. Baumann is actually from Independence, OH, where her character is from. Susan Damante, one of Corman's Student Teachers (1973), is Angelique Denby, Miss Maine, tearfully hoping her businessman father will show up to support her. Farrah Fawcett (pre-Majors) is T.L. Dawson, Miss Texas, supported by hick boyfriend Larry Wilcox ("CHiPs"). "Match Game" royalty Brett Somers shows up to be her chaperone! Sexploitation regular Mady Maguire makes a bid for legitimacy as a women's libber, and Hugh Hefner squeeze Barbi Benton plays Miss Iowa, supposedly, but I didn't notice her.

La Bouche de Jean-Pierre (1996)/The Birth of Aphrodite (1971)
The real reason I grabbed this title was because it included the Leland Auslender short film The Birth of Aphrodite (1971), generally regarded as the screen debut of cult icon Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith in the title role. But first the French short film, running 50 minutes, directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic and co-photographed by her frequent collaborator and husband Gasper Noe (Enter the Void, 2004). After her mother attempts suicide when her lover walks out on her, young impressionable Mimi (a superb one-off performance by Sandra Sammartino) is forced to move in with her aunt Solange. Solange has a new boyfriend, Jean-Pierre, who Mimi first sees as the two make passionate love in the middle of the night. It's a strained living situation made all the more difficult one day when Solange leaves Jean-Pierre and Mimi alone, and the film takes a turn into unnerving territory. Special close-up attention is paid to the ingesting of pills, which occurs five times in the film, and there is no real resolution to the story, but Hadzihalilovic's trip into the world of a troubled young girl completely deserved its official Cannes selection. Apparently there is a scene cut from this version of Mimi topless in the shower, but I can honestly say I don't need to see that.

Birth of Aphrodite is a far lighter piece, and shorter at 10 minutes. In addition to the luminous Smith, the small cast also includes Gwyneth Cooper (who?) and TV actress Patricia Hyland, who also contributes her vocals to the musical score. Auslender's film is best described as an experimental short, playing with visual effects, polarizing and negative technology, swirling colors, and stylistic editing. The film's most noteworthy claim to fame was its nomination for the Palm d'Or - Best Short Film at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. And who is better casting as Aphrodite than Cheryl Smith, with her ethereal beauty and free-love spirit?

Nudity Required (1990)
At one point or another, just about every adult filmmaker in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to cross over into the R-rated market with low-budget horror and sex comedy titles that generally went straight to video. The most "popular" attempts must be from Chuck Vincent, though Armand Weston, Roberta Findlay, Cecil Howard, Svetlana, Edwin and Summer Brown, Joe Gage/Tim Kincaid, and Joe Sarno all tried to break out of the X-rated field. Then there was John T. Bone (John Bowen), the one-time husband of personal favorite Misty Regan responsible for a number of atrocious shot-on-video porno efforts before making this goofy R-rated comedy. Bone's films are a sorry lot, so expectations for Nudity Required were low. The film opens with Misty Regan dancing at a strip club, so off to a good start! Oh how low we go...there are zero successful laughs, but if it's 80s chicks topless you're after, this one should fit the bill. That said, there are better examples of this tired genre to be enjoyed.

 Vinnie DeBlasio (Alvin Silver) is the tough-talking mobster narrator who relates the thoroughly confused story of Buddy and Scammer (the talent-free duo of Billy Frank from Hobgoblins and Brad Zutaut), a pair of numbskulls on the run from a Mexican hothead. Why? I'm still not sure. Something about running out on his sister at her wedding? They somehow get involved with both Vinnie and his thieving henchmen Mick and Rhino and Soviet visitor Irina (Julie Newmar, at the lowest point of her career imitating Garbo in Ninotchka), and pose as movie producers to audition girls in a rented mansion belonging to Vinnie. The title of the movie is a line from the ad they place seeking talent. Troy Donahue, introduced having a shuddering orgasm in what must have been a proud acting moment, plays Jack, a legit movie producer. At 54 he looks all of 72. Ty Randolph is the sole cast member giving a good performance as Jack's assistant Brenda who, after he fires her, goes looking for work producing the boys' fake movie. Rhonda Gray (Twisted Nightmare) is a tough-as-nails lady director, and Russ Meyer's ex-wife/starlet Edy Williams shows up as a diva actress (fiction mirrors reality).

Wooden beauty Heidi Paine shows up as a Christian missionary (don't ask), David Hasselhoff's future wife Pamela is amusing as Vinnie's dim bulb bride, and among the auditioning beauties are British bombshell Gail Harris (Sorority House Massacre II, Hard to Die), Becky LeBeau (Beverly Hills Girls, Hollywood Hot Tubs), and a bunch of one-shot wonders that provide satisfying eye
candy. Bone's porno connections guarantees plentiful babes prancing in front of the cameras, but few of them are recognizable from the X-rated biz. Only Regan and Debi Diamond are familiar from their adult video work. For those who keep score of things like that, Newmar does a nude shower scene with Frank and Williams (who had already done porn by this point) pops her top for an S&M dungeon scene.

Red Hot Shot (1970)

A mystery killer shoots world-famous neurologist-turned-pharmaceutical tycoon Mac Brown in broad daylight on Wall Street and the press has a field day with the murder, pondering if Brown was involved with organized crime. His daughter Monica (always stunning Barbara Bouchet, in a black wig) offers a $250,000 reward for the truth behind her father's death, and disgraced detective Frank Berin (no-name Michael Reardon), who had been investigating Brown's mysterious past, is asked to return to the force to work the case. A police informant is knifed at a far-out hippie gathering, where the participants in white robes bounce around big black and white balloons. Was Brown involved in the drug trade? Do we care? This giallo-poliziotteschi hybrid is the sole directorial effort from Piero Zuffi, a production designer who worked with major greats in Italian cinema like Rossellini, Antonioni, Fellini. He has brought none of his talent to this film, a painfully slow time waster perhaps most noteworthy for its strong anti-drug message. Naturally that gets tiresome after a while, even when Berin treks to Mexico to follow a lead and discovers a girl blinded by heroin experiments performed by Brown and his associate Dr. Gam. Berin then sleeps with this girl. How ethical! Oh and he also goes undercover as a biker in a gay bar (shades of Cruising), Monica is abducted and held hostage by a cackling madam (Isa Miranda from A Bay of Blood), and there's a kinda surprising twist ending. Even with all of that happening, it's still a snoozer. It's a surprise to see the late David Groh, best known as Valerie Harper's husband on "Rhoda", as Bouchet's mobster boyfriend in this Italian exploitation flick, introduced sweaty and shirtless in a jacuzzi. Piero Piccioni's lounge score is one of his most ridiculous. There's at least some fun footage of 1970 New York, including a peek at the Empire theater and a ride on the subway (plus a stop at Queensboro Plaza).

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