THE ACID EATERS (1968)/WEED (1972)
Directors: Byron Mabe, Alex de Renzy
Something Weird/Image Entertainment

With the popularity of the counterculture growing in the late 1960s, enterprising sexploitation producers naturally wanted to appeal to the anything-goes generation for better box office results. Combining the free-love attitude towards sex and rampant use of psychedelic drugs seemed like a good idea at the time, of course. However, very few sexploitation films actually succeeded in their mixing of drugs and sex (MANTIS IN LACE comes to mind), and the two here don’t necessarily work, either, but are worth checking out as historical artifacts as part of the great puzzle that is sexploitation cinema.

After a superbly edited montage of mindless drones working 9 to 5 (the camera closes in on their chomping food-filled mouths during lunch hour!), four good-looking couples on motorcycles race into the hills surrounding Los Angeles to indulge in some rather strange extracurricular activities. The ladies drop their tops and take a dip in a lake before they pair off for makeout sessions and one of the men, an artist named (appropriately enough) Artie, offers his paint to decorate their breasts and torsos. A knife-wielding catfight results in one girl getting stuck in quicksand who flips the rest of the gang the bird on her way down (“See you all downstairs! Soon I hope!”). Growing bored, our heroes rob an innocent driver for pot money (!), and then decide to continue their quest for the Great Pyramid. Once they reach the Pyramid, they venture inside, where the real psychedelia begins: Artie transforms into the Devil, wielding a giant pitchfork, coaxing the couples to have sex bathed in green and red lighting; one of the girls dances topless forever to bongo music; ascending a staircase, the couples reach the bottom dressed in theatrical costumes, and indulge in further sexual fantasies by taking a bite out of a giant sugar cube.

I’m sure all of this sounds like great fun, but be warned, it reads better than it works on film. Clocking in at 62 minutes, THE ACID EATERS actually feels longer! You get lots of scenes of the gang speeding through the hills, sophomoric humor involving slapstick comedian bodybuilder Buck Kartalian, and random and not very erotic sex scenes. For the most part, nothing happens. It takes 40 minutes to reach the Pyramid, which is where the real meat of the potatoes of the film is supposed to be. The giant sugar cube pyramid is a sight to behold, and quite a feat for such a low-budget film; it actually can be seen from the highway! However, none of the shenanigans that occur in the Pyramid are that interesting, unless you think the idea of droning bongo music and couples standing around kissing (the conservative kind of sex that by 1968 had gone by the wayside) is exciting. The only really intriguing aspects of the film are the technical specs. The Mighty Monarch of Exploitation, Col. David F. Friedman, not only served as producer and distributor on this one, but also was behind the camera as cinematographer. He’s responsible for the scenic beauty during the outdoor sequences, and helps make the film look much more glossy and professional than it really is. The electronic score filled with way out sounds is by the late William Allen Castleman, who also directed several films for Friedman. Future director Carl Monson (and the lead in BOOBY TRAP) wrote this mess. The end credits are great, with waves of color washing over the title cards as transitions. THE ACID EATERS is one of the truly disappointing films in the Something Weird catalog, a film that promises sexual thrills and psychedelic wonder, and comes up empty on both counts. Worth taking out of the time capsule once, and then back it goes!

For reference’s sake, this is the one of the only films Pat Barrington appeared in where her massive implants look relatively normal (i.e., not ready to burst with the slightest touch). She’s billed here as “Camille Grant”, and also performs a dance routine in Hell to the beat of bongo drums pounded by a black man in native garb! You should recognize lovely Bambi Allen, an early casualty of cancer due to silicone injections. She appears here pre-implants, billed as “Lila Lamont”, with her gorgeous smile and charming personality in full force. And yes, the girl who goes down in quicksand is Sharon Carr, who you should remember as the predatory lesbian Paula Mann in Friedman’s all-time classic A SMELL OF HONEY! The uncredited blonde who plays ‘Norma’ during one of the men’s fantasy sequence is the lead of the incredible HELP WANTED FEMALE! Muscleman Buck Kartalian does his usual comedy schtick, and disrobes to show off his incredible physique (especially at the age of 46!).

Rather than pair ACID EATERS with another drug-induced sexploitation relic, Something Weird unearthed the incredibly rare documentary WEED, which is the real valuable asset of the disc. This was the only non-adult feature directed by San Francisco porn guru Alex de Renzy, who would soon contribute at least three incredible porno chic classics to the genre (FEMMES DE SADE, BABYFACE, PRETTY PEACHES). It’s interesting to consider that de Renzy would take a break from his bread and butter films like LITTLE SISTERS and PORNOGRAPHY IN DENMARK (shot around the same time), and tackle such political subject matter, but this is a fascinating document of the struggles between both sides in the debate over legalizing marijuana use in the United States. Sounds boring, right? It’s not, and is the sole reason to pick this disc up!

WEED opens with a court hearing discussing the effects of marijuana use on society (de Renzy shows his slight bias for marijuana use by editing in shots of people yawning or nodding off during the hearing), and then proceeds to explain the point of the film. The President’s Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse is introduced, but de Renzy felt he could provide a counterpoint as a “public service”. Thus, WEED was born. Appearing on-camera throughout the film, de Renzy first interviews a policeman who gives him a tour of a marijuana field in Missouri and explains how important it is to the wildlife in the area. De Renzy visits Mexico, where small fields of marijuana are hidden in the jungle to avoid being seen by planes and are often, and goes into detail about how grass is smuggled into the country so poor farmers can feed their families. Tours of an evidence room and a customs lab shows how creative smugglers can be in attempting to hide pot during inspections (watch the crewcut fed looking suspiciously at the very hippie-looking de Renzy!). Customs officials discuss the process of tracking down drug smugglers in cars, boats, and airplanes, and the camera peeks at excessive seizures being burned in a furnace! We follow a couple that avoids the U.S.-Mexico border mess and hightail it to the Canadian border for a vacation in a place where they can smoke grass freely.

In a very surprising sequence that by itself is a fascinating nugget of time capsule footage, de Renzy actually flies to Vietnam (during wartime!) and interviews several G.I.’s on the streets of Saigon! He sees that coke and heroin are more popular sales items from Vietnamese drug dealers than pot, and his cameraman actually buys some marijuana cigarettes (“Number One Cigarettes”) from a woman in a market! While the cameras roam the streets and gaze at the people of Vietnam, we hear AFN Radio announce “Cali and Manson! Verdict: Guilty!” Trekking next to Cambodia, de Renzy and his crew film from the windows of their rickety civilian plane, viewing North Vietnamese-controlled territory, and are told the airport they’ve land in was bombed the week before! De Renzy’s accomplice, after photographing many gorgeous landmarks, once again prowls the marketplace, looking for marijuana, and finds it in large bushels! This slight detour from the theme of the film is an amazing piece of history!

Interviews with a narcotics official, a man arrested for marijuana possession, a public defendant, and a bail bondsman are juxtaposed to see all sides of the law and order side of the marijuana issue. An interview with an anonymous drug dealer (whose face is crudely blacked out on the film) provides background on the underground market in the U.S. Jumping overseas again, de Renzy whisks his crew to Nepal, neighbor to India, another exotic location. An American ex-patriot living in Nepal with a beautiful Nepalese wife explains how marijuana isn’t produced as widely as in other Eastern countries, and the country’s population rarely uses it, though it is legal to do so. A tour of a government-authorized shop reveals various types of hash available for sale, and a Tibetan monk gives his opinion on drug use. A bespectacled expert gives the final statement on how he believes that the lack of positive drug education and suffocating narcotics laws will eventually result in self-destruction and marijuana prohibition will be lifted (in a great moment, as he finishes his speech, he asks de Renzy, “Now where are the girls?”).

While some viewers may feel WEED runs overlong at 97 minutes, it’s an invaluable artifact that shows many different opinions and views of the issue of legalizing marijuana and its use throughout the world. Unlike propaganda films endorsed by the government, de Renzy doesn’t go into the effects of marijuana on the human brain or resultant behaviors of the drug user, which may be the only fault of the film. By simply saying that marijuana is used elsewhere in the world, so why not the U.S., de Renzy doesn’t exactly make a winning argument for the legalization of the drug, but certainly makes a valiant effort to show both sides of the story. After the inane wannabe-hip ACID EATERS, WEED is the obvious winner of this double feature and while not for all tastes (those with low attention spans should probably steer clear), is a clear indicator that de Renzy had his pulse on national issues while also producing voyeuristic erotica. Not only should exploitation film fans enjoy this mainstream excursion by one of the most famous adult film directors of the period, but historians and sociologists should find great benefit in the many interviews and most especially the illuminating location footage. Trivia note: One of the crew members is Edwin Brown, who would later create many couples-oriented adult films with his wife Summer through the 1980s. Is his association with de Renzy how he became involved with the adult industry??

Of the pair of transfers, ACID EATERS is just stunning, culled from the original negative, and popping with hypnotic colors, especially sharp greens. The mono audio is acceptable. WEED, taken from a single theatrical print, looks and sounds just fine, with some instances of audio scratching and muffled voices, and a few moments of print damage that can’t be missed. Be glad both films are available at all!

The supplements kick off with a trademark collection of trailers, all set to a theme of drugs and counterculture mayhem. SIGN OF AQUARIUS should look familiar: it’s actually GHETTO FREAKS, aka LOVE COMMUNE. This time, the film was marketed as a sex-crazed, acid-drenched hippie free-for-all, or as the trailer puts it, “the screen’s first tribal rock festival flick”. Huh? Shot in snowy Cleveland, this is a very strange little film, available on DVD from Something Weird with its blaxploitation inserts to justify the GHETTO FREAKS title. SMOKE AND FLESH is one of the great unsung gems of New York City sexploitation. Beautifully shot and directed by Joseph Mangine, this free-form tale of a pot party gone awry features interesting characters (including the alluring black starlet Natara) and a number of visually stunning sequences, as well as a rockin’ theme song. With my highest recommendation possible, this is available on DVD paired with the positively lackluster ALICE IN ACIDLAND. The original ACID EATERS trailer is as oddball as the feature itself, and of course highlights all the frequent topless scenes and the quite wonderful sequence of the couples making love on the giant sugar cube pyramid. THE HARD ROAD is the ultimate exploitation film, mixing all your favorite roadshow themes (pregnant teens, prostitution, drug use, the dirty movie business) into one giant smorgasbord of bad taste fun! The late Gary Graver directed this classic, available on DVD from Something Weird. Connie Nelson, the star of this and ANGELS DIE HARD, was his girlfriend at the time, according to co-star Gary Kent! A simply amazing viewing experience! HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ON A TRIP? features hippies having sex and little else. Plenty of split-beaver shots and borderline hardcore sex scenes; you won’t recognize any of the cast members bumping and grinding.

The two short subjects included are actually more fun than the trailers, and are sure more entertaining than THE ACID EATERS! “LSD: Insight or Insanity?” tries to appeal to youth, showing wild fashions, hairdos, and fads (though telephone cramming was definitely old-hat in the 1960s). This anti-drug classroom classic talks to medical experts declaring that LSD results in insanity and suicide, gives a history lesson about how LSD was invented, and of course highlights some case studies and visual examples of an LSD trip (featuring plenty of amateurish acting). Highly entertaining! The narrator, sounding like an old man, is actually a slumming Sal Mineo, who, by the time this was made (1967), was making no secret of his bisexuality and swinging lifestyle. “A Crutch for All Seasons”, another classroom film from 1969, is an equally amusing propaganda epic, with a reporter investigating three case studies (“all names have been changed to protect the innocent”): a pretty neglected blonde girl in the suburbs graduates from smoking dope to dropping acid, and blames her incommunicative parents for it; a well-to-do young couple finds their life has become the days of wine and roses, filled with booze and unhappiness; and a college dropout eases his pain with a needle and smack. Listen for library music from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD! And yes, that’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS star David Gurian as Max, the depressed dope shooter, in his only other known film appearance! A gallery of David F. Friedman exploitation ad art caps off the extras. Note: Why does the extras menu have two typos?? “Aquarius” is spelled “Aqaurius”, and David F. Friedman is spelled “Freedman”. (Casey Scott)