After taking an extended vacation in the psychedelic 60s with their previous double feature of GHETTO FREAKS and WAY OUT, Something Weird has paired one of their most requested whacky drug 'n' sex flicks with a lesser-known counterpart. Those who were anxious to accompany ALICE on her trip to ALICELAND will be sorely disappointed, but SMOKE AND FLESH is an unsung gem of New York City exploitation, which is worth the price of admission alone.
Chunky brunette Alice, a recent high school graduate, is introduced to the world of marijuana, alcohol and swinging sex by her college roommate Frieda. Alice and Frieda become galpals, as well as Sapphic donut-bumpers, and go about recruiting other girls to frequent their parties and become easily drawn into their immoral party world. And as we're all warned in high school, pot is a gateway drug, so Alice decides to take the ultimate acid trip after becoming bored with joints and lesbo lovin.' Needless to say, her life ends in ruins, as with all good girls gone bad girl.
It took this writer at least eight sittings to finish ALICE IN ACIDLAND. To say it's an uneventful bore would be an understatement. Beneath the enticing title, which promises the story of a young innocent thrust into a world of drugs and depravity a la Lewis Carroll's famous book, crawls a barely hour-long morality play told by narration and no sense of pacing or excitement. About the only thing the film has going for it is the soundtrack. Whether it be breezy jazz library music or hip garage beats, ALICE IN ACIDLAND is far more fun to listen to rather than watch. For example, a groovy song, "Soft Lips," by a local garage band works its way into the overlong marijuana party, where each guest has sex (straight and lesbian) with each other. It's almost 20 minutes long and is never once erotic or even interesting. All of the sex is poorly photographed and the men keep their pants on like similar films from almost 10 years before!
Taking a cue from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), the director opted to film Alice's climactic acid trip in bold color! After a drab 45 minutes of lousy black-and-white cinematography, the hazy color footage isn't an improvement, but a naked girl disrobing and writhing while a sideview of her breast is superimposed over her is an interesting touch. The color footage was obviously seen as a good opportunity to pile on more nudity with garish light shows projected onto bare flesh, which should please those who think naked girls can save a film. ALICE IN ACIDLAND will prove them wrong. Honestly, with a color acid trip, it is a given to include lots of flashing gel lights, trippy kaleidoscope effects and all the other clichés present in exploitation of the time. Nope, none here, just naked girls with some lights on them. Somehow, all this is enough to drive Alice to the crazyhouse, straitjacket and all, "a mental vegetable." The film features no credits, but those who follow the more obscure nudie flicks of the Sunshine State during the late 60s should recognize the lead actress who plays 'Alice.' She appeared in a number of ultra-low budget flicks for Mitam Productions, including PRIVATE ARRANGEMENT with Uschi Digart! Her name may remain a mystery, because she isn't credited on any of her movies. With an ass the size of Texas and a baby face just asking to be corrupted, she makes for a likable enough heroine. Finally, Something Weird's print (probably the last to exist, this one probably didn't have much distribution outside of California) has several moments near the beginning where frames are missing, so portions of dialogue have been lost to the ages. It's doubtful whether they would have made the film any better.
After wasting an hour with Alice, venture across the country to New York City, where an aura of SMOKE AND FLESH awaits adventurous moviegoers. The film opens with a montage of still images representing "the square world" before cutting to two faceless lovers romping in bed representing the counterculture, indulging in sexual freedom in the "underground." It's best to describe SMOKE AND FLESH as a more interesting psychedelic variant of Peter Sellers' THE PARTY from the same year: the focus of the story is a groovy shindig at Turk's place, where go-go dancing girls and lecherous boys brush shoulders while waiting for a special delivery of pot to enliven the festivities. There is barely enough time to introduce a plotline (the whole thing runs a mere 68 minutes), but the standard tokin' and strokin' is interrupted when greasy bikers Skiff, Babe and their buddies abandon a game of billiards and crash the party when they recognize one of the party girls as Babe's ex-girlfriend! Rather than start a rumble at his party, Turk feeds Skiff cubes of LSD thrown into a wine bottle to blow his mind, resulting in an acid trip shown in negative (!) which is way trippier and more horrifying than Alice's!
SMOKE AND FLESH, in terms of plot, is barely a feature film, but is an epic in comparison to ALICE IN ACIDLAND and is one of those gems that would never have survived if it hadn't been for Something Weird Video. This crisp-looking black-and-white transfer seems to be from the negative, making it easier to appreciate what an interesting little curio the film is. The opening credits, following a motorcyclist through the city with the camera planted on the front of the bike, display professional talent behind the scenes, and the film as a whole is a marvel to look at. Lighting, cinematography, sound recording and editing (almost all by director Joe Mangine) are all top-notch and prove that just because a filmmaker has a meager budget and a slim script doesn't mean he has to deliver bottom-of-the-barrel garbage. In fact, Mangine seems to have been influenced by fellow East Coast sexploiteer Joe Sarno, who was more interested in storylines, performances and technical beauty than the usual 42nd Street smut peddlers. That being said, unlike Sarno, Mangine has no real flair or interest in the sex act, resulting in awkward close-up smooching and insincere heavy petting between couples at the party. But the script is well-written, the performers game and SMOKE AND FLESH is never boring. Fans of New York City sexploitation may find themselves with a new favorite that has remained lost for too long! Highly recommended viewing!
Highlights include the aforementioned opening sequence, almost 10 minutes long and completely silent save for the rock theme, where the motorcyclist ventures into an apartment to purchase a package of weed; a beautiful black female party guest with a hard-to-pinpoint accent shares a pint of ice cream with a stoned companion (who later has whipped cream sprayed all over her busty nude bodice); more awesome motorcycle footage following the biker through the Lincoln Tunnel (!); a unique method of sharing a joint through a discarded paper towel roll; an older couple who indulge in kinky sex acts for book research (hints of Kinsey, and the husband has an obviously fake bald cap!); very cool camera shots from inside of a refrigerator and through a fish tank; and a wonderful documentary feel which places the viewer at one of the coolest parties ever! And yes, Findlay fanatics, that IS lovely Marie Brent (uncredited) as one of the party guests in an interesting scene where she races toy cars with another guest; it escalates into a game of "strip racing," where the loser has to discard a piece of clothing every time he loses. One of her rare sound performances, and featuring embarrassing nudity to boot, the stage actress would take her own life in two years' time because of roles like this. Also making an appearance is muscular stud Alex Mann (I DRINK YOUR BLOOD), who has a brief rendezvous with one lucky gal in one of the rooms in the house, and his PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS co-star Cherie Winters is the female half of the sexually experimenting couple. On a side note, Mangine was the cinematographer for several favorite cult films, including SQUIRM, ALLIGATOR, MOTHER'S DAY and Rainbeaux Smith's CINDERELLA! SWV gets bonus points for including the awesome garage band theme song from SMOKE AND FLESH on the main menu!!
Kicking off the extras is a collection of trailers, including the original preview for SMOKE AND FLESH. It features the provocative female narrator who worked on many trailers in New York City. The preview is obviously geared at the 42nd Street crowd, but features many of the artier moments (including the Jess Franco-esque sex-through-a-fishtank shot) and the exposure of Marie Brent. THE PUSHER, which also appeared on the GHETTO FREAKS disc, was definitely influenced by "Dragnet". The disfigured title character is barely featured in the trailer, but Robert Lansing's detective character is the star anyway. It looks very exciting, with addicted hookers, rock 'em-sock'em fistfights and really great dialogue. THE DEVIL'S HARVEST is a 40s roadshow picture about marijuana dealing and wild parties a la REEFER MADNESS. The trailer accents the WWII time period, proclaiming, "America is at war" but instead referring to the war against narcotics. Something Weird will probably get around to releasing it sometime; it looks great! Gary Graver's THE HARD ROAD is a trailer that shows up everywhere but that's a good thing, because this is possibly the ultimate exploitation movie. The preview "introduces" Connie Nelson (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN) as the downtrodden high school girl who becomes pregnant, has an abortion, runs away, becomes a hooker and is soon drawn into the world of drugs, peeping, sex and nastiness. The late great John Alderman is her addict boyfriend who forces her to sell herself to buy his junk. CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER opens with incredible scenes of women being gathered in fishing nets and dumped on a boat! Vincent Price stars as the head villain involved in drug dealing and the white slave trade. THE NARCOTICS STORY is a docudrama with real former addicts and real policemen re-enacting busts, drug parties and how the law stops the dealers who peddle the poison. It looks quite incredible, and because it's based on "actual testimony" by the cast, is much more appetizing than others of its type! MONKEY ON MY BACK is the true story of former boxer Barney Ross who becomes ensnared by the lure of heroin. Cameron Mitchell gives the performance of his career (not really saying much) as the dope addict. The music will be familiar from the American trailer for THEY CALL HER ONE EYE, and the director Andre de Toth (HOUSE OF WAX) was one-eyed himself! Talk about weird! Want weirder? HOPPED-UP is a very obscure 50s flick about Benzedrine addicts, better known as THE DEVIL'S SLEEP!! Timothy Farrell is the usual slimy mustachioed dealer, and a small town's high school is infiltrated by his peddling ways. The cinematography is by William S. Thompson (Ed Wood's favorite cameraman) and the cast includes Lita Grey (Charlie Chaplin's ex-wife), Mildred Davis (Harold Lloyd's ex-wife) and George Eiferman, the Mr. America of 1948. MARIHUANA is a well-known trailer, with girls stripping and going skinny-dipping in the ocean. It's available on a triple-feature disc with REEFER MADNESS and ASSASSIN OF YOUTH, and is one of the more entertaining roadshow pictures of the time, maybe moreso than the more famous REEFER MADNESS. Finally, THE ACID EATERS is a garish color flick with a pair of biker couples encountering a giant pyramid in the middle of the desert, where they have a crazy acid trip! Buck Kartalian (PLEASE DON'T EAT MY MOTHER!) plays the Devil and the former muscleman is seen shirtless in a beach scene out of his Satan costume, plus busty cult beauty Pat Barrington has a featured role! Something Weird, get this on DVD pronto!
Finishing off the disc is a 42-minute edited version of the hardcore film APHRODISIAC!, aka THE SEXUAL SECRET OF ARIHUANA, and it is surprisingly split into 11 chapters. The featurette begins with a dead-serious narrator proclaiming the film is the result of much research, interviewing thousands of people and with the involvement of the United Nations (!!). Yeah right, but it's still an entertaining artifact, even in this abbreviated form. Learn the origin of marijuana and how it was imported into the United States, but more importantly, discover its effects on your sex life! A man-on-the-street interview is hilarious: one subject considers himself privileged to be holding a marijuana cigarette in public and asks the interviewer, "Is it legal to smoke this on Hollywood Boulevard?" Another woman complains that marijuana smoke gives her heartburn. And yeah, one of the men-on-the-street is midget actor Billy Curtis, who was in everything from THE WIZARD OF OZ and PLANET OF THE APES to less-mainstream features like LITTLE CIGARS and EATING RAOUL.
Aside from the documentary aspects of the film, APHRODISIAC! features a cast of familiar exploitation faces posing as real people. Personal favorite Sandy Dempsey, who was always dynamite at comic roles in hardcore and softcore sex films, provides a tongue-in-cheek performance as an uptight journalist for a women’s' magazine who is introduced to the wonders of marihuana. Choice line of Sandy dialogue: "Marijuana is the greatest sexual stimulant since the invention of the 12-inch penis, and a hell of a lot easier to find!" Aah, Sandy. According to frequent co-star Candy Samples, Dempsey perished in a boating accident in 1975, but this makes no sense considering she appeared in films shot after that year. Whatever the story, she was a wonderful asset to the sexploitation film industry, and is only now developing the cult she so richly deserves. Beautiful Maria Arnold, star of NECROMANIA, TANYA, WHAM BAM THANK YOU SPACEMAN and countless other hardcore and softcore sex films, was also an adept actress and plays a frigid newlywed woman who is loosened up after devouring a batch of pot cookies. Arnold, wherever she is now, could have had a legitimate career as an actress if she had so wanted, and is a joy in every film she made. A cleanshaven John Holmes is slipped a joint by a devilish-looking waif in his office and joins her in a little hanky panky ("Big John" doesn't make an appearance, but the heavily gyrating and pounding is still hot in this softcore variant). Unsung porn starlet Eve Orlon meets a good-looking black guy while they're protesting on a college campus, and soon are in the bushes smokin' weed and makin' babies as she narrates with wild descriptions ("His skin tasted like sugar! When he jammed his lollipop between my lower lips, I sucked in hungrily!"). Yowza! With great library music from BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL, tons of stock footage and plenty of hot formerly hardcore sex, the full-length version of the film is available from Something Weird's Bucky Beaver XXX catalog, which is packed to the brim with rarities starring your favorite performers. One wishes that someday, SWV can start releasing some of those monstrosities through another more liberal label.
Capping off the entire disc
is a marvelous gallery of sexploitation movie magazine covers, with awesome
radio spots for such oddities as OBSCENITY! OBSCENITY!. Something Weird closes
out their off-again, on-again year of 2004 with a disc that, like the GHETTO
FREAKS/WAY OUT disc, features a ridiculous, cheap LSD pic and a wonderful hidden
masterpiece of low-budget cinema. SMOKE AND FLESH is the reason to pick up this
disc pronto, so stop reading and get shopping! (Casey
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