Several years after wowing the film world with FLESH GORDON, dirty movie producer Bill Osco decided to tackle the childhood favorite ALICE IN WONDERLAND, updating it as an adult fairy tale with music, humor, and sex. As far as sexploitation movie musicals, it’s not the best (that would be Michael Pataki’s CINDERELLA), but has developed a cult following because of the leading lady, Kristine DeBell. Subversive Cinema announced they were tackling this title a while ago, and it has finally reached DVD in a good, if not flawed, platter containing two versions of the film (not three, and without a soundtrack CD, as originally announced) in the best home video version of the film to date.
Frigid young Alice has grown tired of fending off her boyfriend’s advances, but wonders if perhaps she is missing out on the good things in life (i.e., sex). After a musical number wherein she croons about growing up, a goofy giant Rabbit appears and beckons her to follow him into a secret wonderland of talking animals, whacky characters like the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, and explore her sexuality with no feelings of shame or regret.
Filled with silly, unmemorable songs (save for “Rainbow in the Sky” over the opening credits), goofy costumes and sets, and ludicrous sex humor, ALICE IN WONDERLAND is nowhere near as successful as the previous FLESH GORDON or the later CINDERELLA, but in terms of skinflick musicals, is rather ahead of its time. The sophomoric script, penned by the film’s composer, Bucky Searles (who also appears as Humpty Dumpty and a judge), follows the original Lewis Carroll book pretty closely, except for the obvious additions like Alice masturbating on a talking rock and sucking the Mad Hatter’s cock. With its message of sex being fun and carefree, ALICE IN WONDERLAND is a true product of the swinging 1970s and while no sexploitation classic, is really quite enjoyable. Late director Bud Townsend and cinematographer Joseph Bardo bring a great visual flair to the film, though production values weren’t nearly as high as one would think. Much of the film looks as if it was shot on the same woodland locations as many Zebedy Colt films, and stories vary about where this was actually filmed (Stanley Park in British Columbia, Canada, and upstate New York are the two chief names mentioned). Some of the editing choices are quite novel, namely the stop-start chase sequence ending the film with Alice escaping from the Queen of Hearts’ clutches, accompanied by whacka-whacka guitar, and the cheeky title cards introducing each new segment are cute.
Part of the fun in ALICE is spotting adult film performers of the New York area! Underrated blonde starlet Nancy Dare and brunette lovely Terri Hall (who played mother-and-daughter, respectively, in the same year’s THE DEVIL INSIDE HER) appear together, often alongside forgotten performer Kristin Steen (SOMETIME SWEET SUSAN), as woodland creatures who lick Alice dry after her fall in a river, sexy nurses performing a striptease for impotent Humpty Dumpty, and dancers in the King of Hearts’ court. With both actresses’ stage backgrounds, it’s great to see them very much at home prancing around in costume, showing off impressive dance moves and lip-synching to tunes like they were on Broadway. Real-life couple Bree Anthony and Tony Richards (billed under their real names, Sue and Tony Tsengoles) play Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, a brother-and-sister duo who enjoy each other’s nether regions as they would toys in a playroom, and Hall’s co-star in STORY OF JOANNA, Juliet Graham, plays the Queen of Hearts with much relish. FLESH GORDON star Jason Williams also makes a “Special Appearance”, as the gay White Knight, and eagle-eyed viewers may spot Angel Barrett (NAUGHTY VICTORIANS) in an interracial scene with the King of Hearts and bearded Ed Marshall as a jury member having hardcore “fun in Wonderland”. Of course the real reason for the film’s enduring popularity is Kristine DeBell, a future Hollywood actress who looks great nude and displays the right aura of innocence as ‘Alice’, but would greatly improve her acting skills over the years.
The primary problem with this release is that it considers ALICE IN WONDERLAND a landmark in adult cinema, when in fact the film shouldn’t even be considered a porno movie. While hardcore footage was shot during production (as with Bill Osco’s FLESH GORDON, whose penetration shots went missing in post-production), ALICE was originally released as a softcore film, and only several years later, after Kristine DeBell had moved on to mainstream work in television and major studio movies, did the hardcore footage turn up in brief theatrical release and home video versions. DeBell, contrary to popular belief, only performs very light masturbation, two half-hearted blowjobs, and fleeting female oral sex in the film; look closely and you will see that she is replaced by a stand-in for the straight sex scene later in the film. The film’s hardcore footage is probably what helped lead to her disappearing from the Hollywood scene, and why she refused to be interviewed for this DVD. To be honest, the XXX version of ALICE is a real travesty; none of the sex is erotic, the pacing slows to a crawl, and the innocent fun of the softcore original is sullied by shooting sperm and gynecological close-ups. It actually would have been wiser for the hardcore scenes to have been isolated as a hidden Easter egg rather than include the entire feature here, as the XXX ALICE has been available on DVD from Arrow for quite some time.
Of the two versions included on the disc, the X-rated version is the far superior. There are a few skips here and there, but this is a very clean, good-looking transfer, especially considering it was culled from less than optimal source materials. The greens of the forest surroundings really jump out, and fleshtones during the plentiful nude scenes are beautifully accurate. The adult version, on the other hand, fares a little worse. While the majority of the transfer is the X-rated version, the hardcore scenes have been inserted from another rather ugly, but decent print source (which is also where the producer’s scroll and the Essex Pictures logo come from). The 1.85:1 aspect ratio on both versions looks quite tight, often cutting off information on the top and bottom of the frame, so a 1.78:1 or a 1.66:1 aspect ratio would have been better. The running time of the X-rated version, without the “Rated X” ratings band at the start of the transfer, is 72 minutes, a full six minutes shorter than the recorded running time of the R-rated version. The XXX version is 78 minutes, including the “producer’s scroll”, which is three minutes shorter than the recorded running time of the longest version. So what is missing here? I can’t be sure, as I discarded my original soft-X and X-rated versions of the film a while ago. The variants in running times leave me skeptical. Further A/V note: The animated DVD menus go on for far too long and can’t be skipped past.
The only extra on the disc is a lengthy featurette that is ultimately a disappointment. Producer Bill Osco, actress Kristine DeBell, cinematographer Joseph Bardo, and anyone else really vital in the production of the film are missing, but in their stead are adult film historian (or as he is billed, “adult film practorian”) Bill Margold, adult film actress Lena Romane, and actor Larry Gelman, who isn’t mentioned on the box copy. At a staggering 37 minutes, this supplement is unfortunately a whole lot of nothing. The best comments naturally come from actor Larry Gelman, who played ‘The White Rabbit’ in the film. He discusses how he became involved with the project, how he was barred from the set when the hardcore scenes were being shot, and his memories of director Bud Townsend, producer Bill Osco, composer Bucky Searles, and actress Kristine DeBell. But he isn’t featured as heavily as Margold, who was around the adult film industry of the 1970s, but on the West Coast, namely in San Francisco, so has no background in East Coast film production. He discusses his original (negative) thoughts on the film, points out Terri Hall (but no other familiar adult film performers), mispronounces Howard Ziehm’s name, slams the films of Russ Meyer, and gets on a soapbox to deplore modern pornography. He would have been a good choice to interview if this was a film shot on the West Coast, but he simply has very little of interest to say here. Why Romane is even here is beyond me, but she explains her pedigree is that she has been in between 800 and 1000 adult videos since 1998. She saw ALICE at a college screening. And that’s it. She compares the film with modern porn and marvels at the production values. Snore. The major problem with the featurette is its skewering of the facts. The film was never distributed by 20th-Century Fox domestically, though five minutes are spent with Margold and Romane marveling over this supposed distribution deal that never existed. Kristine DeBell was never a Playboy Playmate (this claim also appears on the box copy); she appeared in the magazine to promote the release of the film, but this doesn’t stop Margold and Romane from talking about DeBell at length as a Playboy Playmate, considering it a groundbreaking move from the magazine to adult cinema, and vice versa. Too bad this didn’t happen. While it’s a noble effort to include something extra with this special edition, as it stands, this is a sorely missed opportunity to share stories of the film and its production, and the treatment of the film as a porno film classic rather than a fun, silly sexploitation film, as it was originally released, is misguided. If you haven’t seen ALICE before or are a longtime fan of the film, I would strongly encourage readers to pick this disc up simply to view the softcore version looking better than ever. But if you’re looking for a titillating hardcore feature or major insights into the film’s production, you won’t find either here. Just stick with the original R/X-rated ALICE transfer and you won’t be disappointed!! (Casey Scott)
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