Director: Dennis Van Zak
Impulse Pictures

Previously released by Something Weird Video on VHS and DVD-R in a version missing all of the naughtiness, Impulse Pictures brings this bewildering anti-alcohol/pro-ganja grindhouse mockumentary APHRODISIAC! (subtitled “The Sexual Secret of Marijuana”) to DVD in its fully uncut version.

Starting with a supposed quotation from a 1951 United Nations report suggesting that over 200 million people all over the world “turn on,” APRHODISIAC! attempts to explore the history of marijuana as a sexual stimulant for the raincoat-sporting audience. First, the film contrasts the use of alcohol at a cocktail party versus marijuana at a pot party as a means of loosening social inhibitions (conquering various inhibitions is a running theme throughout this film, since “fewer inhibitions = less clothes”). This is bewilderingly illustrated with a vignette involving a housewife trying to get it on with a random stranger in his car, but he can’t get it up. The reason: too much booze. Next we meet a columnist for a women's magazine (who looks about as convincing a journalist as the previous actress did as a housewife) who meets an actor at a party. Their intellectual chemistry turns to heightened sexual pleasure when they take a puff. Marijuana can also loosen the inhibitions of those whose restrictive and repressive upbringings have made them anxious about sexual intercourse (even after marriage). A husband takes his wife out to a hotel for their two year anniversary and treats her to a marijuana-laced dinner (cue the feature’s most explicit, varied, and flexible encounter). Contrary to expectations, a look into an unclothed group sensitivity session does not evolve (or devolve) into an orgy (in fact, it has nothing to do with marijuana, but it does pad the running time by about ten minutes and some of the embarrassed reactions seem genuine).

The documentary then shifts into stock footage mode as the narrator explains that marijuana use first became popular in the United States during prohibition, as hemp was easier and cheaper to obtain. The narrator also suggests that criminalizing marijuana also inhibited study of its medical benefits. The theory that the sexual secret of marijuana was first spread through college campuses is illustrated with some interracial “meaningful confrontation” between two war protesters (the only two in the long shot of the otherwise empty campus) in the shrubbery. This is followed up by statistics stating that a greater percentage of male and female students who partook have engaged in premarital sex compared to those who did not (this is offered up in contrast to Kinsey’s earlier statistics on premarital sex among college students). A young John Holmes pops up late in the film as a “wham bam, thank you ma’am” businessman who finds the key to endurance with his choker-wearing secretary who happens to have a joint in her purse.

The pre-DEEP THROAT hardcore footage is more enveloping-pushing than taboo-bursting in its explicitness (although some of the attempts at arty framing seem to have more to do with pretension than self-censorship). More interesting and amusing are the setups to the vignettes, what with the performers’ unwavering dead-eyed stares at the camera and titter-inducing flat line readings (Holmes particularly). Between these vignettes, we are also treated to some man (and woman) on-the-street interviews (including WIZARD OF OZ munchkin Billy Curtis talking about his experience with marijuana as a passerby squeezes his cheek and keeps on walking). There’s also an instructional section of the documentary, starting with an economics lesson for dealers and the various ways in which it can be transported across the border. We are shown the various vessels for smoking pot and their pros and cons (apparently hookah pipes are the best) as well as various household items that can be used for roach clips. Then it’s time for a cooking lesson where we learn that cooked pot ground into powder can be mixed into ice cream, milk shakes, brownies, cookies, and so on. The narrator also compares the effects of marijuana to other legal addictive substances (coffee, cigarettes, alcohol) and suggests that the only negative consequence of marijuana is jail time. It doesn’t really say anything about how some people truly can become dependent on marijuana whether they admit it or not. Is it a well-meaning documentary spiced up with extended sex scenes or an extensively researched excuse for a handful of hardcore vignettes?

Impulse presents APHRODISIAC in its unmatted 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio. Like most Impulse releases, it is a barebones presentation (even though it lists the full frame ratio, mono audio, and chapter selections as the disc’s “special features”). There is no trailer and I could find no posters online (I would love to see how this was advertised). The progressive, single-layer transfer is as attractive as the scratched, spotted, and battered source print allows, but this is certainly a case where the damage does add to the film’s charm. (Eric Cotenas)