Director: Peter Woodcock
Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment

Near the end of the days of softcore in the late 1960s, New York was the sexploitation capital for sleazy, slimy black-and-white raincoaters. The best of these were, of course, the outrageous classics of Michael Findlay, but a number of other directors jumped into the independent film scene to make a quick buck. Unfortunately, for every innovative filmmaker like a Ron Sullivan or a Joel Reed, there was a Peter Woodcock, delivering thoroughly average skinflicks, such as DAUGHTERS OF LESBOS (previously issued on DVD on a double feature with Joseph P. Mawra’s CHAINED GIRLS). Woodcock managed to create two more similar lesbo-lovin’ outings around the same time, with most of the same cast members: 1968’s BABETTE and 1969’s unreleased-until-now MONIQUE, MY LOVE. To be fair, neither film is very good or even indicative of the kind of excellence coming out of the Big Apple at the tail end of the decade, but if you’re a follower of the incredible charms of leading ladies Uta Erickson and Linda Boyce (like me), this is a mandatory purchase and an important part of their filmographies! Note: To be accurate, the actual title of BABETTE is RETURN OF THE SECRET SOCIETY (title card reads: ‘Babette’ in Return of the Secret Society), much like DOMINIQUE is actually DAUGHTERS OF LESBOS (title card: ‘Dominique’ in Daughters of Lesbos), so the film will be referred to as SECRET SOCIETY from here on.

Following a completely phony credits list that was previously used on Peter Woodcock’s DAUGHTERS OF LESBOS, we are introduced to Babette as her grizzled, been-there-done-that narration informs the audience that she has learnt “the easiest and fastest ways to get the money”. Babette answers yet another newspaper ad covertly seeking a sexually adventurous tramp, leading to her meeting with Ramon, a goateed photographer specializing in sexually provocative poses to pay his rent. She immediately becomes interested in becoming one of his regular models, leading to a lesbian photo shoot with Latin sexpot Carla and viewing an 8mm nudie loop “shot in Mexico” with two topless girls go-go dancing and masturbating with stuffed animals. A married couple procures Babette’s company for an evening, but she finds herself spending more time with the wife as her “reservoir of lust was filled to overflowing”. Ramon is pleased with Babette’s success with his sexually depraved clients, so after indulging in a dirty phone call, asks her to take part in a bizarre sex initiation ritual conducted by “The Secret Society” (not as exciting as it sounds). The Daughters of Lesbos (not made up of the same women as the previous film, unfortunately, so no Jackie Richards or Geri Miller this time round, though Uta Erickson does appear in her second scene) invite Babette over for some Sapphic delights.

Let’s make one thing clear: RETURN OF THE SECRET SOCIETY is uneventful, quite boring, and though it features some great crisp black-and-white photography, an utterly pedestrian affair. But as far as Linda Boyce star vehicles go, this is one of her best, as she’s in every scene, and a great introduction to her hypnotic screen presence. As Babette, Boyce turns on her full-lipped sneer and lascivious eyebrows to the hilt, and she remains unclothed for most of the running time. One won’t get a taste of her excellent acting skills here, but if you fall in love with her (and I’m sure you will), there are plenty of other worthwhile films to seek out. Uta Erickson takes a backseat as the female half of the married couple who hires Babette for an evening threesome, but looks simply stunning, as usual. The beauty of SECRET SOCIETY is that the narration is more exciting than the on-screen shenanigans; Babette describes Carla’s illegal alien status and how she became involved with the smut industry as she unenthusiastically poses on her bed for Ramon’s camera, with a giant plush bunny rabbit sitting behind her (!). You may recognize the female narrator from other films of the period, including THE FILTH SHOP and several Distribpix flicks. Unfortunately the rest of the film is shot entirely MOS, not allowing viewers to appreciate the smooth speaking voices of Linda Boyce or Uta Erickson, but the delicious narration makes up for this. Be sure to listen for instrumental versions of The Chambers Brothers’ “The Time Has Come Today” and The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”!! In fact, the entire soundtrack of organ-and-guitar-driven garage rock tunes, rather than the standard library music, is excellent, and seems to be made up mostly of cover versions of popular chart hits of the year. It would make a great soundtrack album!

What? You don’t know who Linda Boyce or Uta Erickson are? For shame, as they were truly the facesof NYC sexploitation circa 1968-1969, their two most active years on the city’s film scene. It’s as if the two ladies shot a new movie every weekend! The more I try to find out about Linda Boyce, the more fascinating she becomes. By speaking to exploitation legend Tallie Cochrane, I learned that Boyce was not just an excellent actress, but also acted as a talent agent for sexploitation filmmakers, securing strippers and out-of-work thespians for the films of such varied filmmakers as Joe Sarno, Doris Wishman, Michael Findlay, John and Lem Amero, and yes, Peter Woodcock. This would explain why she and Uta Erickson appeared in so many films together (Erickson was a good friend and client of Boyce’s). Erickson remains more of an enigma; mentioned by Peggy Steffans in a commentary for PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS as of Norwegian descent, only a few people remain alive who remember and worked with her. One thing is for sure, she is a magnetic leading lady in these films. She could play either a sexually repressed innkeeper (HOT HOLLOWS) or a near-mute plaything with a sadistic streak (LOVE TOY), and like Boyce, would display impressive thespian prowess, considering this was not a pre-requisite to appear in sexploitation films. Night and day, light and shadow, the brunette Boyce and the blonde Erickson are a stark contrast and the perfect duo in their many celluloid pairings. Beginning way back when in 1967’s CURSE OF HER FLESH for Michael Findlay, these lovely ladies would appear in more than a dozen films together. The best of these, for anyone interested in tracking their incredible careers, are ANYTHING ONCE (still my favorite unsung New York City exploitation film of the 60s), A THOUSAND PLEASURES (as lesbian lovers who force murderous Michael Findlay to help them have a child of their own), PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS (a superb Joe Sarno soap opera with possibly Erickson’s finest performance), BACCHANALE (the Amero Brothers arthouse relic spiced up with hardcore inserts), and SHE CAME ON THE BUS (Boyce as a sexual deviant gang member, and Erickson as a victimized innocent bystander). The currently-lost Sarno film MARCY looks to be another marvelous collision between the Nordic goddess and her towering Amazonian companion. Linda Boyce and Uta Erickson remain the beautiful titans of New York City sexploitation, and one can only hope they are aware of and appreciate their growing cult following in the new millennium.

Peter Woodcock returned one year after the almost interchangeable DAUGHERS OF LESBOS and RETURN OF THE SECRET SOCIETY with MONIQUE, MY LOVE, a film previously unavailable in the Something Weird catalog even on VHS form! This may be the first DVD release from the company that is an exclusive to the format. In a promising pre-credits sequence that eventually goes on for far too long, a full-cheeked, large-breasted blonde plays with herself underneath her unkempt sheets while a light guitar selection appears on the soundtrack (familiar from the previous feature). Our favorite female narrator is back to cover for the lack of dialogue, as we learn that Monique is a sexually insatiable nymphet with a roommate named Rita. Monique is dead-set on becoming a movie star, while Rita is a dedicated writer, and Rita finds the perfect subject matter in the horny adventures of the fame-hungry Monique. Our heroine strips in a producer’s office, leading to a nude photo session, and watches another cheap 8mm nudie short to see what kind of films she will be appearing in. She finally appears in a skinflick production co-starring Warhol starlet Geri Miller pre-boob job, who masturbates on her bed with a Coke bottle and gives herself a real orgasm on-camera, but her scene is decidedly nastier as she’s drugged, bound, and assaulted by an intruder!

This low-budget one-day wonder is probably Peter Woodcock’s least interesting, despite the illusions of an actual script and storyline. Linda Boyce is relegated to a supporting role as Rita, seen writing on a notepad or typing on her typewriter in a giant black wig before becoming so turned on by Rita’s story that she must get a piece of her roommate like everyone else! It’s nice to see Geri Miller during her heyday before she reportedly became a schizophrenic bag lady floating from one homeless shelter to the next. Such a bubbly cutie, too… The mystery leading lady portraying Monique, pale and freckled, has some of the best natural breasts in Big Apple sexploitation, and seems a tad shy and gawky in front of the camera, making her that much more appealing. Despite this interesting troika of women, MONIQUE, MY LOVE is an interesting curio but nothing more. It’s also worth noting that the entire soundtrack is the same one used for RETURN OF THE SECRET SOCIETY, right down to the instrumentals of “The Time Has Come Today” and “To Love Somebody”.

Both feature films are culled from the original negatives, which continues to amaze considering that prints aren't available for a great number of sexploitation films, let alone negatives. The black and white contrasts are sharp and quite gorgeous, with no notable appearances of blemishes or print damage. The mono audio, made up entirely of narration and garage rock music, sounds great.

Previews for BABETTE and MONIQUE MY LOVE kick off the trailer collection. The BABETTE trailer is in very rough shape, an interesting comparison to the gorgeous, sharp transfer of the feature film. MONIQUE’s trailer appears to be from a negative. Ugh! FLUCTUATIONS is one of the worst sexploitation films of the genre, though it’s so off-the-wall and nonsensical that some may enjoy it while drinking or stoned. It’s nice to see Findlay starlets Kim Lewid and Susan Landau/Alice Noland, and the real-life obscene phone call used on the soundtrack is very innovative. But it tries too hard to be oblique and arty. The trailer is very good, though. Check out the same director’s IN HOT BLOOD instead. Speaking of IN HOT BLOOD…watch the trailer next! Wow, this is an amazing film! In a mere hour and some change, you get somnambulistic acting, a hilarious modeling session, a library music soundtrack perfect for mood music throughout your home, eye-popping drug use, uncomfortable nudity and unsexy scenarios, and a truly mindwarping, violent ending, Joel Landwehr’s IN HOT BLOOD must be seen to be believed! An instant cult classic! Better than the melodramatic trailer suggests! Here’s a surprise: a trailer for Andy Milligan’s NIGHTBIRDS! This film only exists in incomplete 16mm workprint form in the collection of Milligan biographer Jimmy McDonough, who will hopefully lease it out for DVD release at some point. Milligan discovery Berwick Kaler and blonde model-look Julie Shaw (who sort of resembles Joanna Lumley during her 60s modeling days) star as a strange couple with a bizarre love-hate relationship. With this trailer, this may mark the first time any footage from this long-lost feature has been seen by the public since the film’s original release. Rejoice! Is there hope for a DVD release somewhere down the pike?? Some of this dialogue is priceless: “I feel like a vampire in the sunlight”; “There’s a word for girls like you. It begins with “C” and ends with “T”. Can you guess what it is??”; “Stop it, Mabel! You’re giving me a hard-on!” SUBMISSION is one of the most professionally-made and engrossing sexploitation films of the period, and definitely one of the last great genre entries before hardcore took over. Director Allen Savage (who only did one more film, the unfortunately lost WEEKEND WITH STRANGERS) creates a palpable mood of tension and dread, with Jennifer Welles giving perhaps her career performance as the childlike girlfriend of a gigolo who aids him in leeching money off of wealthy marks. The trailer tries to sell it as a non-stop kinky sex film, but there’s more to it than that, and it’s a consistently surprising little gem. Strongly recommended!! Pick this up on DVD joined with Sarno’s excellent VIBRATIONS and the aforementioned terrible FLUCTUATIONS.

The kinky, slinky black-and-white thrills continue with a trio of 8mm shorts: “Paddle Battle” finds a blonde and a brunette in white lingerie beating each other with paddles (pretty self-explanatory); “A Roman Holiday” actually looks like an exploitation film (read: some actual production values), with a local lesbian club staging a play in their living room, with actual costumes, set design, props, and of course a topless queen; “Real or Knot” (in color!) features a long-haired brunette falling asleep (after reading “The Perils of Gwendoline”, the inspiration for the 1980s film of the same name!) and dreaming of a dominatrix binding her in rope, ball-gagging her mouth, and leading her around by a chain around her neck (!!); and in “Careers for Girls”, we switch from sex to education as the editors of Time, Life, and Fortune Magazines present a March of Time short, preparing young girls for careers after school. If you couldn’t guess, they’re all your standard 1950s jobs for women (secretary, nurse, fashion design, sewing, social worker). For a longer version of the same theme, check out the very entertaining mental hygiene film “The Home Economics Story”!

Here’s something new: in place of another gallery, indulge in the collection of vintage bra and girdle commercials! It’s great to see the golden age of advertising, when products were sold simply and based on their value, not by using sex, humor, or special effects. One of the models looks like VIOLENT YEARS star Jean Moorehead! Could it be…? For those who are still the gallery type (me included), there’s a standby gallery with the usual stills and ad slicks backed to the theme from BOOBY TRAP. (Casey Scott)