Nudity on film is a tricky thing. Only recently have I begun to appreciate how tough it really is to make naked men and women look attractive on film. Now only if that your first trial, you must also make sure that there's something else to your film than miles of naked flesh. A month after releasing the terminally boring double feature STREET OF A THOUSAND PLEASURES/WAY OUT TOPLESS, Something Weird Video delivers a much more satisfying twin bill of nudist camp classics! And what a kooky pair: one directed by the late great low-budget filmmaker Doris Wishman and the other by the late great expressionistic filmmaker Edgar Ulmer.
Stacy Taylor (the lovely Ms. Davee Decker) is a hot shot reporter who is assigned an expose of a local nudist camp by her conservative editor Mr. Sherwood (an appropriately stuffy Norman Casserly) in DIARY OF A NUDIST. Apprehensive at first, Stacy becomes a member of the resort and is soon soaking up the rays with wild abandon! Naked volleyball (the team facing the camera wear shorts in this scene later recycled in DOUBLE AGENT 73) and nude skinny-dipping (later recycled in DEADLY WEAPONS) are favorite pasttimes of the sun-worshippers, and when Stacy writes a glowingly positive piece on the camp, she is promptly fired and Mr. Sherwood becomes a member to expose the immorality of the camp himself. But can he be persuaded to accept the healthy lifestyle of a nudist?
Viewers accustomed to Wishman's gritty roughies (her best films) or her garish 70s nightmares (her worst films) will be pleasantly surprised by her Florida forays into nudie-cuties. They are devoid of harsh visuals or outrageously ugly fashions. They display a refreshing innocence and frank attitude toward nudity that her other films do not. Unfortunately this also means that the film's erotic level is slim to none (as with just about every nudist camp film ever made). Ms. Decker looks lovely throughout the film, and cult aficionados will notice redhead Delores Carlos and bubbly blonde Bunny Downe among the nudists lounging by the pool. But just because this is different from other Wishman films doesn't mean her trademark techniques aren't here: plenty of stock footage, dialogue is awkwardly dubbed, cutaways are consistent. But that only adds to the fun. The plot is pretty pointless and borders on disappearing for the majority of the running time, but as a Wishman film, it excels in entertainment value and is rarely boring, even when Wishman's camera rests on people doing absolutely nothing!
Something Weird's transfer of DIARY OF A NUDIST is not up to par with their other Wishman transfers. Colors bleed, there are flashes of green and white during reel changes, orange and green tints open certain sequences before settling into a normal color pallette, and white speckles appear in every other frame. Considering the rarity of Wishman's nudie-cutie films (not even a trailer exists for this one!), this is to be expected. The mono sound is quite strong, though, which almost makes up for the mediocre video quality.
Let us now move on to Edgar Ulmer's NAKED VENUS, a quite different experience. Those expecting yet another nudist camp flick jam-packed with ugly naked people and little plot will be shocked to see a realistic morality play with fine acting, eye-popping camerawork, and what is essentially a Hollywood film with nudity inserted. Patricia Conelle is Yvonne, a French nude model who marries American artist Bob Dixon (Don Roberts). Yvonne, Bob, and their daughter travel to America to visit the mother-in-law, who is less than enthusiastic about Yvonne's past. Whisking away her son and sending Yvonne divorce papers, the beautiful Frenchwoman retreats to a nudist camp while she sorts things out. Enter Lynn Wingate (Ulmer's daughter Arianne, credited as "Arianne Arden"), a female lawyer who is prepared to battle to the death in the courtroom for Yvonne to win custody of her daughter. But when footage of Yvonne at the nudist camp is presented as evidence, how will her morality be judged?
NAKED VENUS is a great film, plain and simple. As a nudist camp film, it is less than rewarding, but the brief nude footage is packed with gorgeous women and studly men who are great to look at. Contrary to Michael Weldon's review, there is no full-frontal nudity in the film, but this contributes to the big-budget feel of the finished product. All of the performances are quite good, especially Arianne Ulmer, and the courtroom drama is particularly rivetting. There is some strange post-dubbing present, but it doesn't reach Wishman levels of absurdity, and the frequent dolly shots, crane shots, and odd framing by Ulmer makes the film a marvel to look at.
The transfer for NAKED VENUS is much more satisfying than DIARY's. Glancing at Something Weird's track record (the recent FUEGO/THE FEMALE double feature disc, for instance), their black-and-white transfers seem to be much more accomplished than their color ones. This is no exception. I can't recall speckles beyond the opening credits, and there is no grain whatsoever. Detail is razor-sharp and blacks are strong. The mono audio is weaker than that on DIARY, but is appealing enough.
Included on the disc are a plethora of nudist camp-related extras. First up are half a dozen trailers. BLAZE STARR GOES NUDIST is another fine example of Wishman nudist camp films, and is the only feature film that the infamous stripper appeared in. The narrator never utters the title and the title card seems superimposed or created recently; it played under various titles in various cities, including BLAZE STARR GOES WILD, BLAZE STARR GOES BACK TO NATURE, BUSTING OUT, and NATURE GIRL! I like GOES NUDIST best. EVE OR THE APPLE is a reissue of the stripper flick NAUGHTY NEW YORK. GENTLEMEN PREFER NATURE GIRLS is another whacky morality play from Doris Wishman. It features blonde Sandy Sinclair and hunk extraordinaire Craig Maudslay Jr., both from H.G. Lewis' SCUM OF THE EARTH! Also present is Diary's Norman Casserly. The trailer for NAKED VENUS thankfully doesn't try to sell the film as something that it isn't, instead opting to advertise it as a serious drama discussing nudist camps. NUDE ON THE MOON is yet another great Wishman nudie cutie, this one her most unique because it takes place on the moon! Somewhere in the film is Shelby Livingston, the sultry blonde who loses her arm in 2000 MANIACS. THE NUDIST STORY is a British musical taking place at a nudist camp.
The shorts are an interesting, entertaining bunch: "They Wear No Clothes" is a condensed version of the 1941 feature of the same name. A friendly narrator shows us strippers, nudists, and humorous naked women. I'd like to see the whole film some day! "Nudist Recruits" is a pro-nudity public service announcement circa the 1920s. Nude women are measured and go through training courses for the Army, then the mood shifts to nude women and men (!!) on the beach, enjoying the surf on what looks to be an overcast day (?). A message at the finale pleads with the public to accept nudity as beauty. "Nudists Uncensored" is disappointing. It's an excerpt from Barry Mahon's CENSORED (1965), but is merely recycled footage from Mahon's BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN (1965). The catch: it's been processed in black-and-white while the actual film is in color!! June Roberts is cute, and we see Darlene Bennett briefly, but just get the Something Weird DVD of the movie itself!
"The Beatlettes Go Nudist" is a quite long short excerpted from 1964's LULLABY OF BARELAND, directed by Manuel Conde, who was a frequent cinematographer on many adults-only pictures. Nudie-cutie regular Delores Carlos (BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN, DIARY OF A NUDIST) visited a nudist camp where there's lots of poolside sunbathing, volleyball, and trampolines (!). A little naked boy even joins in the fun! Also appearing is Ann Howe (STRANGE RAMPAGE), with red hair this time around, a change from her usual blonde locks.
Add to this already jam-packed package a gallery of all-nudist camp exploitation art with radio spots and you have another pinpoint perfect Something Weird double feature. It's discs like these that will make every cult film fan glad that the company decided to get in on the DVD game. With DIARY OF A NUDIST/NAKED VENUS, they have proven beyond a doubt that they are here to stay. Keep 'em coming, SWV, and make 'em just as much fun as this one! (Casey Scott)
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