Directors: Jesse Berger, Ron Wertheim
Something Weird/Image Entertainment

Another New York-themed double feature so soon after BABETTE/MONIQUE, MY LOVE! What a pleasant surprise! Pairing two obscure Big Apple obscurities, one an interesting curio that goes for artistic expression over sexual kink and the other a surprising and wonderful mini-classic, this Girls & Gadgets Double Feature is a great Something Weird beginning to 2007!

The Master, a maniacal scientist who lives in a tent in the woods, between practicing his archery and pining for a mysterious lost love, has invented a special gun-like camera. He sends out “Brother”, his much mistreated servant, to stalk women on the streets of New York and peek on them in their apartments so the images can be transmitted back to his giant screen. Because of his apparent inability to become intimate with another woman (it is insinuated that he gave all his heart to a woman who died soon after), he watches women on the screen and dry humps a mirror to reach orgasm.

Despite a provocative title and a nice selection of naked ladies, ELECTRONIC LOVER plays more like an experimental arthouse film than a sexploitation nudie cutie, which will doubtlessly immediately polarize many viewers. Director Jesse Berger (who never did another film) may have been a film student eager to enter the industry through the only major booming independent film community of the New York area, which would help explain why the film is competently shot, well-acted, and features such a convoluted and unique script. The Master is a tortured soul, moaning and whining about women, giving love away, and his control over “Brother”, and he is only briefly shown having any contact with the women, relegated to sweating profusely as he rubs against a mirror while gawking at the ladies paraded across his screen. The film intertwines reality and fantasy, so much so that even scenes that seem to be shot by Brother’s camera may in fact simply be Master’s dream world come to erotic life. Thankfully it’s not a frustrating nudie art film like FLUCTUATIONS, but some viewers may eventually tire of all the Master’s nonsense and switch it off, missing out on an effective twist ending and three of the best ladies of New York City sexploitation. ELECTRONIC LOVER will be most interesting to those who like to see filmmakers push the boundaries of the sexploitation genre and come up with something different and interesting. Berger succeeds in that, but it’s still flawed enough that it’s a tough film to recommend.

Mike Atkinson, who portrays Master using all of his professional stage training to the hilt, is one of the most irritating actors in any film of this type, and his screams of “Brother! Find her! She wants me! You must obey me! Brother!” claw at your ears until they bleed. The twist ending will leave most viewers applauding with joy! In one of her earliest performances, Linda Boyce delivers here in spades! She is sexy and alluring as one of the women apparently beckoning to the Master through his monitor, and figures beautifully into the surprise ending, where her sexy full-lipped sneer is displayed at its most magnetic. Another memorable scene: Brother sees her walking down the street, in a clingy dress and her trademark piled-high hair, and follows her to her apartment, where she gives him a sideways smile, beckoning him inside. If I saw Linda Boyce walking down the street in New York, my heart would probably leap out of my chest! Natara, one of few black starlets of the genre, makes her screen debut as one of Master’s fantasy girls. This alluring beauty has a cultured, smooth speaking voice, a fantastic body, and a glowing smile, as well as admirable acting chops, that somehow didn’t win her more acting roles, or at least no more than the three that have surfaced. Her best surviving performance is in Joseph Mangine’s SMOKE AND FLESH, a wonderful pot-party drama where she plays an eye-catching party guest. She is one of my new favorite starlets of the period, and I wish I knew what she was doing today! Lovely Uta Erickson, billed here under her early moniker of “Carla Erikson”, has little to do in this, one of her first screen appearances, but is always a welcome sight, and has an interracial scene with Natara, as well as appearing in a brief sex scene with Master. Further notes: The original music, by The Fludd, is a smorgasbord of organs, electric guitar, and drums, and is superb listening! There are surprisingly liberal amounts of full-frontal nudity here, from women and men (!), which is shocking for 1966! It wouldn’t become a regular staple in sexploitation until a few years later, when the Supreme Court would rule that nudity itself is not obscene.

Where ELECTRONIC LOVER is an ambitious attempt to mix art with sex, SPY WHO CAME is pure fun from start to finish! Harry Harris (?) is a successful vice cop engaged to his sweetheart, Mary, who unfortunately just can’t keep it in his pants, sleeping with any woman who strikes his fancy. But his latest pick-up, a mysterious icy blonde who walks, talks, and generally behaves like a zombie, turns out to have a bunch of spectators in her closet who have filmed their coitus for blackmail purposes! What do they want? They drive him to their hideout, a dilapidated old house that hides a lavish room where Mohammed, an Arab villain, projects even more surveillance slides of Harry with other women, including maudlin footage of Harry and his fiancée frolicking in a field! Threatening to expose Harry’s rampant infidelity to the unsuspecting Mary, he finally reveals his sinister plan: he has set up a white slavery ring, kidnapping girls from prominent international families, transforming them into sexual surrogates using drugs and “the lessons taught us by the archfiend the Marquis de Sade!” Mohammed wants Harry to use his vice connections to cover up the slavery ring’s actions. However, neither of them counted on a French INTERPOL Officer spying on the entire affair, and he aims to use Harry from within to bring down this international super-criminal!

Part goofy, part deadly serious, THE SPY WHO CAME is a great low-budget sexploitation venture, and one of the most entertaining films of the genre! Unlike C. Davis Smith’s THE GIRL FROM S.I.N., an uproarious spoof of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and similar spy outings, writer/director Ron Wertheim mixes together a white slavery plot with spy action to create a totally unique and strange experience. In fact, only one other film resembles this one: Bob Chinn’s LOVE SLAVES, which features a plot so similar one wonders if Chinn saw this film at some point! Wertheim’s script features the standard good guys, but it’s the villains who are really memorable: Tessie, a no-nonsense, domineering blonde with a British accent and lesbian tendencies who gives Harry an eye-popping tour of the lair, and Mohammed, the smarmy George Sanders-like mastermind who reprimands his henchmen with snappy one-liners and whose super-villain dialogue is delivered as smooth as velvet. For 1969, the sex scenes aren’t too terribly graphic except for the first one, but perhaps this is because most of the sex doesn’t involve human beings. You simply must see the crazed mannequin sex scenes, especially the one set to a strange instructional reel-to-reel tape played in the background!! The plentiful slides shown of a woman in numerous outrageous positions with her mannequin of choice deliver plenty of laughs, too! In keeping with the roughie theme of the late 60s and the output of Distribpix (who unleashed this beauty on grindhouse audiences), there are plenty of bound girls, needle drug use, whippings and beatings, and hateful dialogue. One scene seems out of a horror film: While the French spy stalks through the grounds of Mohammed’s complex, he comes across a tied-up naked woman whom he unties and lays down on a bed. She springs forth, screaming like a banshee, and tries to strangle him before he knocks her out! An odd scene in a constantly surprising film! With great location photography at a crumbling house serving as Mohammed’s headquarters, an incredible score heavy on piano and use of distorted human voices (reminiscent of Bruno Nicolai or Ennio Morricone) that makes several sequences seem straight out of a horror film, and an earnest script brought to life by seasoned professionals in front and behind the camera, THE SPY WHO CAME is a minor gem of a film well worth discovering! Just wait until you see the finale packed with screaming girls, gunshots, a nude Arab, and poetic justice!

Director Ron Wertheim was one of an elite group of filmmakers working in sexploitation near the tail end of the era (the group also included Ron Sullivan, Joao Fernandes, Graham Place, Arthur D. Marks, Victor Petrashevic, and Gerard Damiano, all of whose paths would cross from 1968-1970). Strangely, this was one of Wertheim’s only directorial efforts, though he was a regular player behind-the-scenes of many key films in the genre, including Damiano’s early porno chic hits DEEP THROAT and MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE. Wertheim was recently interviewed for INSIDE DEEP THROAT, and was one of the most animated subjects of the film. Watch for Wertheim himself (!) playing the henchman Otto (as “Ron Warshavsky”)!! He also performed editing duties on this one.

The credits are a virtual wet dream for film buffs: cinematography by Joao Fernandes, the genius behind the visually stunning DEVIL IN MISS JONES, TAKE OFF, and countless other hardcore films, as well as almost all of Chuck Norris’ major Hollywood films; lighting by Ron Sullivan, aka “Henri Pachard”, who at the time was producing a slew of wonderful nudies for Sam Lake & Distribpix and who would, years later, graduate to hardcore and become one of the most consistently excellent directors in the business; Don Walters, producer of the still-unsung ANYTHING ONCE and crew member on such diverse New York projects as Damiano’s LEGACY OF SATAN, Downey Sr.’s PUTNEY SWOPE (on which Sullivan was producer), and Armand Weston’s horror outing THE NESTING, acted as assistant director and special effects wizard here; sound man Arthur Marks was better known as Arthur D. Marks, a cinematographer and editor on hard and soft classics, including ANYTHING ONCE, THE BIZARRE ONES, A WEEKEND WITH STRANGERS, TAKE OFF, and all of Tim Kincaid/Joe Gage’s mainstream outings in the 1980s. Executive producer? Lou Campa, the man behind a series of strange and not-quite-successful roughies in the late 60s!!

Louis Waldon, famous for his days in Warhol’s Factory and appearances in Paul Morrissey’s FLESH, split time between respectable stage work and sexploitation film roles. He usually played bastard roles, as in Sarno’s LOVE MERCHANT and THE BIZARRE ONES, but is a solid hero here, and takes it all very seriously. Not shy when it comes to nudity, watch for some bare bum shots and in a shocking cameo appearance, an erection (!). Stephen Treadwell, memorable from Ron Sullivan’s THE BIZARRE ONES, appears as eunuch (!) henchman Byron. Another professional actor appearing in films of this type, Treadwell would soon migrate to California to star in MATINEE WIVES, among other sexploitation relics. None of the women are familiar from other films, but one wishes the actress who played Tessie would have done other films! One of the most entertaining sequences in the film is the opening scene in a bar, with Harry engaging in a stilted conversation with his bait. You never know whether it’s her zombie act, or if she’s just a terrible actress being fed lines off-camera by director Wertheim! Methinks it’s a little bit of both…!

Taken from rare 35mm prints, both features look as good as they possibly could without going to the original negatives (wherever they are!). Both transfers have a decent amount of speckling and debris, and a rare print jump here and there. ELECTRONIC LOVER is a little fuzzy, and some scenes are almost too dark. SPY WHO CAME looks better, with sharper contrasts and a crisper image throughout. Mono audio services both features wonderfully.

A trailer collection kicks off with CURIOUS DR. HUMPP, available on DVD, an off-the-wall mix of Argentinean monster madness and shot-in-the-US sex inserts from director/distributor Jerald Intrator (watch for Kim Pope masturbating!). Though I didn’t like it upon first viewing, a recent revisit opened my eyes to just how enjoyable this monstrosity is! Also recommended: BLOOD OF THE VIRGINS and FEAST OF FLESH, both from the same insane director, Emilio Vieyra, and available on DVD. OFFICE LOVE-IN, from sexploitation legend A.C. Steven (aka the late Stephen Apostolof), features voluptuous blonde Marsha Jordan and brunette cult icon Kathy Williams, among others, in a series of vignettes surrounding sex in and with people in an office. Williams and Jordan have a lesbian scene (they would do the same in THE RAMRODDER the same year, in color!). A gay transvestite is talked into experimenting with a woman who deep throats bananas. Strange that this 1968 non-roughie film is shot in black-and-white… Also watch for Colleen Murphy (the star of ALICE IN ACIDLAND) and Forman Shane, who was in just about all of Apostolof’s films. THE SINGLES opens with a brilliant piece of library music familiar from other trailers and films of the genre, and features Darlene Bennett and her sister Dawn tag-teaming a lucky fella. This black-and-white 1967 Sande Johnsen feature is considered lost, unfortunately. SOME LIKE IT VIOLENT was the first feature from future hardcore director Kemal Horulu (who specialized in boring soap operas). This prostitution syndicate expose features black beauty Natara in another rare screen appearance, large-haired model beauty Sharon Kent (INDECENT DESIRES), and atmospheric scenes of a brute using a machete to chop apart lingerie-clad mannequins. Shadowy sex scenes, a computerized dating service transformed into a prostitution ring, and gangsters figure into the plot.

The shorts selection includes a cheap 8mm loop, “Girl of My Dreams”; an educational short, “The Philosophy of Computing”, and an excerpt from the feature film, THE PEEK SNATCHERS, “Tel-Star Strip”. Directed by Joseph P. Mawra, the man behind the OLGA series and the masterpiece MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI, this feature film features two baggy-pants-type comics in-between a series of random burlesque acts. This is the film containing the infamous scene of a stripper performing with giant boa constrictors, including sticking one into her mouth!! The two comics peek into a monitor (a call back to the disc’s feature ELECTRONIC LOVER) and watch women in pasties and G-strings perform in a strange room. The usual gallery of sexploitation movie magazine covers finishes off this trip into 42nd Street. (Casey Scott)