FANTASM (1976)
Director: Richard Franklin

Softcore sexploitation in 1975 was a rarity indeed. By the mid-1970s, hardcore pornography was in vogue thanks to the success of early risers like MONA (1970) and DEEP THROAT (1972). What were once reserved for raincoat crowds and hairy-palmed perverts were now being frequented by curious couples, groups of suburbanites wishing to see what all the fuss was about, and, surprisingly, critics from mainstream publications as The New York Times and Variety!! Moviegoers today would be surprised to learn that films like THE STORY OF JOANNA (1975), SWEET SAVAGE (1976), SOMETIMES SWEET SUSAN (1974), and even gay hardcore films like BOYS IN THE SAND (1972) were positively reviewed for Variety. Simply put, in the United States, the need for simulated sex had fallen by the wayside. However, in the far-off land of Australia, on-screen nudity and sex were only beginning to appear on the big screen. Censorship was heavy in the country, so producer Anthony Ginnane sought to cash in on the brand-new "R" adults-only certificate by producing a sexploitation film to show the folks down under just exactly what they had been missing for the past 20 years. Even when contrasted with the hardcore films of the time period, FANTASM is still one of the most erotic films ever made, not to mention a damn good time.

Opening with a beautifully photographed self-love sequence (featuring the only Australian sex performer in the film!), which is reminiscent of a similar sequence in Mark Haggard's THE ALL-AMERICAN GIRL (1972), FANTASM masquerades itself as a white-coater educational film. Host Jurgen Notafreud (with an exaggerated German accent) introduces a series of short hot-n-heavy sequences illustrating outrageous sexual fantasies of horny women, which are apparently quite common among malnourished nymphos!

The first segment is pretty normal: a lovely brunette is asked back to her hairdresser's salon after hours to get a special haircut. In fact, this one is far from sexy. It's possible the producers thought a female audience member would really get off on seeing the actress get topless and have her hair done and get a pedicure by two handsome barbers! To make things interesting, the lucky guys also shave away her clothes and make sure to give extra attention to tweaking her nipples and shaving her pubic hair!

Next is Maria Arnold and her friends playing a friendly game of strip poker when her party becomes a little too boring, which soon erupts into a spouse-swapping smorgasbord. Also shuffling their cards is reliable William Margold, the bearded Average Joe who somehow wormed his way into hardcore pornography. Many might confuse him with John Seeman, another not-so-great-looking porn regular. This simple segment is made fun by the performance of Maria Arnold. Her best film role is without a doubt the title role in TANYA (1976), a softcore take on the Patty Hearst legend, and viewers will agree that she had acting chops; Arnold's comic timing and line delivery was unusually top-notch for the genre, whether it be softcore or hardcore films. Fans can forgive embarrassing roles in things like Ed Wood's NECROMANIA (1971, where her pimply ass is unflatteringly photographed) after seeing her at her sexy best in sequences like this one. She doesn't say much, but her facial expressions and shadowy sex scene will please her followers. Her fantasy of being slammed by as many of her husband's friends as possible is quite well fulfilled!

Bored housewife Gretchen Gayle (THE DICKTATOR, 1974) catches a creepy stranger (Con Covert, professional flamer and crossdresser in productions like A SCREAM IN THE STREETS, 1973, A TOUCH OF SWEDEN, 1971 and THE CLASS REUNION, 1972) stealing her lingerie from the backyard clothesline and takes the opportunity to become a dominatrix in revealing black lingerie! She bends him over her kitchen table and whips him mercilessly, relishing each swipe of her cat o'nine tails, then screws him up the bum with a spiked strap-on! It's like a better-shot version of countless S&M loops of the mid-70s.

Adorable Rene Bond, visibly several years beyond her prime (but still an always welcome figure in any film), stars in the film's most harrowing segment, "Nightmare Alley." Running through a dark backstreet, she runs smack-dab into a black boxer who drags her innocent body into his apartment, throws her into the ring, and proceeds to tie her up and rape her...until she begins to love it and become an insatiable animal! Sure, the 1970s were a hotbed of rape scenes in film, but believe it or not, the rape fantasy is factually common among sexually active women, even today. Presenting it on film is politically incorrect. This isn't one of Ms. Bond's best film appearances, and newcomers to her charms will not understand what makes her so special when viewing this scene, but she should be a household name in self-respecting cult film fan's homes. For a better glimpse at what makes Rene an enduring fan favorite (winning smile, chipmunk cheeks, nubile body, hypnotic breast implants and a surprising range of acting abilities), be advised to check out FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE...WERE LOVERS (1975), PLEASE DON'T EAT MY MOTHER! (1972), NECROMANIA (1971), FUGITIVE GIRLS (1974), THE TEASER (1974) or THE ADULT VERSION OF JEKYLL AND HIDE (1972). Not a disappointing performance in the lot.

Die Uschi Digart, the busiest women in sexploitation (challenged only by the aforementioned Ms. Bond), needs no introduction. With a fanbase still going strong and growing daily, the 40DD Scandinavian goddess became famous through Russ Meyer films and continued to work for every sexploiteer in California for over a decade! She plays an exotic big-breasted vixen like no one else could, and is put to good use here as a seductive lesbian who encounters wallflower Mara Lutra in a sauna and introduces her to the world of Sapphic delights. This sequence is very well shot, reminiscent of a similar sauna scene between Laura Gemser and Lorraine de Selle in EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1976). A choice bit of Uschi dialogue: when the shrew says, "I always wanted big breasts like yours," Uschi replies, "And I always wanted smaller ones so I wouldn't have to wear a bra!" No, Uschi, you're well loved just the way you are!

Hispanic spitfire Maria Welton, a gorgeous half-Asian half-Spanish lady blessed with breasts (where did this elusive beauty escape to?), is the lucky girl who, after rubbing herself with oil and fellating a banana, is paired with the one, the only John C. Holmes. The man with a third leg (almost literally!) makes an appearance jumping out of a pool which will burn itself onto impressionable viewers' brains! He proceeds to make her into a human fruit salad with pineapples, cherries and whipped cream before devouring her and having an underwater sex scene. It's so hot most hardcore productions only wish they could pull it off! Holmes is more handsome in this film than he usually is, proving that the filmmakers really did know how to make every person in front of the camera look better than they really did. Close-ups reveal that this scene was shot hardcore, with oral, cunnilingus and missionary sex all real, making this segment extra spicy (and often cut in most versions).

Candy Samples was sometimes credited as "Mary Gavin" in films like Russ Meyer's UP! (1976) and this one. It's a possibility this was her real name, but whatever alias she used, Candy was one of a kind. With all-natural breasts bigger than anyone else of the time (yes, even bigger than Uschi!), Candy also did one better than Uschi: she performed in hardcore films, which some may consider a good OR bad thing considering her age (well into her 40s during her peak of popularity). Here, Candy plays a lonely mother who welcomes her soldier boy son home from battle with a nice bubble bath and a little incestuous fun. Only the tit queen of the 70s could make mother-and-son-sex look great...okay, and maybe Kay Parker in the original TABOO (1980). The "Have a Nice Day" decade was also a great time for skinflick actresses who could ACT, and Candy Samples was no exception. While she's dubbed here, Candy could actually handle lengthy speeches better than her co-stars. She's affectionately known as "The Godmother of Porn" to her fans and most certainly deserves a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame more than Julia Roberts or Mel Gibson! As an added bonus, exploitation aficionados will recognize a stock music version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" in this segment, which also was used by George Romero in THE CRAZIES (1973).

A sultry black soul sister is the focus of the next segment, with the call girl hosting a variety of different clients in her uptown apartment. But in the plot twist, it turns out she is NOT a call girl, but merely an incredibly good stripper who holds private shows for paying customers! Not much to recommend here, except it's a wonder this black beauty never graduated to more sexploitation films.

Another large-breasted sex icon, Roxanne Brewer, appears in the requisite schoolgirl segment. Brewer was another all natural, jaw-dropping 44DD bra buster who has the face of Rene Bond and the ticket sellers of Uschi and Candy combined! She has never received the household recognition of those two mammary mistresses, but she's in top form here as a vivacious teenager kept after school for detention who spends her time chewing gum and annoying her teacher. First she draws him with a hard-on on the chalkboard, then pops her top and demonstrates her incredible pectoral muscles for the old fart, who promptly keels over from a heart attack. Roxanne only made a few feature film appearances, but like the equally underappreciated Michelle Angelo, bared her chest puppies in countless mens' magazines and mail order shorts, ensuring a solid (but small) fanbase today. Somehow Russ Meyer never cast her in one of his films?!

From large chest to small chest, the final segment of the film gives Serena her time to shine. Alpha Blue Archives calls her the "Swiss Army knife of porn" and it's hard to disagree with that description. Serena's biggest and best film was BLONDE EMMANUELLE (1977), but she made so many other films of varying genres that it's hard to pick her best performance. She was one of adult film's first female superstars through softcore appearances in Harry Novak's MASSAGE PARLOR WIFE (1971) and countless 8mm storefront loops. She floated from vanilla (SWEET CAKES, 1976) to savage (BLUE VOODOO, 1977) to kinky (ABDUCTION OF LORELEI, 1978) and gave incredible sexual performances in each of her films. She returns to softcore territory here, as a young innocent blonde who is sexually sacrificed by a satanic cult, raped on an altar by their robed leader. Serena was also one of several hardcore veterans to make a bid for mainstream credibility, in Blake Edwards' 10 (1979) and NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER (1980). She has since disappeared, but is sorely missed from the film scene.

Sure, it's a barely-there film of short sexual scenarios, but FANTASM succeeds because of the wealth of cult actors and actresses appearing in its sex sequences. If this was just another run-of-the-mill sex film with people pulled off the streets, it wouldn't even invite a second look. But to see so many memorable adult film figures in one place is a special thing, warranting this disc a place on every sexploitation follower's shelf.

In a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer culled from the original 16mm negatives, FANTASM has never looked better! The only way to see this film for the longest time was through bootleg tapes with dark muddy colors and tons of grain. Each flash of skin has accurate fleshtones, colors are vibrant and full of life and grain is significantly reduced. The mono audio is subdued during the linking psychiatrist segments, but all the sex scenes' groans, moans and accompanying music are strong.

Synapse's disc of FANTASM has carried over most of the extras from the Australian disc from Umbrella Films. Most intriguing is the featurette "Fantasm Penetrated," interviewing producer Antony Ginnane and director Richard Franklin (in silhouette, apparently still ashamed of having made this film). The men both discuss how the idea came about, the problems with Australian censors and the "R" rating, casting the American porn actors and relying on William Margold to secure those who were easiest to work with, and giving brief summaries of shooting each segment of the first film. Briefly touched upon is the second film, FANTASM COMES AGAIN, but both agree it's a lesser copy of the original. The Australian trailer is included, with choice bits from each segment included to entice avid perverts into the darkened theaters.

The star extra is the audio commentary by Ginnane, who reveals everything anyone would want to know about the making of FANTASM. He talks about how the film was shot on an incredibly low-budget (one segment took up one day of shooting, and no more), how Richard Franklin became involved behind the director's chair, testing Australian actresses who weren't nearly as willing to disrobe as American porn stars, showing the film at Cannes, and stories of working with each popular on-screen personality. Note: another audio commentary where Uschi Digart's name is incorrectly pronounced (it's not "Die-gart", it's "Deeg-art"!). Most surprising is that Ginnane wanted couples to come see the film in addition to the raincoat crowd!! Perfect, appreciative liner notes by cult film writer (and personal hero) Chris Poggiali cap off one of the best sleeper discs of 2004! ***Casey's Choice: Top 10 Disc of 2004*** (Casey Scott)