Here it is, ladies and gents, the SWV disc I've been waiting for! Out of all the discovered gems in Something Weird Video's extensive catalog, the three films lensed by Michael and Roberta Findlay, affectionately known as the FLESH trilogy, rank as my personal favorites. Both newcomers to their wild sick charms and those who have loved these skuzzy classics since they were first debuted on video can experience them fully uncut, uncensored, and looking better than ever!
Michael Findlay broke onto the NYC underground film scene in 1964 with the currently lost BODY OF A FEMALE, a roughie that predated both David F. Friedman and Doris Wishman's entries by at least a year. 1965 saw the release of SATAN'S BED, which has since gained infamy for including a pre-stardom Yoko Ono in a featured role, and the next year Findlay helmed the arty, yet captivating TAKE ME NAKED. It wasn't until 1967 that Findlay broke paydirt. Besides the lukewarm SIN SYNDICATE, Findlay debuted the first film in the infamous FLESH trilogy, a trio of roughies that raised the game for the genre at least three notches. Sleazy, hateful, misogynistic, and hyper-violent, Findlay pulled out all the stops for his break-through film, and despite TOUCH OF HER FLESH being the tamest of the three, it still manages to pack a few punches today.
TOUCH OF HER FLESH begins with the opening credits projected on the flesh of a naked woman, setting the misogynistic tone for the rest of the film. We are introduced to Richard Jennings (the goateed Michael Findlay himself), a businessman who loves his wife dearly and enjoys playing darts with a crossbow (!). Leaving his dearest Claudia for a business trip, the moment he walks out the door her lover (Findlay-Amero regular Ron Skideri) speeds over for some hanky panky. Forgetting some important files at the apartment, Jennings walks in on the sordid scene and grief-stricken, vaults into the street to be hit by a car. Waking up in a hospital bed minus one eye and with paralyzed legs, he invents an alias (Stanley Blender?!) and checks out of the hospital, hell-bent on his revenge! Look out, girls, it's a wheelchair-bound psycho with an eyepatch! And he's pissed!
This brief storyline provoked three films packed with nasty violence against strippers, hookers, and women in general. Seeing women as evil creatures who break men, Jennings proceeds to use inventive techniques to snuff every woman he sees. Poison-tipped rose thorns, blowdarts, a crossbow, a simitar, and a buzzsaw all satisfy his twisted lust for female blood. The FLESH trilogy almost has the makings of being the first slasher series; the villain seeks a new primary victim every film, each time related to his wife's infidelity. In TOUCH he plans to murder his wife, in CURSE OF HER FLESH her lover, and in KISS Claudia's sister (!!). TOUCH is shot in glorious black and white, as were many of Findlays' best films, and the lighting and cinematography are rather sophisticated considering the subject matter and budget. Viewers will be treated to jewels of campy dialogue ("There's that pig that poses nude for Claudia talking to one of her HOOKER friends!"), a great selection of library and classical music (including the SWV trademark tune "Right Kind of Loving," which would reappear in CURSE OF HER FLESH), fine location footage of New York in winter, a genuinely suspenseful finale, and a shocker of an ending featuring a topless model, a crossbow, and an abandoned shack!
Findlay's film became a surprise hit, calling for two sequels, each progressively nastier than the previous installment. Not only did the violence become more grotesque and the sex more graphic and fetishistic, the films themselves became more technically adept, featured good performers, and packed enough sleaze and NYC atmosphere into them to create a group of bonafide cult classics. Of the two, CURSE OF HER FLESH is the tamer, yet more technically advanced sequel, and is an (un)healthy improvement over its predecessor.
Opening to a strip act by an amazing stripper with strange eyebrows (in one of the best strippers ever captured on film), a spectator (ventures into the mens' room and while urinating (for a LONG time), looks at the credits written on the stall walls (amongst scrawlings like "What ever happened to Gigi Darlene?"). Richard Jennings (the creepy Findlay), apparently having risen from the dead, is now living under an alias and managing a theatre specializing in monologues, strip acts, and performance art. One of the actors whom Jennings auditions is his dead wife Claudia's lover Steve (Ron Skideri again, credited as "A. Dick Feeler"), whom he witnessed schtupping the missus a year ago resulting in his insanity. Intercut with Steve's drunken monologue is amazing footage of two Oriental strippers go-go dancing to "Right Kind of Loving" (from TOUCH OF HER FLESH) before the performance culminates in a fake death. Jennings does whatever he can to ruin Steve's life before killing him viciously, including murdering his brother (Findlay collaborator John Amero in a rare screen appearance) and every woman in his life.
CURSE OF HER FLESH is, unlike its predecessor, quite complicated. Jennings continues to kill countless women, who are later explained away as ex-girlfriends of Steve, but so many bodies hit the floor the audience is left stunned as to who they were in the first place?! Then again, does it really matter? The point of the trilogy, it seems, is that women are evil and deserve to die for provoking men who cannot have them. Findlay offs them each in successfully grotesque methods: poisoned cat claws (don't ask), a dildo with a knife hidden inside, poison ropes, a shotgun, a machete, et al. There's a stag film called "Squash Love" (must be seen to be believed), a sword stuck through a gloryhole, more excellent soul-stripping by the stripper with bizarre eyebrows (who later appeared in ULTIMATE DEGENERATE), and NYC sex goddesses Uta Erickson and Linda Boyce in an S&M stage show reminiscent of a Jess Franco film (the two women would play another twisted couple in Findlay's A THOUSAND PLEASURES, and are two of my favorite sexploitation actresses of the period)!! Findlay also loved to populate his films with women of many different races, including Oriental and Hispanic women, something very rare in skin flicks of any area. Some strange homosexuality rears its head, with Jennings posing as a bearded janitor who tells Steve of his encounter with an all-male circle jerk in the bathroom of the theater! The finale, a fight to the death in the back of a truck, is quite an accomplishment and though some sections reflect the ultra-low budget, it is still quite well-done. CURSE OF HER FLESH is also the only Findlay film of this period with dolly shots and live sound. Still, the credits are scrawled by hand, as always.... The closing credits to the film ask two questions: "1. Does this end the bloody career of Richard Jennings? 2. Does this finish Jennings' thirst for the blood of naked girls??" It then proceeds to advertise KISS OF HER FLESH, "coming soon to this theatre." Probably opened the very next week. Findlay is also able to introduce plenty of sexually suggestive dialogue. Here's a sample conversation, with Jennings talking to a naked woman with a cat positioned between her legs: "'That's a nice little pussy you got there.' 'Everyone who sees my pussy likes it.' 'What does your pussy eat?' 'Meat.' 'That's right. Your pussy would swallow me whole and try to rip the meat from my body!" Um.......okay. There's plenty more absolutely delicious dialogue, including the hilarious quote "I've been waiting to cut the ugly penis from your body!" While the film as a whole is much sleazier than TOUCH OF HER FLESH, Findlay had yet to truly repulse an audience as he did with the final installment of the trilogy, KISS OF HER FLESH, a film that starts off grimy and never lifts its head out of the gutter for a breath.
The finale of the series, THE KISS OF HER FLESH, was considered lost for quite some time before SWV unearthed the original negative for one of their Sexy Shockers VHS releases. KISS has more in league with later Findlay, such as THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE, than it does. It features most of the cast of DEGENERATE, leading me to believe it was shot around the time as that sleaze classic, and is much nastier than the previous two films.
Richard Jennings (Michael Findlay relishing this role once again) has survived and is still stalking and murdering strippers in a variety of ways. The opening sequence has Jennings bludgeon a young girl on a lonely beach (the top-heavy girlfriend of Uta Erickson in DEGENERATE) with a tire iron before the opening titles roll, with credits written on paper lips and placed on various parts of a nude woman, all intercut with a sex scene starring the leading lady, Uta Erickson (in one of her few leading roles), and her boyfriend Leo Heinz ('Bruno' in DEGENERATE). We are then shoved back into Jennings' torture chamber, where he has the young Hispanic girl tied up, slicing at her breasts with a lobster claw (?!) before electrocuting her through her earrings!!! And it doesn't let up from there; every minute of this film will add one layer of dirt to your skin. Get the shower ready, KISS OF HER FLESH is just getting warmed up! Jennings takes a blowtorch to a Holly Woodlawn look-alike hitchhiker (the fire dancer in DEGENERATE), poisons one girl with his sperm (?!?!), and gives another a douche of acid!! But one of the most jaw-dropping scenes of the film, let alone ANY sexploitation film, is Uta Erickson shoving love beads up her boyfriend's ass during sex and pulling them out as he reaches orgasm. YOWSA! If you're left wondering why Jennings is still seeking vengeance, it's simply written off as the fact that he lost his mind at the finale of CURSE. Maria (Erickson) is the sister of the late adulterer Steve, who seeks to take Jennings down with the help of her boyfriend Don and sister Doris (Alice Noland, another personal favorite from DEGENERATE as well as AFTER THE BALL WAS OVER and a number of other 60s NYC nudies). Findlay throws in some eye-popping incest between Maria and Doris, another excellent library music score comprised of soul, jazz, and classical music cues (including the recognizable Ravel's "String Quartet in F Major" from THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and the chicken dance tune from GRUESOME TWOSOME), Marie Brent as Mona, Doris' horny roommate whom Jennings goes down on while undercover as a doctor while Doris peeps through a hole in the wall (Brent was another Findlay regular, as well as an established stage actress who committed suicide in 1971), and one of the most diabolical machines ever invented (you'll see what I mean). There is a surprising fake hardcore scene, with Alice Noland sucking on what looks like a candy bar to simulate a penis!! Awesome dialogue abounds, with more memorable quotes from any of the FLESH films: "We'll tear away these underpants to get straight to the source!"; "My poison semen should take care of you well enough! So long, sucker!"; "Burn, slut, burn, symbol of women!" The finale is another crazed exercise in mania that only Findlay could get away with, with a chase scene all over upstate New York in the winter, ending in the same isolated beach setting as the opening scene. Considering how outrageous it all is, the finale is still very well-shot, suspenseful, and proof that Findlay was capable of creating something special.
Something Weird appears to have uncovered the original negative for TOUCH OF HER FLESH, as the transfer is crystal clear, withdeep blacks and gorgeous contrast, especially surprising considering the rarity of Findlay's films to begin with. There are still some instances of print damage and gashes in certain scenes, but not enough to take away from how good this film looks. SWV's VHS release of the film was taken from a battered 35mm print and ran a paltry 61 minutes; the gorgeous DVD print runs 75 minutes, a full 14 minutes longer!. The opening adultery scene is presented fully uncut, with all the moaning and groaning and writhing intact. In addition to the adultery scene, there is much more additional footage present in Findlay's internal monologue, with never-before-seen footage of a woman writhing with a giant muff between her legs (!!) and Roberta Findlay shot from the waist down feeling herself up while covering her pubic region (it's as bizarre as it sounds). Brief portions of extra footage appear during the second strip act, as do a few extra shots during the sickle murder and wide angle lens shots during the final tussle between Claudia and Richard, making this the first time the film has EVER appeared completely uncut on home video! Bravo SWV!
The remaining two films have always been offered with transfers from the original negatives and while the VHS editions were good-looking enough, the DVD heightens the clarity of the images and the entire disc is a crowning achievement of SWV's monochrome transfer collection. CURSE looks the best of the trio, with as little grain and dirt as possible for a film of this vintage. KISS is the rarest of the trilogy, so of course it is the least of the transfers, but that isn't saying much. It is still very clear and bright, with grain that isn't too overwhelming and mild instances of dirt. Neither film offers any additional footage from their previous VHS incarnations, but SWV has had access to the original uncut negatives for quite some time now,so this should come as no surprise.
Extras? Well, don't be taken aback, but there was no room for extra material on this disc. Considering the fact that all three films are presented uncut (one of them previously available only in a cut form), in jaw-dropping transfers, there is really no room for complaint here. A Findlay trailer collection or stills gallery would have been great, but where would it have fit? A second disc? Nah, the disc is just fine as it is. However, I would have loved for Frank Henenlotter to have written a lengthy essay about the Findlays and their residence in 42nd Street cinemas.
The crown jewels of SWV's NYC
roughie library have finally been unleashed on the digital format to enthrall
and shock exploitation fans everywhere. Compare these masterworks to the later
SNUFF by the same director and wonder how such a talent went awry. Hopefully
sales of this disc will entice SWV to unleash their entire Findlay catalog,
beginning with a double feature of THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE and A THOUSAND PLEASURES,
which make the FLESH trilogy look positively PC in comparison! Required viewing,
and one of the best discs of 2003! (Casey
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