Director: Stephen Apostolof (A.C. Stephen)
S’More Entertainment/Image Entertainment

Of the plentiful films of the California sex film industry of the 1960s and 1970s, the work of Stephen Apostolof (better known as A.C. Stephen) has yet to be fully tapped on the digital format. Working with all the big names working in the scene of the time, his films were long available from Something Weird Video until their license expired and Apostolof chose to take his films elsewhere. Many assumed that the company due to release the Apostolof collection would be Rhino, after they provided a video interview with him on their DVD release of ORGY OF THE DEAD. Years later, Johnny Legend’s company Legend House released a series of double feature discs of Apostolof’s very tame 1960s work, but from less-than-optimum masters. Finally, imagine my excitement when S’More Entertainment announced a three-film collection of A.C. Stephen-Ed Wood collaborations! It’s great to have three of his most noteworthy titles on a low-priced three-disc set, but the presentation of the troika is sorely lacking and the entire release feels as if it was shuffled together by a party with no knowledge of the importance of Apostolof’s library.

Following a consistent number of “expose”-type titles throughout the 1960s (SUBURBIA CONFIDENTIAL, MOTEL CONFIDENTIAL, COLLEGE GIRLS), Apostolof must have been influenced by the costume epics of Dave Friedman and Harry Novak to make LADY GODIVA RIDES. Clocking in at a whopping 104 minutes (!), Apostolof mixes Victorian sex scandals (a la NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL) with Old West crotch operas (a la BRAND OF SHAME) on a $1.98 budget. The key to the film’s success is the casting of the first lady of sexploitation, Marsha Jordan, in the title role. As Lady Godiva, Jordan has a bedroom fling with another British literary figure, Tom Jones, when her husband walks in. She is prompted to shoot him, but unfortunately he doesn’t die, resulting in our heroine being jailed and sentenced to hang for adultery and attempted murder. Local barmaid Liz, tiring of her life warding off lecherous bar patrons, decides to jump ship (literally) to America, where the promise of a rich husband puts dollar signs in her eyes. As a favor to Tom, she helps Godiva escape from jail, dyes her hair, and the pair join a group of lusty wenches on the boat ride to the New World (visualized by a toy boat in a bathtub). After a lengthy voyage punctuated by lounging around nude and a drunken party/orgy, the gals arrive in America…which instead of Boston Harbor is Tombstone, an Old West town, where Godiva and Liz are expected to work for $10 a pop as resident hookers in the local saloon! A ridiculous OK Corral-lite shootout at the finale determines the fate of Lady Godiva (who, yes, does eventually ride a horse in the nude).

The seemingly endless running time may ward off those easily bored with un-erotic time capsules like this, but dyed-in-the-wool sexploitation fans like myself will eat it all up, hook, line, and stinker. The ladies are all natural beauties, most likely the usual college girls looking to make some quick cash, the cheap sets and stilted dialogue add instant camp appeal, and the irresistible schizophrenic nature of the production (changing locations and themes thrice) keeps things interesting. Surprisingly, though this was shot and released in 1969, the sex is still very tame; the men leave their pants on, as they did in 1965 Apostolof films, and there are only brief glimpses of female pubic hair. That said, the checklist for sexual kinks is complete: you get a lengthy lesbian scene, nude sunbathing and showering on the ship’s deck, brief spanking, and best of all, a very long and drawn out catfight between Lady Godiva and her arch-nemesis Blanche that eventually moves from the saloon to the great outdoors, where the gals thrash about in the mud (!). For those who think the whole movie is one gaudy, cheap mess, look out for some interesting camerawork, especially the dolly and crane shots popping up at the most unexpected times.

This is not one of Marsha Jordan’s stronger vehicles (Apostolof’s next Jordan film, THE DIVORCEE, is more enjoyable, and her work with Don A. Davis is her very best), but one can see why she became so immensely popular, eventually making plentiful personal appearances at drive-ins nationwide. Her all-natural ticket sellers, giant wall of blonde hair, voluptuous middle-aged figure, and Alabama twang-accented dialogue delivery provides a terrific combination of Hollywood glamour queen and small town housewife, a movie star but still warm and accessible. Forman Shane, who would appear in almost every single Apostolof film (and soon graduate to working behind the scenes), plays Tom Jones with a laughable British accent and a permanent, knowing smirk. Vincent Barbi, with his thick accent, is fun as Captain Briggs. Contrary to popular belief, Liz Renay does not appear in this film, but you do get to see two underrated sexploitation starlets instead: Phyllis Stengel, memorable as Forman Shane’s wife in HENRY’S NIGHT IN, is just as much fun as the no-nonsense lesbian who procures mail order wives and prostitutes for American men, and ALICE IN ACIDLAND star Colleen Murphy appears briefly as a maiden on board the ship to America who performs a lurid strip tease during the “big orgy” (i.e., topless women laughing and cavorting while men drink and paw at them). And despite Michael Weldon and the IMDB’s assertions, I don’t believe that Tootsie O’Hara is actually a man in drag, but in fact is a portly 350-pound woman in a garish green dress who performs lewd, silly songs in a deep voice for the saloon patrons in the style of, say, Divine in his 1980s live shows or Lin Tucci’s ‘Mama Bazoom’ in the glorious SHOWGIRLS.

Comparing the quite tame sexuality of LADY GODIVA RIDES to DROP OUT WIFE, shot a mere three years later, the carnal bumping and grinding of the later film is downright shocking! Plenty of full-frontal nudity and close-to-the-bone pounding keeps the erotic level of this relic extremely high. Angela Carnon, one of the finest actresses in the erotic film scene of 1970s California, stars as Peggy, who is introduced knocking on the door of freshly-banged best friend Janet. She then sits her pal down and tells her sad tale of woe: after being married to Jim for several years, bearing two daughters, and making a happy home for her family, she has grown tired of their love life. Jim suggests a wife-swapping club, but Peggy finds that she can’t get enough of hopping from one partner to the next. At first she feels guilty for the feelings of her newfound sexual freedom, but soon she packs up and leaves the husband and kids and sets out to make as many men as she possibly can! Janet pushes her to go further and further down the road to depravity until it’s far too late for her to turn back the clock to the way it used to be.

Part maudlin soap opera, part sweaty sex romp, DROP OUT WIFE is one of Apostolof’s best and a marvelous relic from the age of the sexual revolution! The sex scenes are still quite potent all these years later, with some of the most attractive ladies of the era disrobing and getting quite involved in their softcore shagging, and in-between the bread and butter scenes is a whirlwind of a storyline packed with attempts to be relevant in the changing social culture of the time. Listening to Peggy and Janet talk about how much they hate men is a riot, especially when the dialogue is written by none other than Ed Wood! While his previous work on Apostolof’s LADY GODIVA RIDES wasn’t anything notable, he really pulls out all the stops here to create a delicious piece of camp! Attempting to add a level of pathos to the characters, Wood writes in a bizarre miscarriage scene that stands as my personal favorite of the film: with her hair in curlers and a fake pregnant belly under her dress, Peggy gets into a fight with her husband over the new addition to the family bringing more bills into their life. Peggy’s response to Jim’s bitching: “It was your cock that got us into this situation! You had your fun, expect to pay for it!” Naturally he slaps her, she falls to the ground, begins screaming bloody murder, and we flash to a garish red-lit scene with Peggy screaming in childbirth. A silhouette emerges of a doctor holding a dangling baby, who is summarily slapped three times before he declares, “I’m sorry, we lost the baby”. It would be an emotional moment if it wasn’t so damn amateurish and goofy, and words cannot describe the bad taste chuckles to be had with this unsuccessful dramatic sequence. If that wasn’t enough, every scene has at least one delicious bon motte to be savored: “You’re a bitch, and an unfit mother!”; “There’s gotta be more to life than kids, dirty diapers, washing dishes, making beds, kitchens…!”; “Men! They think they’re the tough ones, but you just leave ‘em alone for a few nights and see how tough they really are! We’ve gotta grab hold of the horse by the tail and ride with ‘em, or at least try to tame ‘em. And you know who I’m talking about: the male of the species” (huh?); “Where is this high living and high flying getting you? You’ve aged ten years in a month!” Wood concludes the film with a hopeful ending, as Peggy learns the error of her ways and has apparently gotten her sluttiness out of her system. She remains hopeful that she can win her husband back and enter her children’s lives again. But who is Wood trying to fool? The theme of 1960s sexploitation (sexually active women must be punished by the final frame) is still very strong in this 1972 effort, so despite a “poetic” final shot of Peggy running off into the horizon to win her family back, you just know that Jim and the girls will have none of it.

Angela Carnon, a classy brunette with a cultured speaking voice and a lovely figure, is an interesting choice for the lead, namely because she can actually act. She wasn’t given many more leading roles after this, though fans may remember her as the damsel-in-distress in Carl Monson’s earlier BOOBY TRAP (where she shared more sex scenes with her DROP OUT WIFE co-star, handsome blonde Christopher Geoffries) or as the murderess blackmailed by a psychotic fake cop in Lee Frost’s CLIMAX OF BLUE POWER. Carnon was actually married to actor Norman Field, who co-starred with her in a number of films. Geoffries wasn’t a major player in skinflicks of the period, but he was memorable in everything he did. Not the best actor in the world, but his well-developed body, tousled blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes make up for that. The big orgy scene has a number of familiar faces (and bodies): buxotic Candy Samples, tanned muscle god Rick Cassidy, blonde beauty Penny Boran, Rene Bond’s one-time paramour Ric Lutze, exotic Kathy Hilton, swarthy John Paul Jones, and spritely Sandy Dempsey. It’s quite a thrill to see all of these major names in 1970s sexploitation in one room, rutting away to their hearts’ content. You’ll also see Forman Shane among the nude writhing bodies, and he also appears later in two different roles (a bartender and one of a pair of gigolos showing Peggy and Janet a good time). Contrary to the film’s credits, Lynn Harris does not appear here, but another popular buck-toothed screen siren, Terry Johnson, is the second female lead as Janet, the sexually vivacious best friend who insists that Peggy continue her philandering ways. Johnson was a second-tier starlet of the period, but one of my favorites; it’s those big eyes and pronounced incisors that win me over every time.

The last and very best of the films in the set is FUGITIVE GIRLS, a trashy masterpiece that is perhaps Apostolof’s shining moment as a director. Not that it’s any kind of visual stunner, or that it rises above anything but your usual prison-girls-on-the-run caper, but the script by Ed Wood throws a number of enjoyable curveballs that even the most jaded viewer won’t see coming! Margie Lanier is Dee, an innocent lovebird whose boyfriend plugs a clerk during a liquor store robbery and kicks her out of the car to make a getaway, implicating her in the crime. She’s sent to serve time on a minimum security prison farm, where she meets her roommates: Toni, a white trash embezzler; Kat, a domineering bull dyke; Paula, a sassy black chick; and Sheila, a criminal mastermind with a bad attitude. The quintet escapes the not very well guarded camp and takes off in hot pursuit of a half a million dollar stash of cash that only Toni can find. Along the way they bump into a bunch of nature-worshipping hippies, steal a car after seducing a driver off the road, get into an action-packed brawl with a trio of bikers attempting to rape them, and barge into the home of wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet Phil and his girlfriend.

The storyline is strikingly similar to Roger Corman’s great low-budget potboiler SWAMP DIAMONDS (only without the undercover cop angle), but with Ed Wood given writing duties, you can be sure that the cheese factor is at top capacity! He casts each girl in a common WIP stereotype (the nice girl, the lesbian, the black girl, the racist, the bitch), but the paint-by-numbers writing ends there. How many other films throw bikers, hippies, women in prison, male rape, a hostage crisis, catfights, and frivolous sex into a blender to create a delicious, sleazy puree? Every exploitation base is covered, and there isn’t one boring moment to be found here! There is no doubt that after a long hiatus from moviemaking throughout the 1960s, Ed Wood really hit his stride in the 1970s. Maybe it was the boozing or his solid friendship with Apostolof, but something special erupted from his creative outlets during this period of his career. Not that this something special was any semblance of genuine talent, but who can resist this movie in all its schlocky glory?

The two superstars of the film are Rene Bond and Tallie Cochrane in what might be the roles of their careers! Cute, cherub-cheeked Rene had by 1974 made at least 50 or more films, of the hard and soft variety, and in all of them had proven herself a delightful, sexy screen presence with surprising acting chops, both comic and dramatic. As Toni, the man-hungry, racist Southern belle, Rene puts on a convincing accent and digs into her vicious dialogue with clear relish. She even dives into very physical bouts with a rapist biker and Paula (she takes stunt falls like a pro!), and wait until you see her complete breakdown come the climax, clawing at money as it spills out of her satchel and the cops pursue her through the woods, tears streaming down her face. It was around this time that Rene made a bid for the legitimate film world, appearing in brief dialogue-free roles in INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS and the TV movie BETRAYAL. If anyone from the skinflick world of the early 1970s deserved to cross over, it should have been Rene. She had the talent and the looks to make it, but it simply wasn’t to be. She left the film business for good after the marvelous adult venture DO YOU WANNA BE LOVED? and passed away at the too young age of 46.

I’ve always adored Tallie Cochrane, the pixie-like wonder who never became a full-blown superstar of the genre, but who was always memorable because of her comic timing and fun-loving persona. Fans should remember her as the gutsy car thief who gets offed for her trouble in GIRLS FOR RENT, or as Jane to then-husband Patrick Wright’s Tarzan in TARZ AND JANE, BOY AND CHEETAH, or perhaps as one of two young gals trapped in a Charles Manson-inspired cult of murderers in SWEET SAVIOR. If you’ve never seen her before, then her performance as the bull dyke Kat will entice you to seek out more of her work! Venom drips off every line she spews forth, she wields a deadly chain when threatened by any man who gets in her way, and naturally she pushes herself onto fresh meat Dee to show her who’s boss. Some of her choice lines include, “My husband became a pimp, pimped me out. His mistake was that he turned me onto chicks…and I dug it!”, “Look, buddy, we’ve only known you a couple of hours. We don’t know who you are, but you sure look like a bunch o’ filthy freaks to me!”, and “. The beauty of Tallie’s thespian turns is that she fully understood the camp appeal of the scripts she was handed; she wasn’t performing Shakespeare, and didn’t pretend to be. It’s that refreshing sense of humor that has contributed greatly to my exploitation viewing pleasure. I recently interviewed Tallie, and when discussing this film, she shared some interesting anecdotes, including the fact that the film was shot on a deserted Girl Scout’s camp during the summertime, all of the actresses bunked together and became one big happy family, she remembered Ed Wood as a sweetheart, and she developed a long-lasting friendship with Rene Bond (she and then-husband Patrick Wright would often double date with Rene and then-boyfriend Ric Lutze).

In addition to Rene and Tallie, Donna Desmond, who had graduated from softcore quickies to drive-in fare like this flick and NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES, has a ball as the bitchy Sheila. Delightful 5’4” pipsqueak Maria Arnold plays a topless hippie in the desert, joined by Eve Orlon dancing around a fire; both ladies would drift between soft and hard films throughout the 1970s. Maria remains one of my all-time favorite underrated ladies of the genre; her comic timing in her biggest star vehicle, TANYA, is something to see, and she’s quite fun in EROTIC ADVENTURES OF DON QUIXOTE. Margie Lanier is a strange choice for the lead; she only had one really memorable role before this one, as the office worker who gets into a vivid catfight with secretary Sharon Kelly in THE DIRTY MIND OF YOUNG SALLY, and she’s not very good here, completely overshadowed by her co-stars. Jabie Abercrombe made her screen debut and swan song as Paula, Toni’s nemesis. Wood apparently loved having her character say “white trash” in every other exchange of dialogue! Recognize Phil’s girlfriend? That’s Nicolle Riddell, a brunette with a thick accent (who can say from where) who made quite an impression in Bob Chinn’s THE DEVIL’S GARDEN as the sultry villainess making Sandy Carey’s life a living Hell.

To save money on hiring more actors, screenwriter Ed Wood himself plays two roles (the sheriff pursuing the girls, and Pop, the goofy owner of a deserted gas station), and Forman Shane (Apostolof’s regular leading man) is the victimized driver tied up and raped by Rene Bond before the girls steal his car. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him as Rene rides him like a bucking bronco? Unfortunately this scene is sliced to ribbons here, which leads me to addressing the primary problem with this DVD: the movie is cut! If you have a copy of the full, 95-minute uncut version of the film, hold onto it! This DVD preserves the 82-minute R-rated cut of the film, shortening a number of sex scenes (namely a lengthy lesbian pairing between Tallie Cochrane and Jabie Abercrombie, the opening sex scene between Margie Lanier and her beau, the Rene Bond-Forman Shane-Jabie Abercrombe rape scene, and the assault of Nicolle Riddell). For reference’s sake, you can purchase the full-strength X-rated version on the Lightning Video VHS version of FUGITIVE GIRLS, often listed on Amazon under the title HOT ON THE TRAIL.

Sadly, for films that are in desperate need of restoration (like those of Russ Meyer), all three of these films are transferred from tape masters, with faded, unstable colors, print damage, green, blue, and red hues throughout, and plentiful tracking lines. At least the image is bright and clear, but considering that Something Weird Video had access to Apostolof’s negatives when they had exclusive rights to the films before 2005, it’s a real shame that these are sub-par presentations that aren’t even from film elements. Perhaps someday Apostolof’s children, the current rights holders to his library, will find a DVD company that will treat their father’s unique and fun sexploitation classics right. So far, the two that have taken on the task of preserving them in the digital format (Legend House and S’More Entertainment) aren’t cutting the mustard.

Extras are limited, as no one had the foresight to record Apostolof commentaries while he was alive and though actresses Marsha Jordan, Tallie Cochrane, and Angela Carnon aren’t impossible to find, it’s clear this company isn’t familiar with the genre, so wouldn’t know where to begin. LADY GODIVA features a mostly black-and-white stills gallery and a well-written uncredited bio of Apostolof; DROP OUT WIFE features the original theatrical trailer and another black-and-white stills gallery; and FUGITIVE GIRLS features the original theatrical trailer, a brief color stills gallery, and an Ed Wood bio. (Casey Scott)