PETS (1974)
Director: Raphael Nussbaum
Code Red DVD

Based on a play by Richard Reich, who adapted his own work with the help of director Nussbaum, PETS is divided into three seemingly random acts that somehow mesh perfectly together. The film follows Bonnie, played to perfection by the late Candice Rialson, as she aides in a kidnapping/robbery, takes a job as a nude model, enters into a lesbian relationship, harbors and beds a reluctant criminal, witnesses a murder and eventually becomes the main attraction in a private zoo. On paper such a storyline might sound somewhat haphazard if not completely illogical but the final product works and works well. Bubbling with far out scenarios, strings of hip dialogue and an abundance of gratuitous nudity, PETS is damn near exploitation bliss.

Having run away from home, Bonnie (Candice Rialson, billed as Candy Rialson) is tracked down by her controlling brother (Mike Cartel) who acts more like a pimp than a concerned sibling. Thankfully big bro gets his ass handed to him by a couple of brothers, allowing Bonnie enough time to escape into the California night. The next morning while strolling along the beach that serves as her bedroom, Bonnie is befriended by an attractive con woman named Pat (Teri Guzman, WOMEN UNCHAINED) who instantly sees potential in the fresh faced runaway. Throwing her new friend into the fire within five minutes of their introduction, Pat volunteers Bonnie in assisting her trick, a married businessman (Brett Parker), into taking them both for a ride in his convertible. As they barrel down the highway letting the wind whip through their hair, Pat pulls a gun on the distracted driver and forces him to veer off onto a side street. After tying him up Pat forces the horn dog to hand over his house keys and divulge where he stashes his cash. Taking his annoying mutt as collateral, Pat high tails it back into town to steal the man’s money, leaving Bonnie behind and in change. Naturally Bonnie tortures the man with her bountiful bosom before realizing that the probability of Pat returning with her cut of the loot is slim to none.

Leaving the poor sap tied up, Bonnie makes her way back into town where she is picked up by Geraldine (Joan Blackman, BLUE HAWAII), a local artist who has been secretly eyeballing the blonde beauty since the first act. Taking the hungry child in, Geraldine agrees to feed and house Bonnie in exchange for her posing nude. Agreeing to her terms, the relationship between Geraldine and Bonnie begins to blossom into much more than a mutually beneficial business arrangement as Bonnie begins to take on the roll of bottom to Geraldine’s top. Having inspired her finest work to date, Geraldine brings her inspiration to her latest show where she is introduced to eccentric gallery owner Victor Stackman (Ed Bishop, INVASION: UFO). Instantly smitten by the young model, Victor prods his artist for further details but learns very little as Geraldine isn’t about to share Bonnie with any man. Unfortunately for Geraldine, Bonnie does not share the same sentiment. The itch for a man's touch begins to grow in Bonnie and when a young destitute named Ron (Matt Green) breaks into their house, she goes to great length to make him feel at home. In retaliation for her heartbreak, Geraldine shoots Ron in front of Bonnie, sending the confused girl running back into the streets. Lost without her muse, Geraldine searches high and low for Bonnie only to come up empty handed. That is until Victor approaches her with proposition that could reunite her with Bonnie, though she may not be very happy with what she finds.

PETS' original one-sheet, which features both Candice and Teri in chained collars, is somewhat misleading as Teri is never seen tied up or in any way subdued. Nonetheless, the iconic image almost certainly instilled a feeling of required viewing in its fair share of red blooded males. I know I for one fell head over heels for the picture, Teri in chains or not. From Joan Blackman frying fish in nothing but an apron to Candice Rialson chained inside a cage next to a live tiger, PETS delivers on almost every exploitative front. It opens with a tinge of blaxsploitation before delving into the sexual revolution, where it maintains a healthy enthusiasm for keeping Candice disrobed and ends with a turn that is both satisfying and apt. The film certainly isn’t for all tastes (dog lovers may want to take a pass) but if you’re looking to relive a night out at the drive-in and you simply can’t wait until the next DRIVE-IN SUPER MONSTER-RAMA (Riverside Drive-In, Vandergrift, PA, Sept 11-12), then PETS may be the way to go.

Star Candice Rialson sadly passed away in 2006 but she left behind a body of work befitting the brightest B-movie beauty. Speaking of PETS to Celebrity Sleuth magazine (Vol. 11, #6) Candice recalls, “That was the first time I ever did anything – y’know – topless and I was really kinda nervous about doing it. But by the end of the day, I didn’t care at all. It didn’t bother me in the least.” Clearly Candice carried this attitude throughout her short-lived career as after PETS, her first featured role, she would find little trouble finding work. Staring in a number of Corman (both Roger and Julie) produced titles, including SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS, CANDY STRIPE NURSES and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, Candice rounded out the decade with decidedly more bizarre fare such as CHATTERBOX, in which she played a women with a talking vagina. Candice turned her back on acting before the dawning of the 1980s and never looked back, which is a damn shame as she was both a natural talent and beauty.

A grey market staple, PETS finally receives an official 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic DVD release courtesy of Code Red DVD. Unfortunately their presentation of PETS is a bit of a mess. Deep yellow and green emulsion lines battle for screen time, often framing the action (rather befittingly) as if shot from behind neon bars, dirt and debris can be found scattered about like pet dander knocked from a couch cushion and there are a handful of instances of frame jumps and missing dialogue. Likewise, the film's English mono track is peppered with pops and crackles. Given the trashoholic tone of the film, such imperfections in many ways actually add to the film's enjoyment. It’s the type of experience that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez tried to emulate with GRINDHOUSE and I have no problem with that as long as I know ahead of time what it is I’m walking into. There is a disclaimer before the feature that states that proper elements were not available from the rights owners so a theatrical print had to be used.
Special features include the film's original trailer, which is presented full frame and appears to be taken from a video source as there is a bit of a tracking issue going on at the bottom of the frame. Also included is two and half minutes of footage so damaged they were excised altogether and presented here as deleted scenes. The scenes in question primarily deal with the fallout of Brett Parker’s character as he returns home and tries his best to explain to his wife what he it was he had been doing all afternoon. Trailers for FAMILY HONOR, BRUTE CORPS, DEVIL'S EXPRESS and THE STATUE round out a tremendously entertaining release that despite its technical flaws is worth seeking out.
(Jason McElreath)