Directors: Michael Findlay, Harry Vincent & Al Mitchel
Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment

New York vs. California. The divine feud between the East and the West Coast moviemaking havens. Who produced the best sexploitation films during the Golden Age of 1963-1969? Both sides have their admirers, and some fans are caught in the middle. The evidence: California had prettier girls of all shapes, sizes and colors, the photography almost always blazing color, the films usually sexy comedies aimed to please with a mix of naked ladies and juvenile laughs, and being a stone’s throw away from Hollywood, the filmmakers could anticipate a jump into legitimate films. New York featured strippers and struggling actresses, grimy black and white photography, the films were experimental and influenced by arthouse imports and film noir, primarily dramatic roughies appealing to the darkest recesses of the soul, and the flicks and their creators rarely ventured outside of Manhattan. This writer has always had an affection for the films of New York, which contain some genuinely well-made efforts which stand up better today than their California counterparts. Compiled here, almost as proof for the case of New York in this decades long “court battle,” are three of the skuzziest examples of the vile output churned out to Deuce theaters in the Big Apple. While there are definitely more offensive, or better-made films, this triple bill is a good sampler of the kind of dreary trash city dwellers were sitting through to get their jollies, while lighter and sexier fare were unspooling in cinemas just about everywhere else.

Hanging around the docks of the bay are a group of hard-looking women, “ladies of the evening” with one thing in common: their ties to the Syndicate, a powerful organized crime ring under investigation by the law after a new girl rats the leader out. The women decide to turn state’s evidence and reveal their individual stories about how they became prostitutes sent out by the Syndicate to bribe Senators into overlooking their activities.

If the name “Michael Findlay” on the credits of THE SIN SYNDICATE (subtitle: THE STORY OF ZERO GIRLS) makes fan giddy with joy, here’s a word of advice: abandon all hope ye who enter here. This is not a real Findlay film; like SATAN’S BED, the majority of SIN SYNDICATE is an unrelated film shot by someone else, bought by Findlay, and spiced up with newly shot scenes and stock footage. Findlay more than likely was responsible for most of the “Zero Girls” footage, including sexploitation favorites June Roberts and Darlene Bennett (both of whom would appear in his superior TAKE ME NAKED the next year), and none of it is very good. The plot is such a meandering mess that it barely exists on which to hang the badly-dubbed footage of the original unfinished film, overlong stripper and belly dancer routines, and ridiculous stock footage of what looks like a war and social unrest in South America, and post-bombing London during WWII. All of this is more boring than words can describe, and thankfully it’s all over in 65 minutes. However, an opening sequence with a blonde being tied up and beaten, while a disturbing dubbed dialogue plays over it, and another vicious sequence of Judy Adler (HOT NIGHTS ON THE CAMPUS, SATAN’S BED) being raped by a group of men in a truck, foreshadow the accomplished roughie visionary Findlay would become within a few short years. He also cameos as a bearded client of Bennett’s. Appreciators of Bennett, Roberts, and Adler will be disappointed in their lackluster appearances here. All three of their faces reflect what they must be thinking: it’s time to retire. All three would disappear completely from the sexploitation scene in a very short time, and if it was because of films like this plaguing their resumes, it’s hard to fault them. The less said about SIN SYNDICATE, the better.

Venturing to the next film on this triple feature, SHE CAME ON THE BUS is much more satisfying filth. A gang of delinquents (four guys and a girl) bust into a suburban home and terrorize a housewife home alone after a day of shopping. The poor woman is drugged and raped in her own bedroom, then a door-to-door saleswoman falls victim to the same treatment. Bored with their new playthings, the ruffians steal the housewife’s car, then spot a bus and flag it down after feigning car trouble. Causing a ruckus on-board, one of them stabs the bus driver to death and takes the wheel, picking up two more lovely female victims along the way. In a weird quirk, one of them plays along while her best friend is being raped and beaten up in the back seat! The “pleasure seekers” return to their makeshift headquarters in the suburbs, with their new captives in tow, where it becomes uncertain if the two girls will ever escape the clutches of these sadists.

SHE CAME ON THE BUS and SATAN’S BED both bear striking resemblances, story-wise, to Craven’s 1972 box office blockbuster LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT; it’s probably a coincidence, but considering all three were shot in the New York tri-state area and Craven was involved with the sex film industry for a time, it’s possible he saw these two Distribpix films at some point. Even on its own merits, this is a mean mother of a movie shot so unflinchingly, in a free-form style with few edits, that it plays like a documentary. The whole film is so damn filthy some viewers may want to take a quick shower before concluding the triple bill! One surprising scene even finds one of the psychos writing the word “FUCK” on the unconscious housewife’s bare ass! Harry Vincent’s monstrosity isn’t much fun to watch, even at only 62 minutes, and the mere thought of revisiting this one is a headache unto itself, but it’s one of the last great roughies to come out of New York and as a historical artifact, is quite valuable. It’s amazing to think that this film was not only shot in a real suburban home (what will the neighbors say?), but also a real transit bus driving down the road during day and night, which is a pretty grand feat for what looks like a home movie. The ending is also one of the most laughable finales of any sexploitation relic.

Shot silent with the actors apparently improving their dialogue, the film is narrated by a melodramatic speaker who alternates between describing the on-screen activities as he would a National Geographic special on the woodchuck, and digging into his play-by-play of the villains’ actions with sadistic relish. The voice may sound familiar: he narrated some of the best New York trailers of the late 60s, including SUBMISSION and IN HOT BLOOD. It might be Joel Holt, narrator of the OLGA films and countless other trailers, and director and star of KARATE: HAND OF DEATH. The great library music score is also familiar from many other roughies, including the Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” theme that was featured almost wall-to-wall in the OLGA films and is similarly overused here.

The Gish sisters of sexploitation, Uta Erickson and Linda Boyce, will keep viewers watching even if the on-screen shenanigans become too vile to stand. Erickson and Boyce both began appearing in films around the same time (1966) and took over the titles of reigning sexploitation queens from soon-to-retire Darlene Bennett and Gigi Darlene. It’s a rare occasion to find a film where they didn’t appear together. Even if they didn’t share scenes, they often shared cast listings, most frequently in films by Joe Sarno and Michael Findlay, so it’s not implausible to think that the two were the best of friends (lovers?) off-screen. And they must have had a very open relationship, as they shared lesbian love scenes quite often (THE CURSE OF HER FLESH, BACCHANALE, ANYTHING ONCE, MNASIDIKA, A THOUSAND PLEASURES). Both have developed strong fan followings over the years, not only because they were striking beauties who disrobed often, but because both women were genuinely good actresses who acted circles around their stripper co-stars. Neither is that memorable here, and Erickson is particular underused, but are, as always, highly photogenic and it’s just great to see another one of their films made available on the digital format. Also appearing in one of her final films is Doris Wishman regular Jackie Richards, a middle-aged brunette with an impressive bust who must have gotten off on disrobing and simulating sex on-camera. Not an actress by a long shot, it’s still always a pleasure to see Richards on-screen (she even go-go dances topless in this one) and she’s one of the most memorable New York starlets of the period.

Recovering lunatic Ross is an emotional wreck. Recently released from a mental institution, he juggles two women in his life (a wife in New England, a mistress in New York City) and is the editor of a skin magazine with his ladies’ man photographer brother Otis. Ross can’t seem to have sex with either of his lovers, which results in a pent-up frustration that threatens to send him back over the deep end. His second brother, Bill, returns from an excursion to Europe with his new bride Lisa by his side. The newlyweds move into a farmhouse with Otis, Ross, and their respective spouses, resulting in much heat and sexual tension as all three men lust for Lisa. Bill also takes over the business angles of the magazine, improving its distribution and making it sexier to appeal to a wider audience. All this leads to Ross reaching his breaking point, resulting in murder and madness.

SIN MAGAZINE is the odd man out on this disc. Produced in 1965, an inserted title card implies that SIN MAGAZINE wasn’t its original title, and the no-name cast shows this was definitely shot outside of the New York sexploitation industry. Opening with a startling and effective gore sequence, SIN MAGAZINE never lives up to the sordid title, with very brief nudity and no sex to speak of, and plays like a Joe Sarno film without the technical panache and the absorbing storyline. The themes of a dysfunctional family and sexual frustration are right out of a Sarno soap opera, but they never really work because the cast is unable to carry such heavy and complex characters. It also doesn’t help that there isn’t a likable one in the bunch. In the hands of a more capable director and a more talented cast, SIN MAGAZINE could have been another unsung sexploitation gem, but it’s merely an interesting curio that attempts to deliver a more intellectual skinflick than the usual suspects. It’s only half-successful, but has some very intriguing sequences (the otherworldly dance club scene, the frenzied finale which is just incredible) and the photography is generally well done. One can only imagine how the poor guys on 42nd Street who expected naked girls felt when confronted with this depressing anti-sex drama. Additional notes: A weird insert of a screaming cat appears out of nowhere, for no reason, and works as a good jump shock! The excellent library music cue during the dance club sequence was used later in MUNDO DEPRAVADOS and became one of the themes for the Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers VHS series. Another cue heard soon after appeared as the theme for the disaster movie spoof in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE.

All three black and white films fare pretty well in their transfers on this disc. SHE CAME ON THE BUS looks the best, in what appears to be a remastering from the original diseased negative. Contrasts are beautiful, grain is infrequent, and only a few blemishes and lines here and there really show the film’s age. It’s pretty amazing that a negative even exists for this oddity! THE SIN SYNDICATE seems to come from a very clean print, with some damage issues during the opening credits and some print jumps eliminating some dialogue intermittently throughout the film. SIN MAGAZINE features the least pleasing transfer, from a 35mm print that has seen better days. There are some nice contrasts and deep black during some sequences, but there is much grain and frequent white and black lines and speckling. It’s still pretty good-looking for such a rare film. The mono audio on all three films is acceptable, with no major issues to complain about. Limited technology of the time results in some muffled dubbing, but that’s about as bad as it gets. The strongest audio track belongs to SIN MAGAZINE, ironically the weakest in video quality.

Extras begin with a selection of familiar roughie trailers including previews for this disc’s SIN SYNDICATE and SHE CAME ON THE BUS. SATAN’S BED, FLUCTUATIONS, and SUBMISSION appear on Something Weird DVD’s that are highly recommended. ALL WOMAN is a currently lost sexploitation relic featuring a sadistic psychosexual killer. Because it was distributed by Joseph Brenner, the chances of a print surviving are scarce. INFIDELITY AMERICAN STYLE is a Sande Johnsen flick which looks excellent. The storyline of a sex cult in costumes with various weird rituals aimed at inducting couples seems taken from Sarno’s SIN IN THE SUBURBS. There’s some great cinematography, including a poetic beach scene, and as with many of his films, is currently lost. The excellent library music heard at the start was also great in CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT, and the cast includes Joanna Mills from Sarno films and AROUSED. It would be wonderful to see this one resurface. The disc concludes with another excellent gallery of Sexploitation Ad Art with wonderful radio spots playing over these mouth-watering images. (Casey Scott)