Yes, the time has come: David F. Friedman's masterpiece A SMELL OF HONEY, A SWALLOW OF BRINE has hit DVD. Out of all Friedman's sexploitation wonders, this remains his grittiest, his sexiest, and his most intriguing. Triple-billed with two Friedman acquisitions, A SWEET SICKNESS and THE BRICK DOLLHOUSE, Something Weird piles on the Friedman in one of their most satisfying triple bill discs yet.
Stacey Walker, in a trademark raunchy performance, is Sharon Winters, a voluptuous blonde tease with a derriere that won't quit who cries rape during a date gone sour. After getting the poor sap thrown into jail, she uses her newfound powers of manipulation to come on to a number of men, most of them her office co-workers. She destroyed the lives of every man (and woman) she touches, even the man she really does love and her likable lesbian roommate ("I may be a bitch, but I'll never be a butch!"), until she meets her match in a greasy garage band singer. The "shock" ending, which many will find a strange turn of events, is very politically incorrect in today's climate, but helps to make the film a charming cult classic.
With such a threadbare plot, how can it stretch into an 75-minute movie? There are lots of scenes of bathing, changing clothes, and elongated foreplay scenes, that's how. Thankfully, Stacey Walker, whose real name was Barbara Jean Moore, is a fantastic actress who is the sole reason why the film never wears out its welcome. It's obvious that SMELL OF HONEY was written quickly as a vehicle for Friedman's new discovery; she's in almost every scene, acting up a storm, with a look of perpetual hunger painted on her face. Stacey is pure bitchery, a snarling hellcat with hair sprayed into an almost shell-like 'do and a tantalizing smile that promises nasty thrills. She made only one other movie for Friedman (the earlier NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL, in blazing color), then returned home to her state of Texas after meeting the man of her dreams (wether the marriage lasted hasn't been discovered). Someone find Ms. Walker quick, wherever she is! Look quick for David F. Friedman playing both the juror in the opening courtroom scenes and the newest man in Sharon's life during the closing scene. The musical score by "el petra" is great, your basic garage band rock and roll that is borderline brilliance in its simplicity. It certainly gives the film atmosphere and a soundtrack CD would be appreciated. Director Byron Mabe (who also directed SHE-FREAK and starred in THE DEFILERS) does a superb job handling the black-and-white cinematography and his editing during the foreplay scenes is wonderfully done. Sure, SMELL OF HONEY may smack of justified date rape by the final reel, but it's the perfect time capsule of how far sexploitation had come by 1967. The pent-up frustrations of moviegoers having to gawk at nude bodies, but never sex in these films is reflected in every man in the film who is spurned by Sharon and her mouthwatering body. It's almost a roughie, but is really more of a scuzzie than anything else.
The real downer of the long-awaited release of SMELL OF HONEY on DVD is the fact that it is missing footage present on the previous VHS release. This is due to print jumps and various other instances of damage that eliminate dialogue and tension-filled scene build-ups. The DVD version runs 69 minutes, which is about 2 minutes shorter than the VHS version. The most important ommissions include: a shorter opening sequence with Sharon's ill-fated date (a print jump eliminates her cry of "Rape!"), parts of the various exchanges between Paula and Sharon, a lengthy portion of Sharon's seduction of Dick Owens, and a good amount of footage of the romantic prelude to Sharon and Carter's night of passion. Strangely, the last 25 minutes of the film don't have any print jumps or really glaring damage at all! That said, the print used for this film (one of two existing 35mm elements) does not feature the frequent erosion and water damage present on the VHS. Ideally, Something Weird would have compiled a master print from the two available prints for the ultimate SMELL OF HONEY version. Diehard fans (like me) will feel their hearts sink to their stomach, but newcomers to the film should still be won over by its seedy charms.
Opening to the strains of an instrumental version of "Mondo Mod" (that's right, the theme song to the film of the same name!!), a narrator introduces the audience to Hollywood, CA, where the viewer will experience A SWEET SICKNESS. He scolds all those young beautiful hopefuls who trek to the Glamour Capital of the World to make it big in the movies, and introduces us to two of them: Connie and Dee (Russ Meyer starlet Vincene Wallace, the redheaded housewife in VIXEN!, virtually unrecognizable in black-and-white). The two beautiful roommates are aspiring actresses, Connie a bad girl who sleeps her way into the casting books, Dee a good girl who prefers to get her parts the honest way. After she is raped by a neighbor, degraded by a strip/auction in a burlesque club (must be seen to be believed!), and drugged into partaking in a lesbian/pot/whipped cream/monster mask photo shoot (!!), she decides to become the insatiable sexpot everyone has always coaxed her to be. Will she find Hollywood a much easier place to live in after slutting it up? It would never be that easy, would it?!
It's hard to believe the same maverick filmmaker who created the blissfully bizarre TOY BOX for Harry Novak also directed this low-rent Hollywood skinflick industry version of the Marquis de Sade's "Justine." Doesn't the above description sound like a surefire winner of a sexploitation flick? It's too bad SWEET SICKNESS falls so short of that glory. Vincene Wallace was a vision when her gorgeous red locks and scrumptious statuesque form were photographed in blazing color by Russ Meyer and Pete Perry (THE SECRET SEX LIVES OF ROMEO AND JULIET). However, in black and white, her supple charms are impossible to translate, resulting in a film that is of minimal interest to Russ Meyer completists and will entice no one else. The thankfully brief running time is packed with nudity, Doris Wishman-esque camera angles and post-synch dubbing, and several setpieces worth noting: an overweight (possibly pregnant) stripper named Bertha auditioning for an agent, the never-ending erotic dance at a gentleman's club only made interesting by the droning garage band behind the dancer (The Tigers and the Pussycat, a real band with a female guitarist!), and the aforementioned photo shoot with wide-angle lens camerawork and that kooky ape mask. And you've gotta love the completely "mechanized" romantic lovenest in the businessman's office in the final scene! But by the time Garcia's mini-budget epic concludes, you'll feel a not-so-SWEET SICKNESS for having spent a little over an hour on such unfulfilling eye candy. Look fast during the opening stock footage montage to see the marquee of the infamous "Haunted House," the setting for Ted V. Mikels' THE GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS, and red carpet footage from Hollywood premieres! It's no wonder Friedman was hesitant to distribute this unsatisfying bore, but at least it's not as bad as BUMMER! (which remains Friedman's worst film, bar none).
The fullscreen black-and-white transfer for A SWEET SICKNESS looks pretty good for such a low-budget pickup. It's a shame that the negative for this film is still around, while the SMELL OF HONEY negative is still MIA, but that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. There are faint moments of grain and slight dirt during the opening and closing reels, but overall this is a pretty gorgeous restoration job. The mono audio, including a flute-driven soundtrack, is delivered very well.
Get over the SICKNESS, it's time to enter the BRICK DOLLHOUSE! Another reluctant pick-up by Dave Friedman's production company, this production was barely finished when Friedman acquired it and he found himself gathering a crew and finishing principal photography for peanuts! The basic plotline is this: three pretty young girls come home to their house to find their roommate brutally murdered in the nude! The police question each girl for their version of what might have happened.
In the zoom-happy lounge-music opening sequence, you'll wonder if you're watching an American version of Bava's 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON! Of course things settle down into your standard California skinflick, packed with college girl nudity, shoddy production values, and goofy storyline (cribbed from the classic RASHOMON). You'll wonder how the film even managed to stretch to a 55-minute running time! The majority of the flick is made up of the girls' silly sex parties, with lots of pot, groping, and boobies. Of course you've also got the incredibly butch lesbian girlfriend of the dead girl, one of the best shower scenes in these kinds of films, a pool table sex scene, a game of strip-spin-the-bottle, a random exotic dancing fit, and an outstanding rock music score. But it all happens without rhyme or reason, which might sound like a great thing, but actually grates on the nerves more than anything else. At least the twist ending is unexpected and outrageous enough to be funny! A painless (almost) hour-long nudie cutie, just don't expect to come back for a stay at the BRICK DOLLHOUSE. It's still better than BUMMER!, though...
For such a mediocre flick, THE BRICK DOLLHOUSE looks absolutely gorgeous! The colors are solid, vivid, and display a beautiful palette; there are brief instances of dirt and blemishes in the opening scene and reel changes, but you'll be more amazed by the superb remastering! The mono audio is unremarkable, but suits the film well.
The best extra here is the audio commentary on SMELL OF HONEY by Col. Dave Friedman, SWV head honcho Mike Vraney, and his man Friday Frank Henenlotter. As per usual with this trio's slate of commentaries, it is required viewing for anyone interested in the history of exploitation filmmaking. Friedman waxes nostalgic about Stacey Walker and her short-lived career, stories of her co-stars in HONEY, and generally never runs out of fascinating anecdotes to share with his moderators and the audience. A++ commentary that ranks as one of Friedman's best.
The trailer collection kicks off with the preview for A SWEET SICKNESS, which includes posters for SMELL OF HONEY, ACID EATERS, NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL, BRAND OF SHAME, and more Friedman productions! The music is from THE DEFILERS! According to the narrator, the movie has always been called "8 Reels of Sewage" before he lectures ad nauseum about the film's controversial reputation! I honestly wouldn't see the movie based on this preview, but the Col. did the best he could with an unsellable item. Interestingly the preview features outtakes from the finished product (including a Vincene Wallace sex scene) and has a great tag line: "Making love is like eating candy...eventually comes A SWEET SICKNESS'. They just don't write ad slogans like that anymore! THE DEFILERS needs no introduction: David F. Friedman essentially set the ground rules for the (West Coast) roughie, with Byron Mabe (director of SMELL OF HONEY!) and Jerome Eden (from countless H.G. Lewis flicks) as two thrill-seeking spoiled rich boys who kidnap a new girl in town and abuse her for kicks! Something Weird's DVD of this title (double-billed with Lewis' SCUM OF THE EARTH) is one of their best and if it isn't on your shelf already, get shoppin'! THE LUSTFUL TURK is a loooong preview for what looks to be the magnum opus of skinflicks! Friedman's production values were usually head and shoulders above his competitors, or at least seemed to be, and this preview shows lots of behind-the-scenes footage, actors studying their lines, Friedman himself leafing through racy novels, and the narrator discussing the high budget and expensive production costs. So when is THIS hitting DVD? Well, in the commentary on this disc, it is hinted that it will be coming soon paired with JOYS OF JEZEBEL, so watch for it! THE NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL is a very ragged trailer for Stacey Walker's other star vehicle, the decidedly lesser story of Fanny Hill's horny daughter. Something Weird's DVD has drop-dead gorgeous picture quality, in addition to another fabulous Friedman commentary and Walker's final screen appearance in the short "But Charlie I Never Played Volleyball!". STARLET was supposed to have been released on DVD with THAR SHE BLOWS!, but who knows what happened with that mouthwatering double-feature disc? Witness the tale of one young girl's entrance into the skinflick business, getting groped and pawed by a nasty producer (Russ Meyer favorite Stuart Lancaster!) and adopting the nomme de plumme "Starliss Knight"! I can't believe this isn't on DVD yet, it looks like a scream!
Capping off the disc is a brief video short "A Visit to the Apple Theatre, 1991", an old adult video theatre that apparently still shows the trailer for THE BRICK DOLLHOUSE (which is strangely absent here). The Dave Friedman Gallery is the same one that has been frequenting Friedman discs for a while now, with music from THE DEFILERS pouring over the images. I still don't get tired of these classic ads and posters.
Even if you don't like the other
two films on this disc (I didn't), SMELL OF HONEY is Dave Friedman's all-time
best film; you simply cannot be without this platter if you are a cult film
fan, and what a way to kick off 2004 for Something Weird! A highly recommended
purchase! (Casey Scott)
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