In the annals of roughie cinema, there are two names that stand out among the rest as the most depraved, sadistic, and warped filmmakers of them all: husband-and-wife team Michael and Roberta Findlay. After a rocky start in the New York film industry with BODY OF A FEMALE (1964) and less-than-thrilling sickie dramas (THE SIN SYNDICATE and SATAN'S BED, both 1965), they hit their stride with 1967's THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH, leading to a series of black-and-white films which are still unequalled as far as weirdness and perversity go. By the time the 1970's came around, color had taken over and the Findlays parted ways after a handful of goofy but entertaining horror flicks. They left behind a legacy which was whispered about for years before Something Weird unearthed their oeuvre for home video consumption. Paired here are two films displaying the origin (TAKE ME NAKED) and peak (A THOUSAND PLEASURES) of their demented vision, complimented by a slew of Findlay-related bonus material sure to send viewers running for the showers.
1964's BODY OF A FEMALE provided the first hint that the Findlays weren't quite right in the head.They co-produced the film with Lem and John Amero, who would also produce some of the better New York City grindhouse favorites. The film, which is presumed lost and was later remade as the magnificent THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE, told the story of a sadistic brute who kept women as prisoners in his home for kicks. It came out the same year as Joseph Mawra's OLGA films, making it one of the very first roughies and setting the standard for the genre. 1965 was a thoroughly disappointing year for the couple, as they contributed the best sequences of SATAN'S BED (the non-Yoko portions of the film) and grinded out THE SIN SYNDICATE, a faux documentary about prostitutes turning State's evidence against the Mob. TAKE ME NAKED was a step in the right direction, allowing them to imprint their own personal vision on celluloid, no matter how twisted or bizarre it may have been.
A Bowery bum lives a miserable existence, drinking in the alley with his buddy, but finds an escape from his unhappiness by peeping into the apartment across the way at Jewish brunette Elaine, who becomes the object of his obsessions. Little does he know that Elaine is a lesbian, with a number of female lovers. He becomes so enamored of her that he kills his buddy in a fit of insane rage and makes the venture to Elaine's apartment...where tragedy awaits...
Despite the enticing poster design and mouthwatering trailer, TAKE ME NAKED is in the end a disappointing experience for those expecting wall-to-wall slime like the Findlays' later projects. With this film, Michael seems to want to exorcise all of his artistic demons through the poetic narration, to demonstrate he is a genuine artist behind all the nastiness, before letting loose and packing on the sleaze for the next four years of the decade. It wasn't until 1970's MNASIDIKA (an excerpt of which is included on this disc) that he once again paired art and dementia to make an arthouse film for the raincoat crowd. That film is also unsuccessful, even with a cast including Linda Boyce and Uta Erickson, and an interesting experimental use of time reversal and . The problem with both films is the use of mindfuck poetry, which may correspond with the on-screen action, but tries to add unneeded substance to what should amount to a grisly 42nd Street sickie.
TAKE ME NAKED is aided by the sharp casting; Mike Findlay appears in his second starring role in his own films, playing the ill-fated alcoholic friend of the main character, who get bludgeoned in the head with a hammer in a rather excruciating scene. Roberta Findlay contributes a rare on-screen performance as Elaine, the dream girl of the "hero," and exudes a surprising sexy charm, with a beautiful all-natural bust and an endearing overbite. To play the lovers of Elaine, the Findlays cast two favorites of Doris Wishman cinema: Darlene Bennett and June Roberts. Roberts is given little to do except keep Roberta's head between her legs and pet her hair like a dog, in a surprisingly beautiful scene. She looks almost corpse-like in a self-examination mirror scene, and would look far better in the same year's MY BROTHER'S WIFE. Bennett, on the other hand, is given a rather interesting role as an angelic servant who douses Roberta in oil before partaking in a sapphic encounter with her, all in a hazy dream sequence. It is also worthy of note that the start of many fantastic library music scores in the Findlays' filmography began here, with dramatic classical music providing effective atmosphere to the starkly lit proceedings. Technically, this is indeed a beautiful movie to watch, with shadowy black-and-white tableaus reminiscent of a film noir, outdoor photography of a snowy New York City, including the depressing Bowery and a magnificent, powerful twist ending that cuts back and forth between the psycho's imaginary scenario and real-life horror. Perhaps if one turns off the sound and just gazes at the film as it plays on the screen, it will be a much more satisfying experience, but then the superb musical score would be sorely missed.
Following the promise of TAKE ME NAKED, the Findlays embarked on their most infamous filmmaking adventure: the FLESH trilogy, TOUCH OF HER FLESH, CURSE OF HER FLESH and KISS OF HER FLESH. Each film became successively nastier than the last before, by 1968, the Findlays had developed a patented formula for sick thrills which was greatly appreciated by the deviants which frequented the grindhouses where their visions unfolded. Where A THOUSAND PLEASURES fits into the Findlay chronology is still puzzling (KISS OF HER FLESH and ULTIMATE DEGENERATE seem to have been shot at the same time, but DEGENERATE was released in 1969, after both KISS and PLEASURES), but one thing is for sure: this is the peak of the Findlay cannon and it doesn't get any filthier than this.
Michael Findlay returns in another intense starring role as Richard Davis (probably conceived as a relative of the equally homicidal Richard Jennings of the FLESH films), a henpecked husband who can't take his wife's incessant nagging, so grabs a trusty carving knife and stabs her to death. The fact that Mrs. Davis is played and dubbed by a hideously made-up Roberta Findlay makes the scenario a little too strange for comfort... Cue the top-heavy dancer with a bubble butt dancing to the excellent song "Is It On, Is It Off?" by The Bit-A-Sweet while the opening credits roll. Davis speeds down the road with his wife's carcass in the back of the car, only to be stopped by Maggie and Jackie, a pair of bewigged hitchhikers who force him into giving them a ride. While Jackie gives Davis a blowjob at the wheel, Maggie discovers the bloodied body of Mrs. Davis and announces that Davis will return home with them. Even the most disturbed moviegoer's mind couldn't conceive of what is in store for him. At their stately mansion, overseen by their right-hand man Bruno (Findlay friend and co-worker John Amero, strikingly handsome as always), lives Baby, a full-grown woman who spends her days fully nude in a giant oversized baby crib! In-between playing with toys, sucking her thumb, and masturbating with a candle (!), Baby is taken care of by the unhinged Belle while Maggie and Jackie get down'n' dirty at the drop of a hat. What do the two Amazon women plan to do with Davis? Because they are lesbians, they plan on blackmailing the murderer into becoming their personal sperm bank to create a child of their own!
A THOUSAND PLEASURES is a rare roughie in that no matter how unbelievable one scene may be, the audience can be sure the next scene will hold something even wilder and crazier. In order not to spoil too many of the incredible surprises, suffice it to say that there aren't too many other films of any genre or era which feature whipping, lesbianism, breast fetishism, voyeurism, masturbation, and breast milk drinking.... all in one scene!! Add to the mix plenty of torture, including the lesbians beating Davis with a poker, repeatedly slamming his crotch, cooking his feet in the fireplace, and putting out a cigarette on his cheek, and just when the audience doesn't think it can take anymore insanity, Findlay throws in one of his trademark bloodsoaked finales, with each character getting his or hers in as gruesome or absurd a fashion as possible! Believe it or not, the film itself is another technical marvel, with superb black-and-white photography not only brooding through the insane mansion, but also venturing outside for some poetic outdoor sequences, including the surprisingly romantic final shots on an extended pier. Once again taking a cue from film noir, Findlay injects plenty of juicy hard-boiled dialogue, with such quotable lines as "I'd seen some nuts before, but these two must have escaped from a fruitcake!" and "The drug in that tea hit me like a concrete lullaby." When delivered by Findlay in his typically edgy narration, each line becomes a gem.
Knowing full well they couldn't recruit newcomers to the fold with such a bizarre script, the Findlays relied on old cast members and friends to help bring their vision to life. In addition to the Findlays themselves, fans of NYC sinema will recognize all five female cast members immediately. First-billed is Marie Brent, aka Janet Banzet, an honest-to-goodness William Hickey-trained stage actress who somehow fell into the skinflick business. In addition to meaty roles in Findlay productions, Marie was frequently used by Lou Campa (whose films always looked to be competing with the Findlays in terms of perversion), Joe Sarno, and Sande Johnsen. She reportedly committed suicide in 1971, possibly due to frustration over the lack of good acting parts she was being offered in the New York film industry. Linda Boyce ("Jackie") and Uta Erickson ("Maggie") may be hard to recognize under their hideous curly brown wigs, but came on-board with Findlay with CURSE OF HER FLESH, where Linda whipped Uta in an S&M stage act and the two died together tied in poison ropes on-stage. The two women frequently appeared in films together, leading one to believe they were either good friends or lovers in real life. Both were genuinely good actresses, with Boyce usually cast as ball-busting lesbians and Erickson running the gamut from perplexed heroines to sexually frustrated wallflowers to smiling sadists. They were cast by such diverse filmmakers as Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno, Barry Mahon, the Amero Brothers, and both would appear in DAUGHTERS OF LESBOS, which is rumored to have been directed by Roberta Findlay herself. Though she would only appear in Findlay films, Donna Stone ("Boobarella") would be memorable in all three of them: she was the first victim in KISS OF HER FLESH, electrocuted through her earrings; Uta Erickson's lesbian girlfriend in THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE, and suffocates Findlay with her own breast here in A THOUSAND PLEASURES. The least recognizable face in the cast, Kim Lewid ("Baby") hit her career peak with A THOUSAND PLEASURES, and actually delivers a believably whacked-out performance. She would make appearances in Distribpix sickies like A BRIDE FOR BRENDA and HOW MANY TIMES before disappearing off the planet.
To make up for the complete lack of extras on the FLESH TRILOGY disc (which was still easily Something Weird's best disc of 2003), each available Findlay trailer is presented here, including the rewarding trailer for TAKE ME NAKED. Only two of the FLESH films are represented, with previews for TOUCH OF HER FLESH and CURSE OF HER FLESH really going to town, showing all the graphic violence, tawdry sex, and raunchy striptease acts which would bring the raincoat crowd piling into the theaters. The highlight of the trailers is THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE, which plays more like a "greatest hits" package than a trailer. ULTIMATE DEGENERATE would have undoubtedly served as a better disc co-feature for THOUSAND PLEASURES, but there were reportedly element issues with that title, leading it to be postponed indefinitely. Here's hoping those problems are solved so this incredibly entertaining gem gets the digital treatment. On a lesser note, previews for the inferior SIN SYNDICATE and SATAN'S BED show the Findlays warming up for their ultimate excursions into the bizarre.
The exciting supplements here are the two short subjects! First up is an excerpt from MNASIDIKA (1970), a color roughie in the same vein as TAKE ME NAKED, meaning this is an art film posing as exploitation. Michael Findlay is a depressed man who tries to kill himself, but awakens from his suicide attempt to discover he has been transported back to ancient Greece. Supported by another wonderful classical music score, Roberta contributes some fine outdoor photography shot in a sunny forest, which contrasts with a graphic scene of Mike beating a buxom young lass (resembling Desiree Cousteau) to death with a log, then proceeding to make out with her corpse. Not only does the film dabble in time travel, it also makes good use of time reversal and repetition as Findlay had done previously during the finale of TAKE ME NAKED, and features a disorienting film-in-reverse walking scene. Linda Boyce and Uta Erickson return to their mentor's camera, in blazing color, as 2/3 of a group of lesbians. This 30-minute portion of the film might entice the curious to seek out the genuine article, but it's honestly not that great and is best seen as the last gasp of a 42nd Street genius. Vastly more interesting is the inclusion of a sequence from JANIE, a color sickie from 1970 directed and narrated by Roberta Findlay! One is left to wonder is Something Weird has access to the full-length feature, as Alpha Blue Archives released it on a double-feature tape with the equally obscure Findlay flick TAKE MY HEAD, and judging from this excerpt, this looks amazing! A pretty blonde schoolgirl, Janie, skips school with her brunette friend and becomes turned on by the thought of murder and dead people. When the pair hitch a ride, Janie talks the driver into screwing her friend, only to run them over with the car while they're going at it! There is some inventive photography, including a vintage 70s tracking shot through a suburban neighborhood, and an otherworldly atmosphere adding to the disgusting plot. They just don't make daring sex-n-horror flicks like this anymore, and it would be wonderful if Something Weird released this oddity in its complete form! Finishing off the disc is the brand-new Sick Sixties Sex Stills Gallery, which also appeared on the new Doris Wishman disc. It's so good it's worth repeating! (Casey Scott)
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