Directors: Michael Findlay, John & Lem Amero, and Joel Landwehr
Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment

Ladies and gentlemen: the missing link of New York City roughie history is now on DVD! The last great surviving Michael Findlay film, THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE, finally makes its long-awaited arrival on DVD, paired with two more black-and-white genre classics, The Amero Brothers’ THE LUSTING HOURS and the one-of-a-kind IN HOT BLOOD. Covering all the bases, from lesbianism to stripping, beatings, musical numbers, banana sucking, heroin needles, fire dancing, and, yes, even whipped cream, this depraved trio delivers the goods and then some for those seeking a cure for their filth fever! Without a single doubt in my mind, this is Something Weird’s crown jewel disc of 2005.

Blonde swinger Maria grows tired of strutting nude in front of a window for her voyeur neighbor and bumping uglies with her Hispanic lesbian lover, so answers an ad in an underground sex newspaper offering cash for an extended stay at the home of Spencer, THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE. Spencer keeps his home well stocked with beautiful girls, and allows them to pursue their deepest fantasies while also forcing them to submit to his deranged desires. Maria indulges in lesbian sex with the girls of her choice, poses for stag pictures, watches multiple stage shows performed by the in-house strippers, and is injected with a powerful aphrodisiac to keep her horny at all times. Bruno, Spencer’s right-hand man, joins in the fun, putting a whipped cream can in his jeans and spraying nude girls through his open zipper with frothy white…er…cream. Spencer begins going off the deep end, electrocuting a nude girl after clawing her tits with pliers, and unless Bruno can intervene and rescue her, this may be the untimely end of Maria!

Findlay fanatics usually don’t hold ULTIMATE DEGENERATE in very high regard, seeing it as a step down from the mad wonder of the FLESH trilogy and A THOUSAND PLEASURES, but as his apparent last black-and-white roughie, it’s an exceptional work. In addition to another perfect blend of jazz, garage rock, and classical music permeating the soundtrack and atmospheric footage of a dilapidated Coney Island and outdoor winter locations, the film features many token Findlay vignettes: an incredible strobe light whipped cream-and-nude dancing musical number (set to The Bit-A-Sweet’s “Is It On, Is It Off?”, also heard in A THOUSAND PLEASURES and performed live on-stage in BLONDE ON A BUM TRIP); the wild stage antics of monster-eyebrowed Cindy Freemont (notorious from the opening scenes of CURSE OF HER FLESH); Marie Brent masturbates with a corn cob before two other girls turn the corn cob thrusting into a stage act; and the most disturbing footage Findlay ever shot, a Vasoline lensed dream sequence, with Bruno donning a gas mask, whipping, strangling, and using a fire poker on tied-up girls while their screams echo throughout the proceedings. Truly bone-chilling stuff, even by today’s standards.

DEGENERATE is possibly my personal favorite Findlay film, and I think Uta Erickson’s starring role has a lot to do with that; she’s in just about every scene. One of the most underrated NYC sexploitation greats, Erickson (billed here as Artimedia Grillet, a play on her real name) always bore a striking resemblance to a fleshier Cameron Diaz, and in addition to looking great nude, was an exceptional actress. She dubbed her own voice in all her Findlay films, and was good friends with Michael off-camera as well. Not restricting herself to his insane motion pictures, Erickson worked with all the New York City greats: Doris Wishman (LOVE TOY), Barry Mahon (SEX KILLER), John and Lem Amero (BACCHANALE). Best of all was her work for Joe Sarno, who obviously saw great potential in her and cast her as the lead of two gritty soap operas, PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS and the currently lost MARCY. Wherever Erickson disappeared to, on behalf of sleazehounds everywhere, I hope she is healthy, happy, and looks back on her film career with at least some fondness.

The Findlay chronology is a little iffy, but DEGENERATE seems to have been shot at the same time as KISS OF HER FLESH, using most of the same cast members and locations (namely a spacious Massachusetts mansion). In addition to Erickson, tragic Marie Brent and goofy scene-stealing Alice Noland all play characters with the same names as their KISS counterparts, and Donna Stone (‘Boobarella’ in A THOUSAND PLEASURES), Rita Vance (resembling Holly Woodlawn), and Leo Heinz (aka Earl Hindman) return. Blonde Kim Lewid (‘Baby’ in A THOUSAND PLEASURES) and Cindy Freemont, the crazed stripper with the wild eyebrows from CURSE OF HER FLESH, round out the cast. Roberta Findlay alert!: during Spencer’s introductory scene at Coney Island, take a peek at who is sitting with him in the Ferris wheel. Yep, it’s Mrs. Findlay herself, and this is a rare chance to see the two of them together on-screen, and proof that Roberta was indeed on-set during the making of these sickies, in addition to providing dubbed voices to all of them.

Collaborating with Michael Findlay on his first film, BODY OF A FEMALE (currently lost), the Amero Brothers, Lem and John, struck out on their own around the time Findlay began work on TOUCH OF HER FLESH. This semi-Mondo shockumentary is not one of their brighter moments (their hardcore films, both straight and gay, are excellent), but still holds plenty of fun for buffs of New York City sexploitation. Just in case you don’t know what “lust” is, there’s a great dictionary definition opening the film, which coincidentally is packed full of LUST, LUST and more LUST! Peek into the lives of house girls, street girls, and call girls. They’re not the same, you say? Of course they’re not! All three versions of a whore are wildly different, as you’ll see by examining each one separately. You’ll also be educated on the habits of photographers’ models and male hustlers, in case you were wondering. The “house girls” reside in a spacious isolated whorehouse, run by a skeletal Madame who keeps her girls in line with a cruel hand. A muscleman rapes one girl for calling him “queer”, two gals get into a catfight, a stage show is performed for the customers, and a wild party gets out of hand! A sleazoid photographer (Lem Amero!) takes advantage of his models. “Street girls” are the lowest of the low, according to the narrator, and we hear testimonies from a girl who bitches about their clientele. A male hustler wines and dines a rich old biddy (a man in drag!), then picks up a bespectacled nerd by cruising the Port Authority bathrooms; he returns home to “the wife”, a terrifying drag queen who grinds her sharp heels into his back as he crawls on the floor! The life of a “call girl” is an exciting one, decidedly more glamorous than a street girl, but less so than a house girl. Two lovely ladies live together and invite johns over for appointments, and go out on the town with sugar daddy clients. It’s all wrapped up with a beautiful fast-edited clipshow highlighting the best moments of the entire film, with frenzied narration a la MONDO TOPLESS and an excellent library music track! Ah yes, THE LUSTING HOURS, such an informative, eye-popping experience.

Of the triple feature, LUSTING HOURS is easily the weakest film simply because its pacing is too slow, but the proceedings perk up enough to make it a must-watch. Unlike Findlay, the Ameros’ films featured a welcome sense of intentional humor, lightening things up a bit even during the sleaziest of scenarios. This film is the origin of the infamous clip of mustachioed Ron Skideri (THE CURSE OF HER FLESH) being dominated by thin high-heeled Lem Amero in drag (an image featured prominently on the theatrical poster and this very disc’s cover art). Fans of NYC sleaze will, of course, recognize Marie Brent (countless films by Findlay, Campa, Sarno, Wishman, etc.) and German blonde Sheila Britton (THE SWAP AND HOW TO MAKE IT, MARCY, SUBMISSION) as two lesbian models who indulge in some sapphic delights before heading out on assignment. Brent later returns as a ditzy model in a giant wig. Joanna Cunningham, also known as Rita Bennett (THE BED AND HOW TO MAKE IT), appears in scenes lifted from the Amero Brothers’ DIARY OF A SWINGER to illustrate the lives of call girls (when will this great flick hit DVD?), and Skideri picks up blonde Steve Roule, who some should recognize as the guy in the bathroom during the opening credits of CURSE OF HER FLESH. This particular scene, which must have thrown the straight grindhouse audience into a tailspin, is filled with a great sexual tension and more style. As both John and Lem Amero were homosexuals, it makes sense that this scene sticks out as the one which seems to be felt more passionately by the filmmakers then the straight nudity and sex.

The most fascinating aspect of LUSTING HOURS is that the star is…wait for it…Roberta Findlay! Yes indeed, Roberta appears in all three segments of the film, in new footage shot for the film and excerpts from the unfinished GIRL ON NIGHTMARE ISLAND, and is pretty attractive throughout. Roberta seems to have had a featured role in NIGHTMARE ISLAND, the bulk of which appears in the “house girl” segment: she gets into a catfight with another whore, plays the piano during a party scene (she was a music major at City College around this time), performs an exotic stage routine, and skinny dips while a muscleman gawks at her. One wonders if Michael was helping out on this aborted feature; he cameos as a partygoer dancing like mad and blowing a noisemaker. Roberta returns as a mouthy street girl who bathes while talking to an interviewer (her profanity is sometimes muted out) then dresses in a sleazy lingerie outfit to hit the streets. The piece de resistance is Roberta in a love scene with MICHAEL! Yes, the notorious couple of NYC sexploitation are seen here in a love scene together! Truly a moment for the ages, and a historically valuable piece of footage that I doubt Roberta remembers filming! As if the on-screen Roberta smorgasbord wasn’t enough, she also dubs most of the lady’s voices in the film. LUSTING HOURS is a great history lesson all by itself, and while the movie can drag at times, it’s a fine introduction to the world of the Ameros. For further adventures with the Ameros, check out DIARY OF A SWINGER, also from Something Weird, or their hardcore films, BLONDE AMBITION, EVERY INCH A LADY, NAVY BLUE and KILLING ME SOFTLY.

Following the credits (painted on the leading ladies’ bodies in a rip-off of Findlay’s THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH), Rita, a Pacific Island-look model in a beret, walks down a bustling New York City street en route to a new modeling gig. She enters a dark, foreboding apartment building before finding the cramped apartment where the session is taking place. The four other models eye her contemptuously (as the narrator puts it) before Rita drops her top to expose a pair of gigantic pendulous breasts, which the photographer proceeds to measure (?!). Bored of that activity, he lays her down on the floor and proceeds to bang her before dragging her to an orgy. Then, bored of that activity, Rita and her fellow models Roberta and Sandy take off on their own, paint each other’s bodies, and try some heroin before Sandy flips out and is knocked out during a catfight. Rita puts on an Ikettes shimmy-shake dress, and flees with Roberta through the streets of Manhattan to her apartment (Rita’s dress keeps sliding off her shoulders, threatening to expose her boobs), where they have some more fun with one another before a twist ending leaves not one person still breathing.

Scouring the Something Weird catalogue, IN HOT BLOOD is possibly the wildest non-Findlay roughie to come out of New York City, and I can say that without reservation. In barely 60 minutes, there’s enough somnambulistic acting, tame sex, goofy plot developments, and bare titties to please a horny grindhouse audience, not to mention the completely unexpected violent climax! Credited to a “Leo J. Rhewdnal”, speculation over his identity has unearthed one possibility. A film student named Joel Landwehr (for which “Leo J. Rhewdnal” is a perfect anagram) produced a few independent short films in the mid-to-late 1960s, and it is believed that he shot his two sexploitation features (the other is FLUCTUATIONS) as a way to learn the film business and to earn money either to pay off his tuition or to fund more serious projects. One thing is for sure: there is no passion in either of his skinflicks, and they smack of being created solely for the money. None of the actors look comfortable or happy with their on-screen shenanigans, everything is terribly edited and shoddily constructed, but by God, of the pair, at least IN HOT BLOOD is a joy to watch. Stare in amazement as the limpest, coldest-fish orgy you’ll ever see unfolds before your eyes; leading lady Doris Porro tries to look sexy eating a banana, looking off-camera with a puzzled look as she tries to comprehend Landwehr’s direction, and later tries tonguing a paintbrush with even less success; a chain dragged across a girl’s crotch is considered “shocking” and “sexy”; Doris and Ruth Colon (resembling Patty Duke after a pie-eating contest) endlessly rub ice cubes on each other’s nipples like bored kids playing doctor; male cast members waste no time dropping trousers in surprising nude scenes; poetry is attempted with Doris petting a white cat on a dingy backstreet; Dolores, a black girl, gets her giant wig knocked off during a catfight; the gals pull out a heroin needle to make the party more interesting; and you simply will not believe the cleaver-wielding, pistol-packing, hand-amputating finale that ties up all the loose ends!

Viewers’ ears will be bombarded with one of the best library soundtracks of any exploitation film, with lots of garage band rock, familiar jazz tunes, and incidental music that seems completely out of place. This is one of those flicks you can put on in the background while you’re doing housework or reading a book, a perfect atmosphere soundtrack! The entire film is narrated by a fey narrator, probably Landwehr himself, with a pronounced lisp, taking the entire thing deathly seriously. The most hysterical sequence of the entire film is the “modeling session”. Of the four girls, only pixie-haired Jo Ellen (who later played the title role in Distribpix’s FELICIA, and resembling Julia Roberts!) seems at home in this atmosphere. The handheld camera changes angles every few seconds, forcing the girls to find new “strike a pose” positions. Sometimes the girls just turn their backs to the camera, crouch into unrealistic squats, put their hands on their heads, crack up laughing as they realize they’ve barely changed position. Sheer bad movie genius! Anyone who says IN HOT BLOOD is a piece of shit is 100% right…but it’s the best piece of shit you’ll ever see…whatever that means! Something Weird deserves a nice shiny medal for unearthing this baby; I don’t know how much longer I could have survived without this hitting DVD!

Something Weird has been extremely lucky in unearthing the negatives to most of their New York catalogue titles. See proof of this luck with THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE and THE LUSTING HOURS. LUSTING HOURS looks the more pristine of the two, with some hazy photography resulting from the production values in 1967. DEGENERATE’s original title is abbreviated to ‘THE DEGENERATE’ and there is a freeze-frame ‘The End’ credit, so this could be a dupe negative rather than the original neg, but the black and white contrasts are still gorgeous, with only a few scenes suffering from excessive grain and audio issues during the final reel is the only major issue. A few scenes look to be slightly abbreviated compared to what remains in the lengthy theatrical trailer (and judging by musical jumpcuts), namely a scene of Marie Brent rubbing her pubic hair against a television set. IN HOT BLOOD is culled from probably the last remaining print, with a good amount of scratches, dirt and debris, and some audio warbling during the opening credits, but still looks decent. All three films feature great mono audio tracks, stronger than usual compared to earlier SWV releases.

A disc with three feature films jammed onto it won’t have much room for extras. It’s too bad that SWV has apparently never contacted John Amero, still alive and living in New York City. Lem Amero sadly died from AIDS complications in 1989 and Joel Landwehr is also deceased. So a commentary from John, the last surviving filmmaker on this disc, would have been ideal, but perhaps that can be arranged if/when DIARY OF A SWINGER hits DVD. Paging Frank Henenlotter: please make this happen! Supplements as they are consist of theatrical trailers for all three features and a typically excellent Gallery of Sick Sixties Sex Stills with audio taken from theatrical trailers (which has appeared on a number of other discs). There is not a single reason not to own this platter. This is SWV at their best, back with a bang after a rather slow year in 2005. What an excellent way to close out the year, and 2006 is already looking to be incredible!
(Casey Scott)