UP! (1976)
Director: Russ Meyer
Arrow Films (PAL, Region 2)

The massive success of late great Russ Meyer's 1975 SUPERVIXENS put him back on the fast track and his almost immediate follow-up was UP!, which out-cartoons the already outrageous SUPERVIXENS! The film retains a strong cult following but it's the beginning of the end for Meyer's brand of tease-and-titillate which was his bread and butter for years. Porno ruined Russ Meyer and UP! is so packed with very graphic sex scenes and a complete disregard for any discernible storyline that the effects of hardcore are definitely felt through the entire production.

Is there a plot in UP!? It's hard to tell really, it's more a sequence of events loosely connected by ridiculous dialogue and nude prancing by The Greek Chorus. After a bizarre dungeon sex scene starring Hitler look-alike Adolph Schwartz, a black-gloved assassin murders him by throwing a piranha into his bathtub. Breasty policewoman Margo Winchester is sent to investigate and after accidentally murdering an attempted rapist, is blackmailed into sexual favors by the corrupt Sheriff Homer Johnson. She begins working at a local diner for Paul and Sweet Li'l Alice, a couple who are the prime suspects in Schwartz' murder. Things get crazier and crazier when Margo and Alice are abducted by local brute Rafe and Margo discovers the true identity of Schwartz' killer.

Filled with hot-n-heavy sex scenes, fake male appendages measuring at 12 inches long, bountiful women, repulsive violence (including another vicious rape scene), and twists and turns thrown at the audience like hatchets, UP! is half-successful and is such a strong departure from the Meyer we know and love it never really clicks. The script (what there is of a script) was co-written by Roger Ebert under a pseudonym (Reinhold Timme), and one has to wonder what the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic contributed to the clothesline of a script. Don't get me wrong, the sex scenes are highly erotic, well-photographed and stunningly edited. But one of the best things about Meyer's films is that he treated sex with a comic flavor, much like John Waters does (or did). None of the sex here is funny, it's included strictly for an adult audience who couldn't get into a hardcore porno theater and settled for the next best thing. The only possibly funny scene is Paul sticking it to Der Fuhrer after all the ladies leave his dungeon! In a violent scene which seems to have influenced Meir Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, Adolph Schwartz is left to die in his bathtub after a black-gloved mystery man drops a piranha into the water and promptly puts a record on the turntable to drown out his screams. Much like Camille Keaton castrating the head rapist and putting on a record of classical music while he screams and tries to get out of her bathroom.

UP! introduced a new Russ Meyer superstar who would prove to be one of his most-unjustly neglected actresses of the 1970's. Raven de la Croix, with an exotic name and a body which is a true gift from the gods, had done lots of modeling by 1976 and appeared in UP! after coming to terms with the fact that she had to perform nude scenes and graphic sex scenes. According to de la Croix, she really went all out for this film, destroying her feet while running through the desert, almost sacrificing her life during the drowning/rape scene, and unknowingly being body doubled during some of the more questionable sex scenes. For a time, de la Croix was the most successful Meyer film school graduate, appearing in bit parts in studio fare like THE BLUES BROTHERS, THE CHICKEN CHRONICLES, and SCREWBALLS, as well as a great role as a biker chick in THE LOST EMPIRE. Another Meyer actress who has been active in the fan community for quite a while, de la Croix's website www.rantingsofamadwoman.com has been up for a good number of years and allows fans to connect with her and experience many ravishing photos of the lovely lass.

Another Russ Meyer leading lady would be introduced to the world here before she also became Meyer's #1 lady in real life: Francesca "Kitten" Natividad. Though her performance was dubbed due to a thick Spanish accent (which she quickly lost before starring in Meyer's next and last film, BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXEN), her astounding figure, with giant knockers, a derriere that won't quit and a perpetually smiling face, made Kitten an instant favorite among Meyer followers. She apparently taught Russ how to give cunnilingus and have anal sex, practices he had never indulged in before, and was his companion for a good many years, as a friend and/or a lover. When she began appearing in hardcore porno films, both as a softcore participant and an active penetrative sex performer, Meyer was dismayed. Natividad's drug and alcohol abuse reached unbelievable levels, but thankfully she managed to somber up and remained friends with Meyer to his dying day. She is also one of only two or three of his leading ladies who made the effort to take care of his invalid mother when she was in a mental institution. Natividad is also a breast cancer survivor and connects with her fans at autograph shows, conventions and live performances.

Fans of big tit superstars of the 70s will unfortunately not recognize mega-endowed Candy Samples, the grandmother of all buxotic sexploitation queens. Apparently Meyer found her face such a turn-off (boo!) that he hid her behind a leather mask and billed her as "Mary Gavin," which is rumored to be her real name. Ebony beauties Linda Sue Ragsdale and Foxy Lae would never make another film, while Marianne Marks (who has a standout blowjob scene in the back of a squadcar), would make several guest appearances on 70s TV shows before disappearing and Elaine Collins would fly to Australia to appear in FANTASM COMES AGAIN to finish off her career. For Janet Wood, to appear in a Russ Meyer film would be a step down for her. She was on her way in exploitation films like THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, SLUMBER PARTY '57, and ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME, and would graduate to mainstream television and movie roles within the next couple of years. To my knowledge, she has never acknowledged her work in this film over the decades and who can blame her? She takes a strap-on from Linda Sue Ragsdale and runs through the woods naked pursuing an equally buff Raven de la Croix!!

Handsome leading man Robert McLane was a homosexual in real life, who passed away in 1993 due to complications of AIDS, and the amount of nudity and sex scenes he contributes is astounding! I don't think Meyer worked with as uninhibited an actor, so the lady and gay viewers will enjoy his consistent exposure. Monty Bane looks and acts like a Charles Napier replacement (who by 1976 had hit the big time in mainstream cinema and TV), but also contributes more nudity than Napier ever did, making this is a double-edged sword for his role as Homer Johnson. Bob Schott, the big lummox who played Rafe, would become a regular presence as imposing men in mainstream projects. Henry Rowland would refuse to appear as Martin Bormann due to the Nazi sodomy scene, but dubbed the dialogue for actor Edward Schaaf. Handsome mustachioed Ken Kerr (the male lead in BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS) has a bit part as a diner patron, and Meyer himself has another cameo to watch for!

Another disappointing transfer from Arrow Films, UP! suffers from that same jittering during movement in the film. The transfer looks about the same as that of the RM Films region 1 disc, which isn't so hot. The mono audio is very strong, especially during the outrageous screams and moans of the frequent sex scenes.

No Russ Meyer appearances on this disc, as he never recorded a commentary for the film in the laserdisc days, but the two stand-out actresses in the film, Raven de la Croix and Kitten Natividad, appear in video interviews! A really ballsy woman with a great sense of humor, Raven de la Croix has aged beautifully! Currently a blonde, de la Croix discusses her background in acting and modeling before she was cast in UP! and shares a series of incredible memories about the production. Apparently Meyer was more unhinged on the set than he was on previous shoots, putting de la Croix through hell performing her own stunts and keeping the camera running while she almost drowns during the rape scene! Her first meeting with Meyer provides some laughs, and she was one of the first actresses he cast without seeing their nude body! Amusingly enough, some sex scenes which she refused to do were shot with a body double to shock her when the film was released! Many of the scenes were completely improvised, including the wild bar brawl! De la Croix also recounts a publicity tour for the film, and sneaking off the set after hours until Ken Kerr (the star of ULTRA-VIXENS and a production assistant on UP!) ratted her out! Kitten Natividad is interviewed at a club in Nottingham, England, where she is scheduled to perform her strip act. Surprisingly, she opens up about her hardcore films (Natividad is one of only four Russ Meyer actresses to perform hardcore on-camera; the other three were Sharon Kelly, Su Ling and Candy Samples) and Meyer's intense dislike for it. Natividad is such a sweet doll of a woman, all smiles and filled with giggles and memories of her stripper days before she met Meyer. She mentions her website www.kittyklub.com, so be sure and visit!


Special thanks to Kit Gavin for the screen grabs