Directors: Joe Sarno, Joel Landwehr, Allen Savage
Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment

A recent announcement by big-studio Miramax reveals plans for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to shoot two separate horror films and link them together with other directors' self-made trailers and short features to create one full-length movie called GRIND HOUSE. When Disney, of all people, plans to pay homage to the 42nd Street they completely destroyed in the late 80s and early 90s, one thing shines clear through the irony: there will never be another Times Square. The name is synonymous with filthy movies, crack-addicted horrors of human beings, porno palaces, sex arcades and live sex shows, rundown hotels, hardened criminals, wide-eyed outsiders eager for a taste of the forbidden. Yet none of that exists anymore. The golden age of grindhouses, peepshows and storefronts is long gone and will never return. Home video has kept the films which frequented them alive and well, but has also ruined the chance of 35mm films like them ever being threaded through projectors again. Why waste cash on film when you can crank out video and have any sucker in smalltown America, miles away, buy your piece of garbage porno flick or gory home movie? At age 21, I was of course never "blessed," so to speak, with sitting in a urine-stained theater seat, being surrounded by thieves, perverts and shy out-of-towners and propositioned by switchblade-wielding hustlers, and trying to view the film on a screen littered with garbage. But Something Weird has managed to do their best to recreate sitting for hours in the Globe or the Apollo, watching movies unspool before your bloodshot eyes.

Shy young writer Barbara is trying to get her big break in the Big Apple, taking a room in a shadowy hotel (the credits show the Edison Hotel, so perhaps that's where the film is supposed to be set) and cranking out poetry and typing manuscripts to pay her rent. Enter Julia, her sultry older sister who continues to judge her sister's square behavior as she did when they were children. Barbara finds herself attracted to a budding writer neighbor, while Julia is drawn to a mysterious storage room where a large-breasted vixen named Georgia has sex with a variety of men and women. Julia turns into an insatiable bitch in heat after overhearing a particularly loud, orgasmic late night screw and ventures into the room to discover the pulsating wonder of a body vibrator. It is soon revealed that Barbara has sexual feelings for her sister while Julia finds herself addicted to the pain and the pleasure experienced in the store room. The sexual kinks of both siblings collide in one wild night!

VIBRATION sticks out like a sore thumb on this triple feature because it's a Sarno film: classy and sophisticated, beautifully shot, a juicy script, filled with wonderful performances and sexy as hell. Many sources claim it was shot in 1967, but 1969 seems more accurate (and is quoted on the box art). The sex is more graphic and nudity more frequent, all shot with live sound and with professional flair like no other Big Apple director. Sarno made almost all of his best films in black-and-white, and this nourish quickie is no exception. It's no SIN IN THE SUBURBS or ANYTHING FOR MONEY, but it's a marvel to look at and features an involving screenplay, earnest performers, and of course that lighting...! Sarno's trademark pinhole lighting over the eyes of aroused females as they pleasure themselves in the dark is proof that he could have easily graduated into lighting, photographing and directing major motion pictures. In addition, Sarno inserts plenty of street shots of bustling New York City, aiding the time capsule quality of the film.

The storyline of two sisters, one prudish, one whorish, colliding as adults after strange childhoods, would turn up later in PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS shot the same year and would appear later in Sarno's filmography several times (including one of his hardcore films, SLEEPYHEAD, with Tina Russell and Georgina Spelvin). Sarno's incest angles usually involved parent-and-offspring, making this a unique exception to his general rule. There are no performer credits, but viewers will immediately recognize two ladies before the opening titles. Peggy Steffans, who settled permanently into Sarno's sinema after working with Sande Johnson, Doris Wishman and Michael Findlay, is Edna, the squawk-box-voiced landlady with unkempt hair and bruises all over her body. Steffans had given sterling performances in many Sarno films by this time and is also credited as associate producer here, giving more evidence that this was most probably a 1969 production. The part of 'Georgia' is played by a familiar face to sexploitation fans...a face with no name!! If you remember the breasty lass inserted into CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT who argues with an off-screen Jake LaMotta while massaging her breasts and French-kissing her reflection in the mirror, you'll be surprised to see her here! The only other credit I can find for her is the title role in Barry Mahon's THE DIARY OF KNOCKERS MCCALLA, which is lost, and all press materials don't feature any cast listing (typical of Mahon). So until someone comes forth with her name, she will be deemed "Knockers McCalla" for reference purposes. She's no actress, but has the ticket-sellers to burn herself into your memory. Both uncredited actresses who play the polar opposite sisters are superb, especially the gal who plays the miserable Barbara. Hopefully Michael Bowen, Sarno's biographer, can uncover more information about this underrated effort from the master of sexploitation. An audio commentary would have been a plus, but there wasn't enough room on the disc.

It's great to have VIBRATION in such a gorgeous-looking transfer from the original negative, but it's definitely too good to simply appear on a "Times Square Triple Feature." It should have been paired with another Sarno gem for a Sarno double bill. A better film to throw onto this disc would have been Joel Landwehr's IN HOT BLOOD, an hour-long monstrosity which is the perfect example of the unsexy grindhouse epic which warped many minds in the late 60s. For a taste of Landwehr's perverse universe, let the next feature, FLUCTUATIONS, unravel before your unbelieving eyes!

Opening with a long moaning and groaning audio track playing over the credits, FLUCTUATIONS never tries to make sense, instead settling for as much bare flesh paraded before the camera as possible. A woman reads from a book called "Voyeur" and I assume we're treated to everything that spews from her brain onto celluloid; in-between the various vignettes, we cut back to her licking her lips and making saucer-eyes as she turns each page. As a side note, this woman is Jo Ellen, one of the models from Landwehr's IN HOT BLOOD and the title role in Distribpix' FELICIA. Now to her visions: a brunette enters a room, undresses and prances in a leotard before going topless and being carried out the door again by her lover to a bedroom where she fools around with one of his ties (!) before he strips (male nudity alert!) and they bump and grind. While they grope each other, a bearded fella is revealed to be watching them in a comfy chair; he strips down and a sandwich ensues. A long-haired vixen appears and starts whipping the trio with her hair (!!). A man is picked up by Michael Findlay and Distribpix regular Kim Lewid ('Baby' in A THOUSAND PLEASURES, A BRIDE FOR BRENDA, THE FILTH SHOP), billed here as Kim LeWise, and they make out in broad daylight. She strips in a wooded area for her admirer. Two men practice karate on one another for some odd reason. To make things more confusing, ANOTHER girl sits on a couch, smokes a cigarette and reads ANOTHER dirty book! She beckons her boyfriend...or is it her the couch, playing the dominatrix role with a whip, and makes out with him/her. They stop to argue, then she's pawed by two women who play with her hair as she stares miserably into the camera. The two then stand outside in black trenchcoats and abduct another Findlay regular, Alice Noland (ULTIMATE DEGENERATE, AMAZING TRANSPLANT, FOUR ON THE FLOOR ), billed here as Susan Landau, off the streets! Alice is stripped, tied to a leash and felt up while unconscious. In another dimension, apparently, the female abductor has a lesbo scene with the girl in the leotard. Then Kim shows up, gyrates for the camera, and then pairs up with the female abductor for some breast-rubbing! It just escalates into more maddening scenarios with not one iota of intelligence or meaning whatsoever before someone writes "END" on an ass covered in whipped cream.

Dear Lord, if I were an audience member in the grindhouse that showed this one, I probably would have incited a riot and torn the place apart! Landwehr probably thought that after he unleashed IN HOT BLOOD, he could get away with throwing anything into his movie as long as there was some nudity and sex and he could make a profit. And you know what? He was probably right! The nonsensical narration is terrible, and sounds as if it was recorded by some girl on the other end of a telephone receiver! In fact, during the abduction scene, the dialogue is an entire real-life phone sex conversation between what one assumes is the director and an unidentified girl! He even asks her to be in one of his movies and she says she wouldn't "dirty herself" that way! The soundtrack is filled with recognizable library music ditties, usually on a xylophone, when there isn't more moaning, groaning, breathing and panting. Think SINTHIA THE DEVIL'S DOLL in black-and-white and that's FLUCTUATIONS. In other words, an utter waste of time.

Okay...moving on...SUBMISSION! Before she became one of the earliest New York porno starlets with her sizable bust and blonde locks, Jennifer Welles was a brunette softcore staple. This was one of her first vehicles and is pretty surprising for its erotic intensity and borderline hardcore scenes! Here, she plays Vicky, a woman-child who floats through the city in the opening credits, gazing in awe at the goodies in a candy store and poking her fingers in a rabbit's cage in a pet shop before running home to her boyfriend Barry's apartment. However, he's out watching one of his male friends shag a blonde girl silly! The emotionally stunted girl and her sleazeball partner make their living as live-in help for wealth women, seducing them out of their money in the process. Their last target ended up dead, leaving even more psychological damage on Vicky's warped mind. After she begins to enjoy the company of their current benefactor as a mother figure and a lover, she begins to wonder if she needs Barry after all...

Wow, what a movie!! I suppose after FLUCTUATIONS anything would be good, and this doesn't approach the beauty of VIBRATIONS, but SUBMISSION is a strong contender in the sexploitation genre and is exceptionally well-made! It has definitely been forgotten for too long, that's for sure. Director/producer Allen Savage should have done more films (he also did WEEKEND WITH STRANGERS with Jennifer then apparently retired). A dark moody piece, this one manages to pack in a lot of kinky surprises along with the usual degenerate storyline: masturbation with a lit candle, oral sex with a nougat center, a mirror allowing every angle to pierce the camera lens, a woodland rape scene, the list of incredible scenes goes on. Appearing in a pretty graphic opening sex scene is Juan Fernandez, the recipient of THE AMAZING TRANSPLANT, completely nude and boffing away at some lucky blonde girl who also buries her face in his crotch in a surprising shot! One superb scene finds Barry enticing her to perform fellatio on a candy bar. The editor chose to include several takes of the scene in sequence, so just as Vicki opens her mouth to accept the phallic symbol, she is shown again approaching it with caution then repeatedly "going down" on the nutty treat.

Jennifer Welles' childlike performance as Vicky is reminiscent of an equally good one by Marcia Forbes in the neglected gem TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN. Jen's best films are probably those she shot with Joe Sarno: MISTY, ABIGAL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN (both forthcoming on DVD from RetroSeduction Cinema) and CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. One which looks very promising is the aforementioned WEEKEND WITH STRANGERS, also starring Diana Lewis (FLESHPOT ON 42ND STREET), which appears to be lost. She became a hardcore legend after starring in films like LITTLE ORPHAN SAMMY, INSIDE JENNIFER WELLES and TEMPTATIONS, then promptly disappeared much to her fans' dismay. She is quite fascinating here, playing a fragile complex character very well. At the home of their employer, she is entranced by the caged birds and goldfish tank one minute, then becomes a gifted sexual animal playing erotic games the next! Regular Sarno player Sheila Britt (THE SWAP AND HOW TO MAKE IT, COME RIDE THE WILD PINK HORSE) plays the couple's ill-fated client who ends up dead for her troubles, and is given little to do except appear naked and writhe with passion in the arms of Barry during flashbacks.

Most of the sex is covered with non-stop jazz library music, which can get irritating at times when people like Joe Sarno were delivering equally erotic outings with live sound, complete with moans, gasps, yelps of pleasure. Speaking of Sarno, the influence on this film is undeniable, with the camera often placed on the faces of people having sex, an emphasis on story and character, accomplished photography, lighting and editing, and a twist ending which satisfies. SUBMISSION is one of the last gasps of the softcore days, and the film is so beautiful, the sex so graphic and the performances so genuinely insatiable it ranks as one of the best. The highest recommendation possible for this one!!

With three full-length feature films for your enjoyment, there's barely room for extras. You will be surprised to see almost eight minutes of deleted scenes (what?!) for SUBMISSION have emerged through the passage of time. Most are outtakes and extensions of other scenes, but some are interesting: the ghost of Sheila Britt brings Jennifer a toy boat to play with in the bathtub and have a three-way with 'Barry'; the unidentified couple who shag in front of a mirror have another sex scene with a dildo; Jennifer Welles chows down some jelly; and 'Barry' washes windows. The gallery of Sick Sixties Sex Stills with Audio Oddities is recycled from earlier discs, but is still fun to sit through and enjoy!

Can you think of one reason to not pick this triple feature up? Sure, one of the films is a turkey, but at least it has some Findlay people in it, and the other two are so incredible you can't be without them! Pop this into your player and take a trip back to a simpler time of slime, grime and painful pleasure! For the best effect, pick up a homeless man or two and plop them down in your living room (make sure they're talkative); throw a chili dog, a box of popcorn and a glass of Coke at the screen and enjoy whatever sticks; and leave your door open so a couple of rats or squirrels or whatever can scurry underneath your feet. An A+ effort from Something Weird Video! (Casey Scott)