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Friday, April 1, 2016

THAT'S SEXPLOITATION! -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

If you recognized the lovely face of 50s burlesque star Tempest Storm on the cover and it made you smile, then chances are Severin's new Blu-ray release of THAT'S SEXPLOITATION! (2013) will be right up your grindhouse aisle.

Host Frank Henenlotter, writer and director of the cult classic BASKET CASE, not only performs the same duties here but also gets his friend David F. Friedman to appear on-camera throughout. 

Friedman, as many will know, was the veteran producer/showman who gave us such films as BLOOD FEAST and was integral in supplying the roadshow crowd with many of their favorite nudie flicks over the years.

Sitting amidst his own personal gallery of priceless movie posters and memorabilia, Friedman's equally priceless recollections offer colorful firsthand accounts of the history of sexploitation films while we get to watch one great clip after another.

This history of naughty movies begins with those wonderfully ancient-looking silent loops from the 20s, which feature some very cute (and not-so-cute) young ladies cavoting in the forest as wood nymphs, skinny-dipping in someone's swimming pool, or taking part in a variety of other charming vignettes. 

There's full nudity but it's downright tasteful compared to what later years would bring.  These early nudie films were usually distributed in 16mm for private showings to adult (usually all-male) audiences before the advent of adult theaters.

The documentary takes us into the world of the sexploitation pictures of the 30s and 40s (such as HIGH SCHOOL GIRL and SEX MADNESS) which presented audiences with the most lurid tales of sex, drugs, abortion, and venereal disease under the guise of instructive cautionary screeds and "hygiene" films.

Then we get a pictorial tour of the nudist camp frolics of the 50s, with healthy, robust nudes reveling in the joys of sunshine and nature for our leering pleasure, courtesy of such directors as Herschel Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman, and Francis Ford Coppola. 

There's also a sampling of the burlesque flicks which were basically filmed records of the typical burlesque shows of the era.  These feature such recognizable faces and bodies such as Tempest Storm, Bettie Page, and Blaze Starr in addition to numerous less-renowned dancers. 

Things really heat up with Friedman's favorite decade, the 60s, which he refers to as "the decade of innocent decadence."  In addition to the usual nudie loops there was the new mix of sex and violence known as "roughies" as well as an increasingly daring amount of full nudity and simulated sex. 

Meanwhile, homosexuality was explored mainly in the New York underground film scene, while the current culture of hippies, drugs, and rebellion provided experimental young directors with ample subject matter for their nude fantasies. 

The documentary ends on a melancholy note as the decade of the 70s heralds the gradual changeover from titillating exploitation to anything-goes hardcore.  As Friedman wistfully puts it, "The movies became explicit, and the fun stopped."

For those watching this disc, however, the fun's just beginning.  For the extras menu, Something Weird Video has opened up their vaults to offer us over three hours of rare nudie cuties, drive-in bumpers, "infomercials" for the sex manuals which were sold in theater lobbies, burlesque shorts, and longer features including a condensed (55 minutes) version of Joe Sarno's MOONLIGHTING WIVES and another about Mafia party girls entitled THE SIN SYNDICATE. 

The commentary track is a conversation between Frank Henlotter and Something Weird's Lisa Petrucci which is wonderfully informative, with lots of great anecdotes about the late David F. Friedman who passed away shortly after his participation in this film.  A trailer rounds out the bonus selection.

Anyone who ever ordered nudie films from the back of a girlie magazine and can still hear them clattering surreptiously through their home movie projector should experience a wave of nostalgia while watching THAT'S SEXPLOITATION!  And even if you don't remember those times, this exhilarating wallow in undiluted kitsch is a fun introduction to them. 

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