And now we come to another of my favorite type of DVD release, the double feature. First off, this is how films were shown for decades: dating all the way back to the 1930s and going straight up through grindhouse and drive in culture of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. It kept blowhard directors from outstaying their welcome (picture sitting through a 2 and a half hour feature, knowing a second attraction was in store therafter – who’d stand for it?), and exposed viewers to entire genres they may never otherwise have encountered.
Now, I’ve heard some self justification by certain parties on the boutique label front that somehow “double features don’t sell”, but that spurious argument is both disingenuous and illogical – you’ve got twice as good a chance of getting a winner as you would with a normal purchase (and possibly a pair of them). I’ve found it exceedingly rare if not unheard of to get two abject stinkers paired on the same disc, so again, keep ’em coming, guys.
First up, we have The Suckers (1972). Directed by a certain Stu Segall (billed here as “Arthur Byrd”), his directorial career (as “Godfrey Daniels”) appears to consist mainly of porn flicks aimed towards the lolita fetish market, before “going legit” and turning television producer in the mid-1980’s, funding such shows as Hunter, the Wiseguy pilot, Renegade and Silk Stalkings.
The film features a few folks with lengthy exploitation and sexploitation credits. Unfortunately, none of them are directly identified with their character names in what stands of the credits, so it’s a bit of a guessing game as to who’s who.
We have Norman Fields of low rent blaxploiters Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, the Black Bunch and the Black Alley Cats, Code Red’s Alice Goodbody and Filipino monster flick Octaman (!)
On the distaff end, you get Something Weird favorite Sandy Dempsey (of such classic soft and hardcore efforts as Ed Wood’s Drop Out Wife, The Black Alley Cats, the John Holmes “Johnny Wadd” entry The Danish Connection and the Dirty Mind of Young Sally), Laurie Rose (of Ginger picture The Abductors, the entertaining Sondra Currie effort Policewomen and Stefanie Rothman’s The Working Girls), and my personal choice for true star of the picture, Barbara Mills, who we’ll get to momentarily.
The Suckers is an odd cross between Frank Dobbs’ Enter the Devil, with its Western desert milieu and shotgun bearing, hairtrigger hick types, Massimo Pupillo’s Mickey Hargitay cult classic Bloody Pit of Horror and Renato Polselli’s very similar Vampire and the Ballerina, with it’s cast of “$50 an hour models” and impotent weakling of a PR man winding up under the auspices of a very Sadean rich man on his isolated estate, and the openly stated source of Ernest Schoedsack and Merian Cooper’s The Most Dangerous Game (not to mention its dozens of inferior variations, inclusive of everything from Corman’s unwatchable Bloodlust, whose sole saving grace was the prominent presence of gawkish, skinny armed/huge chested Robert “Mike Brady” Reed, to Jesus Franco’s Perverse Countess.)
Our ostensible protagonists are George and Cindy Stone, a PR man and talent agent and his photographer wife, who are summoned to the remote desert estate of a retired “great white hunter” who’d funded their operation to some unspecified degree in the past.
As Cindy puts it, “(you get) a call from a client you haven’t heard from for 5 years, and for what? A photographic safari right in the middle of a goddamn estate, in the middle of this wilderness…he’s got the urge again, and wants me to photograph it”. We also get those two “50 dollar an hour models” in tow (the aforementioned Dempsey and Rose), who are apparently along for the ride “…to pose with the catch on a goddamn ad for Canadian Club whiskey”, an endorsement I’m sure that particular distillery was proud to have. “As seen in The Suckers“. It also shows the scriptwriter’s obsession with the phrase “goddamn”…
It’s hilarious how the two supposed “models” are really nothing much to look at, while the only actual looker is the vinegar-personalitied photographer Barbara (Barbara Mills, of Nick Philips’ Fancy Lady and Something Weird’s Sweet Georgia), who comes with some pretty classical features, nice legs and sexy long straight hair. The other two are so low rent and comparatively unappealing, both I AND my wife had already heard “$50 an hour HOOKERS” before they finished their (frankly unbelievable) intended statement.
The expected casting absurdities occur, with the very Italian actor Steve Vincent (also of Drive In Massacre and Harry Novak’s Space Thing) playing the very Dutch “Mr. Steve Van der Meer”, while the ostensible Joel McRea “heroic hunter” role is essayed by a grumpy, bumbling and quite unlikeable Richard Smedley as “Mr. Jeff Baxter”.
Van der Meer displays an amusingly offputting admixture of blatantly racist sentiment and apparent lack of aesthetic sensibility when he intones this amazing exchange with Fields:
“This is really an oddball one, isn’t it – not like the old days in Kenya.”
“The old days are finished, George – only the appetite remains. Let’s call this a touch of nostalgia…only instead of sweating blacks, we have very lovely ladies.” ummm…yeah.
The less ugly of the two “models” accosts Smedley with the surefire line “who can sleep? I’ve been a model since I was 17 years old”. Yep, nothing bags your man like a blatant display of narcissistic self absorption and vapidity. But “now that you’ve succeeded in scaring me to death, ” she follows up with, “you can buy me a drink.” That’s right…they’re on a private estate, but she expects him to BUY her a drink. From who, Van der Meer? Yeah, we’ve got a real brain trust here. Bimbo alert flashing…
Eventually Van der Meer takes the entire crew out into the hills and drops the bomb. The ugliest girl gets caught first, and we get treated to a repulsive “rape” scene where it’s hard to say what’s worse – having to see the dumpy, balding gunsel in his birthday suit or her ratty mop of short & curlies (get your mind out of the gutter, there’s nothing wrong with her nether region, just her hairstylist’s aesthetic sense or lack thereof) and prominent whore’s stable tattoo of a particularly huge butterfly on her outer thigh.
Regardless, it’s utterly repulsive, and any attempt to measure comparative levels of nausea inspired by this scene boil down to a purely intellectual exercise measuring the limits which a sane mind can bear – and trust me, this is pushing it.
Things pretty much go downhill for both the characters and the viewer, until we come to the denouement, with Smedley and his Mensa applicant squeeze tied to a pair of trees, being menaced by Vincent.
Smedley intones in a distractingly molasses-thick good ol’ boy Deep Southern fried drawl that “you’re an impotent freak! That’s about all you’re good for, ol’ man! That’s what this hunt’s all about, isn’t it, ol’ man? You couldn’t catch a decent cold”, before breaking into a fist fight, grabbing Van der Meer’s gun and proceeding to pick his nose with it. Seriously. Ed Wood would be proud.
Just as events seem to wrap up, bits of the opening credits reaappear, apparently spliced in to the print in place of the original close. We get a red title card identifying it as copyright “Lee Ming Film Co. USA”, which sounds more like a Chinatown food store than any actual film related concern. Maybe they should have bought us all some lychee instead…
The Suckers comes to us with a lot of print damage and crackling on the soundtrack, with practically the entire running time marked by running green lines, so don’t expect Criterion treatment. But as always, colors are effusive and vibrant, and the image is crisp and clean throughout.
With the same chatty feel of such contemporaneous fare as Stefanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire or MST3K favorite The Touch of Satan, the biggest flaw with the film is actually its overemphasis on extremely long, extended sex scenes between boring people. There’s a tremendous amount of simulated sex killing off the shot clock (if you really wanted to see some scruggly looking, scrawny balding man’s hairy @$$ and semi-erect tackle box, this is your stop), and it feels like the rest of the plot was dropped in as an afterthought to try to sell about 4 or 5 snooze inducing missionary position sex sequences. About as good as it gets is Smedley’s intellectual ladyfriend making Dadaist comments like “I’m going to get you for that” apropos of nothing and even more randomly, “I’m gonna take you with me” during the act…
Some really nice fashions (like what the “models” arrive wearing) are offset by some truly hideous ones, like Fields’ awful shirts and ties and Mills’ cringe inducing checkerboard quilted pants and men’s shirt ensemble which covers up some even more heinous little girl panties with lace frills. How Victorian!
Apparently another film long considered lost, The Suckers is a welcome if far from perfect entry into the joint fields of horror and sexploitation. But I’m still wondering what the hell a “sick headache” is…
Next up we get a Bob Chinn production, The Love Garden (1971), directed by Mark Haggard (who gave us the surprisingly quite erotic Peggy Church vehicle The All-American Girl) and once again starring pretty Barbara Mills (“as Ines”, as the opening credits proudly proclaim). Also available for your delectation is Claire (Linda York, whose sole notable role outside this appears to be in Charles Band’s Auditions), a rather young looking redhead with a few prominent blonde streaks who isn’t exactly a stunner, but at least doesn’t hurt the eyes like Dempsey and Rose do.
First shown poolside in a really nice cheetah print and fishnet one piece, she actually responds to the creepy leering of Mike (Jason Yukon, of Something Weird’s The Godson), a homely Andre the Giant lookalike with a sardonic tonality to his speech patterns.
Baiting her with the comparative merits of Norman Mailer and feminism, Yukon taunts York into this witty exchange:
“She’s simply in favor of women leading their own lives, instead of men using them as tools.”
“uh huh,” he replies, “do men use you that way?”
“They try,” she answers…
By being both persistent and persistently obnoxious, he manages to ingratiate himself into her world and her pants. “You’re very attractive,” he intones. Apropos of nothing, she delivers this choice bon mot: “That’s very flattering. I think I’m going to get stoned.” uh…yeah, thanks for sharing!
Mills shows up and breaks up the little non-event, casting a lingering glance at Yukon, leading one to expect a different kind of love triangle than the one that actually ensues. Presenting York with a perfectly hideous white communion dress (which York gets quite excited over, as if it were the very height of haute couteure), the two proceed to show their true colors as a lesbian couple. Yukon apparently forgot his book, so he returns in time to see them going at it, and thinks this hilarious monologue into existence:
“So now I knew why she was playing so hard to get. Now I knew. And I still wanted her, more than ever. I didn’t know what made her the way she was, maybe I didn’t even care. But she was definitely a challenge to me now. I was almost ready to give up on her before, thinking she had a boyfriend. But not now. I liked her very much. I needed her. And I had no one else! (that last line intoned quite cheerily). I was convinced that I could show her as much tenderness and affection as a woman could. God, to think of that beautiful girl giving herself like that to another woman. I had to show her that it could be just as good. Even better with a man. With me.” aahh, sheer poetry.
Mills undresses to reveal a rather pleasant sense of style in undergarments (what appears to be a black satin bikini) before digging in for some pretty serious “almost porn” rug munching and fingering – still this side of the X line, but just) and all the closeups of her classically handsome face display a talent for tasteful makeup – eyeshadow, mascara and lipstick are all well enhanced, but not overdone. Not something I generally pick up on, but here, it’s noticeable. There’s no two ways about it, the woman is a stunner. Then York takes her chance at bat, and we cross over the line – there’s just no question or ambiguity that Mills was getting her fur petted, so to speak.
“I began my seduction strategy the next day,” Yukon drones, before offering York a job as a typist, offering to “pay you two…no make that three dollars an hour.” Ooh, big spender, she’s sure to be as good as yours after that offer!
But sure enough, he gets his way, and we drive full throttle into XXX territory at last, if briefly, as York very obviously beats Yukon off for about a minute. Strangely, most of the action remains softcore, but we get these little half scenes that could never play in mixed company (at least since the more adventurous days of “porno chic”).
The film doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants to play as a female oriented melodrama (like, say, The Gardener aka Seeds of Evil, George Romero’s Season of the Witch or Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came From the Sea) or the more traditionally male oriented arena of softcore sexploitation, or in fact hardcore porn.
But after all this, she decides to walk out on him, prompting the thoughtful and heartfelt exchange
“Where ya going, back to your dyke girlfriend?”
“All you ever wanted was my ass!”
it all comes to a head with this bit of business:
“Can you forgive me? Even my using you the way I did?”
“I didn’t know what I wanted. I was trying to find out with you.”
“And now you know?”
“At least for the moment.”
So in other words, she was bi-curious and experimenting, before reverting to her true orientation as a rug muncher. Aah, what a sensitive and touching film, be sure to bring the wife and kids.
Mournful and grim in tone, The Love Garden bears all the marks of earnest and meaningful Me Generation filmmaking – the same zeitgeist that gave us actual statements in films like Woodstock, The Omega Man and Easy Rider could also deliver some real unflushables of self absorption and confused introspection like this one.
While it’s great to see Mills strut her stuff again, and York isn’t all that hard on the eyes, her whiny and flighty persona joins Yukon’s mopey misogyny to create something of an endurance test on the viewer – you’ll either be laughing your ass off at the whole affair, or it will rub you like a cheese grater on an open wound.
While certainly the least of all Vinegar Syndrome releases that I’ve reviewed to date, The Suckers / The Love Garden is still in all another piece of grindhouse history, with plenty of lovely Barbara Mills on display throughout. Fans of Dempsey (God help them, whomever they may be) and Something Weird completists may also want to jump on this one, and once again, this is a welcome salvage operation of films presumably long thought lost, now restored to some sense of immediacy and relative glory for your perusal.