Next on the menu, we have a trio of adult oriented ephemera from famed cult director Ray Dennis Steckler. And while that doesn’t mean Cash Flagg, Carolyn Brandt or Arch Hall, Jr. this time around, you still know what that’s saying.
Welcome to Las Vegas!
First and best of the trio of films on display herein is Red Heat.
Being a Steckler film, and one of his pseudonymous hardcore efforts at that, there are absolutely zero stars involved…but plenty of cult cinema goodness in store for fans of classic grindhouse and regional film.
Opening on a panoramic view of sunny mid-70’s Las Vegas, we get treated in short order to:
- some old bag gambler’s dumpy ass as she walks down the strip,
- a shot of the Riviera, who prominently features Barry Manilow as musical director for the Dick Palombi orchestra (with Bobby Vinton and Pia Zadora on tap for next week!),
- more dumpy tourists,
- billboards for Minsky’s,
- some guy in Richard Simmons short shorts fumbling through his wallet in public (smart!),
- a guy in the world’s most hideous golf pants,
- a giant billboard (complete with hip wiggling photo!) for Tom Jones at Caesar’s,
- a driveby ambulance advertising Deep Throat at the Flick
- and Mac Davis and Joan Rivers at the MGM, all in the course of maybe two minutes of screentime.
Almost makes you wish you could turn back the clock, just for a shot at experiencing this magnitude of cheese and cultural detritus all in one fell swoop…
“I’m a lady pornographer. You know, you’ve seen my films. I’m Cindy Lou Sutters,” the aforementioned Brandt intones offscreen, pretending to embody Steckler’s pseudonymous directorial credit. But nobody’s fooled, particularly when a mustachioed Amy Farrah Fowler type (who looks for all the world like a pre-op transsexual) gets it on with a Carmen Ghia lookalike (yes, that’s a Producers joke, kids) and Steckler is clearly and prominently heard telling him “that’s pretty good, skinny, keep it up, man!”
Well, OK, they’re supposed to be playing the part of “Sutters” and her “horny cameraman, Habib”, but even so…
More street footage ensues, before we get treated to the Ray Dennis Steckler philosophy of porn:
“People who pay to see X rated films want to see some real action. They’re not interested in lots of dialogue. They can see that for free on TV.”
Then things make a turn into grindhouse territory when we’re introduced to a redhead (the rather Georgina Spelvinesque Rita Cummings) and her sleazy aging 50’s rocker (and likely truck driver if not warehouse supervisor) boyfriend. After sending her out to become a porn star (her chosen nom du guerre providing the film with its title), this backwoods dirtbag invites over another ladyfriend for a quickie on the sly. But ‘Red Heat’ returns home, and all of a sudden we’re in Doris Wishman territory…
Back to the travel footage, where we finally get someone worth looking at, a leggy Native American lass who Steckler ogles relentlessly with his camera – he knows when he’s got a good thing going, alright.
Another “quickie loop” sequence, this time with a much better looking young lady, but an even weirder looking dude who actually leaves his black socks on during the deed. Then back to the travel footage, where some cowpokes pass a window ad for Willie Nelson.
Red offs her cheatin’ heartthrob and strolls the strip, while “Sutters” and crew film an ersatz ‘beach’ where some guy waterskis and a woman tans herself on the gravel-bedecked curb of a main street (!).
A loosey goosey bottle-blonde skank gets it on with an aging surfer dude, then it’s back to the strip for America with Poco at the Aladdin (with Dick Clark and a 50’s nostalgia show on tap!). Caesar’s has changed shows, with Buddy Hackett and Tina Turner taking over for Jones, and Tony Bennett (with Joey Heatherton, of all people) offers the Sahara a touch of class.
Another casino (we don’t get to see which) gets saddled with Danny Thomas and Lola Folana (double shudder) and the Flamingo Capri pulls in only the best people with 75c beers. Robert Goulet is working the strip too, alongside Bennett arranger Ralph Sharon and Tonight Show standby Doc Severinsen*, before we’re finally treated to the seedier side of town, all X rated theaters, book shops, massage parlors and peep shows.
*if you’re too young to be either rolling on the floor laughing or swooning in ecstatic glee over all these cheesy cultural signposts of an earlier era, I have to say I feel sorry for you…trust me, nobody will be bringing up the likes of Beyoncé 20-40 years from now, even as a joke…
We finally return to our ostensible star, who goes for a 1920’s style glamour shoot that’s positively mouthwatering, in spite of her middling at best looks. The photographer, who looks like a hairy variation of Joey Silvera, gets excited enough to put the moves on her, which results in yet another killing. Sheesh, talk about your misguidedly man hating feminist types…she’s a few years too early for Take Back the Night…
Back to the travelogue. Flip Wilson and Geraldine are opening for Frank Sinatra Jr. at the Sahara, with Wayland Flowers and “Madame Goes to Harlem” waiting in the wings(!). Gee, wonder why he never brought that skit to Solid Gold or the Hollywood Squares (not to mention Madame’s Place)?
Speaking of that particular (ahem) bent, the Riviera is hosting both the Merv Griffin show (perhaps with Deney Terio in tow?) and none other than The Village People. You just know Messrs. Hughes, Hodo, Rose and Jones (and whichever iteration of the motorcycle cop was in tow this particular week) had to be in heaven headlining alongside all the luminaries we’ve seen on tap thus far… Oh, and Mac Davis is ‘eefin’ at the Hilton…can you believe all this?
Steckler’s budgetary limitations come into prominent focus when Cummings comes strolling out of the TraveLodge the cast and crew doubtless holed up at, and we get yet another appearance from our opening sequence trannie, this time in a studded leather collar and blonde wig, for a lesbi-scene. Then an old fat lady in a bouffant (with a poorly done tattoo that says “Dee Dee” on her hip) and her sad looking chubby chaser white trash gal pal get it on together and with “a weightlifter from a nearby gym”, before more street shots of Helen Reddy at the MGM, a scene where Cummings does her hair in front of a photo of Bela Lugosi (not only a man hating murderess, but a proto-goth! What a woman, eh?), and our trannie friend makes her third appearance onscreen. Wait, who’s the star of this film again?
Things wrap up with fair warning given that Roy Clark will be at the Frontier, as we get what amounts to merely the second reasonably attractive female in the entire film (a young auburn haired hippie chick referred to as “Candy”), and finally the storylines all come together when our low rent robber (we’ll get to him momentarily) gives “Red” a lift on his motorcycle, only for both of them to be run down by a wrong side of the street drunk driver. Wow.
“The girls weren’t much to look at, but we had to make good with them, as we were running low on money.”
Somewhat typically for a Steckler production, the film has concurrent storylines going on and can’t quite decide what it wants to be. There’s a whole subplot involving a motorcycle riding bandit who rifles through unattended purses and steals wallets from hitchhikers and hippies at gunpoint, the “Sutters” thing where they’re just trying to make a good (cough) porno, and the whole Valerie Solanas thing with “Red Heat” going around gutting guys she excites all over the strip.
And then you get the whole documentarian aspect, which goes well beyond the standard low budget exploitation conceit of playing unintended time capsule by capturing unstaged ephemera of location and era, heading straight into a more deliberate attempt to preserve on film the glitz and fallen glamour of Las Vegas in all its seedy and perpetually faded glory.
What it is, in the end, is highly entertaining, with the hardcore sequences equal measures repulsive (due to some truly hideous performers) and appealing (in Steckler’s obsessive attention to detail and focus, particularly in matters oral). At least “Candy” and the earlier girl who got stuck with Mr. Black Socks are viewable without involuntary induction of vomiting, while the historical and camp aspects are right off the charts and the non-hardcore sequences are pure Steckler goodness.
I really liked this film overall, making it one of the (if not the) only instance where I wish someone had pulled a Dracula Sucks and excised most or all of the hardcore bits (which with the two exceptions noted, were absolutely repulsive).
But wait – there’s more!
“The man you are looking at is known to the public…as a weirdo!”
Next up, we get Peeping Tom, delivered under Steckler’s other hardcore nom de plume, “Sven Christian”.
A not entirely unattractive but really lippy and foulmouthed Lydia Lunch type snipes at her malnourished cowpoke boyfriend in what appears to be the boiler room of a school, practically braining herself on the brick wall their bed is set up against when it comes out that she likes it rough.
Like a Richard Kern film a decade or so early, it borders the darkly erotic and the disgust of the transgressive, and feels more New York than anything else in Steckler’s catalogue. Tellingly, the guy just can’t keep up with her, either verbally or physically…definitely the most interesting hardcore sequence the man ever scripted or filmed, on a few levels.
Things go straight downhill from here, as a pair of hippies get it on with some scruggly gals and a fat middle aged man takes on an Angelique Pettyjohn lookalike (sporting yet another crappy bikini-area tattoo and gold go go boots to boot!)* who appears to be absolutely desperate to keep her face offscreen.
Luckily the fourth scene features a willowy foreign type with a maid’s comb in her hair, but despite her relative good looks, she’s pretty damn lethargic and unenthusiastic about the endeavor. Then the ugliest couple in porn history* shows up for what feels like the longest scene in porn history, and we get to hear him tell her “you’re cute” just to add insult to injury. We’re also given to understand that she’s supposed to be young enough to be living with (and afraid of) her mother, despite looking for all the world to be a whooped fortysomething fishwife…
* yeah, I think this is a hands down victory.
“You have just witnessed a strange man, living a strange life through the affairs of other human beings. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one Peeping Tom watches next!”
Finally, we close things out on The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire, “starring Jim Parker as Count Dracula, ‘Jane Bond’ (Carolyn Brandt herself) as the wife of Dracula (‘Elena’, to go by the first line of dialogue, but I guess Steckler forgot that already by the time he got around to scrawling the credits…) and Rock Heinrich as “the Hunchback,” with “art direction by De Sade(!)” I guess that explains the panther mask that keeps flashing around throughout the credits…
Opening on a title card that simply says “suck…”, we’re introduced to a paunchy, surprisingly arch horror host Dracula who cackles and makes goofy faces as “his servants” doff mismatched cloaks to do the deed with both hunchback and each other. Brandt is the only one even attempting a measure of straightfacedness, doubtless tagged in after the fact for her Greek choruslike pronouncements.
Hey, wait a minute…that’s the same Angelique Pettyjohn clone and old fat guy from Peeping Tom, as “Professor Von Hersing”! Apparently our dime store Dracula sends his girls out, cloak and all, to fill up flower vases with blood from scruggly johns who give the Halloween hitchhiking harlots a lift. The best looking of the girls (who’d previously serviced the hunchback) gets some tall scrawny cowpoke who once again leaves the black socks on, while an even scrugglier one makes a peace symbol-wearing hippie happy before both victims get bitten where it hurts by some ridiculously huge gumball machine plastic fangs.
Unfortunately, the third decides, for no apparent reason, to assault our Pettyjohn wannabe in the john, which leads “Von Hersing” and her gold lame magician’s shirt-bedecked (and obviously much younger) boyfriend straight to Drac and crew. Those they don’t stake run into the rising desert sun and turn to (offscreen) dust, leaving the hunchback to give the sun the double bird.
Those familiar with Steckler’s oeuvre know just how ratty his films can get. Likely shot on short ends and stored in bicoastal grindhouses or desert heat, they tend to rank among the worst worn prints of any of the classic exploitation directors of his era. The few adult films of his previously in release through Something Weird were (as I recall) spliced, marked by jumps, lines, green tones and rattle. We were lucky to have these pieces of grindhouse history at all, never mind the condition.
And so it is that while these three films hardly scream crisp hi-def transfer, the fact that they look as good, not to mention steady and complete as they do here is something of a revelation.
Folks looking for some “hot raincoat action” are sure to be miserably disappointed by this particular triple feature, filled with fuglies and never-was’es who in many cases nearly break the camera by their very presence onscreen. But fans of Steckler, or the sort of classic low-end cult directors Something Weird specializes in generally should be quite happy to get a trio of obscurities from one of our favorite oddball directors of the 60’s and 70’s.