Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Courtesy of Beutelwolf and his ever impressive adult magazine archive, here is a vintage article/interview with Danish actress Helli Louise, the star of Joe Sarno’s Daddy Darling, captured here at the start of her British career that already included TV’s Up Sunday and a stage production of Pyjama Tops (in which she co-starred alongside the likes of Jess Conrad, Fiona Richmond and Lucienne ‘Sylvia Bayo’ Camille). Her later career would take in everything from a touring production of Hair, Confessions of a Pop Performer, to TV’s Benny Hill and The Sweeney, and not forgetting the long lost ‘London After Midnight’ of British sex films that is John Lindsay’s The Hot Girls.
As Helli has long disappeared from public view- she was a notable no-show on the extras of the DVD release of Daddy Darling- this early 1970s piece is an invaluable record of her personality and her attitude towards just about everything under the evening sun. One that sheds light on her background, plus her candid thoughts on sex, men, her body, her career, Long Longford and a friendship with a person –understandably unnamed in the article itself- who would appear to have been the notorious “Bodil – the animal woman”. It’s a titillating, but thought provoking read, one that reveals Helli to have been far from the comedy bimbo she’d often get typecast as. The accompanying photos also prove that there are few sights that can make red blooded men say to themselves “its good to be alive” like that of Helli Louise in a wet T-Shirt.
Sunday, 19 May 2013
At first glance you’d be forgiven for mistaking The Intruders as a sexploitation take on Easy Rider, opening as it does with softcore sex intercut with a couple thundering down backwoods roads on their motorbike. The unshaven, longhaired look of the male part of this couple making him instantly identifiable as a product of the hippie era and a man who has endured a lengthy spell living out on the road. However don’t be fooled, we’re in Sweden here, rather than the America of Easy Rider, and biker Richard (Chris Chittell) is a real wolf in hippie’s clothing who doesn’t mind making either love or war!
A series of remarkable –if implausible- incidents play out over a couple of hours that provides Richard with the basis for a crooked, blackmail scheme. Along with his travelling companion and ‘half-sister’ Paula (Gilda Arancio) Richard encounters a drunk at the wheel motorist (Stellan Skarsgard) and helps him out after he drives his car into a ditch, then chances upon a couple, Helen (Jacqueline Laurent) and Philip (Burt Bellman) having sex at a remote farmhouse. The couple’s post-coital chat making it obvious that both are married to others and that Helen would like nothing better than her husband to be dead “if only Simon would die, why must we always be separated?”.
Later in the day Richard and Paula happen to be passing as Nobel Prize winning scientist Simon Delaney (Borje Nyberg) is giving an interview to a Television crew, in the process parading his family for the TV cameras and announcing his discovery of a valuable formula for a petrol substitute. Richard eyeballs a few familiar faces in the Delaney family line-up, Simon’s son Peter being the motorist he’d encountered earlier in the day, and Simon’s wife being the adulterous Helen from the farmhouse. Ignoring Paula’s protests, Richard re-introduces himself to Peter and Helen then swiftly blackmails them into letting him and Paula stay at the Delaney house where he is passed off by them as a ‘friend’ of Peters’ to the Delaney patriarch. Richard might claim to just want a place to crash, but in reality he has his crafty eye on stealing Simon’s formula and with disturbing efficiency is quickly worming his way into the Delaney household. Richard’s unshaven look, bandana, and well worn biker clothes soon disappear, replaced by smart business suits and a posh, well groomed hippie look a la a 1970s Richard Branson or Noel Edmonds, in order to blend into his new, polite society surroundings.
Naturally all this meets with the approval of Simon, especially when Richard starts to feign an interest in Simon’s scientific research and knowingly play up the ‘son you’d wished you’d had’ role. Simon’s embracing of this total stranger further adds to the despair of the son he did have. The sad, sensitive Peter having never shared his father’s obsession for science, preferring instead a career as a poet, only for feelings of inadequacy, and his father’s disapproval, to increasingly turn him towards the bottle. Although the formula is Richard’s primary aim, along the way he delights in being the thorn in the side of Peter and the married into money Helen, the type of privileged people Richard loathes with a vengeance. It amuses Richard no end that his influence within the household grows to the extent that Peter has to ask him, rather than his father, for permission to borrow the family car. Helen’s sexual interest in Richard also affords him the kick of getting to fuck a rich man’s wife and right under his own roof too.
Inevitably Richard’s antics set into motion a very intricate- attention demanding- plot, overcrowded by sexual encounters and numerous characters conspiring against one another. So much of which goes on in The Intruders that you’re surprised characters don’t have to jot down who they are fucking, blackmailing or double-crossing, just to remember where they are up to. The very busy Helen is not only having an affair with Philip, but with Hans, Simon’s chauffer, who is secretly working alongside Richard. Helen is also sleeping with Ulla (Anita Ericssson), the Delaney’s maid, who she sends off to fuck Richard in the hope Ulla will be able to screw an answer out of Richard as to what hold he has over Peter. Ulla though finds herself being sweet-talked by Richard and torn over whether to help him steal the formula or her loyalty to the Delaney family. Whereas Ulla starts to warm to Richard, Paula becomes increasingly sickened by him, and changes her allegiance to Peter. In fact barely a scene goes by in The Intruders without Paula calling Richard a “bastard”, generally answered with an incensed response of “you bitch”, an insult Richard uses so often in the film that it feels like the character’s unofficial catchphrase. Will Paula, Peter or Helen be able to bring about Richard’s downfall? Or has Richard, as he triumphantly proclaims mid-way through the film “got the Delaneys by the short and curlies”.
This 1974 British/Swedish co-production served as an early collaboration between the makers of the following year’s Erotic Inferno, namely producer Bachoo Sen, writer Jon York and lead actor Chris Chittell. Everything that made Erotic Inferno a standout film within its genre- the frequent and explicit sex scenes, the hostility between male and female characters, and a plot that pits the haves against the have not’s- was beginning to fall into place here. Essentially the two films act as companion pieces to each other, Erotic Inferno clearly having been born out of Sen wanting ‘more of the same’ from York and Chittell after seeing their work in action here.
Sen’s productions were at one point in time held in high regard, the magazine Cinema X in particular being one of Sen’s biggest supporters. Their very first issue carried a still from Sen’s film Loving Feeling on its cover, and by the time of his next production 1969’s Love is a Splendid Illusion (another recipient of a Cinema X cover) were placing Sen alongside Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger in terms of innovative figures working in the sexploitation field. It is a comparison that wasn’t to survive the decades that followed, all these years later Meyer and Metzger are still revered as seminal figures, Sen is all but forgotten, save as a bad time character from the early career of horror film director Norman J Warren. Working for Sen proved to be Warren’s trial by fire entrance into feature filmmaking after he signed a contract that resulted in him directing and editing two films for Sen on a pittance of a salary, all the while seeing the critical and financial rewards from these films go to Sen.
Warren’s story doesn’t look to have been unique when it came to dealing with Sen either. Just to give an idea of the ill-feelings that continues to exist towards Bachoo Sen, a couple of years ago there were rumours doing the rounds that Sen’s death in 2002 was the result of murder. A story that eventually turned out to be untrue but couldn’t be quashed before he reached the ears of a former Sen employee. A mellow, nice guy hardly known for wishing violent death on former employers, but in Sen’s case couldn’t resist indulging in a bit of the old schadenfreude and quipping “that couldn’t have happened to a nicer man”.
|A Touch of Sen: Bachoo Sen in the 1960s|
The horror stories that exist about Bachoo Sen almost turn you against the films themselves. Since, unlike the output of British exploitation’s original badass film producer E.J. Fancey whose relentlessly shoddy productions like 1955’s The Missing Scientists reflected the misery and lack of enthusiasm induced by working under their violent, bullying producer, Sen’s productions were consistently class acts and testament to Sen’s ability to squeeze the maximum out of his talented underlings. Self-consciously sophisticated in tone and concerned with young, fashionable and rich protagonists- no doubt meant as aspirational figures to a late 1960s audience- Sen’s Loving Feeling and Love is a Splendid Illusion come across as British sex film anomalies these days. Their serious approach, European filmmaking influences and decidedly upper middle class characters, strongly going against the predominantly working class sex comedies that lay just around the corner, waiting to become the genre’s norm.
With The Intruders, Sen’s productions developed an aggressive streak to them. The idea to parachute an angry working class antagonist like Richard into the same demographic as the earlier Sen films proving to be a genius touch and lends an almighty dramatic punch to The Intruders that Loving Feeling and Love is a Splendid Illusion sorely lacked.
As vital as class themes are to Jon York’s script there is little here that flatters the polar opposites of the class divide that Richard and the Delaneys represent. York uses the Richard character as a ‘mirror of truth’ figure who shines a light on the multiple failings that hide behind the phony-baloney happy front that this bourgeois family put on for the TV cameras at the film’s outset. At the same time York could hardly stand accused of being in awe of Richard, depicting him as a character too consumed by hatred and envy to ever be considered a working class hero. His barely contained contempt for “stuck up bastards” being undermined by the fact that his every action in the film, blackmail, fucking women he hates, the pursuit of money and power, is an attempt to become everything he professes to despise.
|"You Bitch" Chris Chittell in The Intruders|
Two scenes in particular are tailor made to alienate the audience from Richard, and succeed in being so verbally and mentally sadistic that they are hard to get out of your head once you’ve witnessed them. In one Richard torments a waitress who is serving him drinks. He is in a foul mood and on the prowl for someone to take his frustrations out on, she is his unfortunate target. The waitress questioning whether he wants to order food is all it takes for Richard to blow his top. “Nobody tells me what I want, and what I don’t want” he rants, violently grapping her arm, a look of genuine madness in his eyes. After he lets go, the waitress darts for the kitchen. Nastier still is a later confrontation between Helen and Richard that finds her desperate to fuck him again. As Richard has no real use for her by this point, he instead gets his jollies by forcing her to beg for it, having her crawl on all fours as he unleashes a torrent of abuse and taunts; “you’ve no pride at all”, “you’re as dry as an old crone”. What follows is one of the most hostile sex scenes in film history, one that sees Richard wearing an expression that suggests he’d rather be garrotting Helen than having sex with her. Predictability Richard’s favourite word gets several airings during this scene “you little bitch”, “beg, like a good little bitch” and finally the kiss off of “get out bitch, you got what you came for”.
York’s script might build a compelling drama on the back of the absolutely worse aspects of people’s behaviour, but there is an authentic disgust at the mercenary side of human nature here too. The love that blossoms between Peter and Paula then offers a nice, hopeful counterbalance to the creeping misanthropy of York’s worldview. Their union strengthens these two damaged by the world souls, as the other characters’ greed and ruthlessness only taints and destroys them. There is a notable –and audience pleasing- transfer of characteristics that takes place between Peter and Richard. As Peter gains confidence and learns to assert himself, thanks to Paula’s love and encouragement, Richard gradually becomes the miserable, alcoholic mess that Peter was at the start of the film. Everyone gets the fate they deserve in the world of The Intruders.
Inadvertently Richard only serves as a catalyst for change in the others. His blackmailing ways forcing the Delaneys to confront the problems –Peter’s alcoholism and Simon and Helen’s unsalvageable marriage- that had been eating away at them. Simon and Helen’s final acknowledgement of the end of their marriage giving Simon the best line of dialogue in the film “to be frank I don’t enjoy being married to a nymphomaniac whose foremost thought is bed”.
For a film whose narrative is dominated by Richard and an abundance of sex scenes, York’s script is unusually rich in fully developed characters that register as very real, tormented human beings rather than sex film stereotypes. Even with a venal, beyond redemption character such as Richard there are revealing moments that make sense of why he behaves the way he does. “I’m not going to work like a slave in some company like my father did” he rages at Paula “at the end of it get a gold watch, a slap on the back and a pension that’s far less than what Peter gets for pocket money.” Estranged- or less than fondly remembered- fathers haunt nearly all the characters in The Intruders, a trait that surfaces again in Erotic Inferno. Peter’s fractured relationship with his cold and distant father is pinpointed as the source of his initial unhappiness. Likewise Paula has a disapproving father in her background, eventually revelling to Peter that she is not in fact Richard’s half-sister but a tycoon’s daughter who Richard has blackmailed into tagging along with him.
Lisa (Evelyne Scott), Simon’s secretary is another product of a bad childhood “I remember how cruel my father was to my mother” she tearfully confesses to Paula “he’d come home drunk and beat her, right there in front of us”. Against stiff completion it is Lisa who earns the prize as Jon York’s most tragic creation. Her secret longing for Simon and sexually repressed personality go unnoticed by everyone except for Richard. True to form he exploits it to his own advantage; throwing the love and attention she craves from Simon her way, then using her as a pawn in his scheme to steal the formula. The newfound confidence Lisa gains from Richard draws parallels with the Peter-Paula situation, but unlike that relationship nothing good comes from this transformation in her character. Lisa only manages to get dragged down with Richard, their fates, and the final scene in the film resurrecting the Easy Rider comparisons from the opening scene.
The writer and producer team behind The Intruders and Erotic Inferno would later have the cameras turned on them by the BBC’s Man Alive programme, when Jon York and Bachoo Sen were profiled in the Man Alive episode about the sex film industry that went out on BBC2 in 1975. A programme that uncovered York to actually be one Jonathan Gershfield, a 21 year old student studying English at York University (hence the ‘Jon York’ pseudonym) and cranking out sex film scripts for Sen in his bedsit and at the university’s study hall.
The small window that the Man Alive programme grants you into York/Gershfield presents him an introverted, well-read man who cites Geoffrey Chaucer as a literary inspiration and therefore appears embarrassed to admit that a filmed version of one of his scripts has recently been released by Sen under the clumsy title ‘Sexier than Sex’. Personality wise he gives the impression of having more in common with the Peter character in The Intruders rather than Richard, thankfully indicating a degree of separation between the author and the misogynistic, alpha males he so vividly brought to life in The Intruders and Erotic Inferno.
|Jon York writing sex films in York University|
While York is portrayed as an intelligent, if slightly isolated fellow in the Man Alive programme, Bachoo Sen fares less well. The priceless first sight of Sen in the programme, which sees him turning round in his swivel chair as the sound of a gong being stuck plays on the soundtrack, is an entrance worthy of a James Bond villain. Even without such hatchet job moments, Sen –admittedly addled by his second language English- still manages to make himself look a fool and a hypocrite. Disapproving of hardcore pornography (“actual scenes will never be allowed in England, well I hope it won’t be”) and sadism and violence in films (“it’s a very difficult area to try and moralise”) yet struggling to persuade a BBC2 audience that his own films are any more socially redeeming. Sen is seen to be ill at ease with having his productions described as containing sex scenes “I’d call it love scene, because it’s not, well you cannot show sex explicitly in a story” he ineptly explains “sex must stay under the skin”.
Cinema X saw red over the Man Alive programme, with Sen’s shambolic appearance spelling the end to the Cinema X-Bachoo Sen love-in. Not long after the Man Alive broadcast Cinema X took aim at Sen in their September 1975 editorial “one filmmaker said he hoped porno would never be allowed here. Having recently seen plenty in New York I can see his point. It’s a million light years better produced than the trash being perpetrated in the name of sex on British Screens.” The Man Alive programme also contained the shameful disclosure that York was being paid a flat fee of £250 per script by Sen, mere chickenfeed considering these films sold all over the world as well as enjoying hugely profitable domestic releases. Erotic Inferno playing for years in Soho, sometimes double-billed with The Intruders under it’s aka title ‘Let Us Play Sex’, and The Intruders receiving a release stateside in 1977 –in a hardcore insert version- under the title ‘Hungry Young Women’. The revelation of York’s low-fee adds to the growing suspicion that York, like Norman J Warren before him, was another Sen lackey who wasn’t being paid anywhere near his real worth. Should anyone ever write a book about Sen, then ‘Cheaper than Cheap’, or ‘Getting Paid is a Splendid Illusion’ are worthy of consideration as its title.
Not everyone involved in The Intruders was destined to be caught up a low-budget rut though, and for a modern audience the film offers up not one, but two ‘before they were famous’ sex film performances, courtesy of Stellan Skarsgard and Chris Chittell. These days you know Skarsgard from Lars von Trier films not to mention Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers Assemble and The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Rumour has it that he suffers from career amnesia (sometimes diagnosed as ‘the Sue Bond syndrome’) when it comes to his early acting roles in Swedish sex films, which includes appearing in another Torgny Wickman film from 1974, the Christina Lindberg vehicle ‘Anita- Swedish Nymphet’. However the really distinguishing factor to The Intruders is Chris Chittell’s mesmerising performance as Richard, and director Wickman wisely makes him the centre of attention. Chittell is in practically every scene in the film, and on the rare occasions that he isn’t still manages to make his presence felt, Richard’s evil machinations reverberating throughout the film and driving its plot.
Having previously distinguished himself in mainstream fare like To Sir with Love and the TV version of The Best Pair of Legs in the Business, the mid 1970s proved a lean period for Chittell. By the actor’s own admission he’d gotten involved in several financially disastrous ventures that left him in debt to ‘some heavy duty people’. He’d later joke “it was either rob a bank or take what was on offer”. Bank robberies loss was the sex film genre’s gain, as Chittell throws himself into his roles in The Intruders and Erotic Inferno with frightening conviction, exhibiting a fearlessness about getting under the skin of thoroughly loathsome, sexually sadistic characters, regardless of how he’d be judged by the outside world on the basis of these roles. Territory that only a handful of actors –such as David Hess or George Payne- would have dared to tread.
That Chittell may well have been acting to save his life here (if his stories about needing to pay off those ‘heavy duty people’ are to be believed) does cause you to worry that the actor was relating a little too much to the anger and desperation that fuelled his onscreen characters. Wherever he drew his inspiration from Chittell makes for a true force of nature in The Intruders, acting everyone else off-screen, quite literally given that several scenes end with him chasing or throwing his co-stars out of shot and hurling insults after them. With the role taking him far away from home, requiring him to appear in sexually explicit scenes, and with ££££ worries being part of his motivation, The Intruders is to Chittell what Miss Bohrloch was to Mary Millington.
Unlike Millington, there would be life after porn and a happy ending for Chittell, and for over two decades now Chittell has entertained mainstream TV audiences with his long-running role on ITV soap opera Emmerdale. The opportunity to have women grovelling on all fours for him, or for “you bitch” to get an airing may well be few and far between within the confines of a primetime ITV soap, but look closely enough and you might just be able to spot those Erotic Inferno and The Intruders characters of his living on through Chittell’s roughish but popular Emmerdale character. A ‘man they love to hate’ routine Chittell had first perfected all those years ago in Sweden, and in the world of 1970s sexploitation.
Saturday, 20 April 2013
Despite rumours to the contrary the British exploitation film didn’t die with Mary Millington in 1979, the release of Inseminoid, nor the abolition of the Eady tax, but crawled on well into the 1980s, albeit mortally wounded and never again to permeate the mainstream consciousness. The sensible characters saw the writing on the wall and either retired or moved into property e.g. Pete Walker and Felicity Devonshire, while starlets like Suzy Mandel and Ava Cadell made honourable stabs at Stateside acting careers.
That song from the film Groupie Girl “you’re yesterday’s hero in a world of today, as you crawl down the narrow lines it’s like you never get the time of day” could have been the soundtrack to the lives of those who persevered with the genre into the harsh, uncaring Eighties. With London no longer the hub of exploitation filmmaking many of yesterday’s heroes would find themselves displaced to wherever the work took them. The odious Bachoo Sen surfaced in Florida as co-executive producer of Nightmare Weekend, which turned out to be Sen’s final shit stain on the film world. Norman J Warren found himself in the NorthWest of England shooting Bloody New Year and Gunpowder, the latter being a James Bond imitation comedy on a pitifully low budget, the sort of cinematic jape more associated with Lindsay Shonteff than Warren. Shonteff himself would be based out of Reading in Berkshire for the 1980s, taking the step down to shooting on video with The Killing Edge and Lipstick and Blood. Others travelled further afield to continue their careers, the intrepid Alan Birkinshaw, he of Confessions of a Sex Maniac and Killer's Moon notoriety, journeyed to the Philippines to make Invaders of the Lost Gold, then onto darkest Africa for a series of less than faithful Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie adaptations under the producership of Harry Alan Towers.
Then, but of course, there was Derek Ford. After the catastrophe of Don’t Open Till Christmas, Ford ended up in Sweden as assistant-director of Blood Tracks, featuring Ford in a cameo as a location scout for a heavy metal band’s rock video. Ford, a middle aged Roald Dahl lookalike, makes for an extremely unlikely part of a heavy metal band’s entourage. The fact that he is only onscreen fleetingly didn’t stop Ford from going to the trouble of dyeing his hair for the occasion. Towards the close of the decade Ford was back in London and reunited with the only man who’d give this yesterday’s hero the time of day, Don’t Open Till Christmas’ producer Dick Randall. Randall had a history in low-budget filmmaking to rival Ford’s own, and on a visual level was every bit the public’s idea of what a B Movie producer should look and sound like, taken to caricaturish extremes. A thick New Yawk accent, dyed black hair, a thin Gilbert Roland moustache, a roly poly physique, and forever being surrounded by pornography, Chinese food, cigars, wads of cash hidden in envelopes and film contracts were the characteristics that defined Dick Randall. Not even Michael Armstrong in full on Eskimo Nell mode could have dreamt up such a larger than life character. Equal parts Max Bialystock and Benny Hill, Randall’s personality was simply too good not to be brought to the screen itself, witness his scene stealing cameos in Emmanuelle 3 and Bogeyman and the French Murders, or his lengthier, tour de force as the pervert caretaker in Mario Bava’s 4 Times that Night.
“I’d buy that for a dollar” Dick Randall enjoying the perks of exploitation film producing.
Oh, I’m sure if you dig deep enough into Randall’s closet you’ll find evidence of questionable business practices (just why were Randall’s British films officially registered as Hong Kong productions?) and horror stories of him slobbering over females (hint: page 234 of Stanley Long’s biography) still there is an infectious sense of joie de vivre about the man and his films. From the point of view of the exploitation film fan there are few films which open with the legend “Dick Randall presents” that fail to meet expectations, and Randall’s productions were always infinitely superior to those of the superficially similar Harry Alan Towers. Having surfaced in London in the early 80s, Randall set up shop in Wardour Street- in the process keeping the British exploitation genre alive, and many of its veterans in employment. The aforementioned Alan Birkinshaw, as well as the likes of Alan Selwyn, Jim Connock, Alan Pudney and Ray Selfe, were all at one point or another on the Dick Randall payroll. There also appears to have been an unwritten law that any sex and horror screenwriter not dead or retired by the 1980s had to write an unfilmed script for Dick Randall. David McGillivray knocked one out for him called ‘Park Lane’, and Michael Armstrong penned the unmade Kung-Fu spectacular ‘Enter 3 Ninjas’ for Randall. Against all odds, Derek Ford managed to succeed where others had failed by getting one of his Randall scripts in front of the camera, and directing it as well. A script bearing the crazy title ‘The Attack of the Killer Computer’, out of which was born an equally crazy little film, one that sadly would turn out to be Ford’s cinematic swansong.
Showbiz all-rounder Peter Gordeno plays a Stock Aitken Waterman era record producer. A man whose success in the pop charts is equal to his success in the bedroom, Gordeno’s character, who answers to the unforgettable name of Bono Zorro, is never without a giggling glamour girl on his arm, or several more in his hot tub. Heir apparent to Alan Lake’s David Galaxy persona and similarity a second rate medallion man in appearance, when he is not being pursued by groupies eager to fuck him in return for a step up in the music biz our man Bono is partying hard with call girls, recording these encounters for posterity on his CCTV system. Bono’s latest target, wannabe singer Melanie (Sally Anne Balaam) is instantly won over by the mod cons in Bono’s house, all controlled by a Hi-Tech computer that Bono has affectionately nicknamed ‘S.E.X.Y’. After Melanie becomes the latest notch on the Zorro bedpost, the hypersexual Bono leaves her to visit his friend Jane –a high class prostitute- in an attempt to talk Jane into a threesome. Bono and Jane basically appear to be fuck buddies who regularly make the point of involving each other in their sexual adventures. “Ok, let’s go slaughter your lamb” says Jane, knowingly. Melanie herself proves to be a fast mover and invites a female friend over to Bono’s house then ends up in bed with her. All these shenanigans prove to be too much for S.E.X.Y who for reasons never made clear, embarks on a murder rampage. Quite literally turning up the heat up on Melanie, S.E.X.Y roasts her to death in the shower until Melanie is nothing more than a pile of slop disappearing down the plughole. A similarly jaw dropping fate awaits Melanie’s friend when S.E.X.Y causes the poor woman’s breasts to explode under a sunbed
Bono returns home to find Melanie missing, charred remains in his sunbed, and the house’s mod cons malfunctioning. Computer operated doors fail to re-open, keeping him and Jane shut in the house. Attempting to rectify the situation by trying to turn the computer off only results in Bono getting a massive electric shock from S.E.X.Y, causing him to backwards shimmy across the room (a blatant attempt to work Gordeno’s main career as a dancer into the proceedings). Parts of the CCTV recording have been deleted by S.E.X.Y, removing all evidence of the murders, however S.E.X.Y is thoughtfully enough to retain the CCTV recording of Melanie’s earlier sexual encounter. Thus allowing her owner the chance to ogle the sight of the two women in bed together; “kids these days” he leeringly quips to Jane. For all the freakish happenings about the house it remains sex rather than S.E.X.Y that is Bono and Jane’s primary concern. With the plan for an afternoon romp with Melanie now a non-starter, Jane calls up Tiga and Susan, a pair of fellow high class call girls, to provide the fun and games. A turn of events that doesn’t go down at all well with S.E.X.Y, who dispatches this duo at the first available opportunity, boiling Susan in the hot tub and turning an electric toothbrush against Tiga.
Just to add to Bono’s problems, S.E.X.Y begins materialising around the house in the form of a naked woman, and not just any naked woman either, but one with green skin and kabuki influenced make up and wig. ‘S.E.X.Y in human form’ is perhaps a microcosm of this entire film, totally laughable at first sight yet admirably audacious in retrospect. S.E.X.Y has the look of an X-Rated Vladimir Tretchikoff painting come to life, or a confused dancer at the 1980s Raymond Revue Bar had Paul Raymond gone through Japanese/Sci Fi/Women with Green Skin phase.
S.E.X.Y’s evil machinations take full effect in the film’s final act that sees S.E.X.Y wipe Bono’s memory, leaving the green lady free to do her best to bump off Jane, knocking her off a step ladder and attempting to run her over in Bono’s garage. S.E.X.Y keeps Bono in an anesthetized state by throwing sexy spectacles his way that play to his voyeur tendencies. This includes S.E.X.Y ringing up two further call girls, this time from the “cat calls agency”, to act as a distraction for Bono, and what a distraction this pair are! Dressed in fishnet body stockings the duo’s routine consists of playing Bono a video of a mud wrestling competition (clips of which are actually taken from the 1983 David Sullivan production “Hellcats- Mud Wrestling”) and simultaneously tearing each other’s clothes off and making cat noises!! Jane’s subsequent attempt to put an end to S.E.X.Y, by taking a meat clever to the computer- intercut with Hellcats clips- results in a grade finale that can boast combining both a bloodbath and a mudbath.
Unfortunately the film would lose its original ‘Attack of the Killer Computer’ title mid-production in favour of the somewhat bland and generic new title ‘The Urge to Kill’. A title change purely motivated by the fact that Randall owned the rights to a very Eighties pop song called Urge to Kill and thought it should be incorporated into his new film. “I’ve got the urge to smash, smack, break and crack…it’s unbearable, I must fight back… I’ve got the urge to kill” goes the near-rap chorus of the original version of the song. During filming it came to Randall’s attention that Peter Gordeno’s son had music career aspirations and persuaded the budding musician (who now plays keyboards in Depeche Mode) to record a second version of this song, one that feminised the lyrics to suit the film’s storyline.
In contrast to the excruciatingly protracted production history of Don’t Open Till Christmas, the making of Killer Computer seems to have passed without incident. Derek Ford shot the film in just over a week, mainly at Dick Randall’s own house in central London with some ‘location’ work done at Randall’s office and Peter Gordeno’s own abode in Weybridge. All on a budget that one crew member would later jokingly refer to as “about £1.50”.
Quickly as filming went, Killer Computer is a film that still manages to capture the personalities of both Ford and Randall, a film with two heads. Even at this late stage in his career Killer Computer shows that the great showman in Dick Randall hadn’t diminished one bit. Gore scenes equal if not surpass Don’t Open Till Christmas in terms of explicitness and inventiveness, there is constant nudity from female cast members, and Randall’s tongue in cheek sense of humour is in evidence, after all the lead character in his film is called Bono Zorro.
Yet for all the gore, big tits and a character whose name sounds like the punch line to a very dirty joke, Killer Computer remains a film only Derek Ford could or would have wanted to make. As with Ford’s key film, 1969’s The Wife Swappers handprints of Ford’s private life are left throughout this film. Two decades might separate The Wife Swappers from Killer Computer, but scenes and themes from the earlier Ford film reverberate here. In the Wife Swappers, thrill seeker Marion enters into a destructive relationship with an obscene phone caller, who feeds her fantasies whilst slyly taking control of her life, a relationship echoed- and given a gender twist here- with Bono in the Marion role and S.E.X.Y as the negative current personality manipulating events from behind technology. The early appearance of CCTV in The Wife Swappers, used there to blackmail two unfortunate swingers, gets a 1980s update here with S.E.X.Y recording and studying all of Bono’s sexual habits via the CCTV in order to use them against him.
The real fear at the heart of Killer Computer though, isn’t a fear of modern technology, but the vulnerable and exploitable position that Bono finds himself in by pursuing a sex driven, hedonistic lifestyle. Initially introduced in the film as a flash, sexual predator who acts as confidant/co-conspirator to high class prostitutes, the film dismantles this image of Bono as it progresses, revealing him to be a needy, and increasingly jaded, punter. ‘His Private Hell’ if you will. Given that Ford himself was no stranger to a sexually offbeat lifestyle, Killer Computer strongly invites interpretation as Ford filtering his own sexual concerns and paranoia through a horror/sci-fi film premise. Bono surrounds himself with teasing, sexy women who in reality care nothing for him or his wellbeing, privately regarding him as just another rich mark and cash cow. This is the angle that S.E.X.Y uses to play divide and conquer mind games, turning Bono against the women by planting the seed of suspicion in his mind that the murders and constantly disappearing women is all part of a blackmail scheme that these call girls have concocted to scam him. “I don’t know what kind of shakedown you think you are lining me up for” hollers Bono at Jane “but you better get that girl out from wherever you’ve hidden her, right now”.
The portrayal of women in Killer Computer as cold and ruthless- a notion taken to the extreme with S.E.X.Y- does represent a massive about turn for Ford. Prior to this, Ford films had generally championed female characters and looked down on chauvinistic male ones, consider the contempt shown for the male photographer cum sexual blackmailer in 1971’s Suburban Wives. Even at the height of the sex comedy era Ford went against the crowd by investing in his female characters, while his blokish working class characters, the plumber in Commuter Husbands and the dull heroes of What’s Up Nurse and What’s Up Superdoc rank amongst Ford’s weakest and inauthentic creations. It is perversity noteworthy that the sole endearing and well realised male lead in a Ford sex film, Jack in Keep It Up Jack spends the majority of that film using drag to pass himself off as a woman, and functions as an honorary sister in that film.
By viewing the proceedings through Bono’s eyes, eyes that only see women as blackmailing bitches or fresh meat (at point he compares women to Kleenex in that you can “use ‘em, and throw ‘em away”) the film presents a more sour view of women than any other Ford film. Sally Anne Balaam’s Melanie, who uses her sex appeal but ultimately you feel isn’t smart enough to avoid being exploited by others, draws comparisons to Esme Johns’ title character in Groupie Girl. However Groupie Girl’s compassion for its title character and attempts to understand her is totally absent here. At first coming across as a comedy bimbo, Melanie lets that mask slip in later scenes, revealing a nasty edge to her airhead exterior. No sooner is Bono’s back turned than Melanie is on the phone to her friend, bragging about having slept with a rich man, malevolently adding “he’s mine, hands off bitch” when said friend tries to muscle in on this potential goldmine.
Sally Ann(e) Balaam: big in japan
A Page 3 girl by trade, Balaam was in the looks department the quintessential 1980s glamour model. Sally Anne’s round, pouty face and her being big of hair and chest inevitably earning her the title ‘the new Sam Fox’. An extremely busy personality around this time, Balaam’s career encompassed winning a Miss Wet T-shirt competition and dancing in Electric Blue videos. Balaam also had the obligatory hook up with the David Sullivan Empire, appearing in the pages of Park Lane and doing topless promotional stunts for The Daily Sport, sometimes under the alternative name Sally Anne Southend. The casting of her in Killer Computer seems an apparently sincere attempt to pluck Balaam out of the soft core shuffle and open up an acting career for her, keeping her onscreen for around the first twenty minutes of the film rather than merely using her in a novelty value cameo. Other recognizable names in Killer Computer include Marie Harper- the recipient of the exploding titties treatment- and the uber-kooky Suzie Sylvie. Harper being best known for her definitive portrayal of Mary Millington’s corpse in Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions (1980) and Sylvie familiar as the woman who gives birth to a fully grown man in Xtro (1983) and bottom of the cast list roles in British sex films. Cast members like Sylvie and Tiga Adams were seeing out the end of their glamour careers with this film, and unlike Balaam no longer had youth on their side, lending believability to their casting as hard bitten, veteran sex workers.
As much good will as Ford’s other films offer to women, Killer Computer serves as his last minute poison pen letter to womankind. For Ford, the film’s cynical depiction of women as mercenary minded would tragically prove to be entirely accurate with regards to his real life. Not long after making the film he’d enter into a business relationship with a woman who ended up using and exploiting him, his very own ‘S.E.X.Y in human form’ minus the green skin. Making it chillingly prophetic that the final villain in a Ford film should be a woman. In a post-production twist all of the female performers in the film would end up being dubbed and in the final edit of the film talk with re-voiced American accents. Quirkier still is that all look to have been dubbed by the same voiceover artist, a voice that sounds suspiciously like that of Dick Randall’s extraordinary wife Corliss Randall (aka Chick Norris). A decision likely to have been undertaken by Randall himself with an eye on making this an easier sell to the US market, but having the knock-on effect of adding to the one-dimensional qualities of the female characters. The world of Attack of the Killer Computer is a world where all women –quite literally- speak with the same voice.
The only cast member to avoid the American dubbing is the unknown, green painted model playing S.E.X.Y. This, on account of S.E.X.Y sporting a distorted, ‘computerised’ voice. “It’s alright, everything is going to be alright, no more bad dreams, just beautiful thoughts, everyone happy” S.E.X.Y tells Bono, leading him around the house in a trance like state “come upstairs to a place of pleasure, and all your days will be spent in paradise”. A come on that suggests the film might be heading in the direction of the famously unfilmed ending of Cronenberg’s Videodrome that would have seen a post-death Max Renn reunited with Nicki Brand in an orgiastic afterlife on the Videodrome set. Alas there is no happy ending or sexual utopia in store for Bono, and coincidentally- or maybe not- the final scenes of both Videodrome and Killer Computer centre around the image of an exploding television set.
That Ford made a film like Killer Computer at the tail end of his career is in itself a surprise, Ford having spent the close of the 1980s attempting to distance himself from his past in the hope that a mainstream career would open up for him. Delusions of grandeur and self-hatred rear their heads in the books Ford wrote around this time. In ‘Panic on Sunset’ Ford’s biographical blurb provides a fantasy version of his career, with claims to having ‘contributed to most major British television series’ and the half-truth of Ford having ‘made movies in Europe and the United States’. In ‘The Casting Couch’ Ford waxes nostalgically for the golden age of Hollywood, its glamorous stars and the sexual transgressions that brought them down, an era he clearly wished he’d been a part of, then takes swipes at the era he really was involved with. On 1970s hardcore films Ford is dismissive “crude and without any redeeming features”, piling on all the clichés for a perceived bored, curtain twitching housewife readership by claiming such films were predominately made by ex-car salesmen “before organized crime moved in to scoop the pool”, conveniently forgetting to mention his own involvement in that cinematic realm.
50 Shades of Derek: Italian edition of Panic on Sunset
“He did have some imagination and sensitivity but lacked the clarity of vision and practical expertise to bring off a major project” remembers an acquaintance of Ford’s “consequently he was probably, inside, a disappointed man who felt he had never achieved his full potential”. Killer Computer then, looks to have been conceived in a moment of painful realisation that the Hollywood career would never be, and that should the phone ring with offers of filmmaking gigs it was likely to be Dick Randall on the other end of the blower, rather than Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. It sees Ford re-embrace his exploitation auteur tendencies with a vengeance. A richness of sleazy incident- pole dancing, thumb sucking, upskirt shots, women in leather, mud wrestling- crowd the narrative, causing the never particularly coherent or remotely credible storyline to collapse under its weight. Representing a tremendous return to form, Killer Computer rates as Ford’s 2nd most outrageous film, kept off the number one spot by of course Diversions/Sex Express, since unlike in that film Ford wasn’t allowed the integrate hardcore sex into the proceedings here.
So why, you might ask yourself, have you probably never heard of –let alone seen- this film? Well, despite the production being the recipient of some free publicity in the Daily Star newspaper-whose interest in the film was likely down to Sally Anne Balaam’s involvement- Killer Computer never got released and would spend over two decades on the shelf. In the meantime the only glimpses the public would get of the film were in the now long forgotten 1995 Jonathan Ross BBC2 series ‘Mondo Rosso’. A weak follow on from Ross’ ‘Incredibly Strange Film Show’ series for Channel 4, Mondo Rosso made use of special effects footage taken from Killer Computer in a sketch parodying The Old Grey Whistle Test. Exactly how clips from an unreleased Derek Ford film came to be used in a BBC2 series remains unclear, it is possible that Ross –or somebody connected with that programme- became aware of Killer Computer in the process of tracking down the rights to ‘For Y’ur Height Only’, a Filipino James Bond spoof starring a midget that Randall had produced and owned the rights to- footage from which was also used in Mondo Rosso.
The entire film eventually surfaced in 2011 when a screener copy of Killer Computer mysteriously found its way onto the film collectors circuit soon after appearing on an internet site offering “rare, hard to find films” on DVD. Subsequently the film has apparently been sighted on several, equally grey area, file sharing sites. The irony being that the futuristic computer technology that wreaks havoc in the film itself would be the same mischievous force that would one day spring Killer Computer from its long standing unreleased status, finally letting S.E.X.Y loose on an unsuspecting world.
The leaked, time-coded screener copy bears the onscreen logo ‘RTV Video’ offering a potential clue as to the film’s aborted release history. An extremely short lived video label from the early 1990s whose initials might stand for Randall Trading Video, RTV’s initial release was a Randall supervised re-issue of the 1925 Lon Chaney version of Phantom of the Opera. No doubt hoping to cash in on the success of the Giorgio Moroder tinkering of Metropolis and the West End version of Phantom, Randall commissioned Rick Wakeman to provide a modern soundtrack to the silent film, later released on an album entitled Phantom Power. Randall inadvertently financed a mini-House of the Long Shadows reunion too, when he hired Christopher Lee to host a new introduction to the film, directed by Michael Armstrong. Don’t be fooled by Lee’s claims to be speaking to you from beneath the Palais Garnier, in typical Dick Randall style this introduction was in fact filmed in the basement of a London Restaurant. Most of the budget looks like it went on Lee’s tuxedo. The presence of the RTV logo on the Killer Computer screener indicates that Ford’s film would have been the second release put out on this fledgling label, however as events panned out the Randall revamp of Phantom looks to have been RTV’s sole contribution to the video market.
Exploitation powerhouse that Randall and Ford were together, as evidenced by their collaborations, the unholy trilogy of Erotic Fantasies, Don’t Open Till Christmas and Killer Computer, you can’t help wondering what the day to day relationship between this odd couple was like, so polar opposite were their personalities and level of success in life.
Randall, a man obviously comfortable in his own skin, happy to be the shameless B-Movie king and who became a very rich man in the process. Ford, a man ill at ease with what he was, who nevertheless brought a very personalised approach to exploitation cinema, one where sex, guilt and fear of retribution for stepping outside of society’s sexual norms were torturously intertwined. Films that themselves would come back to haunt their creator and ghettoise his career. In his biography ‘X-Rated’, Ford’s one time collaborator and producer Stanley Long notes that Ford “died almost penniless, having achieved nothing of value in his life”.
Different as they were, Randall’s workaholic nature and Ford’s personal obsessions that drove his film work meant neither of them could ever give up the ghost and both were destined to see out exploitation cinema till it’s very end. That Ford and Randall both passed away not long after this film, coupled with it being the last film to continue the British exploitation film practice of passing off glamour models as actresses, as well as the narrative’s own obsession with death and charting its lead character’s downfall, all add to the overwhelming sense of “it all dies here”. The last British exploitation film. To watch Killer Computer is to bear witness to a once mighty, forever disreputable genre breath its last and keel over on Dick Randall’s swanky living room floor. The film’s resurrection in the internet era though represents one final piece in the British exploitation puzzle finally slotting into place, and ensures the entire genre as well as the careers of Ford and Randall now end with an almighty bang rather than a whimper. It’s a fitting final film from the man who made The Wife Swappers, and became a character in that film for the rest of his life.
“It all dies here” Bono and S.E.X.Y stare into the abyss.
Thursday, 4 April 2013
A quick reminder that Keep It Up Downstairs gets its long-awaited DVD release in May.
Publicity blurb: “A bawdy British period romp in the classic Seventies "sex comedy" mould, Keep It Up Downstairs lampoons classic television series Upstairs Downstairs and sees a host of stars shedding their Edwardian costumes to save the family silver - including Diana Dors, sex superstar Mary Millington, Willie Rushton, Françoise Pascal, Aimi Macdonald and erstwhile Artful Dodger, Jack Wild. Keep It Up Downstairs is featured here in a brand-new transfer from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.
The year is 1904; the setting is Cockshute Towers, one of England's stateliest homes. When the household is threatened with bankruptcy, both the masters and the servants are prepared to co-operate in trying to find some cash - after all, most of them are enjoying liaisons of one kind or another among themselves, and none have any desire to give up their rewarding way of life...
Full Frame 4:3, as-filmed version of main feature
music-only audio track
original theatrical trailer
Press book PDF”
For those that missed it the first time round here is an article I wrote a while back on the different versions of naked as nature intended
Sunday, 10 March 2013
Girls Come First is the middle film in a trilogy of British sex comedies based around the talented, but perennially cash strapped artist Alan Street, played by bodybuilder turned actor John Hamill. An authentic nice guy, Hamill’s pleasant personality and laid back charm filter on through into the films themselves; defining their character and helping Hamill become a popular British sex film leading man. Featurette length creations, “the Alan Street trilogy” served as ideal sexploitation filler, playing 2nd feature to Euro and American imports. At the same time the series cannily exploited the Eady fund situation, which saw a percentage of the box office takings handed over to British filmmakers if half of a double bill was home-grown fare. For their overseas release the Street films had hardcore scenes added to them, bulking the films up to feature length and acting as part of Britain’s contribution to the porno chic era.
Girls Come First’s producer and the mastermind behind the Alan Street trilogy was one of British sexploitation’s true wild cards, David Hamilton Grant. Chaos and controversy forever shadowed Grant, whose diminutive stature, beard, jolly smile and city businessman apparel –including a pair of braces and tie- earned him the nickname ‘The Gnome’. Amongst the tales, upon which the twisted legend of David Hamilton Grant is built, is that Grant once auditioned an off-duty policewoman for one of his films, leading to an expose by The Sun newspaper, who were likely to have been tipped off about the story by Grant himself. Grant is also said to have reduced Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano to a nervous wreck during the space of one afternoon. An afternoon that saw Grant take Damiano on a trip around Grant’s favourite West End casinos, only for Grant to lose a fortune on the tables, blowing the budget of the film he was trying to impress Damiano into making. Today the fate of Grant remains the genre’s greatest unsolved mystery. A popular rumour, spread about what was left of the British sex film industry in the early 1990s, has it that Grant wound up imprisoned in a foreign hellhole, got released, only to be followed to a bar, then garrotted, by a contract killer. However no official confirmation of Grant’s death has ever been found.
“The Over Amorous Artist”, the first film in the trilogy, and the one that established Hamill’s sex comedy alter ego, poked fun at the notion of the stay at home, househusband with a storyline that saw Street trade places with his wife Sue (Sue Longhurst). While Sue goes off to work, Street stays at home doing the household chores and attempting a career as a serious artist, only for his artistic endeavours to be derailed by a parade of wannabe nude models, suburban housewives, an alcoholic older woman (Hilary Pritchard), her daughter (Felicity Devonshire) and even a women’s libber (Marianne Morris) all of whom view Street as fresh meat. By the end of the film Street’s pursuit of his artistic dreams and being the subject of all this sexual attention takes its toll, earning him sympathy from Sue, who inadvertently adds to his problems by hiring a foxy au pair to help him out around the house.
Girls Come First doubles as that film’s sort of sequel and a curious meditation on John Hamill’s own career and position in life by the mid-1970s. This time Alan and Sue have swapped the swinging suburbia setting of The Over Amorous Artist for the sun drenched London of 1975. Alan’s luck appears to be on the up when he is spotted sketching Sue in his back garden by Hugh Jampton (Bill Kerr) the owner of the sex magazine “The Swinger”. The magazine has seen better days but Jampton thinks Street’s erotic illustrations might just be the thing to boost flagging sales. Without so much as an invitation, Jampton along with his cohorts; nympho secretary Miss Drysdale (Rikki Howard) and Japanese chauffeur Sashimi (Burt Kwouk) barge into Street’s backyard, offering Street the job as artist in residence at the magazine’s HQ and the chance to sketch the magazine’s models. News that goes down like a lead balloon with Sue, who knows only too well of Alan’s ability to bring out the devil in other women.
Bill Kerr’s acting in Girls Come First is a wonder to behold. As Jampton, Kerr gives the impression of a man with no control over his limbs or facial expressions, eyeballs roll, eyebrows shoot upwards, jazz hands mannerisms are frequent. Jampton never shuts the fuck up, banter ranging from unfunny one-liners, inappropriate comments (upon hearing Sue once burned a copy of The Swinger, Jampton wails to Street “they did that in Nazi Germany, and look what happened there”) to complete gibberish (“rutti, tutti, tutti, Miss Drysdale”). Evidence elsewhere would suggest this isn’t entirely representative of Kerr’s acting ability; he toned it down drastically to play a bereaved father in Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin, made the same year, and delivered a fine performance as a mentally unbalanced sailor in the B-movie ‘Port of Escape’ (1956). Here however subtlety is a stranger to Kerr’s performance, which rivals Alan Lake’s cocaine and amyl nitrate fuelled theatrics as the genre’s most over the top turn.
For a character meant to epitomise rampant heterosexuality Jampton often comes across as extremely camp, albeit in the manner of a straight man impersonating how he believes gays behave and overegging it. Midway through the film Sue re-appears dressed in militant feminist get-up and throwing feminist literature over the heads of Jampton’s topless models. Reducing Jampton to jelly, and causing him to effeminately hide behind one of the girls, using her as a human shield against Sue. The inexperienced sex film actress playing the human shield looks amused yet slightly unnerved by Kerr’s unpredictable antics.
Inherently infantile as Jampton is, his character isn’t without its crooked and ruthless edges, making him a true creature of Soho. Excited as Jampton might be at Street’s talent and the idea of ‘keeping’ him, Jampton is less fond of having to pay for that privilege. In order to get any cash out of Jampton, Street has to agree to take a second job as a barman in Jampton’s nightclub which boasts its own rockin’, all girl, all topless house band (the nightclub scenes were shot at The New Rockingham Club, later immortalised in the end credits of Minder). In a scene that demonstrates an insider knowledge of the Soho netherworld, Sashimi shows Street the art of making a rip-off ‘near beer’ drink (5% alcohol, 95% ice) served to customers too distracted by all the titty action in the club to care less. Proving that nothing had changed about the Soho of 1975 seen here, from the West End Jungle-era.
A moment of self-reflection: early John Hamill
Very early on in his career Hamill had first known the temptations of sexploitation, his socially acceptable career as a bodybuilder existing alongside a career side-line posing full frontal for closeted, muscleman magazines and striking poses and a friendly smile for 8mm films that were the homosexual equivalent of a Harrison Marks glamour film. Roles in feature films offered the chance for Hamill to prove his acting chops, while always offering a little something for his considerable gay fanbase. The lesson you learn from watching Hamill in Trog (1970) and Tower of Evil (1971) is that British horror films weren’t above finding gratuitous reasons for men to strip off to their underwear, or go nude, if there was a perceived audience for it. The book “The Bare Facts Video Guide” reduces Hamill’s entire role in Tower of Evil to a description of “buns, walking with Penny, then more buns, rolling into the water, dead”. By the time of Girls Come First Hamill had hit a career crossroads. He’d had a few successes in legit films and TV, playing supporting roles opposite the likes of Nigel Davenport, Beryl Reid and Peter Wyngarde, but the sex films offered the chance to be a top-billed star and bona fide sex symbol, winning the adulation of women and the envy and hero worship of men. Proper thespian or professional stud muffin? what is a boy to do….
In the film Street might be persuaded to throw the towel in on the sex industry, but in real life the Jampton side of Hamill’s conscience evidentially won the argument and persuaded him into taking further sex film work, including the final Alan Street film, 1977’s Under the Bed. The same year saw Hamill cement his reputation as British sexploitation’s favourite bit of rough with a blokish turn in ‘Hardcore’ in which he fucks Fiona Richmond in the back of a fruit and veg van. Hamill later unrepentantly admitted “the sex movies ruined my career, but you know how it is: I was out of work, the birds were smashing, and I’ve always been a born flasher”. As the line between the fictional Alan Street and the real life John Hamill gets a tad blurry at times, this simultaneously draws you into looking for similarities between Hugh Jampton and David Hamilton Grant himself.
Its a comparison that is certainly in keeping with the British sex film tradition of the genre’s slipperiest onscreen characters (Benny U Murdoch in Eskimo Nell, Judd Blake in Adventures of a Private Eye, Bill Anderson in Emmanuelle in Soho) being thinly disguised caricatures of real life British sex film bigwigs. Sure enough, autobiographical elements have found their way into the script, Jampton shares Grant’s fondness for keeping small dogs as pets, and in one of his calmer moments lets slip to Street and Miss Drysdale that Hugh Jampton isn’t his real name, revealing his first name to be ‘Izzie’. Again mirroring Grant, who entered into this world as Willis Andrew Holt and changed it by deed poll to David Grant when he first entered into showbiz –initially as a photographer- in the late Sixties. Jampton’s backstory, one that includes a flirtation with an art career, offers a possible insight into the trouble making Grant’s closely guarded background, with ‘art’ being a stand in for Youngman Hamilton Grant’s keen interest in photography. “My mother, I’d show her the pictures and she’d say ‘they’re beautiful do some more’” Jampton confesses to Street “I said Momma, why do you do this to me, I got no talent as a painter, my pictures are crap, why do you encourage me. And you know what she said…she said ‘son, when you paint you stay at home’…, mothers yuck!!”
While Girls Come First doesn’t represent just how tasteless Grant could get at times (for that you need pointing in the direction of his 1972 sextoon ‘Sinderella’ in which the three bears sport boners, and gang rape the ugly sisters) the humour here is decisively from the land that political correctness forgot, it being heavily focussed around racial or cultural stereotypes. Street queues for a copy of The Swinger, finding himself behind a Rabbi who asks for his copy of The Swinger to be hidden inside a copy of The Jewish Chronicle, then insists on haggling the price of the two periodicals down from 75p to 50p. Kwouk’s chauffeur is also constantly on hand, spying on Street and Sue through a pair of binoculars the wrong way round, since as Street points out “those Japanese see things differently to us”. When Jampton asks Sashimi to make dinner, the chauffeur casts a hungry eye over one of Jampton’s pooches, menacingly proclaiming “come along, little fella”. Kwouk is the surprise piece of casting here, in that he doesn’t seem to have needed the work, having bounced around a series of big budget gigs like Rollerball and a Pink Panther sequel the same year. Leading to speculation that this role was a favour to the film’s nominal director Joe McGrath (directing here under the pseudonym ‘Croisette Meubles’) who is an old mate of his.
Oversexed French women are in abundance here too. A couple of years before the Carry On team and John M East managed to fudge the character for a British audience, Grant could actually lay claim here to having made the first British film to feature the Emmanuelle character. Predictability Grant’s take on the character reduces her to comedy, French bubblehead (played by low-level starlet Bobbie Sparrow) who tries to sell Alan Street on the joys of joining the ‘mile up club’ and flashes her knickers at him in a scene shot in view of Blackfriars Bridge. A bit of indecent exposure that brings out an uncharacteristically reserved streak in Street “for God’s sake cut that out Emmanuelle, we’ll have a dozen police officers down on us”, he moans as Emmanuelle rolls her eyes knowingly.
Admittedly it’s not an especially funny scene but only a heartless swine wouldn’t quietly cheer Bobbie on as she battles against her limited acting ability and the challenge of maintaining a comedy French accent, cracking a cute and victorious smile at the end of the scene. Apart from Bobbie’s pop culture referencing Emmanuelle xerox, support characters in Girls Come First all seem to have some basis in Grant’s day to day existence yet flittered thought the topsy-turvy worldview that is at work here are remarkable for the larger than life qualities that the film brings out in them. Even insignificant characters, like Street’s landlord –played by an actor that Grant has inexplicability had outfitted in the style of a 1930s gangster- are striking in appearance.
About the only thing that Girls Come First takes seriously is sex itself, you’ll find none of that speeded up bonking scored to C&W music bullshit here. Instead Girls Come First’s sex scenes are shot erotically straight, offering a spanner in the works to the cinema snob thinking that this was a genre devoid of genuine sexiness and obsessed with portraying Englishmen as blithering, sexual incompetents. As if railing against these future misconceptions the film is deeply into fetishizing John Hamill as a sexual superman with a series of physically demanding sex scenes that he always manages to rise to the occasion for. Whether it be fucking one of Jampton’s models in a pool, or taking on two French maids (one of whom is Heather Deeley) who serve him breakfast, then themselves. A patriotic rendition of ‘Rule Britannia’ plays over shots of Street’s exhausted, sexually satisfied conquests. Grant’s camera is equally relaxed when lingering over Hamill’s nude body as it is Hamill’s female co-stars, providing plenty of “buns, more buns, buns, then further buns” for The Bare Facts Video Guide to one day obsessively document. Hamill isn’t shy of getting his cock out in these scenes either, proving that old habits really do die hard. Moments that conspire to make Girls Come First far less sexually straightforward fare than the Confessions or Adventures series, in which the sight of naked men was never anything other than a source of audience guffaws. To watch these scenes is to hear Grant’s closet slowly creaking open.
Heather Deeley of course looks great in and out of her French maid’s outfit, bringing her own brand of H.D Sauce to the screen, and showcasing the kind of sex appeal and acting talent (she handles her French accent far better than Bobbie Sparrow) that would see her star shine brightly throughout 1975, her key year as a performer. Deeley returns for a second helping in a sequence that acts as yet another challenge to Hamill’s virility. One that sees him attempting to satisfy two different women in two different rooms, rushing back and forth between a bedroom to fuck Deeley and a bathroom to fuck another of Jampton’s models, played by a pre-fame Hazel O’Connor. A “before they were famous” porn moment that would ensure Girls Come First a shelf life beyond the death of its own genre. It was undoubtedly O’Connor’s appearance that was the reason Girls Come First was the only film from the Alan Street trilogy that Grant bothered to commit to videotape, issuing it on his own, soon to be scandal dogged, World of Video 2000 label in 1980. A release that made very sure to emphasize O’Connor's appearance, including her name and a cartoon version of her on the box (in contrast she in seventh billed, and credited as ‘Hazel Glyn’, in the film itself). Grant also made extra money by selling footage of this scene to interested parties, such as Electric Blue, and other porn compilation companies. As late as 1987 Grant was still milking the O’Connor footage for all it was worth, including it in his own compilation video ‘Who Bears Sins’ (sic) even though music industry legal battles had caused O’Connor to slip from the public eye by that point.
Aside from offering a glimpse of a New Wave pop star to be, Girls Come First is extremely strong on location work, showing off everything you’d want to see in a film made in 1970s London. There are shots of Piccadilly Circus, location defining views of The Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, cinema marquees for Death Wish and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. One priceless shot, filmed from inside of Jampton’s limousine, finds the vehicle trying to cut into Great Windmill Street, provoking grimaces from a sea of pedestrians, annoyed at temporality being prevented from doing the hellish, Piccadilly Circus shuffle. Night time shooting takes in a self-publicising shot of Grant’s own ‘Cinema XXX’ (aka The Pigalle Cinema X) in Macclesfield Street, an unlicensed cinema that showed explicit films and shorts. The solo masturbation loop ‘Me and My Vibrator’-said to star Clyda Rosen- had a marathon run there, despite advertising for that film having to be removed from the cinema’s frontage following protests from The Soho Society.
Girls Come First is often random and loosely structured, a vaguely connected group of scenes, like thoughts flying through an attention deficit disorder addled mind that is obsessed by bad taste comedy and raunchy sex. Characteristics that ring true to Grant’s personality but are also in keeping with director Joe McGrath’s approach to cinema. Even McGrath’s mainstream offerings, the ones he left his real name on, like The Magic Christian and The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It, have the feel of a bunch of sketches and revue like turns from Joe’s famous mates, all vainly in search of a proper narrative. McGrath’s films always seem to slightly resent the fact that films are meant to have a beginning, middle and end.
Still you have to hand it to Grant and McGrath, Girls Come First is a brief, undemanding 43 minute distillation of all of the British sex film’s requisite elements. Plentiful sex and comedy being provided by the era’s favourite starlets and character types (Hamill and Longhurst always being an especially value for money pairing) plus familiar faces from mainstream film and TV there to lend a slight degree of legitimacy to the proceedings. It’s a film that is perfectly in touch with the psychology of its target audience. Any young male cinemagoer could identify with the randy, but fundamentally decent Street, while older dirty macs get Jampton to relate to, and though this character the chance to live out the fantasy of not only being constantly surrounded by beautiful women but living the millionaire’s lifestyle thanks to them as well. Both an artless piece of sex film fluff and a personal look at the world through Grant’s eyes. The film acts as Grant’s bust of his favourite leading man and his love letter to the Soho he lorded over and treated as his own playground, just before the storm clouds started to gather over his empire. Girls Come First could accurately be re-titled “Confessions from the David Hamilton Grant Affair”.