Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ultimate Degenerate, The (1969)

...aka: Degenerate, The

Directed by:
Michael Findlay

Wow! I'm glad I finally decided to take the plunge and start checking out the twisted underground sex films of husband-and-wife team Michael and Roberta Findlay. I have not seen anything quite like this before and it was a great change of pace. It opens with clips of a junkyard with the fast-talking. priceless voice-over... "You buy yourself a chrome plated beauty with a vinyl top and pretty soon it's lying on top of hundreds of others; smashed, broken, wrecked. It doesn't take long. A couple of years of fast driving, taking the curves too hard and not knowing when to apply the breaks. People are a lot like cars except when they've had it they don't put them in a junkyard, they put them in a crazy house." The voice belongs to Maria Curtis (played by New York nudie regular Uta Erickson under the name "Artimida Grillet") and this is her story. An Insatiable blonde nympho, Maria is also a shameless exhibitionist who likes to prance around in front of an open window buck naked; letting her voyeuristic neighbor sample the goods. Her huge-breasted lesbian lover Tammy (Donna Stone) is too prudish and old-fashioned for her tastes, so Maria decides she needs a change of pace. Luckily while skimming through the "New York Review of Sex" paper, she comes across an ad too good to pass up; a free trip to Vermont and 500 bucks a week to live it up in a house of sex and sin.

The owner of the house is a wealthy, controlling, wheelchair-bound pervert named Spencer (played by the director under the name "Robert West") who has a whole harem of young women at his disposal. He makes the women put on stage sex shows in the dungeon; including one where three women dance nude while covered in whip cream as a light swings back and forth (cool effect), another where a girl entertains her (very) butch girlfriend and a third which involves a plate full of corn cobs (no need to get into gory details here, just use your imagination). Spencer is an all around sick puppy. He injects the girls with a powerful "harmless" aphrodisiac, tortures others (including pinching breasts with clothes pins and sending electric charges to the female nether regions) and likes to have feet ground into his chest.

Meanwhile, Spencer's younger assistant Bruno ("Leo Heinz"/Earl Hindman, who'd go on to play the barely-seen neighbor Wilson on the hit TV show Home Improvement!) gets jealous, frustrated ("Damn! All I see around here is broad's chewin' on each other!") and plots against him, finally devising a twisted plan to drive one of the women crazy by tampering with her daily injection of love serum. Meanwhile, the women pair off for one lesbian encounter after another. The bases are pretty much covered with a blonde, a brunette, a redhead, a black woman, a Hispanic woman and an Asian woman. Many of them are a little on the "healthy" (thick) side and spend most of their time completely naked. One of the girls (Alice Noland) is a photographer who takes porn pictures for Spencer and demands "Kiss her... and I don't mean on the lips!" during a photo session.

The acting is gut-busting bad, the silly dialogue is dubbed and much of this film is almost as childish as it is bizarre, which means you are completely caught off guard when it comes to the last ten minutes or so. Holy cow! It's a dip into murder, madness and complete hysteria as one of the characters is finally driven over the edge and starts killing everyone in sight. It's an amazing, nightmarish collage of twisted sights shot through a hazy, Vaseline-smeared lens and featuring a man in a gas mask hacking up, strangling and killing all of the women, skulls, candles, warped sounds, organ music, echoing screams and some amazing cinematography courtesy of "Anna Riva" (Roberta Findlay). There's one long, unbroken shot moving around the house, going out to the porch, back inside and through various rooms that was done over ten years before Raimi did something very similar in THE EVIL DEAD. There's also a totally great garage rock song "Is It On? Is It Off?" by a group called The Bit A Sweet that I can't seem to get out of my head. They also also performed the same song in the 1968 film BLONDE ON A BUM TRIP (posted below).


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