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.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Last Step Down, The (1970)

... aka: Even Devils Pray
... aka: Last Step Down
... aka: Links

Directed by:
Lawrence Ramport

Some things just go well together. Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cookies. Cake and ice cream. Sex and Satanism. Yes sir (or ma'am), this is yet another of those 70s sex flicks suckering some of us in with its flimsy occult / horror premise. Back in the day, these things came in both soft and hard varieties, were usually poorly shot on 16mm in just a few days and feature cult members who are more interested in humping at the altar than sacrificing or worshiping. This one – from a one-time-only director that's probably a pseudonym – fits that description to a T. Things open in a Satanic den as a couple of hooded monks walk down the stairs holding candles and make their way to an altar. The main monk (Michael Donovan O'Donnell) says something but no words come out of his mouth because they put music right over it. A very busty brunette woman then approaches and whips out her girls as one of the monks proceeds to rub a rubber dildo all over the breasts and body. Another top heavy young lady (this time a blonde) comes in and two of the monks proceed to have (soft) sex with the ladies for ten minutes. The women are fully nude showing it all while the guys never remove or even open their robes, something they will remedy later on.

The following day we meet the two Satanic hoochies as they sit down for their morning coffee and bitch about the pitfalls of being hookers (“This is too much like work!”). The blonde, Suzy (Neola Graef), whines “Well it took me until 2 in the morning to finally blow their brains out and get 'em off to sleep so I could go back to work. By then all the winners were booked. I finally scored one old geezer who couldn't finish and, uh, oh yeah, a quick head job in a sports car... ugh to foam rubber steering wheels!” The brunette, Norma Jean (Uschi Digard), then claims she was forced to service an entire convention of men. They talk about their whip-wielding pimp “Mother Harry” and then discuss a “new girl” and how they're “going to break her in.” They then decide the best way would be to take her to see the “weekend weirdos” i.e. the Satanist monks up at the old monastery because “those cats really know what it's all about.” But priorities first. Lesbian sex on the living room floor it is.

Mother Harry (who sounds pretty awesome but unfortunately we never get to meet) sends new girl Kathy (Terri Johnson), a naive country lass, over to meet Suzy and Norma Jean. Suzy makes her model a bikini to see if she has the body. The three girls then lounge by the pool for a bit where there's some breast massaging and head upstairs for an all-girl three-way. From there, it's off to the monastery to have an orgy with the two monks that lasts for over twenty minutes and includes all of the expected combos, culminating in Kathy getting screwed on the altar by the main monk while the other three watch. Afterward, Kathy is ready for her new job and her new life. It was “...so groovy and so hot and so tingly. And, wow, so many different ways of doing it!” Norma Jean espouses the virtues of being a hooker: “...all the sex you can handle, independence, good living and a bank account!” But then party-pooper Suzy chimes in “... no friends, your doctor bills are higher, there's always at least one guy living off you and, uh, the fuzz are rough when you're busted...” Uschi then saves the day by informing Kathy she'll have to learn how to do “three-way splits” and then she and Suzy demonstrate just what they're talking about. The end.

Judged as an actual movie, this is about as bad as they come. There's no plot, the acting and dialogue are awful, the sets are barren and it's incredibly boring and poorly-made. As a piece of erotica, this is also a failure because the long simulated sex scenes are awkward, mechanical, poorly-filmed, poorly scored with stock Muzak and fail to generate any real heat. I actually found myself fast-forwarding through the sex just to get to the dialogue scenes. The only thing this really has going for it are the God given physiques of its two stars. Digard is a legend in this kind of work (nude modeling and soft erotica) and really impossible to avoid as she's in hundreds of these things. The real discovery (for me at least) is Graef, who is cute, bubbly and has a body to rival Digard's if you're a big breast fan. The third female, Johnson, is rather average by comparison and dwarfed by her two co-stars... in more ways than one!

I have no clue who was responsible for this. It was clearly shot in a few days and not much thought or work was put into it. The only credits on the print I viewed are the production company / year and the title at the very beginning. The poster is of no help because it doesn't have credits either. IMDb says it was released under the alternate titles Even Devils Pray and Links, though I could find no evidence of that. It also cites the stars as being “Olivia James” (most definitely Graef, as she sometimes used the alias “Olivia Tiernan”), “Beatrice Stolen” (Digard) and “Michael Valentine” (O'Donnell). Johnson, who very seldom used an alias throughout her career unlike most of her contemporaries, is listed by her real name in some sources, though with her first name spelled “Terry.”

What I viewed was the extremely raggedy-looking 54-minute version distributed through Alpha Blue Archives, but now there's a 67-minute restored version on DVD from Redemption Films and Kino Lorber, who've thrown in the 15 minute short Blood Lust (1979) as an extra bonus. The latter was directed by former glamor photographer Russell Gay and is a soft-core adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla.

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