Exploitation

Lust for Vengeance

Lust for Vengeance opens with a gloved hand holding a small board with a list of womens names on it. One of the names is already crossed out and, once we are into the film proper, its no surprise that a murder has already happened.

Were then introduced to the characters – four women, all linked through friendship, each of whom has a dark secret and all of whom are being stalked (one by one) by our mystery killer. And I really couldnt bring myself to care.

The cast arent bad and, apart from a couple of exceptions, put in reasonably solid performances but they are badly let down by a script that really doesnt hang together.

The film plays out as a series of unrelated vignettes. In each case we are introduced to the next victim, who has a problem (usually drugs), has sex – explicitly - and is then murdered – remarkably bloodlessly.

Writer/director, Sean Weathers is clearly much more interested in the sex than the violence in this film but – given that this is supposed to be a slasher film - the fact that the slasher part of the film is such an afterthought really does let the film down.

This, combined with the jumpy narrative flow, left the film with no tension, no shocks and a painfully obvious final reveal.

Hookers in Revolt

Taking its inspiration from Animal Farm, Hookers in Revolt is the story of a group of street prostitutes who finally decide that theyve had enough mistreatment at the hands of their pimps. Adopting the slogan “all women are equal to men,” they band together, pool their resources and start to look out for each other.

Success, however, breeds corruption and as the manipulative Cleopatra (Olivia Lopez) takes control of the collective, the rest of the prostitutes find that they were no better off than before. Indeed, for many of them, things take a distinct turn for the worse.

Hookers in Revolt is certainly an ambitious film, and writer/director Sean Weathers does have a lot to say. Unfortunately, it doesnt quite come together and I think that this is largely down to the fact that more time has been spent developing the films message and its themes than has been spent developing the characters and the plot.

The plot has a very jumpy feel. Scene follows scene and stuff happens, but there is no real sense of cohesion to hold it all together. No plot is perfect, of course, and I may have been willing to overlook the weaknesses here if there had been a strong central character to hold my interest. Unfortunately, the characters tended to feel more like stereotypes than people making it very difficult to care about any of them.

There is a lot in here and the film, quite bravely, aims to be both an intelligent social satire and an out and out exploitation romp. However, by trying to do so much, the film ends up falling short on both counts.

There are a fair few fun moments in here, as well as plenty of skin and no shortage of soft-core sex scenes. Unfortunately, the parts are better than the whole which doesnt quite live up to its title.

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan

Set in a brothel and centring on one of the establishments inmates, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is a film unafraid to keep its exploitation elements at the forefront of the plot. But with its lavish sets and sumptuous cinematography, director Yuen Chor manages to make the film much more than a simple sleaze-fest and deliver a rather good revenge flick packed with overt, and very effective, eroticism.

The film starts with Ainu (Lily Ho), one of many teenagers kidnapped and sold to the brothel in question. Because of her stunning looks and feisty personality, she is an immediate draw for the brothel’s very wealthy – and very well connected – clients. She also attracts the lustful attention of the brothel’s owner, Madam Chun (Betty Pei Ti).

Initially Ainu resists but, following a failed escape attempt, her spirit finally appears to be broken and she begins to settle in to the life of the brothel. In doing so, she starts to take advantage of Madam Chun’s patronage which includes learning her martial arts skills.

The relationship between Ainu and Madam Chun is the core of this film and it is very well handled. Both Lily Ho and Betty Pei Ti put in sterling performances and really do bring their characters to life as the plot begins to twist.

Unfortunately, the strength of the two leads’ performances also highlights one of the weaknesses of the film, which is that the rest of the cast are a little one-dimensional. The script focuses so heavily on the central relationship that, although the supporting actors do put in perfectly competent performances, they aren’t given a great deal to work with. The result is that these characters often feel motivated by no more than a need to progress the plot.

This is a Shaw Brothers film and, even though the action sequences are not the main focus of the film, they are central and consistently spectacular. As with the rest of the film, the focus is very much on the two women and the way in which their fighting style reflects their relationship. And given that neither of the women is a martial artist, they both put in very creditable performances here indeed.

There is much to like about this film and it does work on many levels – as a martial arts action film, as an exploitation film with something to say about exploitation and as tragedy about love and vengeance. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan also has a depth that is often missing from films of this genre, but it really could have done with an extra half hour to more fully develop both the plot and some of the supporting characters.

Vampire Sisters

From 1976 to the end of the 1980s, Don Dohler wrote, directed and produced several science fiction and horror films. To say that the budgets for these films were low would be a bit of an understatement. Don Dohler was effectively making direct to video films before there was a video to go direct to.

But these films, such as The Alien Factor, Fiend and The Galaxy Invader had a real heart and, if nothing else, reflected Dohlers real passion not just for genre cinema but also the process of making films. These werent the greatest films ever made but Dohler did manage to secure an international distribution for every one of them and built quite a loyal following of fans who recognised and enjoyed these films for what they were.

In 1988 Dohler decided hed had enough and didnt make another film for eleven years. He returned in 1999 with Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage, during the shooting of which he met Joe Ripple. The two men began to collaborate with Ripple taking on the directing duties, allowing Dohler to concentrate on cinematography and editing.

However, the world had moved on during Dohlers hiatus and, with direct to video films coming to dominate the independent landscape, he found himself having to include more exploitative elements in order to secure the distribution deals he needed. All of which brings us to Vampire Sisters.

This is the story (a term I use very loosely here) of three lesbian vampires (Darla Albornoz, Jeannie Michelle Jameson and Syn DeVil) who – taking advantage of the internet – have set up a porn website to lure unsuspecting schmucks to their lair. Again, and again and again.

To be fair, there are some good ideas in this film and a couple of scenes that are genuinely painful to watch. But the whole thing is dragged down by the sheer repetitiveness of the titillation followed by violent death – endlessly repeated – structure of the film.

If, from the above couple of paragraphs, you have the impression that this film is entirely plot-free youd be right. Almost.

There is a rather desultory attempt to give us the semblance of a plot in the form of a couple of vice cops (Mark C. Lassise and Leanna Chamish) who notice that the website is offering special favours to local men and decide to keep an eye on it. Eventually they cotton on to the fact that lots of people are going missing and they all have the girls website bookmarked. So they decide that they should go undercover.

And there really is a lot less here than implied by the above.

Unambiguously exploitative films can be a huge amount of fun but only when the people making these films have a sense of fun which they can bring to the screen. In the case of Vampire Sisters, the film feels far too much like a by-the-numbers exercise and, even with this much flesh and blood on show, the whole thing very quickly grinds to a creaking halt.

The Three Trials

Writer/director Randy Greif certainly has a very unique vision, as is amply demonstrated in The Three Trials, the story of Catherine (Molinee Green), a nun with a unique form of narcolepsy.

Catherines troubles start when she stumbles across the priest of her church (Michael Q. Schmidt) indulging in fetish sex with the convents dominatrix Mother Superior (Sirena Scott). Aroused and in trouble, her troubles start when she is sent to the wonderfully grimy basement of a nearby cathedral to face the first of her trials.

The film starts very firmly in nunsploitation territory, but quickly takes a very surreal turn and becomes much, much more as Catherine is forced to confront and accept her sexuality.

Moving beyond the religious life, by way of a montage that reflects both the reality of her secular life and the submissive fantasies that are now – and maybe always were – a part of her being, Catherine finds herself living in Blackhearts Castle.

In terms of narrative, this is the most explicitly dream-like part of the film. No attempt is made to explain how she arrived here, or even where here is – and, as such, it works more as a fantasy, and a deliberately adolescent one at that. Catherine the nymph, like Catherine the nun, has a deep desire for devotion but this time around the desire is more romantic than religious.

Although the narrative here is the most dream-like, the imagery in this part of the film is the least. And Greif does manage to come up with some very striking imagery that does manage to very effectively convey the eroticism of Catherines personality. The imagery is also often quite erotic in its own right.

It also has to be noted that, regardless of the description of the synopsis so far, the film does not follow a linear narrative. It is divided into three broad sections, each of which deals with a different aspect of Catherines submissive sexuality. But, as with both personality and sexuality, these aspects do impinge on each other and – consequently – the events in the three sections do refer, backwards and forwards, to each other.

The end of the second section of the film sees Catherine being rescued by Beast (Maximilien Herholz), a sasquatch-like creature who, by the beginning of the final section, has become a man. And, as this man is more than happy to accommodate Catherines desires, we see her relationship with him becoming increasingly extreme and masochistic.

More than anything, this part of the film made me think of The Story of O and really does capture the same sense of utter submission that is portrayed in the novel. And, as with O, Catherines journey is one that follows an unrelenting logic of its own and one that is engaging, erotic and more than a little disturbing.

Where The Three Trials is unique, however, is in Greifs use of a surreal and genuinely dream-like approach to narrative, along with some deliberately absurdist elements, to obscure the boundaries between reality and fantasy. And, although the imagery does become a little self-indulgent at times, it does come together to generate a very striking, and very memorable, visual experience.

This is a film that doesnt sit comfortably in any genre but one that very effectively pulls together elements from a variety of influences to create something that both unique and very powerful indeed.

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