Friday, 18 April 2014

The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio / A Clockwork Blue

For passionate, obsessive collectors of Exploitation Cinema, this is truly a decadent age to be living in. This month sees the first ever UK release of Bloodsucking Freaks, uncut and on Blu-Ray no less while on the other side of the Atlantic, Vinegar Syndrome continue to delight and astonish with their latest release, a double-bill of films assumed lost to bootleg oblivion, or in the case of A Clockwork Blue, simply lost. Of the pairing, The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio is the big ticket item. Made in 1971, this ultra-low budget curio slipped quietly into obscurity until its fortunes were revived in 1982 when British label Intervision announced a VHS release. Intervision subsequently halted production on the tape but not before some copies from the print run were exported to Australia of all places, making it one of the most collectible tapes of the pre-cert era, and one of the most infamous, the VHS sleeve featured a fuzzy lo-fi video capture from the film of a semi-naked blonde tied up, bloody and bruised. The film itself falls well short of the kind of unspeakable sleaze one might imagine, in fact it's a rather lukewarm Horror film but fortunately has enough oddball charm to make this a keeper.

The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio on Intervision. (Sleeve courtesy of the Pre-Cert Forums)

The film is essentially an old fashioned whodunit with a maniac carving up young women in residence at a nursing school staffed by various eccentrics and would-be suspects - a twitchy neurotic dean, a dyke matron with a penchant for rubbing down new trainees, a doctor who gets his kicks from eviscerating frogs, and a drooling hunchbacked Igor type who prowls around the basement. The denouement is silly enough to deflect the murderer's identity until the finale but by then you'll be hopelessly won over by the hammy acting, tortuous line readings, bad wigs, goofy continuity gaffes and a truly bizarre final shot. The film is set sometime in the 19th century judging by the tawdry period costumes, although that might demand a leap of faith from viewers given the very 1970's hairdos, and bikini tan lines. A good frame of reference for the film would be The Ghastly Ones, and although director Eric Jeffrey Haims just inches past Andy Milligan in terms of technical ability, both films share scrappy photography, queasy soft-core grappling, a scissor and paste library soundtrack which in the case of Haims' film, lifts the same pump organ refrain heard in Deranged. Aside from the shot immortalized on the Intervision tape, the film has little to upset or offend - the nudity is mostly above the waist and the cast is dispatched with no more than a spattering of gaudy stage blood, although brace yourself for the frog dissection scenes in which freshly scooped viscera is endlessly played with before the camera.

Following The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio, Eric Jeffrey Haims short-lived film making career settled into a run of routine sexploiters, among them the long lost 1972 film A Clockwork Blue. Sadly this is not a porno rewrite of Stanley Kubrick's film but a cringe-worthy unfunny sex comedy in which a frustrated lab assistant travels Quantum Leap-style through various eras of history with the aid of a magical pocket watch, materializing as a dope-smoking George Washington, a scarlet pimpernel seducer during the French Revolution, an early American pilgrim, a portrait painter in the court of Henry VIII, a Viking slave and so on. A Clockwork Blue is not nearly as entertaining as its companion film despite it being the slicker of the two, with something approaching actual production value - it's impressively shot (complimented by some eye-popping, colorful art direction) and well mounted with the same corner of the studio imaginatively redressed for every epoch (and dare I say it includes some unexpected Brechtian set designs in the pilgrim segment). Surprising a modicum of acting talent was rounded up for the film, particularly leading man Joe E. Tata, a highly prolific TV actor who has appeared in everything from Lost In Space, to Magnum P.I. and 90's teen soap Beverly Hills 90210. In this respect the film might be best appreciated on in close succession with The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio as some of the actors from the earlier film return albeit in more salubrious surroundings.

Where the film really falls flat though is the director's screenplay which can't muster a single funny gag from it's 80-odd minutes, although it's noteworthy for the inclusion of the truly bizarre device of an Uncle Remus type character watching all the action from a celestial plain by way of a watermelon TV (?) A Clockwork Blue was made during a wait-and-see era of American Adult Cinema, the film shot in hard and softcore variants. In fact the sex in the film is all rather half-hearted whichever version you see, and if you feel aggrieved at missing Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition Blu-Ray, exclusively containing the hardcore cut, take some comfort from the fact that the most explicit footage adds up to just less than a minute of screen time and is rather underwhelming - a brief bit of lesbian cunnilingus, a medium shot of penetration and a fleeting blowjob. Ultimately the episodic structure of A Clockwork Blue saves the film from being a complete chore to sit through and despite its shortcomings, it's still a treat to have this nutty movie back in circulation.