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The Harry Novak Collection Volume One

THE HARRY NOVAK COLLECTION VOLUME ONE
DVD. Revelation.

Alongside the late, great David F. Friedman, Harry Novak was the pre-eminent producer of American softcore from the nudie-cutie days of the early Sixties, through the roughies and into the raunchier work of the pre-hardcore early Seventies– as well as being behind several horror and action films – some good, some terrible. This three disc set covers all aspects of his Sixties work, and is essential stuff for fans of vintage sleaze.

1964’s Kiss Me Quick – aka Dr Breedlove – was often attributed wrongly to Russ Meyer by several writers, though I have to assume that those critics hadn’t seen it – or any Meyer films – as it doesn’t have the frenetic editing, or indeed the grim melodrama that you would associate with 1964-era Meyer. It’s actually directed by Peter Perry, who would churn out a bunch of softcore films for Novak throughout the Sixties, using various different names. Notable as the first nudie film to try to cash in on the 1960s monster boom, the film’s loose plot sees an alien from a single-sex planet sent to the lab of mad scientist Dr Breedlove to secure a perfect female specimen, in order to breed a new slave race. Dr Breedlove, meanwhile, is trying to create the perfect woman, or some sort of sex formula, or perhaps both – it’s a bit confused, as the main thrust of the film is to feature a bunch of unrelated scenes that resemble well-mounted glamour loops, with girls slowly stripping off. There are guest appearances from the Frankenstein Monster (shamelessly ripping off the copyrighted Universal makeup design), Dracula and The Mummy, and Frank A. Coe as Sterilox is channelling Stan Laurel. It’s poverty-row stuff – the sets are basic and the film has spoken word credits, simply because the budget didn’t stretch to proper ones!

Kiss Me Quick It’s often said that they don’t make films like this any more. More to the point, they don’t make women like this anymore – they have that very specific Sixties voluptuous glamour, and fans of big boobs, big asses, corsets, stockings and suspenders will probably think this is the greatest film ever made – especially if they love monster movies too. It’s cheap, cheesy, painfully unfunny and oddly innocent – there’s no explicit nudity, no sex and no crudeness - and quite brilliant in its own way. The film also features an amusing commentary with Novak and Something Weird’s Mike Vraney.

The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet, made by Perry (as A.P. Stootsberry) in 1969, is a more straightforward softcore romp. Admirable for the ambition of the costumes and sets – and the interesting structure where the story is presented as a play, with a rowdy audience – the film suffers from trying to be Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. That show has dated badly, and so a bunch of softcore actors trying to deliver similar gags is as hard to deal with as you’d expect. There’s lots of comedic sex and nudity, and it’s all very good natured – but the film feels like it’s been going on forever, and is nowhere near as entertaining as it seems to think it is. While it looks impressive enough – and is clearly much more interesting than more recent cable TV softcore costume dramas - it’s definitely the weak spot in this collection. Interestingly, the credits are again spoken – at least, the cast introduce themselves in a move that in this case was more a stylistic decision than a budgetary one.

Mantis in LaceFinally, we come to 1968’s Mantis is Lace – here titled Lila on screen. This legendary softcore-horror-acid crossover film has quite the reputation, and deservedly so. Directed by smut stalwart William Rotsler, the film follows cute-as-a-button topless dancer Lila (Susan Stewart) as she is introduced to the joys of LSD by a hipster customer she picks up and takes back to her warehouse squat. Unfortunately, she has a particularly bad trip that brings up all manner of bad shit from her past and causes her to stab lover boy to death with a screwdriver and then chop him up with a convenient hatchet. Strangely not learning her lesson from this, she carries on taking LSD, having bad flashbacks and hallucinations, and hacking up hapless horny men. Meanwhile, a couple of cops straight out of Blood Feast stumble around ‘investigating’, and – to pad out the running time – her fellow dancers perform various lengthy topless go-go dancing routines.

Rotsler and cameraman Lazslo Kovacs come up with some impressive imagery – the film has a ‘flashing lights’ warning at the start – and give the film more style than you’d expect, while the soundtrack is wild and the atmosphere delirious once things get going. Stewart is sexy as hell, and sexploitation veterans Pat Barrington and Stuart Lancaster crop up in supporting roles. Banned in Britain in the early 1970s (as was Kiss Me Quick, bizarrely!), this is a classic slice of Bad Acid cinema and sexploitation roughie, nicely rounding out a very welcome collection of vintage sleaze.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

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