Friday, October 13, 2017

Doris Wishman's A TASTE OF FLESH (1967)

1967, Something Weird Video
71m 50s, $10.00 DVD-R, $9.99 download

Despite its title, this is not a further entry in Michael Findlay's Flesh series from the same period but rather a stand-alone Doris Wishman item, written by her as "El Ess" with the direction credited to "L. Silverman" - and it's a very strange thing. Filmed almost entirely inside a single three-room apartment, the picture was shot without live sound, then post-synched by different actors at Titra Sound Corp. and scored with some of the most exciting library tracks imaginable (including the one that has since become legend as "the Something Weird Theme"). The result is a bit like a tawdry crime fotonovela in which the performances we hear were not actually given, where the misleading feel of excitement was laid-in like carpeting, by the yard.

We open with a beautiful woman luxuriating for quite a long time in a bubble bath, until another woman appears in the room and ventures to touch her. The intruder is actually the resident, Bobbi (Layla Peters), who leaves the room when her nymphomaniacal roommate Carol (Darlene Bennet) returns home. After exchanging inane chatter like "You should see the delicious undies I bought!", Carol becomes aware of their third wheel - a foreigner named Hannah (Cleo Nova, aka Peggy Steffans-Sarno - in an unflattering blonde wig), whom Bobbi met at the airport and invited to be her guest upon learning that she needed a place to stay. Two men (Michael Lawrence, Buck Starr) knock at the door, identifying themselves as telephone repairmen, but once inside they begin flashing their handguns.

It seems the apartment Bobbi and Carol share has the ideal vantage for their planned assassination of the visiting Prime Minister of Nedea the following morning. It also transpires that Hannah is a native of "Nedea" (I wonder if that's anywhere near Beldad?); indeed, she is the Prime Minister's mistress, who met Bobbi deliberately after her country's secret service pinpointed her apartment as near - but not too near - "His Majesty's" (sic) hotel suite. The would-be assassins pistol-whip her till she spills the exact time of the Prime Minister's scheduled arrival - 6:00 the following morning.

It sounds like there is a lot going on, but after this convoluted build-up, and enough early spice to let us know that the film could deliver if it cared to - a bubble bath scene (Hannah), a shower scene culminating in a PSYCHO-inspired intrusion (Bobbi), and some full-length mirror self-love (Carol) - the film settles into a holding pattern of sit-around-and-wait, with the exception of a surprisingly non-violent (and mostly non-nude) rape scene. The movie stumbles into its most interesting, unexpectedly charming passage when the voluptuous Bobbi falls asleep on the sofa and has a dream about dating Hannah while dressed as a man. This surprising diversion, treated with sweet naïveté, culminates in the foot fetishism expected of Wishman pictures - which may actually have been more the predilection of the recently deceased C. Davis Smith, who photographed the majority of them.

The complicated reasons that bring these various characters together in the same room is ultimately dismissed quickly and with uproarious ease, before unseen police close-in on one of the men in a hilariously protracted burlesque of suspense.

Today, Peggy Steffans has no recollection of making this film, nor any of the other quickies she made with Michael Findlay or Sande Johnsen between "Cleo Nova's" Joe Sarno assignments. Seeing her transplanted from that more ambitious universe to this one really does show how extraordinary and atypical an artist Sarno was in the context of his own times and milieu, and of course it's impossible to gauge the performance Peggy actually gave onset. There's nothing here to suggest that she received any direction whatsoever, other than "sit here, move your leg there," and one can easily believe that the entire film was improvised in no more than a couple of days. The entire cast was required to over-enunciate their line readings, to make the scenes easier to loop.

A TASTE OF FLESH doesn't share the sense of sheer outrageousness that characterizes Doris Wishman's most memorable work (DEADLY WEAPONS, THE AMAZING TRANSPLANT), but for collectors of such arcana, it's short and quirky enough to tickle your curiosity come the next rainy day. 

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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