American Ticklers The Early R-Rated Films of Chuck Vincent By Paul Freitag. If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve likely seen a Chuck Vincent film, whether or not you’ve intended to...
If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve likely seen a Chuck Vincent film, whether or not you’ve intended to. The hardcore films he shot in the ’70s and ’80s, mostly under the pseudonym Marc Ubell, are now thought of as being some of the best in the genre, and are on the verge of getting a resurgence, with titles like In Love and Roommates being picked up for restoration and DVD distribution as their long-deserved cult following comes to fruition.
Born Charles Vincent Dingley in 1940, Vincent moved from his home in Michigan to the east coast to work in the theater, but soon discovered the film bug. He directed his first short film in 1971 and, for the next 20 years, he alternated between directing hardcore features and more "mainstream" films, though the dividing line between the two became gray fairly quickly. By the time of his death from AIDS in 1991, Vincent had directed over 50 features, with about half containing hardcore sex. But Vincent may be the only filmmaker whose work as a director of hardcore films has gotten more attention than his tamer, R-rated features. It makes sense that Vincent was equally prolific at both even his hardcore films feature less emphasis on sex than on humor, pathos and character development. Primarily comedies with a few thrillers thrown in towards the end, Vincent’s R-rated films aren’t so much "softcore" as they’re often thought of, but rather defined genre films with some tits thrown in. While virtually all of the films feature sex in the plot structure, the results feel less like exploitation and more like a joyful embracing of sex through a bawdy, burlesque lens.
It’s this take on sexuality that makes Vincent’s work noteworthy. While many of the films are clearly at the mercy of budgetary constraints and Vincent’s habit of using adult film actors doesn’t always work out well (though it does in more cases than not these films should have made Jane Hamilton a much bigger legitimate star than they did), the tone of the films are very sex-positive, gleeful and the high energy behind their productions is readily apparent. Most of the films work perfectly well even without the nudity that made them Cinemax and Pay-Per-View fodder for years, which makes their regular appearances, in edited form, on USA Network’s Up All Night perfectly understandable. Take out the breasts, and you’ve still got a lot of people running around in skimpy outfits vigorously spouting intentionally absurd dialogue. It’s no wonder than Vincent’s films became favorites of teenage boys in the early ’90s everywhere, even if they, and Vincent himself, didn’t realize it. (Note: These films are listed in order of production, as best as I can determine by production listings in Variety. As Vincent was an incredibly prolific filmmaker and often had a half-dozen films in the can waiting for distribution at any given time, their exact order of filming is murky.)
The Appointment (1971)
Two rather homely, sheepish people (Jeff Peters and Lorelle Brownell) meet for what appears to be a prearranged meeting beneath a New York bridge. After awkwardly agreeing to go through with their plan, they adjourn to a low-rent apartment room with a bed and little else. As they quickly disrobe and have wild, bed-breaking sex in sped-up motion to the tune of "The William Tell Overture," we cut to a bevy of different people spying in on the couple, including a man tape recording them and furiously masturbating, an old woman with a glass to the wall, and a group of peepers looking on through the window. The couple stop to take a breath every once in a while and the music stops with them, cutting to a radio announcer spewing double entendres but, moments later, it’s back to the fast-motion sex-fest. Eventually, the couple and their onlookers sated, the two put their clothes back on, go back to the bridge, say their awkward goodbyes and go their separate ways.
Vincent’s earliest known short film is an entertainingly goofy work that feels a bit overlong for its premise, but it still a fun, irreverent look at sexual mores. Peters and Brownell are, at first glance, cold nebbishes devoid of sexual charisma it’s a bit like watching Woody Allen and Ruth Buzzi exchange knowing intimacies but as soon as the clothes come off, the peeping begins and the music starts, you’re too immersed in the sheer energy of the film to notice any bodily shortcomings. Several themes Vincent would revisit would first emerge here, including peeping toms, dingy New York apartments and the idea that sexually repressed folks just can’t wait to get it on, either physically or via proxy. The black and white cinematography by Stephen Colwell, who would follow Vincent as director of photography though 1976’s Farewell Scarlett, is solid and the editing is crisp, even if the joke runs out before the running time. The post-sync sound is adequate, especially as the only scenes with dialogue are the bookended bridge sequences. The performances from the two leads are good, and they’re certainly enthusiastic sexual participants even discounting the sped-up frame rate, but as the feel of the film is more jocular than erotic, it’d probably disappoint those looking for something more akin to his hardcore work, despite the copious nudity. If the concept of fast-motion exuberant lovemaking to the tune of "The William Tell Overture" sounds familiar, it’s not surprising, as the same editing technique was used memorably by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, as Alex beds a young woman he meets at the record store. As Clockwork didn’t debut in the U.S. until January of 1972, and The Appointment was shot in 1971 at the latest, it’s unlikely that one film influenced the other. In any case, The Appointment is more likely to have influenced Clockwork rather than vice versa. It could also be the case of two auteurs coming up with the same idea at the same time.
Voices of Desire (1972)
Vincent’s first full-length feature is an odd horror/sex hybrid, sometimes mistaken as pornography as he used his Mark Ubell name for the director’s credit. Last House on the Left’s Sandra Cassell (billed here as Lydia Cassell) plays Anna, a young woman who is seeing a psychologist because she keeps hearing voices. In flashback as she explains to the shrink, we see Anna pick up a payphone, hear heavy breathing, and run off into an oddly deserted New York City. As she runs, whispered voices harking "Anna, we love you!" chirp off through the streets.
Things get odder from there, as Anna keeps hearing the voices on occasion, and they start to compel her to do weird, sexy things, including take off her clothes and molest some fruit. She starts having visions of sex as well, including watching future porn star Roger Caine (who would later turn up in several Vincent films) and another woman. The film climaxes with Anna finding her way into an orgy (which is predictable enough) and then everyone ends up getting slaughtered (which certainly isn’t!) and while the sex is explicit enough for me to believe that it wasn’t simulated, you don’t see any actual penetration. The middle segment of the film, however, consists of a lot of Anna running away from disembodied voices, and the effort feels similar to the same year’s Psyched by the 4-D Witch, though it eschews that film’s batshittery for a more consistent eerie tone.
Vincent’s love for films is on display here Anna’s apartment includes posters for M and The Blue Angel, so I wouldn’t be shocked at all if this was, in fact, Vincent’s apartment as a shooting location. The feel of the film seems less interested in depicting erotic sex than to create a sense of unease, and it’s a lot more Carnival of Souls than Deep Throat. The story of a woman slowly going insane in the guise of erotic thrills is one to which Vincent would return much later, in Deranged and Bad Blood.
While the Cat’s Away (1973)
The lurid Exposé magazine has a problem, and not just that it’s employing future Larry "Bud" Melman, Calvert DeForest (in his first film credit). Sex is dead! Nobody is interested in celebrities banging "horses they can’t identify" anymore! The editor of the tabloid gets ace voyeur Lurch ("J.M. Everett," though this may be pseudonym for Vincent himself) to go after the sex life of the modern housewife in order to get their audience a story they can identify with, choosing a random name out of the phone book. Thankfully, the random Mrs. Jones (Kathryn Jones) has more than enough of a sex life to keep Lurch busy. Jumping into the comedy set-up he’d use on several other occasions, While the Cat‘s Away uses a quickly-established premise to serve as a launching point for a series of zany sex scenes that set in stone Vincent’s absurdist lensing of heterosexual and lesbian love scenes. After starting off the day by failing to give her husband a blow job (he says it would wear him out, but he’s just saving his sauce for his secretary) and cooking his breakfast via her body, slapping the bacon across her crotch and running the eggs over her nipples, she uses the time while her husband’s at work to busily go about town, having her appointments be paid for "on credit" by banging her dentist, hairdresser, milkman, mailman, priest, mechanic and anyone else she owes.
While the sex is unusually plentiful for a Vincent film, the structure seems lazy, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense we follow both husband and wife even though Lurch only seems to be tracking the wife, so there’s about twice as many sex scenes as there needs to be. Each escapade is preceded by a lurid "Can I put this on my account?" said in the bawdiest way possible and ends with a double entendre so forced that it seems odd that the characters aren’t looking into the camera and winking. ("I just filled your box!" "And how!")
The music in the film varies from stock classical to stock ragtime, and if things don’t feel like they’re zany enough, Vincent clocks up the camera speed, which in one case duplicates almost exactly the sex sequence from The Appointment. It all gets tiresome after a while, though at least the bodies of both genders (save for the lumpy Mr. Jones, played by "Richard Major") are attractive to look at naked. (DeForest, thankfully, stays fully clothed.) Other than the general sex positivity (nobody gets punished for their dalliances), sex with a priest in a church is about as dangerous as the film gets, and it stands out from other softcore films of the time only due to its general energy and lack of negativity.
At this point, Vincent had begun to direct hardcore films as well, beginning with 1973’s Lecher, with Georgina Spelvin. The same year’s Grace‘s Place is listed as a hardcore film on IMDb, but allegedly is not I have not been able to verify one way or another, as a copy has yet to emerge.
Love Truck (1973) / Blue Summer (1973)
Two friends hit the road the summer after graduating from high school and run into all sorts of sexy adventures in Vincent’s 1973 film, released in two different forms of varying levels of explicitness. While it could have had the same problems as While the Cat‘s Away, Blue Summer is a turning point for Vincent. Instead of emphasizing the sex, Blue Summer is more of a character piece, even if you see the more explicit version. Sure, it has its fair share of sex scenes, but the emphasis is on the relationship between the two friends taking their first steps into adulthood on their own as they prepare to go to separate colleges.
Tracy (Davey Jones, the adult star, not the Monkee, credited here as Darcey Hollingsworth) is the louder one, who picks up pal Gene (Bo White, star of the gay classic A Very Natural Thing) in his beat-up Dodge van (or "bus," as it’s referred to in the film) christened "The Meat Wagon" for a good summer of camping in the woods. Gene is anxious to get away from his bickering parents, leaving the house just as it sounds like his father is about to become physically abusive to his mom. While occasionally getting distracted by sex with wandering hitchhikers (who rob them) and a bizarre three-person sex cult (who wants their fan), much of the film is spent with the two talking about college and future plans, and occasionally running into a soft-spoken biker who claims to be heading "nowhere." Vincent seems a lot more interested in showing these two teenagers staving off the impending confrontation with adulthood, even though they know they’re bound to do so eventually. Even the characters they come in contact with (physically and incidentally) symbolize some form of adulthood avoidance the hitchhikers talk about never going home, a married woman doubts her relationship and an anonymous girl doesn’t want any kind of a commitment.
There’s an added sense of homoeroticism between the two guys, partially because they sleep in the nude in the same tent without any question and, partially because White is, and I hate to say this, not a convincing heterosexual. His vocal tone is wispy and a bit on the mincing side, and buying him as a straight character becomes even less believable when he spouts lines like "Where I’m going, Dad, they don’t teach plumbing!" He doesn’t make a move on the hitchhiker until she taunts him for not making a move on her and calls him a virgin, so Gene’s doubtful sexuality may well have been intentional, and in fact adds a subtle sexual tension that’s always there even when there are no other characters on screen. The main difference between Blue Summer and Love Truck is the length of the sex scenes they’re equally explicit, Blue Summer’s just last longer though there are a few minor differences in structure. The opening credits sequence is edited mildly different, positioning the "Allen Shackleton Presents" credit in a different location and changing the order of the shots when the duo flirts with a woman in a car next to them. Love Truck features a little additional dialogue before the boys’ sex scene with the hitchhikers.
Mrs. Barrington (1974)
Vincent’s love for screwball comedies and the humor of the burlesque become readily apparent with his 1974 farce about a woman with a habit of marrying rich and then having her husbands die soon after a wedding under mysterious circumstances. Co-written with James Vidor, with whom Vincent would also team with for the hardcore Farewell Scarlett and Sizzle, the plot is essentially a softcore remake of the Shirley MacLaine vehicle What a Way to Go!, and it wouldn’t be the first time Vincent looked to a ’60s farce for inspiration years later, he turned the ideas behind the Debbie Reynolds film Goodbye Charlie into one of his best comedies, Cleo/Leo.
Kim Pope, an actress Vincent used later for his hardcore films Heavy Load and Farewell Scarlet, stars as title character Abigail Barrington, a gold digging madam who narrates the film, opening with her most recent husband Wilfred Barrington’s funeral. Her new husband’s family is noticeably upset that Barrington makes out with a majority of the cash, but it’s just another day job for her. Via flashbacks, we see the varying ways that she’s dispatched her former beaus, which she considers "high yield, quick return investments," whether it be their wheelchair "accidentally" falling into the lake or a blindfolded game of hide and seek on the edge of a freeway.
As Abigail talks to the camera to explain the situations she finds herself in, she clearly lies about her motivations and history, resulting in an unreliable first person narrator, a unique tactic that Pope utilizes to fine comic effect. A little bit more inexplicable is the fact that all of the other characters refer to her as "Mrs. Barrington," despite the fact that this is her seventh husband (and, one imagines, seventh name change) so you might assume that they may have just decided to call her by her first name rather than to keep up with her many sur-monikers.
The rest of the film chronicles Abigail’s quest for a new rich man to marry and off, as she schemes with the help of her frazzled social secretary Eloise (Ida Klein), her chauffeur who goes by either Ralph or James (Marlow Ferguson) and her new sexy Spanish houseboy Roberto (David Hausman). In between complaining about the long hours of being a gold digger and volunteering at a hospital (for connection purposes, of course), she manages to have a fair share of sex with pretty much anyone who comes in contact with her. Under normal circumstances, Abigail would seem like a loathsome character but Pope sells it with her exuberance and it helps that her most recent pursuit is mentioned as having received his fortune as a real estate scam artist and by preying on welfare recipients by offering high-interest loans.
A bridge between his more sex-focused earlier films and the more comedy-focused films that would come afterwards, Mrs. Barrington has the standard amount of flesh on display for a softcore opus of the time while making the sex scenes actually funny. Her seduction of Roberto is entertaining, but her trip to a swinger’s party is something else entirely, as she completely fails to pick up the one single guy there while her best friend couples up across the room from her, and she ends up sitting bored on a couch all by herself! If it weren’t in the midst of an orgy, you could mistake it for a Fassbinder film, especially as Vincent lingers on Pope’s absent-minded post-rejection solitude just a bit too long.
An odd, though welcome, moment like this outstanding, Mrs. Barrington is a lot of fun, and feels very similar to the best of the bawdy comedies he made in the ’80s. Pope is excellent, coming off as both innocent and duplicitous, and the supporting cast is enjoyable as well. The sex scenes may be a bit long for those looking for more of a standard comedy, but the bodies on display are, for the most part, pretty appealing, and they’re backed by Richard Billay’s pleasant score, headed by a memorable song called "There I Go," performed by Sleepy Hollow, played over the opening and closing credits. You can even look past the impressively tacky comic rape scene with a cat burglar, as Abigail ends up getting the upper hand.
"Those movies were around that’s not why I did it, I did it because it was a legitimate part in the movie," said David Hausman in an interview. "I had never seen the script before I did it, so it was just a funny part. It was a Hispanic houseboy who wanted to be an actor that quoted Shakespeare. That was right up my alley, being a Shakespeare nut myself. It was great I got to quote Hamlet, and it was fun. There was the obligatory girl-on-girl scene, and the script never really went into detail. You don’t see those shots the script just says ‘She’s in the lawyer’s office, and they kiss.’ I didn’t really realize that that was the genre, sex comedy. But there were a lot of them around at the time. The stuff that I was doing back then was very tame to shoot."
"The sets were fun, though Chuck tended to be all business on the set. When we were rehearsing, when he was writing or talking to you personally, he was a lot of fun and gregarious and out there, but on the set, he was all business. It was a different mindset. We did get to improvise. He was a good director to work for. He was open to suggestions and improvisations. I know some of my lines were improvised in rehearsal and then shot, when I was doing Shakespeare [in Barrington.]" Hausman would also work with Vincent on American Tickler and Snap and recently produced a short film called Dirty Cops with his production company, Durian Productions.
Few directors have had the opportunity to remake their own film, but Vincent is not only among the ranks of Alfred Hitchcock and George Romero having done so, but he’s managed to do it on multiple occasions, and Vincent remade Mrs. Barrington in the late 1980s at Sexpot, starring Ruth Collins in the title role, adding some additional subplots involving one of her ex-husbands’ family and cutting a fair share of the sex, a combination of which propelled it to become a Cinemax standby.
American Tickler or The Winner of 10 Academy Awards (1977)
Released the same year as Kentucky Fried Movie, American Tickler is Vincent’s entry into the sketch comedy film, a genre he’d dabbled in the year before with the hardcore Laugh - In feature Bang Bang You Got It! Like most of the sketch films of the time, it pales in comparison before Kentucky Fried Movie, but there are a few entertaining moments.
Between a lot of random sketches, American Tickler has two framing structures; the first a series of cut-rate Terry Gilliam-esque animations introducing the segments as the "winner of so-and-so Academy Award." The other is a more complex full storyline about several groups of people (nuns, a mobster, karate guys, greasers and two hookers and their pimp, played by Bloodsucking Freaks’s Ralphus himself, Luis De Jesus) on a chase to get a box with unknown contents. It’s basically another movie unto itself, and it’s certainly mad cap even if it’s never actually funny. It does, however, climax in a ridiculously meta way, as all of the characters run around a theater showing the film they’re in, throwing promotional t-shirts at each other.
The sketches themselves are a fairly sorry lot, often running a simple joke into the ground slowly, making the film’s minimal running time stretch on forever. The best segment is the "Winner of the Marquis de Sade Award for Most Sadistic Game Show" bit, in which a Monty Hall-like host taunts contestants with increasingly twisted threats (their wedding ring, the death of their puppy, their son’s life) in return for "what’s in the box." Jeff Allin sells it as the host, and it’s a genuinely funny bit that doesn’t drag.
The same can’t be said for the likes of "Fellini’s Romeo and Juliet" (not conceptually odd enough to justify the sketch), a Reverend Moon bit that exemplifies Vincent’s distaste for religion and features Joe Piscopo, prepping himself for a future of unfunny sketch comedy, and a sniper-focused sports show (starring David Hausman as the sniper, a conceptually solid bit that goes on for too long). The film had five different writers, including Vincent, his then-lover Chris Corvina, billed as "Covino" (who had been assistant editor on Mrs. Barrington and would later direct the hardcore Centurions of Rome and Velvet High under the name of John Christopher) and Straw Weisman (Fight for Your Life, When Nature Calls), but the credits don’t reveal who wrote which bits.
American Tickler may be Vincent’s most sexless film, offering only a couple random boobs out of obligation, but it’s also one of his least interesting. It may have seemed like a good idea considering his habit of having the plot as a springboard for comedic situations, but these films relied on a backbone of a solid character to follow, and in the sketch format, there’s nothing thematically to hold on to, and the bits aren’t funny enough to stand on their own. Outside of completists for Vincent, Piscopo or sketch comedy films, there’s not really a reason to check it out. Vincent cameos in drag as "Martha Ubell," as a "pervert."
Summer Camp (1979)
Released the same year as Meatballs, Summer Camp is Vincent’s obligatory screwball sex comedy about, wait for it, a summer camp. Camp Malibu has been flailing financially for years, so owner Herman (character vet John Goff, who was in Al Adamson’s Nurse Sherri, John Carpenter’s The Fog and Joel Bender’s Gas Pump Girls within a year of this) invites all of their alumni back for a summer of fun in order to get money out of them in the hopes of saving it. Naturally, the group of twentysomething short-shorts-wearing, van-driving kids have significantly sexier things on their minds.
The characters involved are the usual batch of nice guys, snobs, slutty girls and quirky staff, all determined to have a good time and to avoid Herman’s money mongering. Clearly influenced by the previous year’s Animal House, Summer Camp’s group of swinging singles even includes a John Belushi substitute in the form of "Horse," an overall-wearing goofball whose nonchalant assholism makes him the hit of the party. There’s also a young Linnea Quigley as a bitchy gold digger, which is probably the reason why the film is mostly remembered these days. Vincent himself cameos as a scientist who comes up with a way to end the film on a happy note.
The usual batch of shenanigans ensues, like the boys peeping in on the girls’ windows, the cook getting seduced by the camp slut and the bad girl getting punished by having her sex tape exposed. There’s also a smattering of sex scenes, but they’re either comic or tender. Everything plays against a boys vs. girls competition just to keep something "happening" in the film as there’s not really much of a plot to push forward.
As with Blue Summer, there is a surprising emphasis on actual character development, with people pondering their pasts and futures and genuinely trying to help each other, save for the obvious villains or comic relief. Unfortunately, the dimly-lit VHS transfer (the only one currently available) makes it a bit difficult to tell the characters apart, which is especially problematic when most of them have similar hairstyles.
Hot T-Shirts (1980)
"My body is wet/My body’s soaking wet/My body’s dripping wet" blare the lyrics of the disco track that plays over the opening credits of Hot T - Shirts. You’re not in for something subtle (if the title Hot T - Shirts wasn’t enough to clue you in). Beyond this lies a better than you’d expect film firmly in the sexploitation camp, partially due to the first non-hardcore teaming of Vincent with cinematographer Larry Revene, a relationship that proved beneficial to both as Revene’s more inventive camerawork provided subsequent Vincent films a look that gave them an edge over similar genre flicks.
Summer Camp’s Horse, Ray Holland, plays Joe, a bar owner in a bit of a financial slump. His best friend Charlie (Glenn Mure) keeps trying to have him follow the trends and turn the place into a disco. Joe resists, taking on the idea of having a wet t-shirt contest. The contest tanks at first due to lack of participants and prizes but, as word gets around and Joe gets sponsors for the event, things start to heat up. The bar starts to become profitable without lowering itself to disco music.
Naturally, the town’s middle-aged busybody ladies, including future Large Marge, Alice Nunn, in her "Dulce Mann" pseudonym, have a problem with that and decide to take Joe down. Meanwhile, the contest gets out of control between warring wet t-shirt factions, causing an all-cast brawl in the middle of the film, and resulting in two teams of girls resolving to get sexier girls and slinkier t-shirts. Joe’s character could have easily come off like a bawdy lecher, especially considering Holland’s former role in Camp, but it’s instilled with genuine worry and pathos. Joe feels like a concerned business owner who’s intent on keeping up his lifestyle. Holland seems to have retired from film acting after this and it’s a shame as he makes a charismatic lead in an easily-typecast role.
While there are a few cute little moments, like Joe’s seltzer can running out of steam at the wrong moment or the lead busybody correcting her own grammar. Unfortunately, the movie quickly gets sidetracked by the contest itself. The problem is that they’re not very interesting to watch and, forgive me for saying this, but there’s only so much footage of vaguely attractive ladies dancing around in tight outfits that you can watch. The t-shirts aren’t even very wet a majority of the time.
There’s a ditsy girl who won’t stop talking, a character that would show up in various formats in several other Vincent films, starting with the hardcore Fascination. It also features the most half-assedly choreographed, profanity-laden cheerleader routine I’ve ever seen, performed in front of a group of elderly "college" football players.
"As I recollect, I was just getting my legs at that point on features," Larry Revene explained. "Hot T - Shirts was the first film I did with Panavision. I’ve always had an avocation towards art, so I always had a good eye to light things I never went to school, I’m completely auto-didactic for that sort of stuff. I did go to NYU for graduate school, but that was in the cinema studies, criticism and aesthetics. It was all based on the writing part of films, and nothing to do with practicality. What I learned, I learned first-hand."
"There are some scenes in Hot T - Shirts in a big restaurant. Because we didn’t have the time or money to do huge lighting setups, I thought to use the candles on the tables. In 35mm, it’s very forgiving, and if the film is rated at 400 ASA, you can shoot it at 800 ASA. It was amazing to me to see the results I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, I was like, ‘Oh, we’d better try this; we don’t have time to light all that stuff.’ Then you realize at a certain point, ‘Oh, that works,’ so every time you’re in a similar situation, you can go back to that."
Blink and you’ll miss Debralee Scott as a dancer, which leads me to believe this was filmed in 1979, before Scott landed a supporting role on the sitcom Angie. There is also a lot of disco music, so your enjoyment of Hot T - Shirts may be hampered if you don’t care so much for glitterballs.
Snap (aka C.O.D.) (1981)
An oddity in Vincent’s repertoire, Snap is a German co-production, where Vincent is credited alongside a co-director, Sigi Kramer. It’s also Vincent’s only PG-rated film and features only the briefest of nudity (courtesy the beautiful Marilyn Joi), even if the storyline could have easily called for more. It’s also the third consecutive Vincent movie about trying to save a business.
Chris Lemmon, a year after his role in the similarly-toned The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood, plays Albert Zack, a young executive who get hired by the Beaver Bra company in order to sign five big-name (and big-bosomed) ladies to endorse their product in a last-ditch effort to save the company. Hiring a new German secretary (Olivia Pascal, who was in Jeff Franco’s Bloody Moon the same year), he goes across the county trying to sign the five girls in a set-up that allows for the usual screwball antics, though they’re significantly less sexual than usual. Instead, Lemmon puts on a variety of costumes and voices (including one impressively racist Asian one) in order to get the ladies’ attentions and, well, simply sign them on to the cause.
Among the ladies being pursued are an exploitation film star (Corrine Alphen, before she was married to Ken Wahl and took his name), the President’s daughter (Teresa Ganzel, now a voice actress), a disco singer (Joi, who’d been in the previous year’s Happy Hooker sequel herself) backed by a trio of leathermen, a kinky sex-party throwing Contessa (Carole Davis), and an athlete (German actress Dolly Dollar).
Despite being credited to four writers (Vincent, his frequent co-scripters Ian Shaw and Rick Marx in their first non-hardcore film together and, most oddly, Shocking Asia producer Wolfgang Von Schiber). The script is peppered with cute little moments that, while unnecessary, add to the character of the film. A bookstore saleslady randomly complains about being disgusted by a new Robin Cook tome, the runaway first daughter feels like Patty Hearst. Much of the supporting cast utilizes Vincent’s performers from his hardcore films, including Jack Wrangler as a leading man, Kurt Mann as a foppish director and Samantha Fox and Ron Jeremy as reporters. Bagdad Café star Marianne Sagebrecht also has a bit role.
The only source of real conflict is the company owner’s scheming nephew, who wants Zack to fail in order for the company to go down, though most of his time is spent getting PG-rated kinky with his secretary, expertly played by Jennifer Richards (TerrorVision’s Madam Medusa) in a role that would have gone to Jane Hamilton in later films.
The only drama in the film comes from the relationship between Zack and the secretary, who is in a difficult situation with her husband. With the wild comedy of much of the film, the relationship scenes come off as almost morose, as they bring everything to a dead stop (and Pascal’s English isn’t polished enough to illicit actual emotion).
Still, there’s enough in Snap to be worth a look, and it’s never boring, even if you do have to have a fairly high tolerance for Chris Lemmon mugging. It’s certainly Vincent’s most family-friendly film, even if the plot of the film consists entirely of a sleazy guy running around the world trying to get women into bras.
Vincent’s Platinum Pictures produced their first R-rated film, Preppies, for the Playboy Channel. Preppies is Vincent’s take on the college-set comedies popularized in the wake of Animal House, though the amount of the film taken up by actual college antics is pretty minimal. The college aspect is downplayed in favor of the title stereotypes, as our three leads play wealthy trust fund kids with sweaters perpetually slung over their shoulders, and one of them even sports a clichéd "preppie" accent. They also have names like "Bayard Hollingsworth VIII" and "Chip Thurston III," so it’s pretty clear that the territory is more Meatballs than Metropolitan.
As the film opens, our three leads are being told by their Ivy League dean that they’ll be kicked out of school if they don’t pass an economics exam at the start of next week. Due to a peeping janitor, this information is leaked to Chip’s S&M aficionado cousin Blackwel, who is next in line to receive a trust fund if Chip gets booted. Blackwel and his crony then conspire to figure out a way to make sure the trio doesn’t pass their exams so he can inherit a fortune to spend on getting manhandled by dominatrices.
This plan is enacted with the help of a gaggle of four ladies who apparently spend most of their time looking to get laid by driving around in their van that the flame lettering on the side informs us is named "The Beast." The girls are paid to keep the boys busy, which they try to do throughout the rest of the movie, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where it takes so much effort to get a bunch of horny guys to have sex with a bunch of horny girls.
The potential foil to the couplings is mostly in the form of Chip’s prick tease girlfriend Margot, a shrewish uppity stereotype played by future director Katt Shea, who is constantly clutching her metaphorical pearls at the outrageous behavior of everyone around her. The problem is that the relationship between Chip and Margot is so unbelievable even by ’80s T&A comedy standards she’s completely unpleasant, her voice irritates, the outfits she wears make the then-27-year-old Shea look 40, and she doesn’t put out, allowing Chip only to watch her writhe naked behind a glass door. Why Chip doesn’t go for the possibility of getting some actual sex at the first available possibility is a question that remains unanswered.
No, instead, Chip and his buddies do what every good, heterosexual guy buddies do as a group. They tell each other incredibly sexual bedtime stories while writhing around in bed in their skivvies. They play strip poker with a bunch of other guys at a bar. They’re so assertive in their heterosexuality that the seductresses feel the need to send one of their numbers into the boys’ dorm to watch pornography with them as a "research experiment" before the rest of them can come in because they’ll need to be all revved up first. It’s all perfectly normal.
Like most of Vincent’s comedies, the tone is very breezy and light, and writer Rick Marx’s jokes are more pleasant than actually funny. While there’s a fair share of boobs on display, the sex scenes themselves are limited and tame the bawdiest (and funniest) bit is a bizarre scene where Margot and her ditzy friend Trini practice faking their orgasms by writhing in unison on separate beds in their bras and panties. As is traditional in the genre, this is capped by a peeper at their second-story window who looks shocked and then drops to the ground. The cast is mostly unknowns who have few credits outside of this, though Cindy Manion emerges as the most energetic of the non-preppy girls, and she chews scenery here as well as she did as the girl who seduces Melvin in The Toxic Avenger. Jerry Butler has a recurring but pretty pointless role as a soap star one of the girls is obsessed with, and Lynda Weismeier, who plays the dim Trini, and a few other adult stars that’d worked with Vincent (Sharon Kane, Tish Ambrose) show up as strippers.
Hollywood Hot Tubs (1983)
The same year’s Hollywood Hot Tubs is probably Vincent’s best known film, thanks to an eye-catching title and regular play on USA’s home for T&A flicks minus the T&A, Up All Night. Hollywood Hot Tubs managed to not only make it into the national lexicon as a reference on Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Eegah! episode and end up on TotalFilm’s "50 Greatest Sex Comedies" list (at #50), but it was popular enough to warrant a sequel seven years later, Hollywood Hot Tubs 2: Educating Crystal, without Vincent’s involvement.
Hollywood Hot Tubs is a transition point in the Vincent’s R-rated career, as the screenplay is co-written by Mark Borde, who’d scripted Summer Camp, and Craig Horrall, who would go on to supply the scripts for another 13 Vincent films over the next six years. The tone of the film isn’t really any different from Preppies, however, with any actual sex taking a back seat to light, screwball comedy and occasional boobs.
Hollywood Hot Tubs even starts out with the same main idea as Preppies, as three pals end up getting in trouble for a prank they pulled. However, two of the three buddies disappear from the movie after the prank, an ambitiously shot scene where the trio changes the infamous Hollywood sign to read "Hollyweed." Coupled with some nice aerial footage of Los Angeles, it sets an impressively high-budget tone from which the rest of the film seems entirely disassociated.
"That was a great shot," said cinematographer Larry Revene, "We actually had permits to do that. A pair of us went up at night and manipulated the sign so it read ‘Hollyweed.’ We got the permits based on the fact that it was a historical reenactment. Some kids had done the same thing back in the early ’60s."
"I remember filming that, because it was the type of deal where I had to fly out of Van Nuys [in a helicopter] as closely timed as possible, the car was up on Mulholland Drive, with radio contact with the production people. You’re positioned in the door with your feet out on the struts, and you have zoom and focus control on the gun grips, so the camera is floating on a cantilevered cushion. But what I couldn’t figure out was that the camera that I had was only capable of holding a 400 foot magazine, which is only a short time in 35mm. The script said follow the car from the top of Mulholland down through Laurel Canyon, all the way around Sunset Boulevard and when the sun is peeking over the Hollywood Hills, hit that sign. So I’m thinking ‘That’s great. How did I reload the film?’ So the production manager got us in touch with the ASC guy whose specialty was aerials, and I went out Van Nuys the day before to talk to the pilot, and he introduced me to this guy, and I asked him the trick. And he said, ‘Just be very careful.’"
"So with all the rotor gust and wind and so forth, you’re flying at 3,000 feet or something, you have to take the spit magazine off, and I didn’t have an assistant. So I had to take the magazine off, reload the camera, and pick up the car again. I think I had to reload two times to get that shot. But it was one of the rare times the movie gods were with me, and we got the shot. It’s one of those hairy situations where you’re sweating bullets, but it’s a great moment."
Our sole "surviving" prankster, Shawn, played by affable Robby Benson-ish Paul Gunning, is told by his probation officer that he’ll go to jail if he doesn’t get a job. His parents, desperate to "save him from the buttslammers," get him a gig working for his Uncle Al’s plumbing company. Shawn soon finds that the company specializes in hot tub repair, as was the style at the time, and they’re trying their hardest to land the title client to save their business. Wacky hijinks ensue.
A half-baked love triangle is set up between Shawn, Al’s assistant Leslie (Donna McDaniel, who also performed three songs on the soundtrack) and toothy co-worker Jeff, who, oddly, acts as the comic relief for much of the movie even after the opening scene establishes our hero as a prankster. The trio is basically just set up to forward a couple minor dramatic points, as Jeff also involves himself with Hollywood Hot Tubs’ owner Pam, played by Remy O’Neill and pretty much loses interest in the love triangle entirely.
Also along for the ride are Edy Williams doing her Edy Williams shtick as a frequently topless nymphomaniac customer and Katt Shea follows up her WASPy role in Preppies with an "also starring" credit in a quick, fairly thankless role as a bitchy hot tub owner who has sex with a Harry Reems lookalike. Jewel Shepard plays Pam’s valley girl daughter Crystal with such a bizarre energy that it’s not surprising she became the focus of the sequel, especially as her breasts bounce so insanely inside her cut-off shirt so much I’m shocked they didn’t get a screen credit of their own. (I have learned this is called "gainaxing." Thanks, internet!) Oddly, Shepard is one of the few female characters that don’t take their tops off in the film, leaving the Jell-O mound-like structures beneath her outfit up to the imagination.
Much of Tubs is just spent getting the characters into conceptually funny situations and then forgetting to add jokes, like Jeff pretending he’s from immigration to get some action at an Asian hot tub place, or Shawn’s probation officer following Shawn into a gay bath house. Occasionally, there’s a genuinely funny bit, as when elderly horror actor Edgar Blood (Victor Marko) has the leads fix his limo-set tub while he complains about how special effects ruin everything. The film climaxes with a zany chase all over the hot tub place, a well-edited segment involving a Burt Reynolds impersonator, Japanese tourists, a monster suit, a biker gang, Edy Williams, and a mariachi band, and it’s certainly entertaining to watch.
"Chuck had such an elegant way of sophisticating things. For instance, when the extras would come in [for the Hot Tubs finale] you always have a problem with extras, because they come with a friend, and they want to sit at a table, and they’re talking when you’re trying to shoot. So Chuck would have Billy [Slobodian, the assistant director] have them file through a doorway, and Billy would give them a number from one to four. Then when they got ready to do the scene, he’d say ‘All number ones go to the bar. All number threes go to the tables.’ So they weren’t with friends, they were with strangers, and they’d shut up and listen to him. This is what Chuck would do. Then he’d say, ‘Don’t eat the prop food. It’s got bug spray on it.’ He was brilliant at that."
The chaotic mirth of the climactic scene basically encompasses the whole film, thanks to a swift pace and some likeable leads. McDaniel and O’Neill in particular invest their characters with some personality, making even the token dramatic scenes bearable, and giving moments like an absurd arcade-set scene where Shawn and Leslie bond over a game of Xevious more weight than you’d expect. While there are plenty of breasts on display, the only actual sex scenes are either comic or shot in silhouette that wouldn’t look out of place in a TV-movie, so it’s not surprising this became a basic cable staple. While none of the original crew returned for the sequel, O’Neill returned as Crystal’s mother, though her relationship with Jeff seems to have soured in the ensuing six years.
Warrior Queen aka Pompeii (1985)
Warrior Queen is an enigma in Vincent’s filmography it’s a sword and sandal film, a genre he didn’t work in before or again. It is the last film Vincent would make that did not feature Larry Revene as a cinematographer, with Revene instead working on sound. Produced by Harry Allan Towers and Joe D’Amato (Aristide Massaccesi) under the title Pompeii to cash in on the name of the successful Last Days of Pompeii miniseries from the previous year, the film feels more like D’Amato’s Caligula rip-offs or Towers’s Dragonard films than anything else in Vincent’s filmography.
"What happened with that was that Chuck made a deal with Harry to do that film in Rome. We shot that at the Alios Studios outside of Rome, where all the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns were shot. The reason I didn’t shoot that is because Artistide shot it. He wasn’t only a director/producer, he was also a cameraman. I went there because I was going to direct a project for Harry Alan Towers about the Kama Sutra. Chuck wanted me to go and do sound on this, because the Italians had never done a sync-sound film. I’d done sound off and on my entire career, so it was like ‘come along, do sound on this, and we’ll scout the location to do the Kama Sutra film.’ So we did, but the Kama Sutra never materialized. I ended up working on another couple films for Aristide, Zombie 5 and Delirium."
"Seeing Chuck, standing in front of the throng of people that was supposed to be in the audience for gladiator scene, because he didn’t speak Italian, and [assistant director] Per Sjostedt, who did, was trying to translate for him... Chuck was acting it out! He was in front of all these Italians, yakking away, and he grabs his own neck, and he falls to the ground, and the Italians are going crazy because Per’s trying to explain that this is what’s going to happen, but they just saw this crazy director out there going through all these machinations."
The plot concerns the slave trade in Pompeii just before the city’s destruction from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (guess what the climax is), as the mysterious title royalty (played by a virtually silent Sybil Danning) purchases slaves in order to help them, much to the chagrin of a Nero-type played to the hilt and beyond by Donald Pleasance. There’s some attempt at distinct characters played by ex-Deathstalker Rick Hill and Michael Houghton (the bitchy director in Michele Soavi’s Stagefright), but most of the film consists of half-assed battle sequences and orgies that pale in comparison to the likes of Caligula.
"There was a male lead that was really feckless [Rick Hill]," Revene added. "He was the classic pain-in-the-ass-actor. The crew called him ‘borella,’ the Italian for a 10 pin in bowling, because he could be easily knocked over. They used to just sit there in between takes and berate him in Italian. He was just such a jerk! At one point, there was this very long dolly shot, it was very hard, very hot, we had two hours to get this, and we had to get the chickens, the goats, the horses, the chariot. You’ve got all this stuff to stage, and we set it up in rehearsal, and this guy says to Chuck, ‘I feel like I should say something here.’ The scene is Sybil Danning comes out of this wagon and sees him on his chariot. And Chuck said, ‘Okay, what do you want to say?’ And he said, ‘I’ll say Hello.’ So Chuck says fine and we start the take. The goats are going, the horses are stomping, the dolly’s running down the track, everyone hits their mark, the camera pans up, Sybil Danning comes out, the camera pans over and sees him and he says, ‘Oh, jeez, I forgot what I was going to say.’ The Italians were ready to kill him."
"Sybil Danning was just excellent. She was the quintessential professional. We were shooting a scene and she had to swordfight with two Italian stuntmen. You know how if you’re a skilled diver, when you dive off the end of the board, you hang your toes over the end and you take the steps back to measure the approach so you hit the edge? She was doing that with these stuntmen. She would start and reverse from where the swords crossed. Their action was to come into the scene and she would swing on them. She scared the shit out of those stuntmen. She didn’t pull punches. She went full force, and it was really quite something to see her work, because she’s such a skilled actor."
Despite the fact that Vincent collaborated with Rick Marx, there’s virtually no wit or cleverness on display here. It’s all done very seriously, without a hint of camp, and because it’s staged so poorly and there is so little dialogue (Pleasance must have used up all of the words) you’d be hard-pressed to make it through even the abbreviated 69-minute R-rated version. The unrated version just makes things worse, with longer orgy sequences punctuated by a blisteringly repetitive score that would put you into a deep sleep if it weren’t for the occasional vocalist’s howl that sounds like Julee Cruise having a seizure. No amount of additional full frontal all-gendered nudity can make that worth a trip.
The best thing to come out of Warrior Queen, outside of the poster art, which features a misleading image of Danning wielding swords, something she doesn’t do in the film, is that Vincent kept away from making films for others from then on. With one minor exception, he made the rest of his films on his own terms, and didn’t work on projects in which he clearly had no interest,
After Warrior Queen, Vincent moved between comedies and thrillers in another 17 films, utilizing many of the same cast members and locales, to the point where there is a distinct Platinum Pictures "house style," consisting of similar fonts in the credits and tone. These films became late night staples on USA, Cinemax and Pay-Per-View, as Vincent moved away from hardcore films and eventually stopped making them entirely, focusing on his R-rated output. Primarily co-written with Craig Horrall, these films serve as Vincent’s most prolific period of output, as his style had been established and we see him playing with genre conventions (Deranged, Bad Blood) and breaking the forth wall (Student Affairs, Party Girls). When Vincent passed away from complications from AIDS in 1991, he left behind a huge legacy of entertainment, and a filmography and story that are just now beginning to be uncovered and properly appreciated. Those that worked with Vincent have gone on to a variety of projects, ranging from Larry Revene, who is working on his autobiography and can be tracked on his blog at larryrevene.com, to Sex Appeal star Louis Bonanno, who is profiled in the following interview.
Thank you to Lee Jones, Jane Hamilton, Larry Revene, Louix Dor Dempriey, David Hausman, Michael Varrati and Mike Malloy for their continued assistance in this article.
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