When one thinks of the most extreme American sexploitation filmmakers, Shaun Cotello and Alex DeRenzy are two directors who easily come to mind. Their films were notorious for mixing brutal, hate filled sex, often juxtaposed with scenes of extreme brutal violence. Here we find a double feature of both directors most notorious films.
1. Femmes DeSade (1976)
Alex DeRenzy's brutal and brilliant Femmes DeSade epitomizes the best of mid 70s San Francisco hardcore. 6'7 giant Rocky DeSade (Ken Turner in his only known role) has just been released from prison and obliges fellow parolee Joey (Joey Silvera) and his girlfriend to give him a ride. The couple make the mistake of stopping off for quick sex in an isolated cabin as Rocky promptly beats up Joey and rapes his girlfriend.
Venturing on to San Francisco's North Beach district, Rocky soon begins picking up prostitutes and almost literally breaking them due to the extreme largeness of both his physical self and penis. As the casualties mount, the local hookers and porn store employees band together to try and put an end to Rocky's reign of terror at a party night he'll never forget.
DeRenzy, while never known for strong storytelling abilities, had a definite eye for cinematography, as well as a knack for rich dialogue and perverse sexual fetishism, and there is no better display of his talents than Femmes DeSade. DeRenzy perfectly captures the seedy ambiance of North Beach, using his background as a documentary filmmaker to give his shots the grittiness the need to be effective.
What's more is how DeRenzy shoots sex: cold, angry, and raw. Look no further than the stellar boiler room scene. The sex is sweaty, dirty, and disgusting but simultaneously exhilarating. The only sounds audible during the scene are those of the boiler running and steam being let out of the machines. Or his perverse "doctor" fantasy which is enough to make anyone want to stay healthy for as long as possible.
The narrative aspects of the film are less than sensational but the movie works on atmosphere alone. "Slice of life" sequences such as John Leslie lecturing a group of Asian tourists a lecture on sex toys or various shots of barkers screaming "live love acts" wonderfully capture the essence of an era long gone.
Though the film does drag at times, especially during its 20 minute long S & M party conclusion, DeRenzy manages to keep the pacing quick enough throughout much of the film. If nothing else, Femmes DeSade is a brutal reminder of the most bizarre and brutal American hardcore.
Overall rating: ****/*****
2. Waterpower (1976)
Between 1971 and 1983, Shaun Costello directed over 120 films, most of which were throw-away one-day-wonders. However between his 70-80 rather average hour long works, he managed to create some of the most vile, subversive, and downright brilliant hardcore films ever to grace a screen. Easily his most notorious film, Waterpower was lensed in the fall of 1976 and was based on the true story of Michael H. Kenyon, better known as The Illinois Enema Bandit.
Jamies Gillis plays Burt, a disturbed young man who spends his days watching his across the alley neighbor (Clea Carson) through a telescope. After witnessing a bizarre enema/doctor fetish being played out at a Times Square brothel, Burt flips out just a little bit too much, equips himself with enema supplies, and takes it upon himself to cleanse NYC women of "vile humorous."
Despite the grim nature of its real-life source material, Costello makes his cinematic interpretation into a black comedy (or maybe that should be brown comedy). The very real enemas, as disturbing as they might be, are as silly and over the top as they are gross.
One of the most unlikely aspects of Waterpower's success is Shaun Costello's brilliant use of Bernard Herman's score of Sisters. The music is used so well here that if you didn't know otherwise, you'd swear it was composed with this film in mind.
Costello tries to make Waterpower as over the top as possible, giving Burt Travis Bickel like monologues with lines such as "I can't just shove tubes up their asses and hope for the best." Combined with rich location photography and an nice ensemble cast including supporting players Sharon Mitchell, Gloria Leonard, C.J. Lainge, and Eric Edwards in a showstoppingly hilarious role as an enema giving "doctor," Waterpower is an out and out blast from beginning to end.
Overall rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Both films are mastered off of beautiful 35mm prints with minimal, if any lines, and no splices. Color is perfect on both films and detail is very strong. Both films are also presented at 1.33:1 as they were shot. The original English language mono soundtracks sound great. In essence, these transfers are flawless!
Femmes DeSade is happily complete.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of Waterpower. While all the enemas are presented in full, about 50-70 seconds of dialogue have been removed from the the "operation" scene. Although these dialogue cuts don't disrupt the understanding of the plot, they are noticeable and also happen to be some of the funniest lines in the film. However, it appears that these cuts are not the result of editing for the DVD but rather missing in the source print so, as disturbing as they may be, I will not deduct any points. You can find the complete dialogue in most of the much lesser quality DVD-R releases of the film.
sadly, nothing relative to either film is present. that said, who the hell knows where to find a trailer to either of these titles and sadly Femmes DeSade director Alex DeRenzy is no longer with us. It would have been great to see an interview with anyone involved in either of these two films but I'm happy to go without frilly extras consideting that this is the first time either of these films have gotten proper home video treatment.
That said, we are given a few neat bonuses. First up is a nice clip from Peter Locke's all but lost 1973 gem It Happened In Hollywood which looks great, but is sadly dubbed into French. Then is a clip from Deep Throat, and finally the rape scene from Radley Metzger's first fully XXX effort, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann which is missing from the current butchered VCA release. Sadly, it is also dubbed into French.
Who Should Watch It?
Costello and DeRenzy fans who have not yet seen these films or those who have only seen them in bootleg versions (which includes the horrible releases of both from Alpha Blue archives) need to pick these up. People who have heard of these films but not yet seen them must pick up this DVD. Anyone looking to see what Times Square and North Beach were really like before modern "advancements" destroyed them will get an excellent taste of both here.
Who Should Skip It?
If Jamie Gillis' character in Roommates made you wince, then you'll want to stay about as far away from these two as you can.
Alpha France continues to prove themselves to be one of the few XXX companies that give a damn; releasing great films remastered from film, as opposed to off of old tapes. The films presented here, while not perfect, still rank as two of the most shocking and important American hardcore works ever made and are required viewing for any fan of the genre.