In the mid ‘70s a whole slew of World War Two-themed sexploitation films were churned out (most coming from Italy) in the wake of the highly successful Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. Most of the films, typical ‘70s softcore porn pieces with swastika-sporting actors, followed the standard “women in prison” film formula—the locale having been transferred to the Nazi death camps and field brothels. In Italy these films are known as part of the “il sadiconazista” cycle, the bulk of which were influenced as much by Ilsa as they were by three controversial Italian art-house films: Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter, Tinto Brass’ Salon Kitty and Passolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The entire genre can be traced back to 1969 when Bob Cresse and Lee Frost created the depraved “roughie,” Love Camp 7, which set the standard for all others to follow.
The SS-ploitation film-makers had discovered that it was far easier to get violently sexual situations past the censors if they were presented within the context of being based on the historical facts of Nazi war atrocities. Of course, none of these films had any interest whatsoever in being historically accurate. The producers were making bank by exploiting 1970s movie audiences’ craving for weirder and wilder psycho-sexual delights and justifying it all as supposed statements against war crimes. Producer Dave Friedman (under the pseudonym Herman Traeger) put this written notice in the first shot of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS:
“The film you are about to see is based on documented fact. The atrocities shown were conducted as ‘medical experiments’ in special concentration camps throughout Hitler’s Third Reich. Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites of notorious Nazi personalities; and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes. Because of its shocking subject matter, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never happen again.”
These films pushed the boundaries of bad taste to their lowest limit.
It’s difficult to pin down the continued appeal of these films. Any first year psychology student could interpret these films’ appeal in relation to dominance and submission, bondage fetish, rape fantasy, or basic misogyny. The likely fundamental appeal for many viewers is simply the fact that a whole slew of beautiful women get naked frequently. For others, the appeal of a film like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS stems from the audacity of the images and the bad taste campiness of the acting and direction.
One thing is certain, these blatant exercises in cinematic depravity make no apologies and force their contents upon the viewer on their own moral terms. Unquestionably, the majority of these films are in the poorest of possible taste, yet they present material in a manner which pulls no punches—a spectacle which would never fly in today’s age of obsessive outrage. These films blur the lines between good and evil when they present Nazi atrocities in a manner that may not only repulse, but also spark the prurient interest of the viewer. To most, the thought of this is an absolutely unacceptable identification with the films’ antagonists, yet there can be a very fine psychological line between repulsion and titillation—and as such, for some, these films hold a certain power, if not vulgar charm. There are those out there who simply worship outrageous schlock, and some that just want to see a pair of boobs jiggle across the screen, and still others who are truly sick, deranged perverts. For better or worse (probably worse), there’s an audience for this shit.
A top ten list of Nazi sexploitation depravity after the jump…
Just when you think you’ve heard it all, right about at the point when it seems that the United States could not get any more odd, a story like the one I’m about to relate rears it’s head from the annals of the Internet reminding you about how completely insane this entire thing we all call the “American Experience” can be and has always been. This, readers, is the story of Edward Elmer Solly, a convicted fugitive child killer who, after escaping from jail in 1974 and hiding in plain sight, went on to make a living for himself by impersonating and claiming to be deceased Sha Na Na guitar player, Vinnie Taylor.
As many of you already know, Sha Na Na formed in 1968 as an intentionally retro act imitating doo-wop groups from the 1950’s, slicking back their hair and dressing like what could have been Elvis’ personal, gold lame donning entourage. Famously, they played Woodstock, had a syndicated T.V. show that ran from 1977 to 1981 and appeared in the movie Grease in 1978. Vinnie Taylor (born Chris Donald) was not in the group at the time of the Woodstock performance, joining the band as lead guitarist in 1971. Sadly, Taylor died of an accidental heroin overdose in 1974, so he wasn’t part of the group during the Grease period, either, but he left an indelible mark on the band of anachronistic performers.
The real Vinnie Taylor, 1973
Fast forward to May of 2001 when a guy by the name of Edward Elmer Solly gets arrested while, according to a New York Times report on the incident, “fishing for snook from a pier in St. Petersburg, Florida.” But Solly wasn’t being arrested for fishing without a license. His capture was in fact the result of years of searching. You see, in 1969, Solly was convicted for killing the 2-year-old son of his then-girlfriend, Linda Welsh, in Runnemede, New Jersey in what was allegedly a drunken rampage. He was sent to jail, but escaped in June of 1974 while, according to the New York Times article, “on furlough to visit a dying sister.”
Sha Na Na circa 1972
Amazingly, somewhere in the mean time between his 1974 escape and his 2001 capture, Solly made the seemingly insane choice for a wanted man of turning himself into somewhat of a public figure by impersonating Vinnie Taylor in a variety of doo-wop acts in Florida. Solly told people that he had changed his stage name to “Danny C” from Vinnie Taylor, who Solly claimed had faked his death in 1974 for personal reasons.
In a 2004 CBS News article about Solly, Rebecca Leung reported that:
In Florida, doo-wop bands have always been a hit in bars and clubs along the beach. That’s where Tommy Mara’s group, The Saints, and Joe Locicero’s group, The Mello Kings, became two of Florida’s top local groups.
Both men remember being thrilled that living legend and former Sha Na Na singer Vinny Taylor had moved to town.
“You know, he had the talk,” says Mara. “He talked the talk and he walked the walk.”
The former bad boy of Sha Na Na said he had a new stage name: Danny C. And he even had his own Web site, where fans could log on and see all the rock ‘n’ roll legends he performed with over his career.
Locicero and Mara couldn’t believe their luck when Danny C asked their groups to back him up on stage.
“We featured Tommy and The Saints, and then we featured Danny C from Sha Na Na,” says Mara. “Sold it out.”
People from Sha Na Na eventually got wind of Solly’s act (he had a website for crying out loud, and a minivan with the web address printed prominently on the side) and, not knowing that he was on the run from the law, long-time Sha Na Na member, Peter Erlendson even sent Solly a cease-and-desist email asking him to stop performing as Taylor. According to a 2001 article on Philly.com, Solly actually responded to the email and even tried to convince Erlendson that he was in fact Vinnie Taylor and that Taylor had faked his death. According to the article, Erlendson said “I can assure you Vinnie is dead. He was a friend.” Sha Na Na threatened a lawsuit, but allegedly didn’t follow through because they didn’t want to give Solly any more undue attention.
Here’s a truly strange tale about Cleveland guitar madman turned Jesus freak madman, Glenn Schwartz. Schwartz, a blues guitar virtuoso of whom Jimi Hendrix was allegedly a fan, could have quite possibly become legendary, playing in the mid-to-late sixties with the likes of The James Gang and Pacific Gas & Electric among other rock and blues outfits before something went horribly wrong (or amazingly right, I guess, depending on who’s telling the story).
For starters, let me just say that a whole lot of the information that I gathered for this post came straight from the horse’s mouth in an interview that Schwartz did when he was inducted into the Cleveland Blues Society in 2013. In it, Schwartz is completely open about his contentious history and about the strange religious transformation that changed the whole trajectory of his life and music. The interview indicates that Schwartz was born and raised in Cleveland’s working class Collinwood neighborhood and that he got his first guitar at the age of ten. He began taking lessons at the age of 11 and winning contests and kicking ass at his instrument almost instantly, and according to Deanna R. Adams in her amazingly detailed Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Schwartz soon became better than his teachers. As he grew up, he played constantly in everything, in polka bands, wedding bands and in the mid sixties, with a group called the Mr. Stress Blues Band. He also started playing with the first version of The James Gang in 1967 and began to get some attention. From Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection:
Schwartz gained [The James Gang] local celebrity by playing the guitar with his teeth (before Hendrix!) and playing while hanging upside down form guitarist Bill Jeric’s shoulder.
Eventually, according to Schwartz in the Cleveland Blues Society interview, he headed to California where drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra from Canned Heat got wind of the blues virtuoso and hooked Schwartz up with Pacific Gas and Electric Company. He gained serious notoriety for being kind of an otherworldly blues man. The Cleveland Blues Society interview indicates that people were calling him the white Hendrix. Deanna Adams and the interview both state that he was offered a spot in The Allman Brothers Band before the job went to Dickey Betts. Notably, Schwartz played at Jimi Hendrix’ last birthday party.
But drugs and alcohol were beginning to take a serious toll. He says in the Youtube interview that he was almost dead, he could barely play anymore and nobody wanted anything to do with him. And then, according to Schwartz, one night on the Sunset Strip, at his lowest of lows, he runs into a street preacher, falls down on his knees and become a certified Jesus Freak right there on the spot. He cleaned himself up and held on to his position in PG&E for a while, but oh man with the Jesus. He says he had the band singing gospel songs and was constantly berating the whole crew with the fact that they needed to be saved. According to Schwartz, it got to the point where they only kept him on board because, again, he kicked so much ass on the guitar. Schwartz goes on to say in the interview that when PG&E toured, the band gave him his own hotel room and separate transportation and basically started having very little to do with him except onstage. In the interview, Schwartz says that he would, despite the band’s misgivings about the whole thing, get on a microphone in front of 80,000 people telling the crowd they needed to find God. And then, finally, “enough with the fucking Jesus already” got him kicked out of PG&E once and for all.
Adams points out in Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection that Schwartz was a featured artist at the Miami Pop Festival in 1969 before he returned to Cleveland in 1970 and started a band with brother Gene on bass called (appropriately enough) the Schwartz Brothers. But, according to Schwartz in the blues society induction interview, he began drinking again and eventually did time at a workhouse on a spousal abuse charge. After jail time, Schwartz fell in with Larry Hill, a real-deal member of the Jesus movement running a Christian commune in Orwell, Ohio and he stayed there on the farm for seven years. He recorded four records with an evangelical musical outfit called the All Saved Freak Band. The records are kind of great with excellent players spinning out a trippy blues/folk amalgamations as long as a you can get past the preaching the word of God thing (unless, of course, that is your thing, in which case you don’t have to get past it, I guess). They toured the country promoting the farm’s ministry to some notoriety. If you really want to get freaky one night, put on this shit from the 1976 album amazingly titled For Christians, Elves and Lovers.
Eventually, according to Swartz in the interview, his parents, apparently worried about losing Glenn forever into the commune, sent in this guy Ted Patrick (an entire article could itself be written about him) who made a name for himself in the 70’s “deprogramming” cult members. Schwartz says in the interview that he was handcuffed by bikers before Patrick went to work on him in a hotel room on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, but Schwartz held on to the biblical belief and stayed on the farm. When he came out of the experience he recorded an album called Brainwashed with The All Saved Freak Band. He left the farm in the late seventies while continuing to play all over the place and taking the Jesus freakishness to fire-and-brimstone levels of fury.
Midwesterners are quick to claim DEVO as native sons (as well we should—shout out to Akron, Ohio!), but this lovely little animation—a collab between Google Play and The California Sunday Magazine—illustrates their Hollywood migration in Mark Mothersbaugh’s own voice. But not before the prolific composer/artist/frontman/fashion designer (etc, etc, etc.) explains how he saw the world—fuzzy—until someone had the bright idea to test his vision when he was in the second grade.
I will say I feel like a complete dick after watching it. I had always subconsciously assumed Mark Mothersbaugh’s glasses were a bit of a nerd affectation/fashion choice (nothing wrong with fashion, and to be fair, they were certainly fashion for a couple of of DEVO fans I’ve met). Don’t get me wrong, I figured he needed specs, but I suspected the heavy frames of said specs were chosen more for their ostentatiously geeky aesthetic than mere functionality. Turns out there’s a lot of glass in those glasses, because he is legally blind and needs them to see damn near anything.
It also turns out that I am a cynical jerk. Sorry Mark!
It could be the 1670’s, the 1970’s or in this present day, it is hard to be remain childlike in this world. This is the lesson beloved local TV children’s show host, Tom aka Mr. Rabbey (Tom Basham) learns in 1973’s massively overlooked horror film, The Psychopath aka Eye for an Eye. This grim and strange little gem opens up with one of Tom’s “Rabbey’s Rangers,” little Bobby, playing baseball with the neighborhood kids. His mother, who is straight out of central casting’s “abusive hag” division, immediately starts yelling and yanking him out of the game. His big infraction apparently is playing with other kids, who all seem fairly wholesome and nice. The ole chestnut of “Wait till your Father gets home” is growled at the little towheaded boy. Daddy does get home and is henpecked into unleashing some corporal sadism at the little boy, while one of the neighborhood kids watches in secret.
The next morning, an anonymous call is made to the police and little Bobby is “missing,” as his horrible parents look nervously at each other at the breakfast table. Bobby’s age? Five years old.
The film then cuts to “The Mr. Rabbey Show,” which centers around the eccentrically boyish host and his strangely gruesome puppet show. His choice in marionettes are something straight off of an old Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker album. (See, Oops, There Comes a Smile and get a nightmarish taste.) Despite the off putting puppets and plot lines involving cellars, Rabbey’s got a knack with the kids. A trait his handler Carolyn (Gretchen Kanne) recognizes, helping her come to his defense when the stage director hits the roof over Rabbey missing his marks for the umpteenth time.
Rabbey then goes to the park and plays with the local kids, almost like the pied piper of small town sunny suburbia. All is fun until one little girl’s horrible mother comes along and slaps the crap out of her when she tells her mom that she wants to stay with the other children and Mr. Rabbey. Before threatening her kid with “I’ll give you a reason to cry about!,” all but accuses Rabbey of having an untowards interest in the kids and warns him that she will go to the authorities. (Which apparently do not include DHS in her sphere of existence.) Rabbey looks irritated and confused, since his own sphere of existence seems to literally be stunted at a child-like level.
Meanwhile, the local police force are investigating Bobby’s disappearance. One of them notes that his medical records show a history of “accidents,” which are further looked into when the detective goes to the hospital and talks to the main nurse (Margaret Avery, who went on to be in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple). There’s no hard evidence of abuse, but she gives him a lecture on how you can tell when a kid is abused and introduces him to one little boy, who is bruised and afraid to speak. She shows the officer an experiment where she has the poor kid hold his arm up until she says to stop and asks the same of a little girl who was not abused. The latter immediately tires out and puts her arm down, while the little boy just leaves it up. The officer asks her how long Bobby left his arm up the last time he was in the hospital. She says “Fifteen Minutes.” While this is going on, Mr. Rabbey is in the room, visiting the sick kids to cheer them up with toys and a puppet show involving an executioner. Foreshadowing? You better believe it!
As the officer gets ready to leave, he is greeted and promptly scared by a puppet asking him questions through the driver’s side window. Rabbey pops up and doesn’t seem to make the officer feel any less weirded out, but does ask about Bobby and if they are going to arrest his parents. Of course, nothing concrete is given out information-wise, leaving Rabbey to think about justice that is needed. Another abused kid, a little girl named Rosemary, has one of the doctors knowingly tell her that if she needs anything, to call him. As she is being released, her harridan mother shows up and immediately starts quizzing her daughter if she told them “anything.” It’s a sick, sad world.
Bobby’s parents head home after searching for their kid with the police. They talk in hushed tones about when the authorities will find the body, all the while Rabbey is outside, listening. Soon, he breaks in and has one of his puppet friends peek around the corner, whispering, “Where’s the baby?” Creepsville turns into bloody justice land as the town’s boyish TV host offs both parents. While Bobby’s death has been avenged, you cannot spill blood without being changed and Rabbey heads back to the now empty studio, upset and playing the piano. Carolyn notices that he is acting more moody, especially during dinner, where he lightens up only when he starts exclaiming, “I wish I had all the chocolate cake in the world!” But he quickly comes down and says to her, “I don’t want to talk about it and you can’t make me. Leave me alone!” Things start to spiral more and more, with death, intrigue and one of the best and yet strangely, bleaker twist endings I have seen in a long time.
The Psychopath is an amazing and amazingly bent horror film that could have only emerged out of the 1970’s, arguably one of the grittiest periods for horror and crime films. It was the era that also gave us the even darker and brilliant The Candy Snatchers (1973), Hitchhike to Hell (1977) and more famously, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974.) Out of all of these titles, The Psychopath is infinitely more obscure, as evidenced by its lack of any legal DVD/Blu-ray release, something that all of the above have had. Which is a shame because there is truly nothing quite like it.
It’s commitment to not reward you with any feel-good comeuppance and present a fairly stark worldview is equaled by the strong performance by Mr. Rabbey himself, Tom Basham. A character actor who had appeared on TV shows like Adam-12 and Night Gallery, as well as the pro-gay cult biker film, The Pink Angels, Basham’s performance here is nothing short of unforgettable. He physically inhabits the role of this murderous man-child, acting every bit like a kid who gets irrationally upset, acts out and gets neglected, save initially for Carolyn and the kids themselves. Having the harsh realities of a world born ugly rear up in the imaginary life he’s created is a pill that Rabbey cannot swallow. After all, puppet violence is way easier to deal with than the real thing, so when these two worlds clash, none of this goes well. Having passed away back in 2010 from small cell cancer of the lungs, it’s truly a shame that Basham did not become a bigger name since what can be seen of his work is quite good, with his turn as Rabbey being the biggest stand-out.
The film itself is not perfect, with parts of the soundtrack being reminiscent more of a TV Movie of the Week than a dark horror film about mental instability and child abuse. It is also really strange that all but one of the many abusive parents featured here are mothers. The dads are mentioned but other than Bobby’s drunken henpecked sadist of a father, they are more in the background. This certainly would be far from the first (or last) film to deal with some violent mommy issues.
The Psychopath has remained in semi-obscurity for years. A remake was planned in the 1980s with Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo at the helm and starring the interstellar Joe Spinell as “Mr. Robbie.” In a weird move, it was to be titled Maniac 2: Mr Robbie, though it had nothing whatsoever to do with William Lustig’s Maniac. Some footage was shot but the film itself was never completed due to the untimely death of Spinell. (Though you can see some of the footage in the X-rated version of Skinny Puppy’s “Worlock” video.)
The Psychopath can be found both on way out-of-print VHS copies and somewhat easily via the gray market DVD circuit (and YouTube in several parts), but with so many equally obscure films finding their way to legit DVD/Blu-ray releases, one hopes that this bizarre horror gem will get the treatment it so desperately deserves.