Forget ‘Reefer Madness,’ 1938’s ‘Sex Madness’ is your new favorite moral panic film
02.13.2014
08:48 am

Topics:
Amusing
History
Movies
Sex

Tags:
exploitation films

movie poster
 
Premarital sex! Lesbians! Syphilis! These are the the threats of Sex Madness, the most unintentionally hilarious moral panic film I have ever seen! And I watched Reefer Madness in a fit of herbal-induced giggles, if you catch my meaning, if you get my drift…

The plot is charmingly anachronistic, (if you can forget all the shame, damnation, and sometimes prosecution that has historically befallen less-than-respectable sexual practices). Paul Lorenz, our resident protagonist and “concerned citizen” fears the growing threat of “social diseases”—perhaps my favorite euphemism of all time. Meanwhile, additional plots serve to support his wholesome concerns. A New York burlesque show sets the stage for the aforementioned debauchery.

Most compellingly though, is the storyline of Millicent Hamilton, a good girl from a small-town who came to New York after winning a beauty contest. Poor Millie caught syphilis on the “casting couch,” and hopes to be cured by the time she returns to her sweetheart, Wendell. “Wendell”—now that’s the sort of name you can take home to mother.

Though it’s tempting to reduce the fervor of Sex Madness to puritanical pearl-clutching, in 1938, the US was still battling a syphilis epidemic that physically and mentally ravaged the populous. As with most STD outbreaks, a fair amount of shame, naivety, and pseudo-science contributed to the spread of the disease. Yes, Sex Madness is mostly prudish scare tactics and moral condemnation, but it also emphasizes that syphilis can be cured with legitimate treatments, warning the audience of the quackery that pervaded the time.

Of course, making a movie on these scandalous subjects risked censure at least, prosecution at worst, since the Motion Picture Production Code quite plainly forbade such filth on celluloid. Even the word “sex” could be grounds for action! Attempting to skirt potential repercussions, the film was released multiple times under different names, including such titillating titles as Human Wreckage, They Must Be Told, and Trial Marriage. It’s also possible that it was released multiple times to trick audiences into seeing it more than once—and with such prurient titles, wouldn’t you?
 

Written by Amber Frost | Discussion
Celebrate Thanksgiving with a John Waters double-bill: ‘Mondo Trasho’ & ‘Multiple Maniacs’


 
Happy turkey day my American chums!

I have to admit, as a Mick living in Limeyland, I don’t fully understand what Thanksgiving is all about. All I know is that it’s as American as apple pie, as the Detroit Lions or the Pittsburgh Steelers, as right-wing Christian nut jobs or cheapo exploitation cinema starring 300lb drag queens.

So on this turkey day, come worship at the altar of the Pope of Trash. Because nothing strikes me as being more American than the work of cult auteur John Waters. What’s more fitting to watch on Thanksgiving than two of his very early, very cheap shocksploitation classics?

Sure, these films may represent a way of living and a segment of the US population that America is not too comfortable sharing with the rest of the world (see also: Honey Boo Boo Child) but it’s an integral part of America nonetheless, and worthy of as much celebration as turkeys or pancakes with bacon with maple syrup (I’ve tried that one, I wasn’t impressed.)

So here’s an early-John Waters double bill to sink your teeth into, starting with 1969’s silent Mondo Trasho, (it’s got a great soundtrack though) and followed up by 1970’s ever-so-slightly higher budget Multiple Maniacs (it’s got sound!)

Even now, over forty years on, these films have the power to shock. Mondo Trasho kicks off with a live chicken being killed (kind of of fitting for Thanksgiving?) and Multiple Maniacs climaxes with Divine being raped by a giant lobster. In between you will find all kinds of depravity, though looking back it’s funny how innocent all this depravity seemed. There’s no real rage or unhappy-ever-after bleakness on display, everyone involved always seemed to be having too much fun!

Some people would say these films are hard to watch, and you know, they might be right. That doesn’t mean the films are not worth watching. In fact, some other people would say that John Waters’ films are so good that they are all worth watching in row, back to back, non-stop for 24 hours. Who would be crazy enough to attempt such a thing?!

Mondo Trasho, 1969
 

 
Multiple Maniacs, 1970
 

 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! xx

 

Written by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
‘K-11’: the most brutal cell block of all?


 
K-11 is a new film directed by Jules (mother of Kristen) Stewart, about a prison complex in LA for homosexuals and transgender inmates. It looks brutal, exploitative, and I can’t wait to see it.

The trailer is pretty self-explanatory: a record producer ends up in jail, charged with killing a cop, after he blacks out. The prison is the titular K-11, and there he must navigate a murky world of mixed genders and shifting loyalties in order to survive. (Hmm, maybe I should go into b-movie copy writing?)

Yeah, it sounds corny, but it looks pretty well shot and the cast is decent (though some actual trans actors wouldn’t have gone amiss, and I would love to have seen Kristen Stewart in this, as was originally cast - perhaps she was slated to play Mousey, the prison’s tough bitch queen?) But you know what really surprises me about this? For a subject that looms so large in the American subconscious, it’s surprising that there haven’t been more films about homosexuality in jail.

Even HBO’s mighty Oz was disappointing in that respect (if pretty much perfect in any other.) Sure, two of the main male characters fell in love (or did they?) but the show failed to explore the prison’s gay subculture, in the way it did the Nazis, Nation of Islam, Latinos, etc. Gay characters were only shown flitting away campy in the background, or as facilitators for other characters’ story lines.

K-11 is hardly going to be perfect, but for films about gay life behind bars, it’s a start:
 

 
Pardon my ignorance, but are US prisons really segregated by sexual orientation and transgender identity?

Written by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Everything is Perfect Until the Music Stops: ‘Disco Fever,’ 1978


 
While looking up a suitable image for last night’s post on disco by Simon Frith, I came across a film called Disco Fever, a disco-exploitation oddity from the same year as the article, 1978.

As a fan of both disco music and cult cinema I was surprised to never have heard of this, and now I’m wondering if any of our readers have seen it? In case your memory needs jogging, it stars Casey Kasem and some dude called Fabian, and a lot of the action seems to revolve around a discotheque which is onboard a jumbo jet. Here’s the original trailer for further investigation (this film may just be so bad it’s good, or it may just be so bad): 
 

 

Written by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Grindhouse, Rocksteady & Andean Women Wrestlers: Oakland Underground Film Fest opens this week

image
 
The crew that hooked up the Bay Area premiere of the fantastic blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite returns to put on another wildly diverse Oakland Underground Film Festival for 2010. Screenings run from Sept. 23 through Sept. 26 at the Grand Lake Theater on 3200 Grand Ave. and the Linden Street Brewery on 95 Linden St. Check the Oakland UFF site for details.

The Fest features indie and DIY film, video, and projection-art based in the O, with special emphasis on local filmmakers, social justice, urban life, the environment and non-traditional filmmaking. Films on tap in the 2010 fest include Elijah Drenner’s survey of exploitation film American Grindhouse and Stascha Bader’s Jamaican music doc Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae.

One of the intriguing docs in this year’s lineup is Betty M. Park’s Mamachas Del Ring. It depicts the pressures of hustling in Bolivia’s lucha libre circuit on indigenous champion female wrestler Carmen Rosa and her crew of petticoat-and-bowler-hat-bedecked maulers.
 

 
After the jump: trailers for Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae and American Grindhouse
 

Written by Ron Nachmann | Discussion