Exploitation TV: Volume Fourteen

This week, EX TV marathons a trio of erotic melodramas.

For cinephiles, the definition of home video label Vinegar Syndrome’s name is something like a secret handshake. The disease it references consumes celluloid. When film stock starts to degrade, it releases acetic acid, the key ingredient in (you guessed it) vinegar. This phenomenon became a plague during the 80s, chewing up prints of pictures improperly stored in hot, humid conditions. In many cases, where reels of smaller films were scarce due to budgetary restrictions, one bad case of vinegar syndrome could rob the planet of an artist’s work. 

According to a ‘12 study conducted by the Library of Congress, only 14% of nearly 11,000 movies made between 1912 and 1930 exist in their original format. Around 70% were lost completely. Coming in at a close second in terms of casualties is the Exploitation Era. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as many of the weirder, more obscure movies made during these decades of disrepute are pictures we’ve probably never heard of in the first place. Thankfully, the Bridgeport, Connecticut boys at VS own a private archive, from which they’ve been pulling and scanning prints of overlooked horror, exploitation and smut cinema from all eras. To make it easier on all us degenerates, they’ve even established a streaming service, where you can log in and watch all the back alley oddities they’ve been uncovering and preserving, so that true vinegar syndrome doesn’t rob us of any more great trash art. 

For the fourteenth installment of EX TV, we showcase a trio of little-seen erotic melodramas...

Teenage Seductress [1975] (d. Chris Warfield, w. George "Buck" Flower & John F. Goff) 

Far less tawdry than the title implies, Teenage Seductress unfolds like a lurid TV Movie of the Week, as Sondra Currie - who was twenty-seven when the movie was filmed - plays the titular abandoned teen, leading to an unsavory fixation on and plot for revenge against her father. Through gauzy flashbacks, we learn that her mother taught her that all men are bad, and to never "give it up" to them as she gets older. This boiling pot of repressed sexuality becomes her driving motivator to seek out the now successful writer (played by director Chris Warfield), hoping to seduce him into sleeping with her. "I'm gonna fuck you like you fucked me," she sneers at one point, literally looking to destroy him with her incestuous body. Her plan really doesn't make a whole lot of sense (nor does Warfield attempt to explain it), but we're here now and there's nothing we can do about that. 

One of the few non-pornographic pictures Warfield crafted during his run behind the lens from '73 - '85 (most of which were under the name Bill Thornburg), the commitment to soap opera theatrics over fleshy fantasy is somewhat surprising. Co-written by exploitation / John Carpenter stalwart George "Buck" Flower - who penned a slew of softcore Skinemax films up through the '90s, including The Bikini Carwash Company ('92) - scenes meander toward an inevitable conclusion, as our girl can't stop spying on her daddy, even when he's engaged in some heavy petting with the local librarian (Elizabeth Saxon). It's a classic case of exploitation audience baiting - the promise of taboo in the title and on the poster leading audiences to sit through seventy-five minutes of filler, in the hopes of maybe catching a quick, cheap thrill. 

Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff [1979] (d. Marvin J. Chomsky, w. Polly Platt)

A damn near Sirkian adaptation of William Inge's eponymous novel, Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff is a devastating melodrama, playing out like a slow-build horror movie where repression is the bloodthirsty monster in the room. The titular '50s Kansas schoolteacher (Anne Heywood) begins to experience menopause at thirty-five, bringing an overwhelming sense of loss to a life already completely bereft of sexual contact. Her local physician (Robert Vaughn) recommends she see a therapist (Donald Pleasence) in another town, all while her catty colleagues (including a still-luminous/venomous Dorothy Malone) whisper to one another and speculate as to what exactly is wrong with the gradually deteriorating woman. Despite advances from a friendly (albeit married) bus driver (Earl Holliman) who attempts to start up an affair with the lonely soul, it's actually her rapist who ends up igniting a strange passion inside of her. After the black janitor (John Lafayette) assaults Miss Wyckoff, she learns she might enjoy the rough sex, and engages in a rather disturbing S&M relationship with the junior college athlete.

If this sounds like a lot, that's because it is, but Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff is also startlingly brilliant, building to a climax that we see coming from a mile away, but are still totally shocked and appalled by when the kindly woman (who, by all accounts, is also a fine educator) becomes the subject of exile due to her carnal fascinations. What's most upsetting is how every other person in the teacher's life seem to be pushing her toward this fate without even knowing it themselves, their well-intentioned advice as to how she should reclaim her sexuality nothing more than orders to continue walking a rather tragic emotional plank. All the while, director Marvin Chomsky (Tank ['84]) and cinematographer Álex Phillips Jr. (Murphy's Law ['86]) paint this melancholy portrait with never-ending fall tones, ushering in the season of Miss Wyckoff's discontent, which will arguably change the course of her entire life. This is a bombastically masterful mix of high/low art - a marriage of classical form and a leering, exploitative lens that's impossible to look away from.

Corruption [1983] (d. & w. Roger Watkins, a/k/a "Richard Mahler")

If this movie had a cheesy alternate skin flick title, it'd probably be How to Get Some Head In Business. Owning an '80s aesthetic that seems somewhat beyond its years - with writer/director Roger Watkins (The Last House On Dead End Street ['77]) predating the Wall Street ('87) Gordon Gekko chic with Jamie Gillis' Master of the Universe caricature - this is still a series of strung-together fuck scenes with a somewhat surreal twist. The hook is that these horny businessmen descend into a shady, synth-scored underworld, screwing their way through several colorful partners in order to obtain power and wealth. Watkins' sonic partner in crime, James Famberg - who'd go on edit music for Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple ['85]) and Ridley Scott (Black Rain ['89]) - utilizes Carpenter-sounding drones and classical music in equal measure, adding an odd aural texture to Larry Revene's rather moody, smoky cinematography.

In truth, Revene feels like the true artist behind this otherwise unremarkable slice of smut. His odd, hypnotic visuals render this sub-FX Pope stab at psychedelic spank cinema incredibly watchable, even as you struggle to make any sense of whatever obvious social critique Watkins is attempting (capitalism leads to all-consuming greed and the loss of a soul, I suppose?). Revene was a porno scene lifer from the late seventies (when he first shot Umberto Corleone's Heat Wave ['77]), and continued lensing XXX titles until crossing over into low-budget horror schlock such as Fabrizio Laurenti's The Crawlers ('93). His liberal use of slow motion and crisp scene composition makes up for all the macro-lensed close-ups of fingers being jammed into vaginas and overly extended cunnilingus. In short, Corruption is a damn good looking porno, and would probably would've come off as just another throwaway 75-minute cum dump without him.

Tune in next week for three more picks from your new favorite channel. In the meantime, log in to Vinegar Syndrome’s streaming service to embark upon your own filthy adventures.