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Grindhouse Double Feature: Punk Rock/Pleasure Palace

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    Ian Jane
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  • Grindhouse Double Feature: Punk Rock/Pleasure Palace

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    Released by: Secret Key
    Released on: 6/2/2009
    Director: Carter Stevens
    Cast: Wade Nichols, Robert Kerman, Jean Sanders, Susaye London, Don Peterson, Bobby Astyr, Randy Coppasquatto, Crystal Sync, Martin Ford, Clea Carson, Tony Richards
    Year: 1977/1979
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movies:

    The first of hopefully many 'official' releases of Carter Stevens' early films from After Hours Cinema, this Grindhouse Double Feature of Punk Rock and Pleasure Palace features the 'soft' versions of both films but in the cast of Punk Rock at least, that's not a bad thing at all. Let's take a look:

    PUNK ROCK

    Also released as Teenage Runaways, this feature has an interesting cast of old school New York City porno stars in it as well as a soundtrack courtesy of Elda & The Stillettos, The Fast, The Spicy Bits and The Squirrels proving that Burning Angel wasn't the first to blend punk rock and porno! Though, technically, this version of the movie isn't porno. Carter Stevens originally shot Punk Rock as a XXX feature but when the success of Saturday Night Fever proved that music and drama was the new big thing, he went out and shot new footage, removed the hardcore bits and extended the running time to create this R-rated version of the film.

    Straight for pay superstar Wade Nichols plays a private detective with a taste for Wild Turkey and poon named Jimmy Dillinger. He gets a phone call one day after making it with his lady friend, a girl who he has saved from a life of drugs and prostitution. Turns out her daddy paid him very handsomely for the job - he's just enjoying some fringe benefits on the side. After their talk he grabs his gun, and heads out to work - giving her a dildo to amuse herself with while he's gone which she wastes no time trying out.

    Nichols heads out to meet 'Travis' and finds out that he's been shot, his dead body laying in the shower. While he's out, a hippy with a ZZ Top beard abducts his little big nosed girlfriend while she's still enjoying the dildo. It seems the criminal life she left behind hasn't forgotten about her and they want her back. It's at this point, through some corny voice over narration, we realize he's been set up. He figures she must have been involved in something bigger than he first realized and now he's going to head into the NYC underworld to get her back. The cops show up (R. Bolla plays a detective) and ask him some question but they know he didn't kill Travis, and they let him go. He starts by trying to find her at some joint where Bobby Astyr is hanging out by a pinball machine. From there he finds a nightclub where a band made up of some gal in lingerie and her band mates (Elda & The Stillettos) play some Stooges style fuzz rock. They argue and fight a bit, their practice isn't going well, but Nichols manages to worm some information out of them. Turns out they know more than they're letting on, but he's no dummy, he'll find Jenny even if it kills him...

    Punk Rock has enough sleaze and enough faux-punk attitude to work. Nichols makes a great P.I. (he looks a lot like Maurizio Merli in this movie), with his big moustache and corny noir-ish narration, and the supporting cast are fun too. The sex is a side point in this version, it's just barely there, but the sets are great - whether it be his scummy bachelor pad, the nightclub where the band plays, or the bar with countless amounts of J&B lined up on the shelf. There's also an unusual amount of pinball machine footage in this one, which is pretty keen, especially when lays a lady friend down on one so he can eat her out (in distinctly non-explicit fashion, of course).

    The sleazy, saxophone filled noise rock that The Stillettos provides is wonky enough to work in a Plasmatics sort of way. They were apparently a pre-Blondie NYC punk band that did play during the seventies and in fact at one point in 1974 Debbie Harry was supposedly a member of the band. As mentioned, this version of the film also features a lot of great footage featuring The Fast, The Spicy Bits and The Squirrels (you've gotta love their platform shoes and high collared matching jackets!). While none of these bands ever got as big as The Stilettos, let alone stalwarts like Blondie or The Ramones, it's great to see them featured in the movie, particularly when you consider that so much of this added footage was shot inside Max's Kansas City, which next to CBGB, was probably the most important New York City venue for the then burgeoning punk rock scene. Throw in some great period footage of the St. Marks and Bleeker Street areas of the time, a killer soundtrack, and a genuinely decent storyline and this picture turns out to be a really enjoyable film with loads of historical value.

    PLEASURE PALACE

    The second feature, Pleasure Palace, follows a pair of guys, a former vice cop named Jimmy (Eric Edwards) and a lawyer named Mike (Richard Bolla a.k.a. R. Kerman), who decide to buy an inner city brothel which they hope will earn them loads of fast, easy money and let them take an early retirement. They set about hiring the girls they know their clients will like and soon get things off to a good start. Of course, their plan can't work out as nicely as they expect it to, and once he gets wind of the money changing hangs a local mobster named Mr. G (Jamie Gillis) puts the screws to them and wants to get a piece of this seemingly very lucrative pie. Mr. G and his goons (lead by Bobby Astyr) makes it pretty clear that he's going to be taking this from them by force if they won't play ball, but our heroes aren't going to let their nest egg go without a fight. Joey Silvera plays the sheriff and Serena plays the lead hooker.

    Like Punk Rock, this is a soft cut and all of the hardcore footage has been removed. Unlike Punk Rock, however, there's no additional footage here, so this is just simply a shorter, softcore alternate cut. The hardcore material, which was removed so that the film could play theatrically in Canada, would have padded out the running time quite nicely, as this trimmed version runs just over an hour.

    According to director Carter Stevens, this feature was shot inside an actual brothel, and it definitely has that feel to it. This is a fairly gritty little crime movie and while the sex scenes are very noticeably trimmed, the storyline is good enough and the acting decent enough that you won't have a problem getting into things. Like most of Stevens' seventies efforts, this is a nicely shot picture (his last with cinematographer Prudence Prevails) with some decent camera work and, all things considered, some good production values. Kerman and Edwards have a good chemistry together here and you'll have no problems at all believing the pair as actual friends, while Gillis is his typically cool self, playing the bad guy with style as he's known to do. Serena is as cute here as she ever was and it's not at all a surprise that she became a big star for a while. She's got a genuine cuteness to her and some legitimate sex appeal as well.

    The film doesn't differentiate itself from the countless other porno potboilers that were being pumped out around the same time but it's a pretty entertaining and fairly well made film. It's got a great cast, a good score, and honestly you probably won't be bothered by the lack of hardcore footage once the story kicks in.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Both films are presented in their original aspect ratios, Punk Rock at 1.33.1 and Pleasure Palace at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. Punk Rock is taken from a tape source but at least it's a good, clean, stable one. You'll notice the odd roll here and there but it's perfectly watchable and miles above previous releases that have been circulating around the grey market over the years. Pleasure Palace looks to be taken from a film print source. It's not perfect, there's noticeable wear and tear and some print damage here and there, but it too is quite watchable and an improvement over previous incarnations. Both transfers are, unfortunately, interlaced (a nagging problem with these releases) but fans who know what to expect from this material should be pleased with the picture quality here.

    It's Dolby Digital Mono across the board, just as it should be. A bit of background hiss might creep in here and there but for the most part there aren't any problems here. Expect a pop or two from time to time but dialogue is clean and clear and there aren't any problems with heavy distortion. The scores are mixed in nicely and the levels are properly balanced throughout. For older, low budget adult films, both movies sound fine on this disc.

    Here's where this disc really delivers. Included on this disc are two exclusive commentary tracks with Carter Stevens who is joined by film historian Mike Bowen and Alternative Cinema head honcho Mike Raso. While both commentaries are absolutely worth listening to for Stevens' input on the New York City porno movie scene of the time, the track for Punk Rock is the more interesting one simply because the story behind the film and this alternate version of the original XXX cut is the more interesting one. Stevens' talks about the locations that were used, what it was like shooting inside Max's Kansas City, his opinions of the bands that he used in the picture and about the performers used in the film. Stevens confirms here that he originally wanted Debbie Harry to play Elda Gentile's role in the film but that Blondie was getting pretty big around this time so that didn't happen. While Stevens admits that he wasn't really a big fan of the music, it's obvious that he appreciated the attitude and spirit that these early bands brought to the stage and the camera work (Stevens shot many of the close ups himself and used them in his portfolio reel when he applied for his union card) in the film really does a great job of capturing that. The track for Pleasure Palace is almost as interesting as Stevens shares some great stories about the cast members, the locations and how and why this movie got made.

    Aside from the commentary tracks, Stevens also appears in a ten minute interview where he talks about his work on these pictures. He covers some of the same ground that he touches upon in the commentary track but this is still an interesting segment. He talks about some of the bands that were in Punk Rock, about some of the performers he worked with on these pictures and about where his life was at the time. The amiable director has got a good sense of humor about his work and he makes for an interesting interview subject. The guy should write a book.

    Also included on the DVD is a music video for The Fast (taken from a horrible source but hey, better to see it here in horrible shape than to not see it at all) and trailers for numerous other Secret Key Motion Pictures DVD releases. Inside the keepcase is a set of liner notes from Michael J. Bowen that lay out some interesting information not only about Stevens and his cast of performers but about the bands that appear in the movie and what's happened to them since this film was made.

    The Final Word:

    Pick this one up for the fantastic alternate version of Punk Rock and the bonus features and consider the softcore cut of Pleasure Palace to be a nice bonus. The commentaries here alone make this release worth it, and the fact that the movies are actually really good too is the icing on the cake.
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