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The Films Of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years (AGFA/Something Weird Video) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • The Films Of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years (AGFA/Something Weird) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: AGFA/Something Weird Video
    Released on: August 30th, 2022.
    Director: Doris Wishman
    Cast: Gigi Darlene, Alan Feinstein, Sharon Kent, Michael Alaimo, Peggy Steffans, Buck Starr, June Roberts, Tony Lo Bianco
    Year: 1965-1969
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    The Films Of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years – Movie Review:

    AGFA and Something Weird Video have teamed up once again to release the second of three sets collecting the mighty Doris Wishman’s work, this time from the years 1965-1969, in properly restored presentations with all new extra features.

    Here’s a look…

    Disc One – Bad Girls Go To Hell / Indecent Desires / A Taste Of Flesh:

    First up is 1965’s Bad Girls Go To Hell. It starts on one day just like any other. Meg Kelton (the gorgeous Gigi Darlene) sees her husband, Ted (Alan Feinstein, credited as Alan York), head off to work for the day - even though it's Saturday he's got an important meeting to deal with. With Ted safely on his way, she relaxes a bit and then, clad in her slinky, see-through nightgown, decides to clean the place up a little bit in his absence. Unfortunately for Meg, when she decides to take the garbage out she's spotted by the building's janitor, Amos (Harold Key), who rapes her in the stairwell. Amos then slips a note under Meg's door telling her to come to his apartment or he'll tell Ted what happened. Oddly, Meg agrees and pleads with him not to tell her husband that she's been raped. She offers him cash to keep quiet but Amos wants round two with Meg. When he tries to rape her again, she knocks him down dead with an ashtray.

    Not wanting to face the consequences for her actions, Meg panics and splits to New York City and starts calling herself Ellen. After checking out Central Park for a bit, Meg meets a man named Al Bains (Sam Stewart) who offers her a place to stay but soon after gets wasted and beats her with his belt. Meg splits and hits the streets only to meet up with Grace (Marlene Starr) who introduces her to Della Boyd (Darlene Bennett) who just so happens to need a roommate. They hit it off and shack up together and Della shows Meg how to do strange gymnastic exercises but soon a Sapphic encounter with her new roommate once again sees per Meg out on the streets. When she finally meets Mrs. Thornton (Gertrude Cross), an older woman who brings Meg on as a live-in caregiver, her luck seems to have changed. All seems to finally be well for Meg, until Thornton's son Tom (Barnard L. Sackett) who just so happens to be a detective investigating the recent murder of a janitor.

    Bad Girls Go To Hell falls apart if you think about it too much. Why does Meg take the garbage out wearing only a slinky nightgown and high heels? That seems like a bad idea. She’s also not a very good judge of character. Still, we feel for her and want her to make it out of all of this okay. We won’t spoil the film’s patently ridiculous ending, that would be wrong, but know going in that it is, indeed, patently ridiculous. Still, Gigi Darelene has got it going on and is a lot of fun to watch here. Her performance, like most performances in Wishman’s material from this era, is oddly distant but she’s got some genuine sex appeal and that counts for a lot. Everyone in the movie is dubbed, this was clearly shot without live sound, and that just adds to the otherworldly feel of it all.

    The odd Wishman touches that are such a strange, inexplicable draw to her work for some of us, are all of this picture. There’s an odd focus on ashtrays, an inordinate amount of time spent in Central Park watching pigeons and the utterly bizarre random headstand scene involving Meg and Della. The cinematography, however, is pretty decent even with random moments focusing on even more random pieces of furniture. There’s a gritty, almost noirish tone to some of this that definitely works in the movie’s favor.

    Made in 1968 and directed by Wishman under her Louis Silverman pseudonym, Indecent Desires tells the sordid tale a foxy chick named Ann (Sharon Kent). She works as a secretary in New York City alongside Babs (Jackie Richards) and seems to enjoy her work just fine. She's also looking forward to marrying her fiancé, Bob, who has just put a ring on her finger.

    Things in Ann's life take a strange turn when a man named Zeb (Michael Alaimo, credited as Michael Lawrence), becomes obsessed with her after finding a doll and a ring in a garbage can. It turns out that anything that Zeb does to the doll happens to poor Ann and her life only gets worse once weird Zeb starts stalking her and following her all around town. When Zeb starts sexually abusing and burning the doll, Ann can't help but react as if he were doing it directly to her and starts to think she's going insane. With Bob having left town for a business trip and Babs spending all her spare time in bed with new boy toy Monty (Buck Starr), it doesn't seem like she has anyone to turn to for help.

    The only Wishman film up to this point in her career to feature what some would consider a special effect (at one point, in a highlight, we see the doll superimposed on the screen next to Ann as she crossed a street!), Indecent Desires is a seriously wacky film. Sharon Kent is a pretty keen leading lady, quite attractive despite the goofy blonde wig, and she does a pretty great job in the scenes where weirdo Zeb is essentially molesting her through the use of his power ring and supernatural garbage doll. Michael Alaimo is great as said weirdo, really getting into his role and oozing a greasy enthusiasm for the part. The rest of the cast are fine, Jackie Richards seems to be having a good time here, but it’s Kent and Alaimo who get the most to do here.

    Again, the whole thing is weirdly dubbed and there are odd little cinematic tangents where Wishman lets the camera linger on strange pieces of furniture or a tree and we get a neat scene where Richards does some nude leg lift exercises on her floor for some reason. The quirky, jazzy score adds to the movie’s overall sense of weirdness – this one is a whole lot of strange, sleazy fun.

    Finishing up disc one is A Taste Of Flesh, again directed by Wishman as Silverman, this time in 1967 and taking place pretty much entirely within the confines of Wishman’s own Queens apartment. When the film opens, a beautiful young woman named Hannah (played by Joe Sarno's future wife, Peggy Steffans, credited here as Cleo Nova) enjoying a quality bubble bath. Hannah is a foreign woman boarding at a place owned by a lesbian named Bobi (Layla Peters) who pays Hannah a little visit while she's in the tub. Layla has a roommate named Carol (Darlene Bennett) who is none too keen on Hannah's presence, in fact, she's a little bit hostile to the shapely blonde addition to the home.

    Eventually a pair of bad dudes, Frankie (Buck Starr) and Nick (Michael Alaimo again, credited as Michael Lawrence), break into the place, conveniently around the same time as a high ranking diplomat is set to arrive in New York. These two men, it turns out, are assassins and after roughing Hannah up, they make it clear that they're going to use the place as a base of operations from which to snipe the diplomat. The girls, however, are no fools and as the guys set out to carry out their mission, there are some twists!

    Once again rife with odd dubbing and strange camera choices (an empty desk gets more screen time than most would expect as does a coffee pot), A Taste Of Flesh is a sexed up, vaguely Hitchcockian thriller with some exploitative elements thrown into the mix in fairly heavy doses. The three female leads are all pretty foxy and fun to look at, and it's always cool when 'Cleo Nova' shows up in an old sexploitation picture like this, given the work she'd go on to do with Joe Sarno starting only a year or so after A Taste Of Flesh was made.

    Quickly paced and without as much padding as we’re used to in a Wishman movie, the film borrows from Suddenly but still has Wishman’s stamp all over it. The cinematography is pretty strong here as well, with some interesting camera angles employed pretty effectively to actually generate a bit of legitimate suspense thanks to a pretty claustrophobic setting. Exploitation movie fans will also appreciate hearing some familiar library music used in the picture.

    Disc Two – Another Day, Another Man / My Brother’s Wife / Passion Fever:

    Another Day, Another Man, made by Wishman in 1996, features some pretty random, lingering shots of a creepy clown painting but more importantly than that, it also features pretty Barbi Kemp as Ann, a newlywed bride recently hitched to Steve Bundy (Tony Gregory). He just got a promotion so they can afford to get their own place now, and Ann can quit her job working for a guy who gets really mad at her when he finds out she got married. Unfortunately for our happy new couple, Steve suddenly becomes very sick and can't work, meaning that money gets very tight, very quickly.

    Ann, without much in the way of job prospects, takes it upon herself to provide her husband and herself, and to do so she connects with a pimp named Bert (Sam Stewart) that her old roommate, Tess (Mary O'Hara), used to deal with. Soon enough, Ann is walking the mean streets of New York City as a member of the world's oldest profession, and she takes to it surprisingly quickly after getting it on with her first trick (a middle-aged dude in a Lone Ranger mask) - but what will happen when poor Steve figures out what she's been doing when going out at night all dolled up in those sexy outfits she's been wearing more and more often lately? Also, we learn that Bert cut his teeth pimping out Dolly (Darlene Bennett) and Daisy (Dawn Bennett) and spend a LOT of time watching Ann and Tess get undressed.

    Full of shots of feet and Kemp's, admittedly impressive, typically nylon clad legs, Another Day, Another Man is just as full of weird details and camera angles as you'd want it to be. It's often very melodramatic, again very weirdly dubbed and edited, we spend yet more quality time with an ashtray and with Kemp's wacky, yet mysteriously alluring, beehive hairdo but we're all better off for it. Again, some more familiar library music is used pretty liberally throughout the film and the black and white camerawork somehow gives it all a bit of grit and atmosphere when there really shouldn't logically be anything of the sort in this movie. Gigi Darlene also has a small role in the film as a woman that Bert meets at the bus station. She has a sexy little dance number here, which should make a lot of people happy, but then she gets beaten up by her boyfriend when he finds out she's been hooking, which should, in turn, make a lot of people sad.

    Without spoiling it, this film might feature the best final ‘freeze frame/The End’ shot in Wishman history.

    Helmed by Wishman in 1966, My Brother's Wife introduces us to a man named Frankie (Sam Stewart) who travels to New York City to visit his less than impressive looking older brother, Bob (Bob Oran). When he arrives at Bob's place he's shocked to learn that Bob has married a beautiful, and much younger, woman named Mary (June Roberts) but less shocked to learn, once he's been hanging around a bit, that there isn't a whole lot of passion in their relationship.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Frankie and Mary are going to have an affair, and sure enough, before too long they're hopping into bed together. Frankie, however, is too much man for one woman to handle, and he's also getting some on the side from his ex-girlfriend, Zena (Darlene Bennett again), who is only too happy to try and rekindle that old spark they once had. If that weren't bad enough, Frankie plans on swindling poor Bob out of all of his dough, using Mary as the conduit, so that he and Zena can split the scene and live the good life.

    Shot in what sure looks like the main apartment from Indecent Desires (maybe that's why Something Weird Video double featured the two movies on their special edition DVD release years back!), features more feet than it probably needs to but it still makes for a pretty fun watch. Neither the best or the worst of Wishman's output from this period, the decent pacing and oddball cinematography, coupled with more of that dubbing, deliver what the filmmaker's fans love about her work in pretty healthy doses. There's a fair bit of sex, lots of black underwear, a genuinely well-shot strip tease sequence to spice things up when we aren't looking at the backs of peoples' heads or the furniture.

    Some noirish elements in the plot are welcome, and there are a couple of fun twists that play out before the movie finishes up. June Roberts is pretty stunning in this movie, which certainly doesn't hurt anything, and she gets a lot of screen time in the movie. Darlene Bennett is also really strong here, using her interesting screen presence to pretty solid effect. Sam Stewart is fun to watch as the sleazeball while Bob Oran is well-cast as a schlubby, balding fat guy.

    The last film on disc two is Passion Fever from 1969, which began life as a 1965 Greek film called Pyretos (Fever in English) directed by Stelios Jackson. Wishman bought the rights to the film for U.S. distribution and instead of subtitling or dubbing it straight out, she opted to edit the movie and add new scenes with English dialogue to make something she presumably figured would be more palatable to American audiences.

    The end result is a mess, telling the story of a wealthy, young playboy named Yarkos (Panos Kateris) who spends all of his spare time bedding beautiful young women and living the high life. Eventually, however, Yarkos meets 'the one' and decides to tone things down in hopes of making a go at a life with her.

    There isn't much of a story here at all and the movie runs just over fifty minutes in length so it's over before you really know it. Which is a good thing, as this one is a complete mess. It doesn't have nearly as much of the wonky Wishman charm as the pictures she was solely responsible for directing, though the odd dubbing certainly counts for something, especially since one of the women in the film is dubbed by Doris herself.

    If you figure roughly half of the movie is made up of the footage that Wishman created and the other half is original to Pyretos, it's no wonder the movie makes no sense as roughly an hour of footage from Pyretos isn't included here. Doris' penchant for odd camera angles that cut off people's heads or shoot them from behind comes in handy here, however, as it does let the American actors she used for the footage she created stand in somewhat effectively for their Greek counterparts. Or at least it would, if the clothes matched between scenes. At least we get a bit of welcome nudity!

    Disc Three – The Sex Perils Of Paulette / Too Much Too Often / The Hot Month Of August:

    Wishman not only wrote and directed The Sex Perils Of Paulette in 1965, but she narrated it too (credited as Mata Hari, no less!), which makes the movie kind of a special one in the pantheon of Wishman weirdness.

    When the movie begins, pretty Paulette (Anna Karol) is strolling through Central Park with her boyfriend Alan (Tony Lo Bianco), checking out squirrels. He wants to get married but she insists that it's too late for that, since when she moved from Ohio to New York City (where the bus drops her in front of the United Nations building?!) she got into some less than ideal business circumstances.

    From here, we flashback and see firsthand out Paulette couldn't get the work as an actress she'd hoped to and how she wound up taking a job as a waitress and then as a hooker, hired to perform at various sex parties around town. She lived with a roommate named Tracy (Darlene Bennett again) who got her into the business. Will Paulette and Alan be able to make it now that he knows her sordid past?

    Once again mostly shot inside weirdly decorated but simultaneously awesome looking apartments, The Sex Perils Of Paulette (the title presumably a play on The Perils Of Pauline) is another wonky Wishman styled cautionary tale about hookers. All of the trademarks of her work are once again on full display - the dubbing, the strange camera placements, lots of feet and a strange obsession with odd items like rocks in a lake and tacky furniture and decor.

    It's paced well, relatively speaking, and again features some interesting black and white cinematography showcasing a bevy of attractive women (Anna Karol is a bit of a knockout) often in various stages of undress. Wishman's narration barely holds the story together and even then there are plot holes and logic gaps aplenty but this is an entertaining dose of low budget mid-sixties sleaze worth seeing for fans of her work. It’s also amusing to see Tony Lo Bianco show up here long before he'd show up in movies like God Told Me To, The French Connection, The Seven-Ups and Oliver Stone's Nixon!

    Another one directed by 'Louis Silverman', 1968's Too Much Too Often revolves around Mike Torson (Buck Starr) who is, for all intents and purposes, a right bastard of a man. He's romantically involved with a lovely college student named Lynn (Sharon Kent again) and, by all accounts, they have a pretty fun sex life and like to put chocolate candies on Lynn's naked torso for him to eat up.

    When Mike pays a visit to the office of a Madison Avenue type named Gordon Dite (Bob Oran) without an appointment, secretary Midge (Michelle Fox), won't let him in. Mike won't take no for an answer, and after giving poor Midge a shove, makes his way in where he blackmails Dite, who he had gay sex with, into giving him a cushy job.

    Later that day, Mike meets one of those all too common sexually frustrated New York City housewives in the form of Ellen (Jackie Richards), who he promptly screws back at his place. The next day, Mike coerces Midge into stealing some important papers out of Dite's office for him, all while taking time to occasionally fool around with Lynn and Ellen before then moving on to Dite's daughter, Sara (Yolanda Signorelli credited as Stephanie Collins).

    The plot thickens when Lynn tells Mike she's pregnant. He wants none of that and after slapping her around, sends her on his way. From there, he proposes to Sara who, depsite only knowing him a few days, agrees! Mike's also been pimping out a woman named Rita (Rita Bennett), who he also roughs up on a regular basis. Anyway, when Gordon finds out his daughter is going to marry Mike, he tries to put a stop to it but it's no use - she loves him! So he hires a tough guy named Sam (Sam Stewart) to take care of the problem for him. See, it turns out Mike also beat up Sam and raped his poor wife, Lisa (Darlene Bennett), not all that long ago, and he'll be only too happy to take care of Mr. Dite's unsavory business for him.

    A genuinely solid slice of sixties sleaze, Too Much Too Often actually manages to venture outside of an apartment or two to offer up a bit of interesting New York City location footage that isn’t just limited to Central Park. It’s also interesting in that it focuses on the ‘bad’ exploits of a man, rather than a woman as most of her films tend to do. Still, don’t for a minute think that the movie doesn’t contain the weird dubbing and odd camera choices you’d expect from a Wishman movie, as there’s plenty of that here as well. Beautiful women with big hair and black underwear, odd decorations, a shot of some… carpet and a fair bit of misogyny thrown in for good measure all combine with the requisite library music and odd atmosphere to create something that could only have come from Wishman.

    The cast are pretty great here, with Buck Starr playing the abusive, sleazy lead with plenty of malicious glee. He also worked with Wishman previously on A Taste Of Flesh and then a few years later when he played Hans Schmidt in Double Agent 73.

    Lastly, we're treated to 1966's The Hot Month Of August, another Greek import originally titled O zestos minas Avgoustos and directed by Sokrates Kapsaskis that Wishman worked her 'magic' on for the domestic market.

    The story revolves around a young man named Jason (Giannis Fertis) who heads home with his tail between his legs after being unable to cut it on his own in the city. On the boat ride back to his home town, he meets a man named Makris (Petros Fyssoun) at the bar, and learns that he's a gigolo by trade. He teaches him how to win with women, and before you know it Jason has hooked up with beautiful Alexis.

    When Jason gets him, his father (Lavrentis Dianellos) pressures him to get an office job and settle down and he even sets the kid up with a local girl named Hope and for a while, they're a couple. What Jason doesn't know is that his encounter on the boat with Alexis was no happy accident. She's in cahoots with Makris, who isn't a gigolo at all but a private detective hired by Alexis' husband, to kill off said husband and set Jason up as the patsy.

    Sooooo much better than Passion Fever, The Hot Month Of August actually works pretty well. The Greek cast all do a solid job with the acting, good enough that even the now standard wonky dubbing can’t really screw it all up the way you’d expect it to, and the inserts that Wishman shot (mostly sex scenes) fit in with the original footage, if not perfectly, at least reasonably well. The movie is nicely paced and the storyline features some pretty fun, unexpected twists that might just keep you guessing up until the end. The plot unfolds at a nice clip and the cinematography from the original footage is quiet nice, showing off the exotic Greek locations very well. Wishman’s nudie footage is also pretty well shot and integrated into the well enough that it never really takes you out of the film when it shows up on the screen.

    Also keep an eye open for the lovely Marie Liljedahl in a small role as a girl on a beach!

    The Films Of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of the films in this collection has been taken from a new 2k restoration of the original 35mm negative except for A Taste Of Flesh, My Brother’s Wife and Too Much Too Often, all of which are taken from the Something Weird Video S-VHS master. They are spread across three region free 50GB Blu-ray discs and offered up in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The negative sourced transfers are excellent, with the black and white pictures showing very nice contrast and really strong detail. There’s good depth and texture noticeable throughout each feature and we get really nice black levels. The images show very little print damage, they’re in very nice shape, but retain the expected amount of natural film grain. These offer very nice upgrades over the older DVD releases that came out via Something Weird back in the early 2000s. The three movies that are sourced from older, analogue master tapes don’t looks as good, obviously. They’re softer and lack the detail of the film-sourced movies, but given that these would appear to be the only elements left to work with here, it’s better to have them here in lesser condition than not at all. They’re perfectly watchable (and do feature the SWV bug in the bottom right corner from time to time), they just obviously look a few steps down from the other movies.

    Each film in the set gets a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. There’s some minor background hiss noticeable here and there throughout the different movies in the set but overall they sound fine. Limitations in the original recordings are obvious at times, things can sound a little flat in spots, but generally speaking the mixes are pretty clean and always properly balanced.

    Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:

    Disc One – Bad Girls Go To Hell / Indecent Desires / A Taste Of Flesh:

    Bad Girls Go To Hell gets a commentary with filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, who is clearly having a blast with this track. Joined by filmmaker Anthony Sneed (who is seeing the movie for the first time), as he talks about Wishman's transition from nudist camp films to roughies, how this picture and so many other Wishman films are basically soap operas, why so many of the locations used in her movies all look the same, the use of handheld cameras in the movie, Gigi Darlene's genuine star power and Wishman's ability to get the best sexploitation actresses that New York City had to offer to appear in her films. They also point out some of the oddities in the film such as the corkboard behind the bed in one scene, the frequent cutaways to feet, Hennenlotter's own experiences seeing adult movies for the first time using his draft card to prove he was old enough to get in, the different motivations of some of the characters that populate the movie, how this picture compares to some of Wishman's other work, how this film offers much stronger stuff than something like Nude On The Moon, why every movie should have a woman in her underwear doing handstands and plenty more. It's a fun track, informative and amusing at the same time.

    There’ also a commentary included over Indecent Desires, this one from with queer film historian Liz Purchell. She speaks here about how this film differs from the nudie cutie movies, the influence of Italian fumetti on pictures like this, the "underground bondage magazine" look of some of the images used under the opening credits, details from the film's pressbook and how it offered a 'playgirl doll,' the attention grabbing trailers for Wishman's movies, the one and only optical effect used in the movie, how her work compares to contemporaries like Russ Meyer, The Amero Brothers and Joe Sarno, how aspects of the film serve as a very potent metaphor for gender dysphoria and the loss of control the central character feels in the movie, the portrayal of drag characters in movies of this era, how the loosening of censorship laws allowed for the proliferation of roughies and the role that queerness plays in some of these movies, the moralizing moment that closes the film, the importance of porn theaters in the distribution of underground art movies, how and why it's important to preserve and explore the history of "disreputable cinema," the way that gender themes come up in Wishman's later films, where Wishman can't help but inject nudie cutie elements into the movie and plenty or other details and topics. It's a very well thought out track that offers quite a lot of food for thought.

    Aside from that, the first disc also includes theatrical trailers for Bad Girls Go To Hell, Indecent Desires and A Taste Of Flesh as well as menus and chapter selection options.

    Disc Two – Another Day, Another Man / My Brother’s Wife / Passion Fever:

    The most substantial extra on disc two is a commentary with Wishman biographer Michael Bowen that plays over My Brother’s Wife. Wishman starts by mentioning that his long awaited Wishman biography will be released in 2022 (yeah!) before then gonig on to examine the titles, noting that Sam Stewart gets credited twice, that Joanie Roberts really only appears in footage recycled from Sex Perils Of Paulette, Wishman's different pseudonyms and who was really responsible for the cinematography in the movie. He then offers up a quick biography of Wishman and explains how she came to become a filmmaker in her own right, her early period making nudist films, how she got into making sexploitation and roughies after the nudist films fell out of style, Wishman's life in New York City where she lived in Forrest Hills, in Queens, details on the different cast and crew members that pop up in the movie, some of the locations that Wishman used in the picture, using an issue of the New York Post from May of 1965 to confirm when the movie was made and how this was made very closely to when Bad Girls Go To Hell and Sex Perils Of Paulette, Wishman's ability to repurpose footage from earlier films into what would have been her current projects at the time and quite a lot more. It's a very well researched and interesting track packed with plenty of odd details about Wishman and her collaborators.

    The disc also includes an eight minute ‘Moonlight Years’ photo gallery (comprised of a nice selection of promo photos, advertising and pressbook materials), theatrical trailers for My Brother’s Wife, two trailers for Another Day, Another Man,, menus and chapter selection options.

    Disc Three – The Sex Perils Of Paulette / Too Much Too Often / The Hot Month Of August:

    Disc three holds a theatrical trailer for each feature, menus and chapter selection options.

    Booklet with writing from Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci titled ‘Blonde Wigs And Ash Trays: Doris Wishman’s Moonlight Years’ and a vintage Doris Wishman interview by author Mike Watt.’ Both are worth reading, and there’s some nice archival poster art included inside the book as well, which is a nice touch.

    The Films Of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years - The Final Word:

    AGFA’s Blu-ray release of The Films Of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years is excellent, presenting some of her best films in very nice restorations and with some interesting commentary tracks exploring their respective histories and cultural importance from a few different points of view. The movies themselves hold up really well – exploitation movies from another planet! Super highly recommended.

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