Manhattan Baby

Color, 1973, 71 mins. 41 secs.
Directed by Antony Webber
Starring Sandy Carey, Michael Abbott, John Martin, Dianne Bishop, Sherri Mason, Uschi Digard

Color, 1977, 58 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by The Sensory Man
Starring Eric Edwards, Joann Sterling, Arlana Blue, Viveca Ash, Any Mathieu, Alex Mann, Bree Anthony, Tony Richards, Levi Richards, Jennifer Jordan, Jamie Gillis
Something Weird / Pop Cinema (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

One Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of Deathof the more Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of Deathtantalizing rarities in the mountain of '70s sexploitation films was something called Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of Death, a sci-fi action softcore film that seemed to drop off the face of the earth for years with only a few posters to prove it ever existed. A copy in Italian eventually popped up, featuring some obvious doctoring (including some footage that will be very familiar to horror movie fans) and making little sense if you didn't speak the language; however, it at least proved this thing was a real movie. In 2012, Something Weird finally unearthed an English-language version, splicey but certainly more coherent than what we'd had before. As it turns out, this is a fascinating beast all right, a post-nuke saga that veers between violent bikers, dreamy future shock concepts, and long, looooong scenes of simulated lovemaking captured mostly in long shots.

In 2062, the planet has been turned into a desert wasteland where the only quality air can be found living inside big plastic inflatable balls. The healthiest survivors try to replenish the species by having sex as much as possible, while going outside requires donning gas masks and contending with predatory bikers roaming the land. There's also a giant oil pipeline stretching Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of Deathacross the area, apparently the one major resource left to the scrabblers. The torch bearers for humanity are required to stay in their designated Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of Deathglobes and find protection in the form of General White (Abbott), who occasionally finds comfort in the arms of the bisexual women around. And that's about it.

Lifting ideas from films as diverse as No Blade of Grass and The Touchables, this is a really odd one that seems determined to confound its viewers expecting a standard parade of T&A. You could also argue that it anticipates later films like A Boy and His Dog, Zardoz, and Cafe Flesh, all of which are infinitely superior of course but feature some ideas and visuals that were already being explored here. There's also a little half-hearted martial arts action, a lot of classical music and blowing wind sound effects, and a really grim tone that continues all the way to the inevitable downer of an ending. Then again it also has kung fu scenes with guys in gas masks facing off against a scantily clad couple in the middle of the desert, so it's hardly devoid of entertainment value. Sexploitation fans will definitely recognize leading lady Sandy Carey, the softcore (and occasionally hardcore) starlet who popped up in such films as Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of DeathThe Devil's Garden, Drive-In Massacre, and The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio, and a small role for the much-loved Uschi Digard wearing (and removing) one of the wilder outfits.

One of the inaugural entries in the partnership between Pop Cinema and Something Weird (along with a pairing of Female Chauvinists and Hot Connections), Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of DeathCries of Ecstasy, Blows of Death comes to Blu-ray and DVD in a combo pack featuring a fresh scan of Something Weird's 35mm print, quite possibly the only one left on the planet. It's pretty gritty and scratchy but quite watchable, with colors and detail in good shape. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is, well, what it is.

Sharing space on the same disc is Invasion of the Love Drones, a goofy sci-fi sex comedy that looks like it was partially shot as a softcore film but then switched over to hardcore somewhere along the way. The version here is the soft cut, which actually isn't much shorter than the XXX one. Eric Edwards plays a hapless guy named George whose quiet night of cohabitation and reading Chariots of the Gods? is interrupted when he's abducted by a giant Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of Deathphallic spaceship hovering above Earth. Thanks to some nookie with a couple of female aliens, he's turned into a love drone capable of harnessing erotic energy to feed the interstellar visitors -- so of course he goes to work at a sex clinic. It's soon up to intrepid Dr. Femme (Ash) and the U.S. government to get to the bottom of the drone outbreak, which could use all-American horniness to take down the whole world. Invasion of the Love Drones

A ragged and slapdash offering in either of its circulating versions, this isn't exactly the finest combination of sex and sci-fi out there but worth a look forsome of New York smut's finest strutting their stuff. The tone here is pretty close to Harry Novak's notorious, groan-worth Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman, albeit with a sprinkling of surreal visuals involving the alien Oragasms like its Grace Jones-style, body painted female leader. As mentioned above, only a handful of scenes were ever shot hardcore (some of Edwards' encounters and a spaceship session with Tony Richards and Bree Anthony) while the bulk of it was clearly lensed softcore; even Jamie Gillis, Jennifer Jordan, and Levi Richards stay away from the X-rated stuff. It's also worth noting the presence of Alex Mann, a familiar drive-in face from I Drink Your Blood and Malibu High when he wasn't busy doing TV shows or simulated roles in adult films. Not exactly a traditional career path for an actor.

Cries of Ecstasy, Blows of DeathThe X-rated cut of this film initially made the rounds of VHS and popped up in a very overpriced standalone DVD edition from Alpha Blue Archives, ported over from a tape with Invasion of the Love Dronesvisible degradation and tracking issues. The new transfer looks infinitely better, though the source print again has more than its share of wear and tear. In addition to newly-created trailers for all four features in the first Pop Cinema/Something Weird wave, you also get a third bonus film in standard definition, Double D Experiment (64m13s), an anonymous softcore throwaway with Female Chauvinists' Roxanne Brewer (who stays more or less clothed) and early smut performer Tommy Toole. Released on DVD by Seduction Cinema as part of its Sleazy Sci-Fi of the 1970s Collection under the title Dr. Dildo's Secret, it's a quirky sci-fi / nudie hybrid about a mad doc and his assistant conducting experiments in a basement involving lots of naked women hooked up to electrodes before it all erupts into an orgy and a cost-conscious ending you have to see to believe. The set also comes with liner notes by Jeremy Richey, who puts the two main films in the context of 1970s paranoia and anxiety while making a case for Cries as a key entry in the history of apocalypse cinema.

Reviewed on February 15, 2018.