Color, 1969, 87 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Paul Rapp
Starring Angelique Pettyjohn, Charlene Jones, Bunny Allister, David Westberg, Julie Conners, Michael Greer, Sebastian Brook
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
In the year 2427, mankind is run entirely by a supercomputer that enforces a world without love, traditional relationships, or 20th-century morality. Furthermore, the concept of virginity is completely alien with every girl sent to be deflowered by an "older man" at the age of 13. That also means that films from the era have been completely banned, but that doesn't stop an underground film club in Los Angeles (now an island after a great quake) from getting together in a cave to watch these forbidden features and chat about them when they aren't too busy making out on the floor. The particular screening at hand is hosted by Liana (Allister) and Jorel (Westberg), who explain the social significance of stag loops like The Vacuum Salesman. The big feature for the evening turns out to be a college campus film, The Three Virgins, which also coincidentally features the same actors appearing in the framing device. The very '60s feature focuses on three female students who lounge around the pool naked as they talk about how they're itching for their first time, and each one takes different steps to achieve it with a school computer dating program complicating things even further. Assault victim Pearl (Jones), apparently the sole black female student around, finds herself attracted to a white woman after her first sexual encounter leaves her feeling nothing, while Susan (Pettyjohn) learns to loosen up with some recreational drugs and wild behavior. Then there's Joan (Allister again), whose scumbag boyfriend, Paul (Westberg again), pushes her to have sex but orders in a very skanky prostitute less than a day after she refuses.
So, that's the premise of The Curious Female, a bizarre mix of sci-fi, sex, and social commentary. Though it plays sort of like a comedy, the film clearly has a lot on its mind as it tackles things like interracial dating, homosexuality (via several characters of varying stereotyped degrees), and gender equality. The futuristic segments are lots of fun as audience members try to figure out why certain scenes are censored or what some of the plot twists mean, and the gimmick of missing footage and meta commentary is way, way ahead of its time. The actual moral stance of the film is a little harder to parse out as it seems to argue that the chilling future world is the result of an absence of morals, but the story they're watching clearly takes a dim view of the fetishized, absurd obsession with female virginity that was already deeply creepy in Hollywood comedies like I'll Take Sweden and Under the Yum Yum Tree. Though the film ends with a silly punchline, it's also pretty startling how both storylines end on an incredibly bleak note that leaves you more than a little unsettled about what you've just witnessed.
Though many cast members are one-shot appearances, the film is clearly trading on the novelty of seeing '60s TV actress Pettyjohn (Star Trek) let it all hang out in vibrant color (though she did a few indie roughies before this), pushing the nudity envelope surprisingly far including a steamy phone sex scene that became the centerpiece of the poster art. (Of course, she later went on to briefly do hardcore, which is way, way beyond the limits of this film.) The always entertaining Michael Greer has a blast with his role as the computer dating consultant, just as he was coming off of his scene-stealing comic relief role in The Gay Deceivers and before his memorable roles in Fortune and Men's Eyes and Messiah of Evil. Also on hand is another Gay Deceivers vet, Sebastian Brook, who had a bitchy turn in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and, weirdly enough, went on to do The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio and A Clockwork Blue. Then there's the incredible, very groovy soundtrack, complete with a catchy theme song (written by Stu Phillips!) and some choice library cues including Bill Loose's "South of the Border" from Cherry, Harry & Raquel, which also turned up around the same time in Jess Franco's Venus in Furs.
Strangely elusive on home video, The Curious Female had a dull-looking VHS release in the UK back in the '80s and then went missing in action for decades until Code Red's 2017 Blu-ray release (sold in the U.S. by Ronin Flix and overseas by Diabolik with worldwide sales after November 4, 2017). Taken from a great-looking German film source under the title Porno-Leckereien(!), the new transfer looks nice overall and serves a welcome relief after decades of bootleg copies and dodgy YouTube uploads. Colors veer to the cooler, bluer side, but they still have that psychedelic late '60s pop; black levels are generally good but do tend to clog up a bit in darker scenes. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds pretty solid, though it features some sloppy sound editing snafus in an apparent effort to make it synch up to the German source with an occasional word or snippet of music getting looped twice to fill up the missing space. (The goofiest is easily at the 40-minute mark when the exclamation of "Pervert!" gets clumsily repeated.) It doesn't really harm the film and shouldn't dissuade anyone from checking out this astonishing little rarity, but don't be surprised if you find yourself saying "huh?" at the soundtrack now and then. Extras include a German trailer and bonus previews for Warlock Moon, Simon - King of the Witches, and Slithis.
Reviewed on October 22, 2017