Color, 1970, 86m.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Titus Moede, Bruce Beard, Cheryl Powell, Frank Millen, Jean Stone

Color, 1970, 81m.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Leonard Shoemaker, Kathy Hilton, Barbara Mills, Sebastian Figg

Color, 1974, 83m.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Francis Fey, Lynn Harris, Kathy Hilton, Marsha Jordan, Frank Millen
Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Best known as the director of the outrageous wilderness slasher film Don't Go in the Woods, director James Bryan has racked up a small but fascinating exploitation career stretching back quite a bit further than many people realize. Three of his earlier, considerably raunchier efforts (already covered at length in Stephen Thrower's masterful Nightmare USA) are collected for your own sordid edification in this three-film set, which kicks off with a bang thanks to his first feature, The Dirtiest Game in the World. Conceived just before the transition from softcore to hardcore in sexploitation theaters around the world, the film was designed to deliver enough graphic sex and violence to grab the attention of both audiences and distributors. Unfortunately Bryan and company hopped way over the line of what was acceptable, delivering a film that starts off as a counterculture satire and then turns into something best described as a fusion of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and New York Ripper by way of Hustler magazine.

Things start out amiably enough as the film (originally shot under the title Blood, Flesh and Tears, then The Dirtiest Game) charts the unusual political strategy of Titus Moore (Rat Fink a Boo Boo's late star Moede), whose right-hand man Frank (Millen) accompanies him on a quest to gain the youth vote by courting all those free-lovin', dope-smokin' hippies nearby. They make a visit to the counterculture campaign manager Bruce (Beard) whose clothing-averse rommate, Jean (Stone), does an endless reverse striptease and soon has the married Titus bent over a chair getting pegged with a strap-on. Things get complicated when Frank and Titus' wife (Powell) start having an affair, and soon the film slides into a cataclysm of orgies, misguided S&M, and wholly inappropriate use of a razor blade and pistol. Hard to describe without sounding completely perverse, The Dirtiest Game in the World is a wacko mixture of hip satire and truly extreme trash content, with the final half hour delving into truly transgressive territory that still packs a serious punch today. Powell's ultimate fate is especially strong stuff, a deranged and truly fearless blend of madness and self-mutilation that foreshadows similar freakouts like Lina Romay in Lorna the Exorcist and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist. The film itself isn't particularly good on an aesthetic level; it has the grungy, cheap veneer of Harry NOvak films from the same period, and many of the actors are obviously winging it. However, the wild tonal digressions and frequent head-spinning injections of perversity make it an experience that truly stands out from the rest, and one can still see why patrons balked when they thought they were being treated to just another standard dirty movie.

Only by comparison could the next two films be considered much more mainstream; there's still plenty of flesh and bizarre imagination on display in Escape to Passion and I Love You, I Love You Not, though the violence level is toned down to more acceptable levels. The former film (which shares several actors with the other films) concerns petty crook Le (Shoemaker), who would love to be a gangster just like in the movies but spends a drab existence with his browbeating girlfriend. He finally cooks up the plan for the perfect heist and finds his soulmate in a female crook, Cherry (Hilton), who shares his outlook and decides to go along with his last wild ride. The story sounds like business as usual, but the execution defintiely isn't as the film tosses in everything from fantasy sequences to a greasy three-way scene and even huge helpings of oddball humor. The curvaceous blonde Hilton (a familiar face from fare like The Toy Box) is probably the most memorable element here, but it all has a quirky individuality that keeps things fascinating even when it doesn't all quite gel together.

The third and rarest film of the bunch, I Love You, I Love You Not, is touted on the packaging as "finally found in its last run before the 16mm negative turns to magenta." Much more of a standard sexploitation film (not surprising with genre favorite Marsha Jordan in the cast), it feels like Bryan's stab at a Joe Sarno film as it chronicles the repurcussions when married housewife Lynn (The Erotic Adventures of Zorro's Harris) and her husband, former solider Frank (Millen), decide to stray outside the parameters of monogamy which leads to much mocking between her husband and lover (Shoemaker) over each other's genitalia, a sexual assault by bums, and other melodramatic strangeness. This was Bryan's final shot at softcore sexploitation, and it certainly feels like it; he eventually went on to refashion some of his projects into the rare comedy sketch film Boogievision (which was resurrected as part of a Rareflix triple feature on DVD) and took his one aforementioned foray into horror, with a small handful of odd porn projects like Beach Blanket Bango paying the bills in between.

All three films are presented in new transfers from the surviving film elements, which is pretty amazing considering the scarcity of these films. Dirtiest Game has made the rounds in awful-looking dupes from an ancient VHS copy, and this version obviously looks much better (albeit interlaced) with much more detail and natural skintones compared to its sorry predecessors. There's some expected print damage here and there, but overall it's a significant leap up in quality compared to the cruddy bootlegs out there. Escape to Passion probably looks the best of the trio, from a nicely-preserved print with good color and only minimal debris here and there. Also as anticipated, I Love You fares the worst with a multitude of scratches and inconsistent color from reel to reel, but that's to be expected given the extreme rarity of the source. Bryan doesn't participate in any extras here unlike the company's earlier release of Don't Go in the Woods, but it's still a disc jam-packed with content given the three films and a signficiant discovery from one of the stranger, more unsettling corners of softcore moviemaking that was almost forgotten completely.

Reviewed on 7/17/11

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