Review: The Suckers / Love Garden

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DVD. Vinegar Syndrome

Another pair of Seventies sleaze movies from Vinegar Syndrome’s Drive In Collection, this release features movies from the time when softcore was about to make way for hardcore, with two films shot by future XXX greats and starring Barbara Mills.

1972 production The Suckers – long lost and for years only represented by trailers, ad mats, stills and brief references in books – is the most interesting of the two films. Directed by Arthur Byrd, aka Stu Segall (now a successful TV producer, but in the 70s and early 80s a porn director most often under the name Godfrey Daniels, responsible for the likes of Insatiable) and written by Edward Everett (aka fellow hardcore bigwig Harold Lime, real name Ted Paramore), this is a cheerfully squalid softcore take on The Most Dangerous Game (a film referenced in the dialogue for anyone not getting the connection). Big Game Hunter Steve Vandermeer (Steve Vincent) invites PR man Norman Fields (sporting the worst comb-over ever) and his photographer wife (Mills), alongside a couple of unconvincing “$50 a hour models” (Sandy Dempsy and Laurie Rose) and fellow hunter Richard Smedley to do a shoot during a special hunt on his isolated estate. After several softcore sex scenes, he reveals the truth about just what he’ll be hunting, announcing that “rape and slaughter go hand in hand when one is hunting human beings”, and sure enough the sex scenes take a turn for the grubbier with a lengthy and unpleasant rape scene involving one of the models and a particularly unsavoury looking henchman who has captured her.

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Playing very much like a late entry ‘roughie’, The Suckers sits comfortably alongside other lurid sex ‘n’ violence softcore movies of the era like Wrong Way and A Scream on the Streets, entirely unrestrained by considerations of taste and decency. Notably (and in contrast to what the ill-informed like to say about modern porn), this sort of nastiness would become rather rare once hardcore took over. So The Suckers is hardly wholesome viewing, but fans of unashamed bad taste will certainly find it entertaining. The print used here is pretty beaten up – there are lines down the screen more or less all the way through and a couple of scenes are savagely chopped about – but this seems to add to the grindhouse aesthetic, and the colours are strong.

Second feature The Love Garden, made in 1971 by producer Bob Chinn (later a hardcore director and creator of Johnny Wadd) and directed by Mark Haggard, is altogether less grubby. A love triangle, it follows the efforts of Afro’d writer Mike (Jason Yukon) as he attempts to seduce sexy Claire (Linda York) – who is already in a lesbian relationship with Inez (Mills). Adopting the tried and tested techniques of the sex pest, he leers at her at the pool, comes on to her in the laundry room and then takes advantage of her losing her job to offer her work as a typist. Eventually, his relentless seduction pays off, but for how long?

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Full of fantastic vintage styles and references (Mike’s apartment is a fantastic swinging bachelor pad, he and Claire discuss Norman Mailer and the battle of the sexes, he writes for Playboy), The Love Garden is a curious sex film, in that it takes about 30 minutes to get to any actual sex, when we finally see the two girls engaged in some touchy-feely softcore action. Until then, it’s been all talk and tennis matches. Not that it’s bad, but you have to wonder how the average 1971 punter thought, having shelled out his hard-earned to sit in a grubby sex cinema only to be confronted to musings on feminism and bad handwriting.

Oddly, the sex scene between Mike and Claire briefly crosses into near-hardcore territory – she’s certainly jerking him off and there’s snippets of a blow job. This sort of ‘testing the limits’ wasn’t unusual at the time (check out some of Harry Novak’s films from the same period) but now it seems rather incongruous in what is otherwise a fairly soft softcore film (though there are also quite graphic vaginal close-ups in the lesbian scene at one point).

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The other interesting aspect of the movie is that, having set Mike up as a predatory alpha male throughout (and, given that the story is narrated from his viewpoint, seemingly one we are supposed to relate to), the film ends with him a broken, lovelorn man. If the film really is about the battle of the sexes, then he’s definitely the loser. It might be a stretch to suggest that The Love Garden is a feminist film, but it’s certainly one that could conceivably appeal more to women than men. The fact that it’s paired with such a testosterone driven, female unfriendly film makes this quite the his ‘n’ hers package! Well… perhaps not.

The print of The Love Garden is in pretty good (if not pristine) condition, and certainly seems complete.

While neither film is anyone’s idea of a masterpiece, it’s great to see these lost sexploitation movies being unearthed. This pairing seems to represent the two sides of early Seventies sleaze, and lovers of the sordid and the sexy will need no further recommendation to snap this up.

DAVID FLINT

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