Demented Erotica : A Tribute to Doris Wishman
by Jens Kofoed-Pihl
"After I die I will make movies in hell!" was a line Doris Wishman, the most prolific female independent filmmaker ever, stated many times. Well, I hope Beelzebub treats her nice because the queen of sexploitation cinema left us on August 10, 2002, in Miami. Like many ladies she lied about her age, but her nephew Norman Wishman recently informed the world that Doris was born July 23, 1912, which makes her an impressive 90 at the time when she sadly lost her long battle with lymphoma cancer.
Doris Wishman wasn't only a director, she also wrote, produced, did her own editing and designed the marketing campaign for most of her movies. A bonafide auteur and a very clever no-nonsense businesswoman in the male-dominated world of American exploitation movie industry. Wishman made around 30 films from 1959 to 2002, she took a break from cinema from 1983 to 2001. Her style is pretty unique and unconventional and isn't so easy to compare to her peers in the heydays of exploitation cinema like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, Ed Wood Jr., Harry Novak, Joe Sarno, A.C. Stevens, the Findlays, Ray Dennis Steckler, T.V. Mikels and David Friedman who was her friend for many years.
Besides her early Florida color nudie flicks, most of her b&w softcore works take place on the gritty streets (and in tacky apartments) of New York. Her visions of the dark urban underbelly of the Big Apple are as important as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese in my opinion, even though many will consider her works unwatchable talentless trash with absolutely no redeeming values. Well, I recall Motörhead being voted the worst new rockband in major British music magazines in the mid '70's, so all art is surely in the eye of the beholder. Okay, I'd recommend the intake of alcohol (and maybe other things) while viewing some of her more headache inducing movies, and it surely helps to be in love with schlock cinema. I might add that the Wishman family wasn't completely strangers to lowbudget filmmaking. Doris' cousin was Max Rosenberg, co-founder of Amicus, Britain's biggest rival to the Hammer studio.
DORIS GOES TO NUDIST CAMP AND THE MOON
After she became a widow in the late 50's Wishman made her debut with "Hideout In The Sun" (1959). Nudie cuties has been around for awhile, most were documentaries from nudist colonies without a plot. But Doris and Russ Meyer (also making his debut that year with "The Immoral Mr. Teas") were actually the first Americans to change the formular. Two brothers rob a bank then kidnap a girl and hide in a nudist camp, where they watch naked people do several kinds of sports like volleyball and swimming. Next year Doris re-worked the skin genre and shot her first and only Sci-Fi movie, "Nude On The Moon". Two astronauts and scientists blast off to the moon in their spaceship. When they wake up after the successful landing they discover the planet is populated by sexy topless women! Homestead, Florida was stand-in for the moon and one of actresses, Shelby Livingston, was later in Lewis/Friedman's "2000 Maniacs" (1964).
The more conventional "Diary Of A Nudist" (1961) followed and Wishman casts her first real celebrity in "Blaze Starr Goes Nudist" (1962) which was a minor hit. Legendary stripper Starr was later portrayed in the big Hollywood production "Blaze" (1989) starring Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich but not much nudity. After "Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls" (1962. "See what working girls do after a hard day at the office!") Wishman took notice of the success of the Italian "Mondo Cane" films and worked some global sex documetaries from Europe, Hawaii, Japan and Mexico in the plots of "Playgirls International" (1963) and the private eye story, "Behind The Nudist Curtain" (1964). Here our hero Sam (Spade?) chases a spy, Mr. X, around the seedy nightclubs of the world. "The Prince And The Nature Girl" was not a take on the famous Monroe/Olivier film but a nudie fantasy about the leader of a mythical kingdom who falls in love with a nudist girl from Ohio!
THINGS ARE ROUGH ALL OVER
By 1965 a new movie genre had established itself in exploitation called the 'Roughie' which gleefully mixed sex and violence, pioneered by such classics as Lee Frost/David Friedman's "The Defilers", Russ Meyer's "Motorpsycho" and some gems from Doris. Gone were the more innocent sunny and wacky nudie adventures in Florida, Wishman had entered the Big Apple with an adult vengeance and it wasn't a pretty sight. "The Sex Perils Of Paulette" (1965. "You had to go all the way if you wanted to belong!") is the story of Paulette of Ohio who moves to sleazy New York. She has all her money stolen, get beaten by a sadist, and has to work as a hooker to pay the rent. With Tony Lo Bianco ("Honeymoon Killers" etc.).
A personal fave, "Bad Girls Go To Hell" (1965), deals with a Boston housewife who gets raped twice by her scummy bucktoothed landlord. The cute Gigi Darlene kills the slimeball with a fruitbowl and panics; "What can I do? I'll go to New York, I can get lost in the crowd there". And off she goes. Walking around Central Park she meets a friendly guy and moves in with him, sadly everytime he drinks he beats her senseless with a belt. She flees and meets a lesbian and lives with her. Peaceful days of acrobatic dances (in skimmy underwear) and hot lovemaking unfold. But of course she gets raped by the landlord's husband, and then she moves in as a companion to an eldery lady. But old woman's son is a private detective looking for Gigi in the Boston landlord slaying. She then wakes up by her husband and thinking it was all a twisted nightmare, but then she gets raped again by the landlord....Twilight Zone revisited!
"Another Day, Another Man" and "My Brother's Wife" (both 1966) feature some of the same actors and gritty surreal plot as naked innocent girls get brutalized and corrupted by pimps, lesbians and the depraved nitelife in the city that never sleeps. Tagline from "My Brother's Wife" - "Sex was her master! Lust was her destiny!" The Frank Sinatra assassination film "Suddenly" (1954. Lewis Allen) gets the Wishman treatment in "A Taste Of Flesh" (1967) this time with nude showers, striptease, whippings, rape, lesbians and men in drag. "Indecent Desires" is a supernatural roughie about a creep named Zeb who has a magic (voodoo?) doll. He has his eyes on a sexy girl and feels her up by caressing the doll! He, then, gets jealous of her boyfriend and starts to torture the doll with cigarettes and a whip, leaving her in agony and slowly she goes bonkers! "Too Much Too Often" (1968) is more sado-masochistic and melodramatic mayhem. Then, like straight out of Al Adamson school of filmmaking Doris bought two Greek films for $4,000 and added more (non-matching) graphic sex scenes and released them in 1969 as "The Hot Month Of August" and "Passion Fever".
PSYCHOSEXUAL FREAKSHOWS AND BEYOND THE X
With the X-rated "Love Toy" (1969) Doris' twisted sexploitation flicks go into overdrive. A gambler bets his daughter and loses her to a degenerate who put her through all kinds of perverted sex games like bondage, spanking, domination, fetishism etc. Eventually she gets used to being a slave and starts diggin' the abuse just like the kidnapped girl in "Bloodsucking Freaks" (1978. Joel M. Reed)! The mindboggling plot of "The Amazing Transplant" (1970) follows the nerdy Arthur who strangles his girlfriend after being unable to perform sex with her. His well-endowed friend, ladies man Felix, is dying; Arthur blackmails the doctor to transplant Felix's penis onto him! Well, big Arthur only kills even more women after the operation! A satire from Wishman on insecure masculinity? "Keyholes Are For Peeping" (1972) is an unfunny sex comedy featuring a lame Jerry Lewis wannabe, Sammy Patrillo, who's even more annoying than Lewis! Maybe it was a hit in France, I don't know.
The two completely insane boobzilla epics "Deadly Weapons" and "Double Agent 73" (shot back-to-back and released in 1973 and 1974) are probably the most well-known Wishman movies. Both stars the Polish stripper Chesty Morgan (Lillian Wilczkowsky) who's freaky bosom is no less than 73 monstrous inches in measurement! In "Deadly Weapons" Chesty is out seeking revenge for the killing of her gangster husband. One by one, the mobsters bite the dust, or should I say bust as Chesty smothers/drugs/suffocates them with her lethal knockers!
Chesty is a spy in "Double Agent 73" who has a camera operated into her left breast, so every 10 minute Chesty goes topless, lifts her breast to takes photos of a drug ring. She also kills horny thugs in this marvel by putting poison on her nipples, and one guy gets knocked out by a slap by her breast! Steven Seagal and Jet Li - eat your hearts out! "Watch out for the booby traps...they're loaded!". The films also features some of the most ugly and tacky 70's clothes, fashion and wallpaper. Both with "Deep Throat" legend Harry Reems. A third entry with Morgan was planned but Doris couldn't deal with Chesty's primadonna antics and lack of professionalism (!) so the sequel, "The Immoral Three" (1975), was filmed without her. Agent 73's three daughters is out to avenge their mom's death in (ultra sleazy) pre-Charlie's Angels style. Shot in New York, Miami and Las Vegas.
Two hardcore porn movies, "Satan Was A Lady" (1975) and "Come With Me, My Love/The Haunted Pussy" (1976) starring Annie Sprinkle and Vanessa Del Rio, have stirred up some controversy and confusion since Doris always has denied being the director. I spent like four years on the imdb.com trying figure out the mystery because especially (the very wellmade) "Come With Me, My Love" features all the usual Wishman trademarks of shots of bizarre objects etc. Her longtime cinematographer, C. Davis Smith, has recently revealed that Doris WAS involved with everything BUT the actual hardcore footage in the two films. The little lady just went into another room drinking tea while Smith finished filming the XXX scenes. The extreme and graphic sex change mondo documentary, "Let Me Die A Woman" (1978), features interviews with several real transsexuals and in-ya-face stare-if-ya-dare footage of the actual penis-removal operations (this was more than I could handle, I had to hold my wife's hands during the whole film, shame on me!). Far 'worse' than the infamous sex operation in "Shocking Asia" (1974. Emerson Fox) in my opinion.
THE DRY 80'S AND THE CELEBRATION OF WISHMAN 'THE ARTIST'
Doris started working on the troubled production of "A Night To Dismember" in 1979, but after the film was finished some geek vandalized the film lab and destroyed most of the shot footage. Since all the of cast had been paid, Doris had to include some 'deleted' scenes and shoot some additional, making it one of her most messy and incoherent films (and worst say many). Porn actress Samantha Fox stars as a serial killer in this gore epic, Wishman's only journey into Herschell Gordon Lewis land. It was finally released in 1983. Fanatics should get the recent Elite DVD since it features the only audio commentary track ever released with Doris. After the horrible experiences of completing the film our exploitation queen went into semi-retirement from the movie business and moved to live with her sister in Florida
By the 80's and 90's times had changed and cultmovie fans and even filmscholars at universies had started to embrace her body of work. The Pope Of Trash himself, John Waters, visited Wishman and told her how much she had inspired him. Jonathan Ross' "The Incredible Film Show" TVseries did a documentary on her and highbrow critics started comparing Doris to 60's French New Wave directors like Godard and others called her a profound avantgarde feminist filmmaker! As the head of American International Pictures, Sam Arkoff (RIP), once stated; "Time dignifies everything".
Like an old warhorse Doris returned to the film business in the new millennium on the grounds of the sudden intrest and the abovementioned Elite DVD audio commentary, which gave her the financial backing for making three more features before her death. "Satan Was A Lady" (2001. Not a remake of her 70's porn movie) was the first, an 'erotic film noir', which won a prize at the New York Underground Film Festival. Then "Dildo Heaven" (2002) followed, a shot-on-video sex comedy. Her last feature, "Each Time I Kill" (2002/3), wasn't completed by the time of her demise but 95% was shot by C. Davis Smith and on her deathbed our brave Doris made script notes on how to finish the production. Apparently it's teen slasher parody featuring former scream queen Linnea Quigley and a cameo by John Waters. So Wishmania is far from over yet, fellas! I'd like to end this article by quoting producer Beau Gillespie on his experiences with Doris:
"She was tough, willful and tireless. She would not be deterred. She worked at it until she just ran out of steam. Her triumph card was that precocious, impudent, dirty-minded little girl imagination: romantic and sentimental with a delicious touch of cruelty - a great asset for an artist!".
Rest in Peace, Doris, ...wherever you are.
1959 Hideout In The Sun (as Lazarus Volkl)
1960 Nude On The Moon
... aka Girls On The Moon
... aka Moondolls
... aka Nature Girls On The Moon
... aka Nudes On The Moon
1961 Diary Of A Nudist
... aka Nature Camp Confidential
... aka Nature Camp Diary
... aka Nudist Camp
... aka Nudist Confidential
1962 Blaze Starr Goes Nudist
... aka Back To Nature
... aka Blaze Starr Goes Back to Nature
... aka Blaze Starr Goes Nudist
... aka Blaze Starr, The Original
... aka Busting Out
... aka Nature girl
1962 Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls
1963 Playgirls International
1964 Behind The Nudist Curtain
1964 The Prince And The Nature Girl
1965 The Sex Perils Of Paulette
1965 Bad Girls Go To Hell
1966 Another Day Another Man
1966 My Brother's Wife
1967 A Taste Of Her Flesh (as Louis Silverman)
... aka A Taste of Flesh
1967 Indecent Desires (as Louis Silverman)
1968 Too Much Too Often (as Louis Silverman)
... aka Too Much, Too Soon
1969 The Hot Mounth Of August (made in 1966 by Greek director Socrates Kapsaski, later bought by Wishman who added more sex scenes)
1969 Passion Fever (also Kapsaski)
1969 Love Toy (as Louis Silverman)
1970 The Amazing Transplant (as Louis Silverman)
1972 Keyholes Are For Peeping
1973 Deadly Weapons
1974 Double Agent 73
1975 The Immoral Three
... aka Hotter Than Hell
1975 Satan Was A Lady (as Kenyon Wintel)
1976 Come With Me, My Love
... aka Come With Me, My Ghost
... aka The Haunted Pussy (as Luigi Manicottale)
1978 Let Me Die A Woman
1983 A Night To Dismember
2001 Satan Was A Lady
2002 Dildo Heaven
2002 Each Time I Kill (not released yet)
Jarmick, Christopher J.
Juno, Andrea (Re/Search: Incredible Strange Films)
Weldon, Michael J. (The Psychotronic Videoguide)
www.somethingweird.com (this company sells most of the titles mentioned in this article)
"If you don't like the Supersuckers, then you don't like Rock'n'Roll!" Lemmy