DVD Review: “ Psychotronica Collector’s Set”
Released By: VCI Entertainment
Release Date: February 5, 2008
Number of Discs: 3
Approximate Running Time: 480 Minutes
Special Features: Audio Commentaries, Grindhouse Trailer-O-Thon
Suggested Price: $49.99
The Psychotronica Collector’s Set from VCI bundles three double feature DVDs together that were also released individually. The six films in the collection range from sexploitation to horror to nudie cuties and even a musical of sorts!
The Fanboy Factor:
Just when you think the DVD market has been mined out, along comes a company like VCI to sink a brand new shaft into pay dirt! The Psychotronica Collector’s Set functions well as a collection but each DVD deserves its own assessment.
Volume One: Delinquent Schoolgirls / Dream No Evil
The series starts out on a very strong note with the almost unclassifiable Delinquent Schoolgirls, a sort of action / sexploitation / comedy rape film! Three inmates from an asylum (workaholic actor Michael Pataki just a year away from a recurring role on Happy Days, exploitation favorite Bob Minor, and Airplane’s own “Johnny”, Stephen Stucker) escape and terrorize the overdeveloped students and faculty of an isolated girl’s reform school. Just watching this mismatched group (Minor is a satyrist, Pataki is a schizophrenic comedian, and Stucker’s character is a gay fashion designer named Bruce) is enough to carry the film but the producers still manage to trot out every sexploitation cliché’ they can think of and then invent a few new ones! This film is the hands down highlight of the collection.
After setting the bar so high with the premier entry, the second film in the series quickly drags the set downward. As incomprehensible as anything this side of an Al Adamson movie, Dream No Evil lacks even the absurd charm that could keep that director’s fans entertained. A young orphaned girl with a father complex finds it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between her fantasies and reality. As her imaginary world becomes more elaborate, including the return of her long absent father, things turn deadly in her attempts to shut reality out. According to the pre-credits information on the disc, the original version of this film was rated R before it was re-cut, prior to release, to secure a PG rating. It looks like the editors must have removed everything even remotely interesting because the footage that is left offers few exploitation elements to recommend it. Even Michael Pataki popping in as a road show preacher can’t save this bomb but it does provide a nice theme for this volume.
The extras on this DVD include a funny audio commentary by Bob Minor on Delinquent Schoolgirls and a Trailer-O-Thon featuring previews for other titles in the series and related films.
Volume Two: Mondo Keyhole / The Raw Ones
Mondo Keyhole, despite the title, is not a hodge-podge documentary along the lines of Mondo Cain. Instead we have a gritty tale of the inside operations of a mail order smut business and its effects on the man who runs it. Howard Thorne is a pretty boring guy outside of his outrageous job as the head of an adult media production and distribution firm. He has become so jaded by sex though that he can apparently only satisfy himself by raping the women he meets in the course of doing business. The question is, are these attacks real or just the fantasies of a pornography fueled mind? The stark black and white photography and vintage adult material on display make this reasonably fun to watch but you may feel like you need a shower afterwards!
In the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, nudist camp films became popular ways of legally portraying copious nudity on theater screens since the courts had ruled that they were accurately portraying an alternate lifestyle. By the time the pseudo-documentary The Raw Ones came along in 1965, the genre was already starting to lose steam but this entry upped the ante by including both male and female full frontal nudity in living color! Yes, this film is what exploitation pioneer David F. Friedman would call a true “pickles and beaver” production! Aside from the attractive photography and the plethora of flesh on display, the film plays like a feature edited together from someone’s home movies where everyone just happens to be naked! We get the expected volleyball game along with other outdoor activities as our proud participant’s parade their privates but the novelty wears off about ten minutes in to the 75 minute running time.
Jack Hill (best known for the cult classic Spider Baby) provides a commentary track regarding his experiences directing Mondo Keyhole and appears on camera (looking duly embarrassed) in an introduction to The Raw Ones. The extras are rounded out with another batch of seedy trailers.
Volume Three: Mermaids of Tiburon / Yambo – Cry of the Bewitched
The final volume in the three DVD set opens with what is probably the most recognizable title in the lot. Mermaids of Tiburon exists in at least three different versions thanks to relentless re-editing by director John Lamb. The original version of this film tells the story of a scuba diving scientist working for Marinel and of California (which provides some great stock footage) who becomes involved in a venture to harvest rare pearls off the coast of a remote Mexican island. Once the dive begins, our hero discovers this is also the home of a band of mythical half fish, half woman mermaids. His study of these creatures is cut short by villain Timothy Carey and his stereotypical Mexican comedy relief henchman who want the pearls for themselves. A few years after the initial release, director Lamb shot some new footage featuring topless swimmers, edited it in during most of the reaction shots and retitled the film Aqua Sex! The original mermaid costumes are impressive for a low budget feature but the topless chicks had to settle for some kind of seaweed bikini bottoms and occasionally swim fins!
Yambo – Cry of the Bewitched is an obscure Mexican production that starts off very promisingly. A witch the local field workers thought they had killed years earlier turns up alive and plotting revenge with the help of her beautiful granddaughter, the titular Yambo. The revenge motive gets pushed to the background rather quickly though and what we are left with is essentially a sordid romance tale with lots of singing and dancing! While the color photography in the film looks great and the exteriors are appealing, viewers will quickly find their fingers stuck on the fast forward button for the majority of the running time.
Extras on this volume are limited to the original (clothed) edit of Mermaids, certainly the superior version, and the requisite exploitation trailers. One of these previews is for a bizarre item listed as Up Your Ladder on the menu and Up Yours on the trailer itself, featuring actor Chuck McCain eating dog food! The trailer is just one drawn out scene and if this was intended to represent a highlight of this film, audiences must have stayed away in droves!
The transfers used for these DVDs are excellent, especially considering how you would expect films of this caliber to look after all these years. The color on Mermaids and Yambo is exceptional and underscores the exterior heavy productions. While the extras presented here may not seem excessive, considering what VCI had to work with, it is amazing that they included as much as they did. The DVD menus also deserve a mention for their creative use of psychedelic wipes and recycled sound bites of lurid voiceovers from several of the features.
The Bottom Line:
VCI has provided a very impressive product with this collection but the entertainment value of the films varies greatly. The box set is recommended only for sexploitation film collectors but the individual volumes will appeal to more casual fanboys. For anyone interested in sampling the series, I would recommend the first volume over the other two. If VCI can maintain these quality standards on future entries and beef up the title selection, this should be a very exciting series.