THE FLESH MERCHANT (DVD) Image

The exploitation genre has enjoyed a generous reappraisal; this straight-to-video title makes one wonder why. Jack Valentino (Neil Delama) is a “white slaver” (the film’s word choice, not mine) specializing in selling brainwashed bombshells as sex toys. His minions—led by a Ron Jeremy look-a-like—round up ladies at a local dive, stuff them into a van, and bring them before their master. Valentino strips his victims—ever the bean-counter, he calls them units—and then persuades them to willingly join his catalogue through torture and hypnotic suggestion, all the while spouting Zen slogans like “There are two roads to happiness here, you’ve chosen a hard one.” On the other side of the law is Detective Darleen Paxton (Margaret Romero) and her partner Detective Mack Williamson (Adam Tucker, note the Blaxsploitation references to “The Mack” and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson). The duo are on the verge of uncovering Valentino’s illicit service, but that’s the problem: they stay on the verge for far too long. It’s forgivable for an exploitation flick to look like it was shot in my friend’s garage. I would even go so far as to defend Fred Olen Ray’s “Alien Dead,” which features a newsroom that’s obviously shot in someone’s garage. But I can’t forgive an exploitation flick that doesn’t move. Instead the audience is trapped watching the helpless victims tortured in excruciating long take while the detectives seem light years from putting two and two together. Williamson may look like Shaft, and he can certainly strike a pose, but he acts more like Barney Fife. This Mack can’t seem to get a shot off before someone disarms him or the villain conveniently gets away. Meanwhile, this misogynistic torture chamber keeps churning out squeamish moments—it seems director Mike Tristano has refused to cut a single frame of wanton degradation. I’m a sucker for scream diva Michele (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) Bauer, so her delightful turn as a wide-eyed goddess of pain giving a pair of new “units” a tour of Valentino’s playboy mansion was a welcome release. Bauer, it seems, is the only actress who realizes she can have some fun with a completely undesirable role. But forget about fun: why can’t the other actresses at least portray humiliation and punishment in a convincing way? They shouldn’t even have to act! Tristano caps this unpleasant film with a garbled stairway firefight that leads to the most unsatisfactory ending since “Kill Bill Volume 2.”

“Damn,” Williamson says, as he watches Valentino get away. “Next time.”

Next time???? Are you kidding me???

I think I’ll pass.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon