THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE (DVD) Image

Occasionally a film title so extreme comes along that you can’t help but check it out. Troma’s “Blood Sucking Freaks” (1976) may scare away the peevish, but makes everyone else at least a little curious. 1960’s sexploitation auteur Michael Findlay took this approach when he tagged his black-and-white sleaze-fest “The Ultimate Degenerate” (1969). While NYC patrons of Findlay’s (here directing as “Julian Marsh”) films were far from demanding (for anything beyond skin and quick sensationalism, anyway), you have to respect the director’s gusto for “Degenerate,” which has become an intriguing cinematic artifact and one hell of a camp treasure. This film, now described as a “roughie” pic, takes us to a time when strippers danced as if they were on “American Bandstand” and hardcore was tamer but offered a lot more than the, ahem, usual benefits.

The film opens with an educational “Reefer Madness/Tell Your Children” tone about the pitfalls of debauchery, but soon slips into a flashback of how all this fun can happen. A young lady, Maria (Uta Erickson), drops her clothes to put on a show for an elderly peeping tom, before her extremely buxom roommate enters and scolds her, and who we learn right after doubles as her plaything. (And all this before the opening credits.) Soon Maria finds Manhattan just too tame as she answers an ad for what seems to be a high-paying job in the sex industry. But little does she know that she’s headed for the ultimate of degenerates: Findlay (acting as “Robert West”) as Spencer, a psycho who injects women with an intense aphrodisiac when they arrive at his New England home for a non-stop orgy. While intrigued at first, Maria soon learns of the perversions awaiting her through a plot in which logic slips more and more for a heavy dose of absurdity.

This film is structured as outright porn, keeping skin and sex (mostly lesbian, and ranging from bizarre to downright impossible) onscreen nonstop. However, Findlay’s campy scenarios read like Russ Meyer on a not-so-lucid day. There’s plenty of shots in which the camera moves with a mind of its own, dubbing more horrendous than the worst from foreign translations, and even a nod to the nightmare sequence in “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), released a year earlier. This film entertains the most in the first 15 minutes or so, as you get enough flavor of this one-of-a-kind affair, but camp fanatics and the intellectually curious will find plenty in the remaining running time (and especially in the bizarre climax).

This disc also includes “The Lusting Hours” (1967), a mock educational scare flick on the sex industry in the vein of Ed Wood’s “Glen or Glenda” (1953), and “In Hot Blood” (1968), a rather humdrum expose on a woman’s decent into the evil within the modeling industry. While the three films share a unique relationship – all play upon the staginess of the sex acts they depict – “The Ultimate Degenerate” stands as the best and is more than worth a viewing for its camp value. And if you can’t afford 72 minutes for this kind of thing, Something Weird Video included a trailer of scenes from their exploitation classics that’s an essential for cultural literacy.

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