Saturday, June 14, 2014

DVD DUMPSTER DIVING: The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio

When a young woman is killed in the woods near the Florence Nightingale Institute, detectives immediately begin their investigation at the weird old nursing establishment. Why wouldn't they? The place seemed full to bursting with suspicious characters. There was shifty-eyed Dr. Cabala, for instance, who looked too much like Christopher Lee to be totally innocent.  Or maybe it was Dr. Carter, who seems a bit too enthusiastic about splashing around in the guts of dissected frogs. (His fingers seem permanently stained from frog juice). Then there was Hettie Green, the head of the nurses who liked to welcome new trainees with a very sensual bedtime massage. Accusations could also be aimed at Moss, the drooling hunchback who wandered the landing in his role as handyman, often peeking in on the young nurses as they slept or showered. Then again, maybe it was the cloaked figure in the top hat who seemed to always be lurking in the shadows. There’s even a young nurse who is acting in a local stage production of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, a small girl whose delicate hands belie a facility with a sword. That’s only part of the cast of characters in The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio, an occasionally bloody and often pornographic mess from 1971, brought back to gory life by the kind fellows at Vinegar Syndrome, a group that thrives on reviving long buried grindhouse dreck.

The epic was directed by Eric Jeffrey Haims, who spent a brief time making porno movies in Hollywood under the auspices of his bare bones production company, Xerxes Productions Ltd. Haims gained a small amount of publicity when his 101 Acts of Love was shown at Hollywood’s Las Palmas Theater in ’71 before an invited group of medical professionals. The film was part of a benefit, with proceeds going to the LA Free Clinic. Haims’ piece was one of those bogus medical documentaries that were made as an excuse to show couples humping, yet J. Michael Kenyon of the Hollywood Reporter praised the thing: “…the beauty and intrinsic calm of physical delight are well highlighted by artful rendition…” I wonder if Kenyon saw The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio...

According to those who keep track of such things, The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio was given an extremely limited VHS release many years ago by Intervision Video, resulting in some outlandish bidding wars on Internet auction sites. There have been instances of it selling for over $1,500. (Who bid that much? It must have been J. Michael Kenyon.) Not to dampen the spirits of the lucky winners, but I can’t imagine what made this movie such a collectible title. True, there are some scenes of lesbianism, and a lot of nudity, and some of the ladies are very pretty. As for the Sappho stuff, the girls give it the old college try, which probably helped the movie get its X rating. I can even understand how some might point to this movie as a forerunner of the slasher flicks that would explode by the end of the decade. (In fact, The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio boasts a scene where a couple’s barnyard coitus is interrupted when the male is beheaded by someone wielding a nasty looking scythe, a distinctly Friday the 13th type of murder.) I'm also sure that many bidders were titillated by the idea of a horror movie cast with performers from the porn industry. Still, for $1,500 you can get real women to come to your house and do stuff to you. On the other hand, who knows what owning the actual VHS in its original box can do for a fellow’s social standing.

On the plus side, the movie is not bad looking. Cinematographer Arch Archambault was fresh off of shooting Count Yorga, Vampire, and he creates a nice, saucy atmosphere for the lesbian nurses and twitchy doctors to roam around in. There’s a scene in the hospital where the very beautiful Mady Maguire (as Dr. Leticia Boges) wanders in the dark with a candle; the scene is downright atmospheric, as if we’re suddenly watching a real movie made by competent filmmakers. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long. Maguire, incidentally, may be familiar to some for her occasional appearances on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, and for her starring role in Norma, a cheapo stinker where she played a nymphomaniac. The final role of her illustrious career came in 1980 with an appearance on the short-lived ‘Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.’

Other than the occasional inspired moment from Archambault, there’s not much to recommend. The acting is of community theater quality, and the script is like something a junior high school kid would write after watching a couple of old Hammer films. Aside from the sex scenes (which contain plenty of groping and heavy breathing), the actors move woodenly and unconvincingly through the creaky plot, decked out in what barely passes for 1870s period costuming, but making no attempt to hide what were obviously 1971 hairstyles, and distinctly modern, urban accents. (One of the nurses sounds like Fran Drescher, and the two detectives on the case, while dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, sound like extras from 'Kojak.')

Aficionados of vintage '70s porn might be interested to know that Rene Bond, who by some estimations appeared in anywhere from 80 to 300 porn productions, appears here in a key role. Bond earned some notoriety for being one of the first women in porn to undergo breast augmentation (allegedly paid for by porn producer Harry Novak). Bond's real life boyfriend and longtime porn partner Ric Lutze is also in the film. Bond and Lutze look like kids here, and even though there isn't an ounce of talent between them, I wonder if they thought The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio, which was promoted as a horror film, might lead to more roles in non-porn features. It didn't. By 1978, Bond would drift away from porn and embark on a somewhat successful career as a Las Vegas stripper. She died young, at 45, from cirrhosis of the liver. It's rather bittersweet to see her here, young and vibrant.

Another familiar face to lovers of old porn will be Nora Wieternik. She plays Amber Van Buren, a sexed-up nurse whose wardrobe consists of a single corset. She’s appropriately bawdy for a goofy film like this one, and the only member of the cast who seems to know what she’s doing. Wieternik would work often during the early 1970s, usually as a hooker or a hippie in such classics as Dr. Dildo’s Secret.  Some might recognize her as Queen Amora in the campy spoof Flesh Gordon (1974).  I also enjoyed the work of the brilliantly named Hump Hardy, the sinister looking chap who played Moss the hunchback. Hump had an almost superhuman ability to drool on cue, which is why I'm so surprised he never acted again. Surely there was a place for him somewhere in Hollywood.

But wait, there’s more! Vinegar Syndrome added a second Eric Haims feature to make this DVD a double event (it is part of their ongoing “Drive-In Collection”). The B side of the program is A Clockwork Blue (1972), a throwback to the nudie cuties of 12 years before. This time Haims takes some of the same cast members from The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio and dresses them as various historical figures, including Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and Betsy Ross. Viewers are taken through a sort of kinky trip through history, as if any of us really wanted to know about Betsy Ross’ sex life. The movie is as dumb as it sounds, but A Clockwork Blue was actually a bigger hit than The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio, having a longer shelf life on the porn theater circuit, sometimes as part of a bill with Deep Throat. Not surprisingly, Warner Bros. took Haims and company to court over the title sounding too much like A Clockwork Orange. Haims backed down, and changed the title of his film to A Tic Toc Blue.

For those keeping score, both titles are scanned in 2K & 4K from 35 MM internegative (Jekyll) and 35 MM camera negative (Clockwork).

No extras here, just a lot of bad acting from people who could screw on cue but couldn't recite simple dialog.

(A Blu ray edition has also been issued by Vinegar Syndrome.)

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