Code Red // 1966 // 147 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // November 19th, 2009
"The People in Julie's World Who Pursue Their Own Particular
-- Oddly unfinished tagline for The Velvet Trap
"No Longer Teenagers...Not Yet Women!"
-- Relatively well-put-together tagline for Hot Nights on the Campus
All the truckers love cutie roadhouse waitress Julie (Jamie Karson). Sure, there's the doughy face and Kabuki theater eyebrows, but she's always got a cup of hot joe and quick-witted quip at the ready. Better than that, she's stacked like the breakfast special at a greasy spoon, and her uniform gets translucent when the jukebox lights shine on it. Her voluptuous presence proves too much for short-order cook Joe, who drunkenly assaults her, sending her into the arms of smarmy girlie photographer Brad, who marries her and then tricks her into a few nudie-cutie snapshots. Brad is such a cad that he dumps her after the wedding night, leaving our buxom honey trapped in Vegas, alone and at the mercy of a band of colorful, predatory pimps. Will Julie's rockin' bod cause her to hit rock bottom, or can she escape The Velvet Trap?
Meanwhile, a zaftig yet naïve small town girl (Gigi Darlene, Bad Girls Go to Hell) goes to college in sinful New York City. She gets the housing deal of a lifetime: an apartment with a whole passel of nubile and fleshy co-eds who enjoy giving ennui-heavy parties that invariably denigrate into ennui-heavy orgies. Rather than bleed the herd, our frosh gal embarks on a couple of her own affairs, one with hardworking jock Stan, the other with John, a professor and "old family friend." After a few weeks of unbridled and evenly divided free loving, with a quick time out for a lingerie photo shoot, our girl gets the dry heaves, which for a carnally knowledgeable cutie can mean but one thing: she's preggers -- and she doesn't know whose bun is in her oven! It's a high price to pay for those Hot Nights on the Campus.
Even by exploitation standards, The Velvet Trap is a pretty horrifying experience. Poor Julie is just an ordinary counter girl whose heroic endowments apparently make her so irresistible that taking advantage of her is just another roadside attraction. Writer/director Ken Kennedy gives us 75 minutes of one degradation after the next. Throw in a few manacles and a couple of monks, and this could be a Marquis de Sade adaptation.
As the desirable but doomed Julie, Jamie Karson is neither a femme fatale nor a fresh-faced young innocent. She's actually kind of plain-faced and a tad hard-bitten, closer to Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore than Madame Butterfly. It's bewildering to see how much attention is lavished on getting Julie to take her clothes off. One guy actually marries her just so he can snap some "cheesecake" shots, and the pimps go to ridiculous lengths to get her to their bordello. The payoff? A few quick shots of a partially nude Karson, including a fairly astonishing sequence in a shower. Kennedy's mix of diesel-fueled melodrama and roughie sensibility makes for some unintentional and awkward laughs, but The Velvet Trap -- lurid double entendre title and all -- is a foul but fun exploitation ride.
Compared to the ill-fated Julie, Gigi Darlene's college girl-in-the-big-city actually has it pretty good. Certainly, her life is a lot less complicated, and so is her film. Like Doris Wishman and Nick Millard, Director Tony Orlando -- not to be confused with the still-touring singer -- shot his film without sync sound and used a voice-over narration. Thus, we have our college girl telling the story of her Hot Nights on the Campus, and since there's not much of a story to tell, making frequent stops so we can voyeur some tepid shenanigans, like some half-naked college kids building a human pyramid during an orgy or our girl coyly stripping down for a photo shoot.
Strangely, the whole business of wantonly depraved young hotties out for kicks is jettisoned pretty early on in favor of our heroine's saga of juggling two guys. The plot takes a more interesting -- and sordid -- turn near the end, when little miss learns she's knocked up. It's actually worth sitting through the first hour of light bumping and grinding and occasional toplessness to see a brimstone-laced visit to a "back alley" abortionist -- a remarkable scene that could stand as on its own as a twisted silent short -- and Darlene's efforts to enact a suicide attempt. In a moment that tells us everything we need to know about the resourcefulness of low-budget auteurs, some out-of-focus shots of Washington Square Park that would have been otherwise rendered useless are inserted here, the blurriness explained as a representation of our girl's "fuzzy" mind. Some cool location footage of New York City in the '60s, plus one of the final performances by cult/exploitation favorite Darlene -- before she dropped out of sight in 1967 -- help make this a recommend.
Even though it's already been released commercially, Code Red sent us a screener of this double feature. The image and sound are fine, with Hot Nights on the Campus looking a bit rougher than The Velvet Trap. While it's packaged under the name "Saturn Drive-In," the menu screen tells us that this is actually "Septic Cinema," and features a goofy graphic of a man's head in a toilet along with flushing sounds. Frankly, it's a bit annoying and too cheesy even for these low-rent films.
Unfortunately, this dumb graphic is kind of a metaphor for how Code Red treated this set. I've reviewed other Code Red releases, and what's struck me is how much work has gone into putting together a decent package for such obscure films as The Strangeness and The Weekend Murders. Rather than spitting out bare bones releases, these films -- and others from Code Red -- have gotten good transfers and a nice slate of extras. Not so the Saturn Drive-in pair. Yes, the transfers are fine, but where are the supplements? No trailers, poster gallery, or short films like we've gotten on Something Weird's exploitation releases, and no effort to replicate the drive-in/grindhouse experience -- a lame and overworked gimmick, to be sure, but it's something.
What's worse is a missed opportunity: Hot Nights on the Campus features work from C. Davis Smith, who was very active in the '60s exploitation scene and has provided some great DVD commentaries, including one for Retro-Seduction's release of The Sexploiters a couple of years ago. Had we gotten a Smith commentary here, maybe a couple of trailers, and some liner notes, this could have been a great disc. Instead, we get a couple of entertainingly bizarre movies and some annoyingly self-conscious graphics. It's not terrible, just not what it could be.
The girls have suffered enough here; I'm finding the films not guilty, at least in their own way. Code Red is being let off with a warning. Here's hoping the cred they earned from their previous releases translates into a better package the next time they tackle vintage exploitation.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Velvet Trap
* IMDb: Hot Nights on the Campus