Judge Christopher Kulik thinks of himself as a joyful novelty.
The ultimate in sexual fulfillment!
"Friends let us, for the moment, drop all pretenses. Let's be frank about one of the 20th century's most critical problems. Has the most important part of your life become just a matter of course? Well, today's progress in science and technology has the answer! This new product, the XX20 Ultra-Vibrator is one of the many revolutionary products being engineered in our Joyful laboratory!"—Joyful Novelties spokesman
Facts of the Case
The Pittsburgh-based sex toy company Joyful Novelties, Inc. has exploded into an empire (surely a wet dream in this economy). Among the wide variety of products to help improve any couple or individual's static sex life is everything from dildos, amorous fembots, to machines creating mental orgasms. However, the film is focused on two product testers who are each combating personal crises. Marcello Fettuccini (co-screenwriter and director Rudy Ricci) has lost any and all ability to generate an erection. This brings about hazing by his co-workers, who all describe his tally-whacker as nothing more than a "wet noodle." Then there is Cherry Jankowski (Sharon Joy Miller), a pretty girl who is sexually frustrated at her partner's unwillingness to make love. Thus, both of these lost souls find comfort in each other's company and eventually think they might be able to solve each other's dilemma.
This 1976 eroticomedy is advertised as being from the folks who brought you Night of the Living Dead, but George A. Romero is nowhere to found here. Instead, we have Ricci, John Russo, and Russell Streiner who all had various cast and crew positions in the landmark zombie flick. In the mid '70s, while all three were struggling to make ends meet (having only built small success in commercials and industrial films), they managed to finance New American Cinema. Its first creation would be The Booby Hatch.
Essentially, this is a semi-spoof of '70s sexual attitudes including free love fornication and fetishist desires. As you would expect, there is a generous amount of T&Amp;A and bizarre ingredients such as Cherry's husband, a transvestite with a serious Mickey Mouse fixation. However, there's hardly any sex, making one wonder what audience the filmmakers had in mind. The Booby Hatch is unsuccessful as a softcore or grindhouse feature, but perhaps that's not entirely a bad thing.
As insane as it may sound, The Booby Hatch begins as a likably silly comedy (complete with lots of double entendres), but eventually romanticizes itself into a tender love story! In that sense, this is one of the most original T&A flicks I've ever seen. It actually becomes a joyful oddity which offers plenty of laughs and surprisingly appealing lead characters. Some of the product-testing scenes and their advertisements are hysterical, particularly the mental orgasms which are tested in front of an audience of mild-mannered journalists and guests. That scene alone had an early Woody Allen vibe to it, making one think of the visuals in his 1972 classic Sleeper (remember the Orgazmatron?).
One thing that works in the film's favor is it rarely ever becomes mean or squeamish, despite scenes involving molestation and implied rape. There's a perverted psychiatrist who feels Cherry up during their session, saying it's all "part of the treatment." There's also a sex-obsessed neighbor who takes advantage of Cherry's frustration and even a masked rapist. In my eye, the film was comically attacking men who take advantage of women just because they are comfortable with their body and wearing "revealing" clothing. To them, women are "asking" for it, which is surely not the case. After all, many of these men are depicted as sexually obsessed pigs and Cherry is a lot smarter than them. And the creeps are all satisfyingly put in their place by the end of the movie.
There are also several scenes of Marcello brooding over his impotence and contemplating suicide, which some may find weird and out-of-place. I actually looked at all these scenes as contributing immensely to the film's spoofy nature. Naturally, Marcello's little problem opens up the door to some great one-liners, including Cherry telling him to not be "so hard on himself" and saying "a cure should be coming in the near future."
Unknown Miller would make her only film appearance here as Cherry. While she doesn't exactly raise eyebrows, she's quite cute and it's refreshing to not see her degenerate into a brainless broad. Ricci's melancholy face and approach suits the role of Marcello perfectly. Yet, the one who steals the show is David Edge (best known as Flyboy in the original Dawn of the Dead) as Marcello's wacked-out brother Angelo. Borrowing some of Bogie's verbal tics, Angelo is a detective in his own mind. His subplot makes no sense and doesn't really fit in the story, but it's very funny all the same. Keep a sharp eye out also for many familiar faces from the original Night Of The Living Dead, as they pop up all over the place.
Synapse's DVD of The Booby Hatch is one of their best offerings yet. The 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer is far from pristine, as this was a shoestring production. However, the colors are reasonably bright and bold. The image is much cleaner than I expected, resulting in a nice restoration. The DD 2.0 Mono track is also quite acceptable, with dialogue easily heard, although the exclusion of subtitles is somewhat disappointing. No matter, because it's in the extras where the disc really shines. First up, we have a richly entertaining audio commentary from Ricci, Russo, and Streiner. All look back in affection at the making of the film and each provides many interesting stories, especially when it came to the casting process. A featurette is devoted entirely to Emge, which is equally as fun. Then we have a rough cut/alternate version known as The Liberation of Cherry Jankowski. It's a slight step below the final edit, as it eliminates some of the gags involving Joyful's advertising and looks twice as dirty visually. Still, it's certainly worth a look, running about four minutes less. Finally, we have trailers for both cuts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yes, I do declare The Booby Hatch a pretty good T&A comedy, as it certainly sports a few more inches than the norm. However, it also has its fair share of slow spots and limp gags, suggesting it could have benefited from a rewrite or two. Plus, I have to say the depiction of Cherry's transvestite husband may offend some as it feels too contrived and stereotypical, coming off as the one sour note in an otherwise gleeful guilty pleasure.
While everything here may sound sleazy and perverted, it's also fun and original. A weirdly engaging romp without unnecessary silicone or bodily fluids, The Booby Hatch has more competence than you might expect. For those who are even mildly interested, I say give it a chance.
Not guilty, with Synapse acquitted for a fine DVD presentation.
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