Judge Bill Gibron kept waiting for the flying silver ball to flash onscreen and skewer someone's brain, but instead well-endowed women and men just kept taking off their clothes.
"Miss Mounds, could you step into my office? I wanna 'dictate' to you."
If you are of a specific age, there are certain things that bring back instant, incense-and-peppermint memories…
It's a low, humid, mid-July night. You and your buddies pile into some parent's moldy station wagon, a horribly uncool craft that still smells of wet dog, pine-tree-shaped air freshener, and an olfactory cacophony of infant emissions. As the aroma begins to nauseate and numb, you check the supplies: rolling papers in your wallet (check), stash of "smoke" stuffed down your pants in a man-enhancing manner (check), and a 12-pack of near beer boosted under a seat (hell yeah!). As Molly Hatchet's "Flirting with Disaster" Southern-boogies its way across the car stereo, you lay back and jam, thinking how life really couldn't get much better than this. Head tilted toward the sunroof, arm extended with a hand lazily draped across the steering wheel, it's time to just cruise.
A few miles later, you pull up to the local drive-in. Like a well-practiced fire drill, a couple of pals climb into the back and scurry under some blankets. There are giggles and gruff replies, but it really doesn't matter—the cranky old coot at the ticket window, her bifocals dangling from a silver chain, sees them anyway, and forces you to pay full admission price (damn, there goes some munchie money!). You find a place near the snack bar, get the speaker from the stand (or if you were lucky, tune the AM radio to the proper station), and as the ads for local merchants blaze across the huge outdoor screen, you put fire to the briar and lose yourself in a sweet smoky fog. By the time the feature presentation makes its appearance, you are waking and baking and groovin' on just being young, never once finding it odd that you are part of a group of undersexed guys, all without dates, sitting in a passion pit about to watch a softcore sex film together.
Like a rite of passage or a quaint coming of age, movies of the Fantasm ilk were the teenage boy equivalent of Truth or Dare, with the way you responded to the flopping flesh and bouncing butts a clear indication of your level of cool. If taken as something other than a tawdry testament to a certain time and place, Fantasm doesn't fare too well. But as an example of sexual expression at the beginning of its future broad-based bonanza, it's a blessed bong hit of a hoot. Along with its substantially less successful sequel, Fantasm Comes Again, you will definitely get a buzz from this film—it just may not be in the place you'd expect.
Facts of the Case
• "Beauty Parlor"
• "Card Game"
• "Wearing the Pants"
• "Nightmare Alley"
• "The Girls":
• "Fruit Salad"
• "Mother's Darling"
• "Black Venus"
• "After School"
• "Blood Orgy"
In between each vignette, Dr. Notafreud gives us a great deal of psychobabble bunkum about the physiological and psychological effects of imaginary humping. He also goofs around a lot.
Fantasm Comes Again (1977)
We are treated to the following flop-fests:
• "Silence, Please"
• "Double Feature"
• "Going Up?"
• "Straw Dogs"
• "The Good Old Gang at the Office"
• "The Kiss of Life"
• "Family Reunion"
• "True Confession"
Ah, to be so young and so innocent as in the days where something like Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again (no fair snickering at the sequel's title) were scandalous, not silly. Leave it to a nation that gave us Yahoo Serious, Men at Work and various Crocodiles (from Irwin's Hunter to Hogan's Dundee) to keep its peeps in the shadows about interpersonal splurging for more years than the equally squeamish U.S. of A. Back in the mid-'70s, when couples were commingling with the raincoat crowd at your local adult establishment, hoping to catch a glimpse of Linda Lovelace's tonsils or Marilyn Chambers's chest, the Aussies were arguing over whether koala tasted best baked or broiled (the answer, oddly enough, was broasted). It took Anthony Ginnane, a good'ay kind of guy with the guts to go for the gratuitous, to open the Down Under to the international joys of T and/or A.
With some eager-for-bucks backers and the notion to focus on the nookie, Ginnane hired up-and-coming director Richard Franklin (who would go on to helm Patrick, Road Games, and Psycho II) and flew his crew to LA, where the streets were swimming with skin stars. Picking the ripest, most respected hardcore actors in the business, Ginnane and Franklin crafted a crude script about fantasies, filmed 10 "scenes" in 11 days (a fantasy a day for five, a break, and a completion of the last quintet), and returned to the land of the angry wombat to shoot some supposedly "funny" stuff. Hiring actor John Bluthal, perhaps most famous as the blind beggar without a license for his "minkey" in the Return of the Pink Panther, they filled his mouth with carnal kraut crap, spliced the spelunking in, and before you knew it, the newfound flesh peddlers had a hit on their hands—a little hunk of hedonism called Fantasm. Suddenly, Queenslanders realized there was something different—and better—to love besides slow-moving kangaroos.
Fast-forward a year, and unexpectedly, Sydney is wallowing in smut. Filmmakers from around the world flooded the awakening market with all manner of faux fornication and the bawdy Bruces couldn't get enough. In order to satisfy his palpitating partners, Ginnane decided to make a sequel to his initial skin success. Figuring that what worked the first time ought to gird groins for a second go round, Tony tapped another Australian newcomer, Colin Eggleston, and returned to Tinsel Town to once again traipse through the tawdry. Funny thing, though: seems like another heaping helping of hindered hardcore was not what the sex doctor ordered. Fantasm Comes Again was a middling success—nowhere near the original's power or passion. Seeming to shrivel before it reached its full "authority," the sequel and its infamous forerunner dropped off the motion picture marquee, long forgotten by those oddly smelly drive-in denizens looking for a little "release" before the weekend was over and Monday morning homeroom came calling.
Now that Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again are quasi-remembered as almost cult classics, Synapse Films has found and resurrected these excursions into erotica. On one level, it's a blast from the past to see them now. But if you're looking for scintillating sex, or just plain comic common sense, you may be barking up the wrong bush.
Fantasm is the better of the two films, not only because it was first, but also because director Franklin seems to inherently understand the format. While the whole Dr. Notafreud nonsense is about as funny as a sugar wart on your inner thigh, this film really pours on the pulchritude. If you like your boobies broad and big, they don't get much more melt-in-your-mandible massive as those carried by Candy Samples, Uber-Uschi Digart, or Roxanne Brewer (who had the rare talent of being able to "jiggle" her assets sans hands). And ladies, if you like log that is as large as a small atoll in the Lesser Antilles, John Holmes shows up—human special effect in tow—to tease and terrify you. Indeed, if your propensities run to man ass and dong-bearing dudes, you will get your fair share of pickles to compliment all the bare beaver. Like the previous few lines of this paragraph, Fantasm—and specifically, the spiel of our dim Doc—is loaded with quadruple entendres, triple-D cups, double meanings, and one-eyed beef baloneys. For something crafted in the midst of the Me Decade, there is a lot of intense shark stuff presented, some of it even borderline XXX. One of Fantasm's chief selling points is its boundary-pushing properties, an element that excuses a great deal of the movie's middling amateurishness.
The best sequences in this decade of individual offshore drillings are ones with recognizable faces (as well as other more admired "parts") pasted across the screen. The aforementioned Mr. Holmes—along with his far-from-little friend—really steams up a scene with the Asian/Hispanic honey Maria Welton. After getting fully fruited (they use a bowl of nature's bounty to bolster their boinking), it's time for a quick dip in the pool—both swimming and gene. Their underwater wiggling is the most show-it-all scandalous portion of this entire DVD. The ever-voluptuous Uschi Digart gets a sexy, sensual girl-on-girl sequence that's heavy on atmosphere and arousal, but fairly limited when it comes to lesbian logistics. Still, any chance to see the incredible "curves" on Ms. D's sauerbraten-nourished form is cause for a little hand lotion celebration. Not every celebrated copulator makes good with the groping, though. Candy Samples—here using the rather dull, non-dynamic name of Mary Gavin—tries to teach her older son the joys of bathing with "mom." But between the kid's unnecessary 'Nam flashback rant (he really pops a mental cork here) and Candy/Mary's elephantine empanadas, this bit of skin turns surreal quickly. And the donkey-faced Serena is definitely an acquired taste. Though she is one of the few '70s ladies with matching cuffs and collar, and puts in a decent enough effort as she's getting "sympathy" from her devil-worshipping womb raiders, her red-headed braying hyena act gets old quickly.
But perhaps no single aspect of this film flusters the fan more than John Bluthal's Dr. Notafreud. Someone, on some far-off distant planet that has only had access to endless hours of the Hudson Brothers' syndicated comedy series Bonkers as a lesson in laughter, might find the droll, dribbling Deutschland dopiness pouring from Bluthal's puss a regular cabaret of chuckles. But most of what he says sounds like advice given out nightly by Dr. Sue Johanson on Talk Sex. How something this dated can now become salient professional guidance seems so outright odd that, as Bluthal makes his precognitive pontifications, a modern audience experiences some amazing moments of mental disconnect. Like looking through a crystal Ben Wa ball to see the future of friggin', and coming up with a few of the more outlandish ideas possible, Fantasm is like a repeat performance of The Second Sex for the raincoat crowd. So it is almost impossible to locate those ribald rib-ticklers made famous in the pages of Playboy and Hustler in the banalities of this film. Bluthal's acting is another issue altogether. There is a subtle slapstick approach to his performance, and he has a daffy Professor Irwin Corey by way of the "Berlin branch of Masters and Johnson" persona which kind of works. But as our lame linking verb to all the arousing action here, Dr. Notafreud is notafun.
Sadly, the sequel takes a further misstep into the unfunny by ditching the doc and dragging out that horrible advice column conceit. As characters, Harry and Libby are as indistinct as a gonzo porn actress. Neither exudes any amount of characterization except that the smutty old sod falls asleep a lot and his atrocious apprentice gets sloppy drunk. At least Dr. Notafreud gave us a focus and a foundation in some manner of satire (albeit a very lame lampoon of the whole sex education film ideal). But listening to two tired, uninterested people plow through the kind of far-out fantasies that made Bob Guccione's toupee tingle is incessantly dreary.
Ginnane and new director Eggleston also make the mistake of giving their cast reams of dialogue to compliment their carnal concepts. So instead of seeing a decent-looking gal and an unemployed handyman make ape noises for 12 to 14 minutes, we get inane exchanges about topics not directly related to sex (how stupid is that?). Must have been an old-school smut ideal, since the modern hardcore film knows how to incorporate frivolous cackling into the course of the canoodling. Instead of whizzing by on wisps of licentiousness, our X-and-1/2 action seems to droop and drag like Candy Samples's middle-aged can.
A second sip from the waters of wickedness was perhaps one too many for the makers of Fantasm Comes Again. The first film was a flawed but fun exploration of fantasy and flesh, made even more manageable by the inclusion of several famed adult film stars. But for some reason, what was randy and risible in the first film seems stiff and sour in the revamp.
Aside from Eggleston's erratic direction, which has none of the professional spark and cinematic eye of Franklin's film (how each man faired after helming their individual hog callers is a clear indication of who was the more talented titty twister), the lack of real life porn provocateurs is perhaps the single item that scuttles Fantasm Comes Again. In the first run through, there were more pros than cons passing out the pulchritude. This time around, the casting is more common man than coital. Sure, Uschi is back for another same-sex sampling (even if her gal-pal roll in the hay is all chatter and very little chumming), Serena has another near-religious experience, and Mary "Candy Samples" Gavin is grossing us out by flopping around with the aged Al Ward. But everyone else looks like extras from Room 222 crossed with a few "friends" of the financiers. You can instantly tell whom the real stump pumpers are—they can't act worth a woody. Those not akin to sin actually try to thespian out. This means that for every sequence like the baby oil and trampoline treat between gay porn stud Rick Cassidy and a smooth-fronted human skeleton (which adds a near-pedophilic proportion to this sequence that makes it more creepy than craven), we get the uninteresting elevator excrement that passes for pretty porn. Even Johnny Wadd Holmes does a runner as he walks off the "Kiss of Life" sequence before it even starts, leaving William Mangold to try and tame three out-of-work Moby Grape groupies.
Yes, people who palpitate whenever Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith takes the screen will enjoy her scene here (though why they'd want to watch their favored femme get raped by some dolt is another story), and certainly some of the other "actresses" are easy on the eyes. But looks cannot make up for a lack of lewdness, and when you can see a lady "cheating" as she supposedly performs a little private puffing, what's the point of suspending your sexual disbelief?
Overall, this is a far more domesticated take on the tawdry than Fantasm. Instead of pushing the boundaries explored in that film, Eggleston and his cast merely attempt to recreate, and then embellish, what came before—with substantially less success. While it would be easy—and fun—to condemn both the stupid "Dear Collette" concept and the pedestrian approach utilized to sell the sex, it is clear that if Fantasm Comes Again suffers from any manner of cinematic malfunction, it's on a "been there, done that" kind of level. Even after a year that saw Fantasm break down the barriers of Aussie censorship, making way for the world's wealth of bodkin bonanzas, their own second serving of sin was horribly hackneyed. Indeed, neither film has aged all that well. As time capsules for the fashion, the philosophy, and the flippy-floppy of a bygone era, Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again are harmless, horny fun. But if you expect either buff brocade to somehow transcend its peek-a-boo propensities and offer up untold moments of mons-based merriment, then you should probably be looking to a late night Skinemax flick for your pounding of flesh. Fantasm is the far better film. Fantasm Comes Again isn't even worth sloppy seconds.
From a technical standpoint, Synapse Films has done a fine job with these long-lost cult classics. Though it is grainy, dated, and feeling very old-fashioned, Fantasm looks surprisingly good for a film made nearly 30 years ago. Both movies were shot in 16mm, with the print later blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution—which perhaps explains the telltale fog of tiny gray flecks. The transfers show very few age defects or negative damage, and are being presented for the first time completely uncut (most territories excised some footage to pass individual ratings boards). The 1.66:1 transfers are far from pristine—colors are slightly faded and there is a washed-out look to the soft focus facets (Eggleston's desire to shoot everything through a non-aphrodisiacal veiling makes Fantasm Comes Again really chafing)—but overall, these anamorphic widescreen images are professional and pleasant.
There is not much to be said for the audio portion of the DVDs. The Dolby Digital Mono is relatively hiss-free and clear. It is never hopelessly distorted or tinny, and allows us to easily understand Notafreud's foolishness, the fantasy sequence voiceovers, the Collettes' various crude answers, and all that unnecessary character dialogue. Sonically, the musical score for Fantasm is pitch-perfect mid-'70s sex film fun, with lots of over-orchestrated embellishment and wa-wa pedal perversion. Fantasm Comes Again's auditory support is a little too Top 40-heavy to match up with the sexual stumbling, but it does have a cheesy charm all its own. Though the single channel mixes don't give it the randy respect it truly deserves, the overall aural package presented by Synapse is excellent.
In the bonus arena, both discs offer interesting supplements to their pelt parades. There are three major bonus features on Fantasm, and two of them are mandatory viewing. First up, producer Anthony Ginnane enlivens the proceedings with a thoroughly absorbing, incredibly informative DVD commentary. Apologizing for Richard Franklin (who could not participate), Ginnane is a veritable encyclopedia about the intricate details of this production. He informs us that the movie was banned in the Australian territorial "state" of Queensland (Ginnane says it still hasn't played there in its entirety, calling this portion of his homeland the "Deep North" in deference to the US equivalent of the Deep South) and jokes that Fantasm is unbelievably popular in Canada (go figure). He has nothing but praise for the porn professionals involved (all of whom were paid less than usual since none of their "typical" talents were required) and is especially proud that John Holmes and Mary "Candy Samples" Gavin were on hand to highlight the extremes of both male and female physicality. Though he tends to drift off toward the end (he is a real magpie at the beginning), Ginnane's narrative is still a very astute lesson in movie production, and the problems and pitfalls inherent therein. It is a perfect compliment to this film.
Equally charming is the "Fantasm Penetrated" featurette, a 20-minute look at the making of both films (sadly, the DVD of Fantasm Comes Again has no such "Making-Of"). Franklin does make an appearance here—kind of—as he is featured in "witness protection program" shadows to discuss his participation. It is odd that he goes for the darkened profile approach, since he seems very happy and proud of the movie he made. Both men cover areas Ginnane discussed in his commentary, but it's nice to hear the anecdotes and reminiscences again. Along with a tantalizing trailer from the time, and a wonderfully energetic insert essay by Chris Poggiali, this is a nice little DVD presentation that fans of the film will really appreciate.
The only major bonus feature on the Fantasm Comes Again DVD is another commentary track by producer Anthony Ginnane, and it too is a piquant ride through independent filmmaking circa 1976. Explaining that this movie was all about money (the backers saw a lot of dosh with the first film), Ginnane complains quite frequently that he finds this sequel a very poor follow-up to the original. While he really takes filmmaker Eggleston to task for some of the directorial dilemmas (some scenes go on far too long for his tastes), he also tends to chalk up the lack of success to the new, non-German-professor premise and a lack of expert porn performance (apparently unable to hire all the regulars they wanted, Fantasm Comes Again had to rely on a few feeble amateurs). A lot less animated this time around than he is for Fantasm (he starts this narrative in a low-key mode and moves downward), Ginnane jokes about how the Tall Man macabre of 1979's Phantasm is occasionally confused with his non-horror hump-a-thon (makes for some interesting screener requests, or so he says). There is also another essay by Chris Poggiali, along with the original trailer for the film, to round out this DVD display.
In many ways, visiting films like Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again is a lot like a trip to the natural history museum. But instead of seeing dinosaurs and sarcophagi or learning about pre-Aztec sacrificial brain surgery, you get a very frank—yet somewhat flimsy—glimpse of a few fossilized birds and a dozen or so lapidified bees. Frankly, in these days of easily accessible porn and more than ample tits and ass on our basic cable stations, there is really no need or place for this stand-in sharking. Kitschy and campy can only take you so far, and in the realm of intercourse entertainment, they can be downright lethal.
Thankfully, both of these films avoid any intentional ostentation, with only time tripping the trite fantastic. For individuals wishing to indulge in such cacoötheses of the crotch, Fantasm is the retro-ride to take. Though Dr. Notafreud may seem like a drip, he's a whole Hades of a lot better than the moth-eaten man dropping dumb bon mots for his hard-up readership. Besides the plook portions are far more fun in the first go-around.
Erotica gets blamed for far too many things: the besmirching of women, the hyperactivity in teen males, and the rising cost of DSL service. If Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again are culpable of any crime, it is for making sex seem safe, pretty, and domesticated. And back in the 1970s, as you were killing brain cells and stuffing snack cakes in your finely toasted pie hole, the suppliers of the seditious actually believed this about body rocking. The world has grown up and out since Anthony Ginnane, Richard Franklin, and Colin Eggleston fashioned their faux-farce glimpses of the gimcrack. In our current reprobate period of time, the drive-in is dead. Films like Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again are probably what killed it.
Fantasm is found not guilty of gratuitous goofiness and is free to go. However, its co-conspirator before the court, Fantasm Comes Again, is guilty of gutless pandering in the third degree, and is sentenced to six months of soap dropping in the Johnson and Jimmy Wing of the Peckerwood Penitentiary for Pointless Sexual Insinuations. Court adjourned.
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