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Spaced Out / Sex Clinic (DVD)

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Genre: Comedy / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Norman J. Warren / DVD released 2008-09-22 at Odeon Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Dolby, PAL

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      28.01.2010 09:11
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      A double bill of two obscure British softcore sex films

      This Odeon 'Best of British' DVD currently costs £9 on amazon.

      British sex comedies of the 70s have a pretty bad reputation, which in the majority of cases is richly deserved. This DVD features two of them. (The 'Best of British' line of DVDs is possibly an ironic name, as they release cheap and cheerful genre films that haven't really weathered the test of time. They're presumably just releasing whatever they can get their hands on, and good luck to them.)

      The reason I bought this was the first film, Spaced Out (1979), which is directed by Norman J Warren. He made some endearingly odd British horror films at about the same time. (Prey, in which an alien tangles with vegetarian lesbians, is incredible!) I wasn't expecting much, so in a sense I wasn't disappointed, but I'd hoped for at least a little of the strangeness that makes his best horror films so much fun. Unfortunately, this is stolidly conventional.

      A space ship full of beautiful women crashes on earth. (Well, three beautiful women. There are only seven people in this cheap, cheap little film, plus two voiceover artistes). Going to investigate are various sexually frustrated men - a chap whose hot fiancée won't put out, a macho oaf reduced to spying on people in the park, and a spoddy virgin, first seen reading porn and polluting himself on a park bench. The three men and the hot fiancée are captured by the aliens, who zoom off into space. Wouldn't you know it, they don't have men on their planet, and soon they're learning about the delights of this human thing called kissing, followed soon after by this human thing called softcore porn humping.

      A bizarre attempt to cash in on Star Wars, this film is close to worthless. The sets are unbelievably cheap, the script an inane parade of cretinous one-liners, the special effects dire, and the film as a whole lifeless and ultimately irritating. The women are all pretty, but not noticeably good at acting (the one playing the ship's engineer is the worst - she was obviously cast for her looks, as she over-emphasises pretty much everything she says, like a 70's newsreader. She's now a sex therapist in Hollywood, apparently). The cast won't be familiar to you unless you're lucky enough to have seen Prey, as two of them are also in that.

      The feel of this is more Hitchhiker's or Dark Star, with the moody computer and depressed psychiatrist jukebox providing much of the notional humour. The only unusual thing is the ending, which is oddly throwaway and out of keeping with the rest of the film. A scene in which a man is (apparently) sodomised by a crazy outer-space dildo chair is kind of funny, I guess. It does have a vaguely fun disco vibe, especially in the alien's costumes. The music is discoed up to the max, and what little charm the film has is entirely down to this. If you don't find the disco era funny there is no reason to watch this, nudity aside.

      Sex Clinic (1971) is a very different proposition, and is in no way a suitable double bill with Spaced Out. Bitch queen Julie runs an exclusive massage parlour. Seducing her clients and then blackmailing them, she casually ruins lives for financial gain. But when she falls in love with dishy Lee, she reforms. But is everything as it seems?

      The DVD cover leads one to expect a double-bill of sex comedies, but this film is bleak! It was co-written by Hazel Adair, who co-created Crossroads, and isn't meant to be funny at all. Although there's plenty of nudity to keep the less discerning punters happy, it's ultimately a rather depressing film with a particularly cruel ending (which you'll see coming a mile off, but that doesn't really diminish its impact).

      It's well acted right across the board, which is a surprise in something like this. Julie is played by Georgina Ward, who doesn't seem to have made many other films, but is absolutely stunning. She's a heartless cow but there's a likeable streak to her (there'd have to be really, since the film is based around her) and a hint of vulnerability. (Early on we learn she was abused by her step-father. This film ventures into territory that other 70s British sex romps steer clear of.) The rest of the cast includes several familiar TV faces, including Windsor Davies in a straight role as a man suffering from Parkinson's disease. The real standout is Carmen Silvera (later Edith in Allo Allo). Playing a middle-aged lesbian client who has been particularly badly treated by Julie, she gives an excellent performance as her desperation and loneliness start to overwhelm her. (And yes, she does go topless.)

      Taking in prison, suicide, blackmail and greed, this is very obviously not your average sex flick. I don't want to give the impression that it's some kind of lost classic, and the need to fill the screen with alluring lady flesh every few minutes gets in the way of the story. But this is much better than I expected and by far the better of the films in this set. It shows a certain amount of bravery in trying to show the unpleasant consequences of its main character's amoral lifestyle, being in effect a straight dramatic version of Come Play With Me. The fact that it's so obscure shows how well it must have gone down with the dirty mac brigade.

      The picture quality on both films is fine, and there's a leaflet giving a bit of background on them. One of these films is exactly as I expected it to be; the other is very different. As ever, I'm pleased that films like these are getting released, but I appreciate that not too many people are going to want to see them.

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