Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Sweet Glow of Electric Sex

When I was living in Shalimar Florida in the early 1970s, there was a drive-in just a couple of miles from our house.

I never went. Even after I got my driver’s license, I didn’t have a car and as I didn’t date in high school (waaay too shy) I couldn’t very well go to a drive-in to make out. And with a couple of perfectly good cinemas around, driving there by myself instead of going to a regular theater just seemed silly. But man, those drive-in ads! Like many drive-ins, this one catered to people looking for low-budget fun rather than the new Ingmar Bergman film; in the 1970s that meant lots of films emphasizing S-E-X as a selling point. Not that films haven’t always done that, but the ads for the drive-in movies took it a lot further. Though as you can guess, the movies frequently didn’t live up to the billing, as I learned when, years later, I watched the trio covered here.

Quadroon (1971) certainly had my tween attention: Passion slaves, OMG! Not to mention a line in the TV ads to the effect that “By the time I’m through, he’ll be too terrified for me — and too exhausted for his wife!” 

When I finally watched the film it turned out to be surprisingly serious. The protagonist is an educated New Englander who arrives in New Orleans and winds up teaching quadroon women aspiring to become mistresses. Their mixed-race heritage makes it impossible to achieve anything better, but with education they can develop enough class to attract a wealthy man. The teacher, of course, falls hard for one of his students, but she’s already reserved for a member of the local aristocracy and he ain’t letting go easily.

While Quadroon aspires to be a sort-of serious racial drama, it’s undone by a stiff, talentless cast. And the ending’s a downer: the woman’s keeper kills the teacher in a duel, then drags her back to his home where she’ll spend the rest of her life being raped. That’s the kind of gripping realism I don’t really need in my viewing. And for the record it’s never as sexy as the DVD cover (based on the ads) suggests.

Lady Frankenstein (1971) captured my attention about 100 times more than Quadroon for er, obvious reasons. I mean, seriously, who needs Peter Cushing when you have Rosalba Neri walking around her lab in that dress? To say nothing of her “strange desires”; at thirteen, even normal desire was hard for me to figure out but that didn’t make this any less interesting.

Unsurprisingly this one wasn’t as sexy as the advertising image either, but the writer put slightly more thought into the script than I expected. The plot concerns Tania Frankenstein taking over Daddy’s lab after he’s killed by one of his creations. Daddy’s colleague has a thing for Tania but he’s too intimidated by her looks to do anything about it. Eventually they hit on the idea of putting his brain in the studly body of the Baron’s mentally handicapped lab assistant so Tania can get the brawns and the brain in one package (spoiler: things don’t end as planned). The movie is dully executed but the sexual dynamics do give it some degree of interest.

I think the poster for Commuter Husbands (1974) turned me on even more than Lady Frankenstein. It’s obviously got sex on its mind, but instead of a mad sexbomb scientist’s laboratory, it’s sex in a contemporary setting. A real setting which suggested the naughty nymphs in the poster or someone reasonably like them was running around in the real world! Not that I’d have known what to do with one of them if I’d encountered them but still …Alas, this was far and away the worst of the three movies. It’s a British anthology sex comedy about cheating husbands and by midway through the second segment it was obviously not going to be as sexy as the poster, nor at all funny. Say what you will about Lady Frankenstein, I was in it to the end; Commuter Husbands couldn’t hold my interest.

I would say most other films I’ve rented or streamed for prurient interest fall short as entertainment too, but there are exceptions. For example, 1973’s Invasion of the Bee Girls.The film opens with a man found dead in a motel; cause of death is a heart attack brought on by sexual exhaustion. He’s only the first. As some of the dead were scientists at a nearby government laboratory, federal agent Agar (William Smith) comes to investigate and recruits Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri, a centerfold who totally rocks the Hot Librarian look) as his assistant. Sexy women, some of them mysteriously transformed from mousy housewives, continue seducing men who continue to turn up dead; warnings that casual sex is dangerous fall on deaf, horny ears (if they’d rereleased this after AIDS became an issue, it would have looked completely topical).

It turns out sexy entomologist Dr. Harris (Anitra Ford) has been transforming women into hybrids of human woman and queen bee; the process involves lots of scientific-looking equipment and glowing lights, plus the bee girls smearing what’s either royal jelly or sperm on the new recruits to sex them up. While another scientist insists Harris’ science is sound (“If they replaced the androgen and estrogen with androgynous hormones they could reshape the cellular structure!”) it has a big problem. The bee girls are driven to mate so that like a queen bee they can reproduce without a man for the rest of their life. Unfortunately the transformation renders them sterile so the failure to conceive drives them to have sex again — and again — and again! — until the man dies. Nicholas Meyer’s script doesn’t explain what this transformation gains Harris; maybe the mad science is an end in itself or maybe it’s a metaphor for the bogeyman that feminists want to take over, get rid of men and run the world themselves (e.g., Parley Cooper’s The Feminists).

Whatever the motive, I love this film. Sexy bisexual women showing lots of skin, bonkers science, what’s not to enjoy? Well, okay, there’s an ugly attempted rape scene I really could have done without, but besides that, this one’s a winner.



  1. Edo Bosnar

    I suspect the ‘misleading movie poster’ topic may very well be inexhaustible. It also reminds me that something similar can be written about paperbacks that have misleadingly racy/raunchy covers but rather mundane content…
    Otherwise, good to know that Nicholas Meyer, who would later give us the 7 Percent Solution and Star Treks II and VI, started his film career with a bang. And I can’t help but think that all of these movies would have been – if nothing else – far more interesting if they had been produced/directed by another Meyer, Russ.

  2. I thought Mandingo was “The Black Mandingo.”

    But then I was more about finding naughty things in print. The Baroness paperbacks were my adolescent guilty go-to. I was too embarrassed to ever buy one back then. Just sneaked the occasional peek browsing the drugstore racks.

    Now of course they are collectible. I did pick up one I found in the wild and it was gloriously insane… and they do live up to the covers by all reports. Mine certainly did.

    1. Finally figured out how to log on (different browser).
      I remember the Baroness paperbacks. Like you I was too self-conscious to buy one but I skimmed them and yes, quite erotic. The Carter Brown mystery novels fascinated me the same way.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I grew up 20 miles from anything worth doing or seeing, so movie were a rare treat. We only did a drive-in once, for the very unsexy Norsemen, with Lee Majors. The Six Million Dollar Viking it wasn’t (that would have been cool!) and The Vikings, it wasn’t.

    There is a small indie movie, subtly titled Drive-In, that pretty well captures the role of the local drive-in, in rural communities. It features Raising Arizona’s Trey Wilson, Engelberg (Gary Lee Cavagnaro) , from The Bad News Bears films, and the woman who touches Peter Ustinov’s face at the end of Logan’s Run (Ashley Cox). Mostly a character comedy, little bigger on character than comedy, but with some good moments. It was done in 1976; but I saw it regularly on Cinemax, around 1983.

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