A few weeks ago, I profiled Cult Epics, which has become the reigning king when it comes to DVD companies specializing in vintage sexploitation, erotica, and the like. That position is likely to remain pretty secure for some time, what with the release of such treasures as The Irving Klaw Classics box set, but there are a couple of recent contenders for the throne that have just come to my attention, so I thought I’d say a few words about them. These are Private Screening Collection and Severin Films.
< ...>Both firms have about a half-dozen or so titles out so far, and both specialize exclusively (to date) in the erotic (right down to their logos). There’s a further point of connection, too, if only an indirect one: Private Screening’s focus is on producer Harry Alan Towers, while Severin has released two films by Jess Franco, who made several films for Towers (though you’ll have to see Blue Underground for those collaborations). The similarities end there, though.
Harry Alan Towers is a character so unique, if he didn’t exist, the film industry would have to invent him. Stories, some quite shady, abound about his colourful life, and it is difficult to sort fact from fiction. What is undeniable is that he has been working in the B-movie/exploitation field for decades, is a writer (under the name of Peter Welbeck) as well as producer on many of his films, and has a knack for attracting relatively big name actors to his cut-price productions. He regularly draws on classic literature for his ideas, even if the connection can be rather tenuous. A good example of (all proportions maintained) high-end Towers is the 1989 version of The Phantom of the Opera, with Robert Englund in the title role. It’s a gory, nasty, but not unentertaining version of the story (give me this over the Andrew Lloyd Webber / Joel Schumacher atrocity any day of the week), that has the handsome period look of the old Hammer films.
Private Screening’s website makes its focus pretty clear: “The Golden Age of Late Night Cable Continues.” These are all mid-80’s softcore romps, some period pieces, others not, but almost always with some kind of literary connection for a bit of spurious respectability, and some D-list celebrity skin. The production values aren’t bad, and there are actual storylines, but the overall interest level isn’t particularly high. Towers is in it for the bucks, not the art. The fullscreen transfers on these discs vary in quality from workmanlike to hideous, and there are no extras of any kind. The exploitation of viewers continues. One can hope that they’ll expand their offerings, given how many films Towers has been involved with, but for now, what’s on offer is somewhat disappointing.
Severin, on the other hand, already has a pretty interesting stable of titles. Anything by Franco is worth checking out, and while Macumba Sexual and Mansion of the Living Dead are far from being his best works, they are also a long way from his worst, and are definitely worth seeing. Franco’s work may be less handsome than Towers’, but it is clearly filmed by an obsessive, and that helps things no end. And then there’s things like the just-released Once Upon a Girl, an X-rated cartoon from the 70’s. These are all examples of legitimately interesting moments from exploitation cinema’s history, and they are presented in all their widescreen glory, struck from prints that look as good as these films probably ever have. The extras aren’t copious, but are quality stuff: disarmingly honest interviews with the filmmakers or producers. You’re likely to learn a lot more from these discs than that you just lost an hour and a half of your life, which can be the feeling Towers leaves one with. Keep an eye on these folks. They’re on to something.