Release Date(s)Various (September 27, 2022)
Studio(s)AGFA/Something Weird Video/Vinegar Syndrome
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B-
- Overall Grade: A-
Since Hollywood has had a long history of being hostile to female directors, they’ve often had to make their way in the world of independent filmmaking instead. While some aspects of the mainstream movie business have been a bit more welcoming to women, such as editing and screenwriting, the doors for directors have stayed firmly shut for the majority of Hollywood’s history. There have been rare exceptions like Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, but for the most part, women have had to look elsewhere to find work behind the camera. One such place is exploitation cinema, where directors like Stephanie Rothman have plied their trades, and another is adult filmmaking, which has had distinct voices like Suze Randall and Candida Royalle. Doris Wishman was a director who straddled the two, making softcore adult exploitation films on shoestring budgets throughout the Sixties and Seventies.
Wishman’s career spanned the early days of nudist camp films to the advent of hardcore action during the Seventies, but she stubbornly followed her own path during that entire timeframe. She did eventually make a couple of hardcore films of her own, but her heart wasn’t in it, and she retired after struggling to finish the slasher film A Night to Dismember in 1983. She did briefly return to filmmaking in 2001, just before passing away from complications due to lymphoma in 2002. The Films of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years collects nine of her films that she made between 1965 and 1969, most of which fall into the “Roughie” category of sexploitation movies. They have a darker, cruel edge to them that’s at odds with the relative innocence of her earlier “nudie cuties,” and also an abundance of violence against women.
Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), with a story by Wishman, stars Gigi Darlene as Meg, an urban housewife who isn’t necessarily a bad girl, but she still ends up going through a hell only partially of her own making. While her husband is at work, the janitor in their apartment building ends up sexually assaulting her, and she kills him in self-defense. Concerned that no one will ever believe her story, she packs up and goes on the run, eventually finding her way to New York City. Left on her own, she finds herself relying on the kindness of strangers, but most of them end up taking advantage of her in their own ways. She finally ends up in the home of an elderly woman who needs a live-in companion as a caretaker, but even in that case, nothing is as safe for her as it may seem. Bad Girls Go to Hell also stars George La Roque (aka Charles E. Mazin), Gertrude Cross, Barnard L. Sackett, and the Bennett twins, Darlene and Dawn (oddly enough playing cousins here, rather than sisters).
Bad Girls Go to Hell is a nightmare journey for Meg, with nearly everyone that she encounters exhibiting predatory tendencies. She learns the hard way that she can’t rely on the kindness of strangers. Interestingly, aside from the storybook husband that she’s forced to leave behind at the beginning of the film, the only person who exhibits genuinely unconditional affection toward her is a lesbian with whom Meg briefly strikes up a relationship before inevitably moving on again. Even the kindly old woman that she ends up with only seems harmless on the surface, as there’s an unexpected connection with her that proves to be Meg’s undoing. Bad Girls Go to Hell concludes by allowing Meg to wake up from her bad dream, only to be plunged right back into the nightmare—a structure that Wishman would use again a few years later in Love Toy. Both films verge more into the horror genre than most of the rest of Wishman’s filmography.
Indecent Desires (1968) also borders on being a horror film, but for completely different reasons. The story that Wishman created this time openly trades in the supernatural, taking the relatively innocuous male wish fulfillment of Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Teas into far more malevolent territory. Zeb (Michael Alaimo, aka Michael Lawrence) finds a doll abandoned in a garbage can, and when he notices that it bears a resemblance to Ann (Sharon Kent), he brings it home with him and builds a shrine to it. For some unexplained reason, Zeb’s attentions create a psychic link between the doll and Ann, so when he caresses the doll, Ann can feel his touch. She thinks that she’s losing her mind, but things go from bad to worse once Zeb discovers that she has a fiancé (Trom Little). Zeb begins to take his anger out on the doll, with horrifying results for Ann.
Indecent Desires was one of a several films that Wishman directed pseudonymously under the name Louis Silverman, who was her husband at the time. That’s not inappropriate, because the storyline here is pure male fantasy. Mr. Teas gained X-ray vision that allowed him to “innocently” see women naked without their knowledge, but Zeb gains control over the woman that he lusts after, letting him enact his darkest desires on her. Worse, he’s able to punish her for his own feelings of rejection, despite the fact that she was never really available to him in the first place. Indecent Desires isn’t merely a standard-issue male fantasy; it’s also the ultimate in incel wish-fulfillment.
(As a side note, while Michael Alaimo appeared in multiple exploitation films for both Wishman and Joe Sarno, he’ll be more recognizable to fans of Kentucky Fried Movie as the accommodating usher in the “Feel-A-Round” segment. He definitely had his hands in a lot of different places, so to speak.)
Wishman also directed A Taste of Flesh (1967) as Louis Silverman, and while the bulk of the film is confined to a single apartment, the storyline actually acknowledges the wider world outside of that setting. Wishman (credited here as El Ess) openly cribbed that story from 1954 Frank Sinatra thriller Suddenly, where some would-be Presidential assassins held a family hostage while using their house as a vantage point. In this case, Wishman’s version features two lesbian roommates (Layla Peters and Darlene Bennett) who have invited Hannah (Cleo Nova) to stay with them. An unexpected knock at the door brings in two young men (Michael Alaimo and Buck Starr) who take the women hostage at gunpoint. It turns out that Hannah is the mistress of a foreign Prime Minister who’s currently visiting America, and the men have been following Hannah to gain a position from which to assassinate the dignitary. They just need to try to avoid any distractions until the Prime Minister arrives.
A Taste of Flesh is really just a simple home invasion story, with the political machinations being little more than a veneer to dress things up. Many of Wishman’s films were short on plot but long on incident, but A Taste of Flesh reverses that situation by having a fair amount of plot occurring in the background, but not much happening in front of the camera. At least the women are given the opportunity to turn the tables on their abusers at the end of the film, unlike some of the other Roughies that Wishman made during this period. These women manage to escape the bad dream that’s been thrust upon them, plunging the men into their own well-deserved nightmare instead. Wishman was fond of downbeat endings, so it’s nice to see some just desserts dished out for a change.
There aren’t any just desserts to be had in Another Day, Another Man (1966), which returns to the theme of punishing women for their actions, regardless of any mitigating circumstances. Wishman’s story (credited as Dawn Whitman this time) revolves around newlyweds Ann (Barbara Kemp) and Steve (Tony Gregory). When Steve gets a big pay raise, Ann quits the job where her boss didn’t want married women working for him anyway, and the couple move into a new apartment. When Steve falls sick and becomes bedridden, Ann looks for a way to make ends meet, and she ends up being lured into the world of prostitution by a local pimp. Needless to say, she keeps her new job a secret from Steve, but when he finally starts to recover, her precarious position begins to unravel. Another Day, Another Man also stars Sam Stewart, Mary O’Hara, Bob Oran, and the real Louis Silverman (in a cameo where he’s appropriately hidden behind a mask).
Like Meg in Bad Girls Go to Hell, Ann isn’t really a bad girl at all, just one who found herself in difficult situation due to circumstances beyond her control. That doesn’t mean that she makes the best choices, but she hardly deserves to have the world come crashing down around her like it does at the conclusion of the film. What happens to her and Steve does call into question whether or not her own storybook marriage was as strong as she thought it was, but that can’t be seen as being entirely her own fault. As she plaintively tells Steve at the end, “I did it for you.” If only he could have understood that fact.
My Brother’s Wife (1966) is a fairly traditional potboiler, trading on more standard themes of adultery and betrayal. Wishman’s story here (as Dawn Whitman) opens with Bob (Bob Oran) angrily confronting Frankie (Sam Stewart) at a pool hall, and then beating the man within an inch of his life. The narrative then rewinds to show what led up to that point. It turns out that Bob and Frankie are actually brothers, and when Frankie had returned to visit after a two-year absence, he discovered that Bob was now married to the alluring Mary (June Roberts). Mary was already dissatisfied with Bob, so she quickly became putty in Frankie’s hands. Yet she’s no more than a means to an end for him, since Frankie was really hoping to get after Bob and Mary’s money in order to leave town with his girlfriend Zena (Darlene Bennett). When Mary finds out that she’s being betrayed by the person with whom she’s betraying her own husband, things go from bad to worse, leading to Bob’s final confrontation with his brother.
Mary is hardly an innocent victim of circumstances in My Brother’s Wife; instead, she’s an active agent in her own downfall. So, it’s appropriate that the punishment meted out to her is by her own hand. Yet the hell in which she finds herself isn’t entirely of her own making, since Bob has clearly been neglecting her needs, no matter how much that she begged him to pay more attention to her. There are no true victims in My Brother’s Wife; only people who end up paying the price for their own mistakes. Wishman still got one of her cherished downbeat conclusions, but this time it’s the ending that everyone deserves.
Passion Fever (1969) is a genuine oddity in Wishman’s filmography—or rather, one of two genuine oddities. Ever the shrewd businessperson, Wishman acquired the North American distribution rights to a couple of Greek films, which she re-edited, re-shot, and dubbed for the domestic market. Passion Fever began life as Pyretos (aka Fever), a melodrama written and directed by Stelios Jackson, starring Panos Kateris, Aggela Giouranti, Katerina Helmy, and Dora Brania. Jackson’s story involves the handsome but rakish Yorgos (Kateris), who’s always on the prowl for naïve tourists that he can seduce. He meets his match when he encounters one who turns out to be an old childhood friend, and he starts to develop real feelings for her. He can’t escape his own past, however, and a previous dalliance with a young local girl will come to haunt not just Yorgos, but everyone else in the town as well.
Or at least, that’s Wishman’s version of Jackson’s story. She bought the rights to Pyretos and the other film while she was on vacation in Greece, and she apparently lost the script translations for both of them on the way home. Never one to let a minor inconvenience like that hold her back, Wishman went ahead and invented her own stories and dialogue to match the images. Since she understood her target audience all too well, she also added some softcore scenes to spice things up. The results are far from coherent, and the re-editing could charitably be described as a bit jagged, but Passion Fever still manages to feel like it fits comfortably into Wishman’s wheelhouse. That’s especially true of the ending, where a female character is punished undeservedly for the sin of having fallen for the wrong man. Wishman just had to do Wishman.
Though to be fair, while Wishman was always true to herself, she didn’t always do so in the expected ways. The Sex Perils of Paulette (1965) is an example of that, where once again a woman is punished for her actions, but this time, not by the men in her life. Wishman’s story (as Whitman again) has Paulette (Anna Korol) moving to New York City and looking for a place to live, as well as a way to make a living as an actress. She finds an accommodating roommate in Tracy (Darlene Bennett), but Tracy’s motives are less than pure, to say nothing of her lifestyle. Paulette tries to stay on the straight and narrow, but when she fails to find steady work, she ends up allowing Tracy put her into the hands of the theatrical agent Sam Biller (Sam Stewart). Sam’s real business involves providing a stable of women for needy men, so Paulette finds herself working for him as a prostitute. Meanwhile, she also finds herself falling in love with Tracy’s neighbor Allen (none other than Tony Lo Bianco, credited here as Anthony Greco). Paulette fears that Allen will want nothing to do with her if he finds out how she’s been making ends meet, but in this case, she ends up becoming her own worst enemy.
The Sex Perils of Paulette was Wishman’s first Roughie after the string of nudist films that she made for the first half of the Sixties, and in some ways, it does feel like a transitional work. Despite the lurid title cribbed from the Pearl White serials The Perils of Pauline (as well as the 1947 feature adaptation), the sexual perils that Paulette faces here are relatively mild ones. She resists Tracy’s siren call for the majority of the film, only succumbing at the very end, once she’s finally given up hope of making a conventional living. While Sam is the typical predatory male that Wishman would feature in the rest of her Roughies, Allen is actually a sweet-natured gentleman who only wants the best for Paulette. In fact, he loves her enough that he’s willing to disregard everything that she’s done up to that point. He doesn’t judge her for the choices that she’s made, but Paulette’s fatal flaw is that she judges herself too harshly, stubbornly giving up any hopes for happiness with him. Allen accepts her for what she is, but she can’t accept herself, so she ends up meting out her own punishment.
The Hot Month of August (1966) was the second of the two Greek films that Wishman revised for American release, in this case based on O zestos minas Avgoustos by writer/director Sokrates Kapsaskis. Wishman had to invent her own story after losing the script translation, and shot softcore inserts to make her version of the film more appealing for the 42nd Street grindhouse crowd. Kapsaskis was a more than adequate visual filmmaker, however, so despite how much Wishman’s dialogue may vary from what he wrote, the results still follow the general contours of his own story. The convoluted plot involves a man who falls for a married woman, but unbeknownst to him, her wealthy industrialist husband has hired a private investigator to spy on her. Unbeknownst to the husband, the investigator is already having an affair with her, and the two plan to eliminate him. When he turns the tables on both of them, the wrong man is suspected of the crime. The Hot Month of August stars Petros Fyssoun, Giannis Fertis, Minas Christidis, Katerina Vasilakou, and Betty Arvaniti.
Since Wishman needed to disguise her doubles for the sex scenes that she added, she shot them in a dreamy, almost surrealistic fashion, with gauzy soft-focus, as well as strategically placed objects to obscure the faces. Wishman already loved cutting away to environmental details like feet, shoes, and décor, so the way that she shot this footage fits well within her own bailiwick, even if it really doesn’t match the original material shot by Kapsaskis. It’s an odd mashup of two completely different sensibilities that never quite fit together, but in a way, that’s still true to the nature of Wishman’s cinematic philosophy. She did whatever she had to do to put her films together, with her style being driven by the limited means at her disposal. So, The Hot Month of August isn’t really any less coherent than any of her other films, even if the story has the kind of happy resolution that she generally avoided in her own work.
Too Much Too Often! (1968) doesn’t necessarily resolve happily, but like My Brother’s Wife, it’s a case where justice is served, and for once, a male character is the only one who is punished. Wishman both wrote and directed under her Louis Silverman pseudonym, and her story centers on a gigolo named Mike Torsen (Buck Starr). He makes a healthy living by taking advantage of multiple women at the same time, while simultaneously blackmailing a businessperson for extra cash. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of mixing business and pleasure, and the fact that one of the women he’s been using happens to be the daughter of that very businessperson ends up costing him dearly. Her father ends up looking into Mike’s sordid past, and he brings in one of Mike’s previous victims to exact an appropriate kind of revenge. Too Much Too Often! also stars Sharon Kent, Jackie Richards, Sam Stewart, and Darlene Bennett.
Buck Star may not have been much of an actor, but he threw himself into the role of Mike with reckless abandon. Mike is a despicably egocentric character who divides his time equally between preening himself and exploiting others, and Starr managed to bring him to vivid life. As a result, the conclusion of Too Much Too Often! is a satisfying instance of someone receiving his just desserts. While most of Wishman’s Roughies ended up punishing women whether they deserved it or not, it’s nice to see one of the men who has been abusing them being the sole object of the narrative’s wrath. Wishman’s milieu in these films was a harsh and unsparing one, embodying the world as described in Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): everybody’s looking for something, but some of them want to use you, and some of them want to abuse you. Too Much Too Often! offers a bit of respite from that, by turning the tables on those users and abusers.
Most of these films were shot by Wishman’s longtime cinematographer C. Davis Smith, with Nouri Haviv and Tony Stella handling Another Day, Another Man and My Brother’s Wife, respectively—although there’s some evidence that the latter was primarily shot by Smith. (Of course, the bulk of Passion Fever and The Hot Month of August were shot by the original cinematographers for the Greek productions.) All of them are framed here at 1.37:1 (although the S-VHS masters are likely closer to 1.33:1). Six of these nine films utilize 2K scans of the original camera negatives: Bad Girls Go to Hell, Indecent Desires, Another Day, Another Man, My Brother’s Wife, The Sex Perils of Paulette, and The Hot Month of August. They all share similar characteristics to each other, with only minor variances. They’re all relatively clean, with only light speckling and minor scratches throughout (plus the occasional hair at the edges of the frame). A few titles like Another Day, Another Man display occasional heavier damage like warped frames, but those still don’t occur too frequently. (The Hot Month of August has one brief sequence that exhibits significant damage like that for a period of several seconds.) Exterior footage like the establishing shots in Central Park in My Brother’s Wife do suffer from flickering and instability, but those are artifacts that are inherent to the original elements. Aside from those flaws, the level of fine detail is impressive given the no-budget nature of these films, revealing subtle things like the veins under Gigi Darlene’s pale skin. The grayscale, contrast, and black levels are all good. They may not be perfect, but none of these films have ever looked better than they do here.
Unfortunately, the original elements for the remaining titles are now lost. A Taste of Flesh, Passion Fever, and Too Much Too Often! are all presented here upscaled to 1080p from Something Weird Video’s S-VHS masters. They’re naturally softer, less detailed, and filled with aliasing as well as other analogue tape artifacts. (Michael Alaimo’s plaid shirt in A Taste of Flesh is plagued with shimmering moiré effects.) The elements that were used to produce these masters weren’t in the best condition, so there are significantly more scratches and other blemishes visible. The contrast and black levels are also weaker, with the darker scenes often appearing washed out. Passion Fever is the worst of the three; while it may have come from an S-VHS master, that master appears to have actually been duped from a lower-resolution video source. The aliasing is much heavier, and the blacks are completely crushed. The film elements were also in much worse condition, with many dropped frames and jump cuts. It’s unfortunate, but short of any pristine prints magically being discovered in a Romanian salt mine, these are the best versions available of all three films. At least they’ve been preserved in some form, rather than lost for all time like Wishman’s nudist films Playgirls International and Behind the Nudist Curtain. The only downside to this preservation is that Something Weird Video did add burned-in watermarks to their masters, but fortunately they’re not too obtrusive.
The audio for all nine titles is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. They’re all derived from the mono optical tracks, with minimal cleanup, so there’s hiss and crackling in the background, plus a few pops as well. In most cases, artifacts like that tend to be worse near reel changes, though it varies from film to film—Bad Girls Go to Hell has some particularly prominent popping, for instance. The dialogue was almost entirely post-synced, so it rarely integrates well into the soundstages—and in some cases, it really stands out like a sore thumb, especially on the earliest titles. On the other hand, Wishman’s use of professional library music means that these mixes generally sound surprisingly good, despite the awkward dubbing. The titles sourced from Something Weird Video’s S-VHS masters have a more restricted frequency range and tend to sound a bit muffled compared to the others, with Passion Fever sounding the worst of the lot, once again due to it likely having been duped from another source.
BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B+/B
INDECENT DESIRES (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B+/B
A TASTE OF FLESH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/C/B-
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MAN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B
MY BROTHER’S WIFE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B
PASSION FEVER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/D+/C
THE SEX PERILS OF PAULETTE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO) C/B+/B
THE HOT MONTH OF AUGUST (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B
TOO MUCH TOO OFTEN! (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/C/B-
AFGA’s Blu-ray release of The Films of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years is a three-disc set packaged in a clear amaray case that displays a Darlene Bennett pinup spread on the reverse side of the insert, which is visible when the case is opened. It also includes a 16-page booklet featuring an entertaining essay by Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci, as well as an extended 2001 interview with Wishman that was conducted by Mike Watt for Femme Fatales magazine. There’s also a spot gloss magnetized slipcase and slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 5,000 units. The following films and extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL, INDECENT DESIRES, A TASTE OF FLESH
- Audio Commentary on Bad Girls Go to Hell with Frank Henenlotter and Anthony Sneed
- Audio Commentary on Indecent Desires with Elizabeth Purchell
- Trailers (Upscaled SD and HD – 4 in all – 7:26)
Fellow grindhouse auteur and Wishman uber-fan Frank Henenlotter returns to provide the commentary for Bad Girls Go to Hell, after having previously done equally fine work on Double Agent 73 for AGFA’s The Moonlight Years Blu-ray set. He’s joined once again by filmmaker Anthony Sneed, who still hasn’t seen the film that they’re commenting on, so it’s endless fun hearing the ebullient Henenlotter defend Wishman’s fetishes to Sneed. Henenlotter describes Bad Girls Go to Hell as an absolute delight, and he considers it to be her best film. His love for it rings loud and clear throughout the track—it’s actually pretty clever to pair Henenlotter with Sneed, because Sneed acts as the straight man for Henenlotter. He serves as a stand-in for the listener, giving Henenlotter something to play against. It’s a wildly entertaining track. (Unfortunately, they don’t carry over their foot fetishist drinking game from Double Agent 73, so you’ll have to pick up that set if you want to play along at home.)
The commentary for Indecent Desires is provided by queer historian and filmmaker Elizabeth Purchell, who is the curator of the Ask Any Buddy multimedia film project. She feels that Indecent Desires is the most unique film in Wishman’s filmography of unique films, and there’s a good argument to be made in support of that contention. She acknowledges that there’s not a lot of information available about the film, but she does her best to wade through the facts that she was able to uncover. She also examines Indecent Desires thematically, and since she sees it as a potent metaphor for gender dysphoria, she says that it speaks to her as a trans woman. It’s an interesting perspective on a filmmaker whose work that followed during the Seventies increasingly featured women fighting for control over their own bodies, culminating in the landmark trans pseudo-documentary Let Me Die a Woman.
DISC TWO: ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MAN, MY BROTHER’S WIFE, PASSION FEVER
- Audio Commentary on My Brother’s Wife with Michael Bowen
- Trailers (Upscaled SD and HD – 3 in all – 8:16)
Doris Wishman biographer Michael Bowen opens his commentary for My Brother’s Wife by pointing out the grammatical error in the opening titles, and then affirms that his long-delayed book about her, Queen of Sexploitation, will be released later in 2022 (he’s running out of time on that promise, unfortunately). True to his bona fides, he gives more biographical information about Wishman than the other commenters, and also traces the development of career from the early nudist films through her transition into her first few Roughies. He knows his details, identifying the locations, actors, and even footage that Wishman used in My Brother’s Wife that was actually unused material from The Sex Perils of Paulette. Like Bowen’s commentary on Deadly Weapons for AFGA’s The Moonlight Years set, this track is a treasure trove of everything that you could possibly want to know about Doris Wishman, and then some.
DISC THREE: THE SEX PERILS OF PAULETTE, THE HOT MONTH OF AUGUST, TOO MUCH TOO OFTEN!
- Trailers (HD and Upscaled SD – 3 in all – 7:52)
Needless to say, The Films of Doris Wishman: The Moonlight Years won’t be for all tastes, but it’s an essential collection for fans of grindhouse cinema, or for anyone else with an open mind, and who’s willing to meet micro-budgeted films on their own terms. It’s nine different titles from one of the most prolific women filmmakers of all time, packed into one compact set. But wait, there’s more! This is actually the second of three volumes of Wishman’s films that AFGA, Something Weird, and Vinegar Syndrome have released. The first volume, The Twilight Years, includes seven of her late-period films from the Seventies, and the third volume The Daylight Years includes six of her nudie cuties from the early Sixties. That’s a whopping twenty-two Wishman films that cover the majority of her active years as a filmmaker. It’s a veritable bonanza of Wishmania, and yet more proof of what a great era that this is for fans of physical media.
- Stephen Bjork