FANTASM/FANTASM COMES AGAIN: DVD
Journalist Harold Hearne (Clive Hearn) has been writing the "Dear Collette" women's sex advice column for many years. On his last night before retiring he gives advice to his successor Libby (Angela Menzies-Wills) and reads some of the letters sent to "Collette". The letters come to life in a series of episodes.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Now that 70s everything is the pop culture decade du jour, it's time for us to get down and delight in this double-header of cheery Australian softcore sex romps. No lesser talent than Richard Franklin (hiding behind the pseudonym Richard Bruce) directed the first Fantasm on a tiny budget of less than US$50,000 and when released by the late, great exploitation film specialists Filmways, it returned a massive US$600,000 worldwide gross. This makes it one of the most profitable Australian films of all time, yet hardly a frame of it was shot locally.
The main reason reason? Australian actresses were too timid to engage in the kind of sexual athletics in Ross Dimsey's screenplay and the whole affair was filmed in ten days in Los Angeles. In producer Tony Ginnane's commentary tracks, we learn that only the linking sequences featuring John Bluthal as the outrageously bogus "sex expert" Dr Jurgen Notafreud were filmed at home - in the house of present-day Sharmill Films honcho Natalie Miller, no less. Miller is one of Australia's most respected and admired distributors, exhibitors and supporters of the Australian film industry and it's wonderful to discover that she, too, has a distinguished connection with the Aussie exploitation scene. Ginnane's commentary tracks are packed with so many fabulous titbits like this they're worth the purchase price alone.
His reflections on how to get ahead in filmmaking ought to be part of the curriculum at The Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney. With the goofy humour supplied by Bluthal's links and a generally cheery approach to the explicit material (a notable exception is a rather unpleasant rape scene starring Rene Bond that Ginnane rightly admits was perhaps a bit too strong), Fantasm succeeded in attracting couples and the expected raincoat brigade as it simply catalogues "the 10 most common female sexual fantasies".
As an exercise in titillation that pushed the boundaries of the R certificate as far as they could go at the time, Fantasm is an agreeably raunchy 90 minutes and outside of a dozen or so dire Aussie porno movies made the 80s and 90s (Aussie Vice, Aussie Phone Sex Girls, Buffy Down Under et al), it's your only chance to see American XXX stars strutting their stuff in an Australian film. The attention-grabbing scene is undoubtedly John Holmes' underwater tryst with Maria Welton. Ginnane's description of the commercial impact of Holmes in all his 13" glory is priceless and the sequence itself is pretty hot stuff. If you've only ever seen Fantasm on the old Video Classics VHS release, there's 3 & 1/2 minutes extra here and much of the censored footage (including a few seconds of genuine hard-core action) appears in this sequence. Elsewhere it's fun to watch Russ Meyer alumni Uschi Digart in a lesbian sauna scene, Mary Gavin in the bathtub and Serena in the blasphemous "Blood Orgy" sequence as we marvel at how this was shot in just 10 days over the Christmas/New Year period in 1975-76. Fantasm played at the Dendy Collins St in Melbourne for a year straight and is probably responsible for more libido inflammation than any other Australian film. For those who can approach cinema without snobbery this cultural artefact is a must-see.
The second half of this double-bill is basically more of the same, but with less humour than the first instalment. The linking sequences in Fantasm Comes Again aren't as amusing as Bluthal's hammy overacting in chapter 1, though it's always a pleasure to see Australian sexpot Angela Menzies-Wills in one of her few film performances. Directed by the late Colin Eggleston (as Eric Ram), the sequel benefits from higher production values but doesn't have quite the same spirit as it dramatises a series of letters written to a women's magazine agony aunt.
Highlights include the return of Uschi Digart for a roll in the hay that's reminiscent of her tumble with Charles Pitts in Russ Meyer's Super Vixens (1974) and Rainbeaux Smith (surely one of the most beautiful X-rated performers of all time) getting all tangled up with her girlfriend and a lucky male passenger in a stalled lift. The so-bad its good highlight is supplied by legendary porn identity William A Margold (credited here as Bill Margold) whose facial expressions during his swimming pool four-way have to be seen to be disbelieved. Look closely and you'll also spot Johnny Legend in the library in the opening sequence and our main man Mr Tony Ginnane dressed as a monk in the final chapter.
Both were shot on 16mm and are presented in exceptionally high-quality 35mm blow-ups here. The fleshtones and colour contrasts in Vincent Monton's photography has been preserved remarkably well in an overall DVD presentation that has been put together with great care and obvious love for the films themselves. Ginnane's commentary tracks are among the most informative and entertaining background briefings you'll ever hear and the "Fantasm Penetrated" featurette is a neat addition to the packaging of this guilty pleasure.
Shot in silhouette "Richard Bruce" tells us "it was consenting adults and we all thought we were doing something funny and a bit liberated" before Ginnane sums it up perfectly by adding "it was exploitation at its best...we were young and frisky." Indeed, Ginnane and "Bruce"/Franklin were in their mid-20s when they unleashed the kind of film to make Australian culture vultures recoil while cinema and drive-in owners watched the turnstiles and snack bars record monster turnover. Ginnane, who surely deserves the AFI's Raymond Longford life-achievement award sometime soon, also says "I guess those days are gone." He's right, but the release of this double-bill sure makes us glad they existed in the first place.
Published May 6, 2004
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CAST: John Bluthal, John Holmes, Uschi Digart, Dee Dee Levitt, Maria Arnold, Rene Bond, Gretchen Gayle, Mary Gavin
PRODUCER: Antony I Ginnane
DIRECTOR: Richard Bruce (Richard Franklin)
SCRIPT: Ross Dimsey
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vincent Monton
EDITOR: Ford Footpole
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9 Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0. Language: English. Subtitles: None
SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with producer Antony I Ginnane, "Fantasm Penetrated" featurette with Antony I Ginnane and director Richard Bruce (Richard Franklin)
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment/The AV Channel
DVD RELEASE: March 20, 2004