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Plot: high-class escort Sarah Asproon moonlights as a novelist researching a new book

Let it be known that Joe D’Amato can never be accused of not completely milking an idea while it was still profitable. A year after Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) old Joe returned to New Orleans for Top Model (1988), a sequel of sorts to his earlier Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) knockoff. Back again is ravishing Luciana Ottaviani and in what would be her swansong in the franchise she's given every chance to show off that impressive body of hers. With a screenplay from Rossella Drudi and Sheila Goldberg (as Gloria Miles) Top Model does have an unexpected romantic undercurrent. Which still doesn’t make it anything more than a bog-standard inexpensive soft erotic potboiler for late night cable. At least a Joe D’Amato soft erotic feature isn’t as heinous and painful as some of his infamous horror movies.

The success of a soft erotic movie is relative to the willingness of its star to shed clothes and cavort around naked. Ottaviani, to her everlasting credit, doesn’t shy away from either – even though she’s hardly what you'd call an actress. Ottaviani is exactly what Laura Gemser was in the 1970s. Gemser, three years away from announcing her retirement in 1991, will not be shedding any garments but she still looks rather dashing at 38. The cast is nothing but unknowns. James Sutterfield and Lin Gathright were in Killing Birds (1987), one of the many unofficial sequels to Lucio Fulci’s often imitated Zombie (1979). Gathright would resurface in the series American Horror Story (2014). Jason Saucier had guest roles in Dawson’s Creek (1999) and One Tree Hill (2004). Top Model was Laura Gemser’s first venture as a costume designer and unfortunately she never transcended beyond D’Amato and his ilk. There's something inherently ironic about Gemser, famous for getting out of her clothes for a living, making sure that other actors stay in theirs.

After having engaged in a brief but steamy affair with a dopey construction engineer the year before alleged novelist and present high-end escort Sarah Asproon (Luciana Ottaviani, as Jessica Moore) is working on a new book about high-class prostitution. To legitimize her efforts Asproon and her publisher Dorothy Tipton (Laura Gemser) set up a call-girl agency. Tipton adopts the alias Eva North while Asproon calls herself Gloria. To maximize efficiency and to keep track of customer information and appointments receptionist Sharon (Lin Gathright) and shy programmer Cliff Evans (James Sutterfield) are hired. One of Sarah’s clients Peter McLaris (Ale Dugas) threatens to expose Asproon to the police, which would ruin her career as a novelist. Despite the threats Sarah continues to work and finds herself falling in love with Evans, who initially remains reserved towards her advances. Jason (Jason Saucier), Cliff’s apparently homosexual friend, competes for Sarah’s affection after she properly rode him. Spurring Jason’s advances and foiling McLaris’ blackmailing Sarah and Cliff choose each other. Asproon bids her life of prostitution farewell and focuses on her new career as a novelist. The two move to another city to start anew.

The dreary, humid New Orleans locales ooze with all the depravity and sleaze you’d expect of a Joe D’Amato movie. The men that circle Asproon come from both ends of the spectrum. Cliff and James are regular guys confused why a sensual vixen like Sarah would take an active interest in them, let alone a sexual one. Peter the blackmailing toy factory owner is a sleazebag of the highest order that it makes you wonder why he wasn’t played by Gabrielle Tinti or David Hess. Asproon’s clients are the usual variety of reptilian abusers, including an exploitative photographer, a profusely sweating toned African-American that should have been Fred Williamson, and the client that books Sarah for himself and requests that her friend Eva North rides him like a bull. An entire subplot is dedicated to the sexual dynamic between Cliff and James, who are obviously attracted to each other, sensual Sarah cures both men of their confusion by mounting and riding them, seperately. In fact Sarah rides James to such an extent that he becomes straight. Cliff, feeling merely sexually inadequate in Sarah’s presence, is mounted creatively into self-confidence.

It’s hard to believe that Top Model was helmed by the director that gave the world Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), the gothic horror-slasher hybrid Buio Omega (1979), and the splatter classic Anthropophagus (1980). There's an inherent sweetness to the entire thing that you'd earlier find in Bitto Albertini's erotic potboilers. Luciana Ottaviani wasn’t much of an actress, and she was cast in movies mostly to take her clothes off, but she never deserved to dwell in the muck that she did. Ottaviani had a body similar to Serena Grandi, Donatella Damiani, and Debora Caprioglio, and it’s nothing short of puzzling that she never appeared in a Tinto Brass production. Ottaviani had junk in the trunk and Brass loves a baby that got back as much as Sir Mix-A-Lot. That she somehow never entered the sphere of Jess Franco is a miracle in itself. It stands to reason that luscious Luciana was tainted by her exploitation beginnings, and she would never ascend to the A-list erotica of, say, Bernardo Bertolucci. Not that she would be able to carry such a movie by herself, mind. Top Model is curiously low on dialogue for a reason and that the plot is moved forward by every other character that isn’t Sarah Asproon should clue anybody in exactly how much of an actress Ottaviani really was.

After Top Model Ottaviani moved on from the franchise and D’Amato continued with new lead Kristine Rose, who prior to acting appeared in Playboy (August 1991, February and April 1993 – never making it to the cover). Rose starred in a further third sequel confusingly titled Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 (1990). Like in much of his 1980s output Laura Gemser has only a supporting role, and unlike in The Alcove (1985) she refrains from shedding fabric. A year later Moore would be starring opposite of Pamela Prati, Loredana Romito, Laura Gemser, and Gabrielle Tinti in the erotic potboiler Reflections Of Light (1988). That one did give her a chance to act. After her tenure with D’Amato Rose made appearances in the actioner Total Exposure (1991), the Charles Band production Demonic Toys (1992) and the Zach Galligan-Corey Feldman comedy Roundtrip to Heaven (1992). Rose has filmography so depressing that she played second fiddle to latter-day Andy Sidaris regulars Julie Strain, and Teri Weigel. Not exactly something to be very proud of, or at all.

That Joe D’Amato’s voluminous softcore output is far more enjoyable (and often technically superior) to the many and maddeningly wild exploitation – and horror movies that made him famous was a foregone conclusion. What is also evident is that D’Amato’s direction is technically solid, workmanlike, and indifferently professional, even when Ottaviani is naked and in the frame. D'Amato doesn't exude any kind of the artistry, individuality, or thematic follow-through that made Tinto Brass such a revered household name. Luciana Ottaviani is given enough flattering angles whenever possible and D'Amato will let his camera glide across her curvaceous canvas every chance he gets, but isn’t nearly enough to make Top Model anything more than a bog-standard erotic potboiler marginally better than late night skinflicks headlined by the likes of Shannon Tweed, Julie Strain, Lisa Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, or Tanya Roberts. Joe D'Amato was infamous for a reason, yet Top Model isn’t nearly as grime and sleazy as you’d expect. In fact it's stoically demure and unrepentantly utilitarian. Everything works and everything is where it should be, yet if this was meant to be Luciana's star-making vehicle, it missed the mark.

As part of his prolific 1980s period, a decade wherein D’Amato concentrated almost exclusively on soft- and hardcore pornography, Top Model is an unassuming and ultimately forgettable exercise in softcore tedium were it not for the illuminating and arousing presence of Luciana Ottaviani, the embodiment of curly 1980s sassiness. The score consists of pulsating electronic music from Piero Montanari, René de Versailles, and Jacob Wheeler. This should have been the Black Emanuelle series for the eighties. Ottaviani's premature departure deflated the franchise before it could begin, and that was very unfortunate indeed. Eleven Days, Eleven Nights never recovered from the exit of its original and biggest star, and the numerous in-name-only sequels only made that more obvious.

Plot: what happens on Savage Beach? LETHAL Ladies are on the case.

The LETHAL Ladies franchise closed the door on the exuberant eighties with Savage Beach, the least typical of the early era. Savage Beach not only spends inordinate amount of time on what amounts to a B-plot but also puts a greater emphasis on adventure than any of the prior installments. For the first time the LETHAL Ladies find themselves as passive spectators, and occasional participants, in a conflict between two warring factions. Savage Beach was the swansong for Hope Marie Carlton with the series and creator Andy Sidaris ensures that everybody gets a good gander at her considerable talents one last time. In what is now established Sidaris tradition Savage Beach delivers big explosions, ridiculous shoot-outs, and beautiful beach babes in candy-colored bikinis in spades.

First they received a Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and later they protected the valued Picasso Trigger (1988), now federal agents Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) are in the process of rounding up another round of drugdealers with help from trusted assets, or rather the assembled assets of,  Rocky (Lisa London) and Patticakes (Patty Duffek). With minutes to spare the girls catch some rays and hop into the hot tub before receiving a call from John Andreas (John Aprea). Andreas sends Donna and Taryn en route on a humanitarian mission to deliver medicine and supplies to Knox Island. After being informed that one Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) will be assisting them, they both hysterically scream, “another Abilene?!” Crashlanding on the island they were supposed to deliver supplies to Donna and Taryn find themselves in the midst of a vicious tug of war between a band of mercenaries and a government para-military unit vying for the same gold treasure. Who is the mysterious katana-wielding figure (Michael Mikasa) guarding the gold cache? Will stuff blow up and will there be plenty of jiggling naked breasts for everyone?

Having produced the prior three LETHAL Ladies installments from his personal funds, director Andy Sidaris was offered a lucrative production deal to expand his beach babes action movie vision into a full-blown pentalogy. Of said 5-picture deal Savage Beach was the first and missing in action are Cynthia Brimhall, Roberta Vasquez, Kym Malin, and Liv Lindeland. Also unaccounted for is Patrick LaPore as the Professor and Harold Diamond as The Agency strongman Jade. Substituting for her fellow Playboy Playmates is Teri Weigel (April 1986), one year away from having bit parts in Predator 2 (1990) and the Steven Seagal actioner Marked For Death (1990) – and her subsequent descent into hardcore pornography. Weigel is first seen in company of Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane), another member of clan that included Cody, Rowdy, and Travis. To absolutely nobody’s surprise Anjelica is in cahoots with scheming Filipino representative Rodrigo Martinez (Rodrigo Obregón), in what looks like a subplot repurposed from the preceding Picasso Trigger (1988).

Thankfully Savage Beach keeps the LETHAL formula intact while excising all extraneous characters and most of Sidaris’ typical distractions. Savage Beach is all about efficiency. As there’s no Professor around there are no remote-controlled models, and no explosive-charged gadgets, neither are there any second-act amorous liaisons, and the main plot seems borne out of convenience. For the first time in the series do Donna and Taryn not actively engage with the main plot, at least not until their own little subplot ends up intersecting with it. Sidaris’ whimsical humour manifests itself when Donna and Taryn - who seem to wear tank tops and bootyshorts into perpuity when they are wearing clothes at all - crash on the island. Instead of foraging food and seeking shelter, the first thing the two do is check out the beach and go skinnydip. Weigel gets to spew political diatribes before, during, and after taking her clothes off. Continuity, either from one movie to the next or in them, was never Sidaris strong suit. Savage Beach has the case of the duo’s camouflage paint disappearing in between scenes.

Besides the usual amount of Playboy Playmates and stuntmen Andy Sidaris was in the habit of contracting well-known character actors in supporting roles. Savage Beach has Al Leong, famous for his bit parts in Lethal Weapon (1987), Die Hard (1988), and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Lisa London had a bit part in the fourth Dirty Harry installment Sudden Impact (1983). John Aprea, Bruce Penhall, Roy Summersett, and Rodrigo Obregón were Sidaris stock talent, as were Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, and Patty Duffek. Michael J. Shane receives an “introducing” credit. After her acting tenure Hope Marie Carlton, who featured topless in an unaired pilot for the popular series Baywatch (1989), opened and ran the popular Sorrel River Ranch Resort in Moab, Utah. Hope Marie Carlton moved to Colorado once her marriage had ended in 2005.

Savage Beach is a monument to a bygone age. It was an episode of endings and continuations. Dona Speir transitioned into the 90s with the franchise, becoming the franchise mascot in the process, at which point Hope Marie Carlton bade the series farewell. Carlton was suitably replaced by the curvaceous Roberta Vasquez. Vasquez was absent in Savage Beach (1989), but returned as a completely new and benevolent character in Guns (1990), as did Liv Lindeland. Vasquez remained a series regular until Fit to Kill (1993) while Lindeland moved on after Guns. Speir exited the franchise after Fit to Kill (1993) at which point Penthouse Pets Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith and Shae Marks took over The Agency mantle for Day Of the Warrior (1996). Andy’s son Christian Drew Sidaris shot two of his own LETHAL productions in the interim between Fit to Kill and Day of the Warrior. The parallel sequels Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) retroactively serve to link the 1980s and 1990s Sidaris the elder periods. The concluding Andy Sidaris directed episode Return to Savage Beach (1998) saw the Julies, Strain and K. Smith, return to Savage Beach in what can only be construed as a loving homage to the original, which didn't stop Sidaris the elder from pilfering it for footage.

Andy Sidaris can hardly be accused of not giving his audience exactly what they want. However even by Sidaris standards Savage Beach is just a wee bit on the thin side, both in terms of plot as well as the heavily-slimmed cast. Speir and Carlton have grown comfortable in their roles as gun-toting, wisecracking, top-dropping action babes and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Perhaps it had been better if Speir and Carlton had been active participants in the main plot, rather than passive spectators – and some of the warrior’s stalking scene resemble a Hawaiian slasher. The World War II flashback scene was ambitious, but was kept low-scale enough for the limited budget Sidaris was working with. What can be counted upon is that there’ll be plenty of bouncing naked breasts, and if there’s any beautiful good character introduced, there’s a good chance of her shedding fabric in the following scenes. Sidaris never aimed for high art, and his movies are as pulpy and exploitative as they look. For what it’s worth, at least an Andy Sidaris romp always delivers what it promises. Sometimes bigger, sometimes lesser – but they are consistently entertaining.