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Plot: can Pervirella save Condon from the evil Queen Victoria?

After the fall of the great houses of Hammer, Amicus, and Tigon and with directors-producers as Norman J. Warren and Pete Walker moving out of the filmmaking business British exploitation – and cult cinema seemed destined for obscurity. For a while, at least, that was indeed the case… until 1997. That year two figureheads of counterculture, two masters of fringe cinema joined forces for Perverilla, a vaudevillian throwback of deliberate kitsch and cheese that, for all intents and purposes, was to be a celebration of yesteryear’s celluloid heroes of the preposterous, and the grotesque. Far from a critical – and commercial success upon original release it attained something of a rabid cult following in ensuing decades. In no small part responsible for that following was it being an early outing for two future British television personalities, the last great hurrah for ailing British - and Italian exploitation mainstay David Warbeck, and a showcase for the considerable assets of a young (and often very naked) Emily Booth.

The mad genius behind Pervirella is Josh Collins - a first class honors graduate from Central St. Martins school of Art and Design in London in 1990 - who made a name for himself in British nightlife with his underground cabaret and burlesque club The Frat Shack, RHB Exotic Entertainment as well as his bars in Melbourne and Perth. Collins and his entourage are behind the annual retro music festivals Wild Weekend Festival in the UK and Spain as well as the Las Vegas Grind in Las Vegas, Nevada. With his Zombie Zoo Productions production company Collins conceptualizes, designs, and manufactures everything from sets, costumes, and props for the various live performances of his artist collective. As an avid fan of cult cinema from the sixties to eighties Collins was bound to envision his own deviant feature and with The Perv Parlor (1995) that was indeed what happened. Helming The Perv Parlor (1995) was underground filmmaker Alex Chandon who by then had helmed micro-budget splatter epics as Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988), Bad Karma (1991), and Drillbit (1992). In short, Josh Collins is the embodiment of decadence and excess, and more or less the British equivalent to notorious boob-lovers as Jim Wynorski, Andy Sidaris, or Bill Zebub.

Pervirella was to be Collins’ most ambitious and engrossing production up to that point. A spiritual successor to his The Perv Parlor (1995) filled to the gill with oneiric fantasy images, Victorian Age period costumes, ornately designed candy-colored full-size sets, cartoony miniatures, and model animation. It was to be the scion to everything from School For Sex (1969), Zeta One (1969) and Girl Slaves Of Morgana LeFay (1971) to Flesh Gordon (1974), Marie, the Doll (1976), StarCrash (1979) and Galaxina (1980). Following in the footsteps of Luane Peters, Judy Matheson, Kirsten Lindholm, Yutte Stensgaard, Pippa Steel, and Mary and Madeleine Collinson was 21-year-old Cheshire hottie Emily Booth, a curvaceous cutie with an aversion to clothing. As Pervirella Booth was modeled after Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella and the Roger Vadim adaptation from 1968 where female libido is the strongest currency, as well as Modesty Blaise. Collins’ creation had a penchant for dressing in pink just as Hanna-Barbera's Penelope Pitstop from Wacky Races (1968) and there never was a situation where Pervirella couldn’t get out of by flashing her breasts or swinging her ass. Among the many guest stars are Redemption Film muses Eileen Daly, and Rebecca Eden, as well as the controversial, BAFTA award winning Jonathan Ross (BBC’s highest paid star as of 2006) and The Word and Never Mind The Buzzcocks host Mark Lamarr. Early in the production Caroline Munro was to guest star as well, but she left after a few weeks. That Pervirella was a satirical jab at the the Royal House of Windsor is an added bonus. Before America got in on the action with Superstarlet A.D. (2000), there was Pervirella.

In the realm of Condon, evil Queen Victoria (Sexton Ming) has decreed that dissidents – intelligentsia, perverts, and otherwise - are to be rounded up and summarily executed. To that end the Queen orders that a wall be built around Condon establishing her long pined after “Monarchy of Terror”. In the underground dissent and discord with the establishment are rife and soon a rebel alliance is growing in the bowels of the city. The rebels call themselves The Cult of Perv and are presided over by the Demon Nanny (Rebecca Eden). For as long as she has been their ruler the Demon Nanny and her Cult of Perv have indulged themselves in the “Sins of the Depraved”. In her death throes she gives birth to a girl (Anna McMellin) who within seconds grows into a voluptuous babe that the Pervs name Pervirella (Emily Booth, as Emily Bouffante). In Pervirella the Cult see their long prophesied savior and a fellowship is soon formed. Professor Rumphole Pump (Ron Drand), Monty (Shend, as The Shend), Sexton Ming (Anthony Waghorne), and special agent Amicus Reilly (David Warbeck) are to embark on a “Crusade Of Doom” and assist Pervirella in any way they see fit. On their zany globetrotting adventure Pervirella and her fellowship are besieged by agents of the malefic Victoria and a trio of witches. If her journey wasn’t dangerous enough Pervirella has one tiny problem: within her bountiful bosom resides a sex demon and whenever she loses her magic talisman she’s overcome by raging nymphomania and an urge to tear her clothes off; both of which she finds impossible not to indulge…

First and foremost Pervirella aimed to revitalize the British sex comedy by taking it back to its Benny Hill roots. Next to that it’s also a very lively steampunk fantastique that lovingly spoofs Eurospy conventions and that two decades prior would probably have been made in either France or Spain. It looks as if Monty Python, Peter Jackson, Renato Polselli, and Luigi Cozzi went on a bender and in their collective state of inebriation produced a screenplay that defies description. In other words, Pervirella is delightfully insane on about every level. It also happens to be Alex Chandon’s most entertaining feature by a wide margin. Here Chandon merely serves as a conduit to Collins’ vision and most, if not all, of his shortcomings are wholly absent. The candy-colored, circus sideshow, Victorian steampunk production design is a wonder to behold. It took cosplaying (a phenomenom that originally came from early 1980s Japan) and LARPing to a then-unprecendented level and we wouldn’t be surprised if much of its cult following derived from those spheres. Also not unimportant is that Pervirella at no point takes itself seriously and that its primary concern is to have fun, above all else. It’s also a good excuse to see freshfaced 21-year-old Emily Booth cavorting around in what seems like a permanent state of partial undress. Pervirella was the injection that the very British and all but extinct knickers and knockers subgenre needed. In any case, there’s an abundance of both but it never reaches Zeta One (1969) levels of camp. Pervirella even has her own swanky, sexy theme song, just like Barbarella (1968) and Galaxina (1980)!

What to say about Emily Booth (here still calling herself Bouffante) without becoming redundant? For one thing the Bouff debuted simultaneously in Hollywood as well as in British (and, by extent, European) trash cinema. Not only did she play the lead role in a vehicle with her mind, she also made a cameo in Paul W.S. Anderson’s failed sci-fi/horror hybrid Event Horizon (1997). If anything else, it goes to show that a terrible screenplay cannot be salvaged by a swathe of respectable Hollywood actors or a big budget. Event Horizon (1997) was a lot of things, but it wasn’t good by any metric you choose to employ. Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Joely Richardson couldn’t save Event Horizon (1997) – so how was the Bouff going to stand a chance? No, Ems did right by focusing her mad energies on Pervirella, which was never going to have any mainstream appeal. To her credit the Bouff was able to parlay her turn in Pervirella into a lucrative television – and modeling career. Just two years later Emily rechristened herself Booth and went on to host Bits (1999–2001), season three of outTHERE (2003), as well being a regular presenter on Eat Cinema (2006) (now My Channel), videoGaiden (2008), and the Horror Channel. In between her television gigs Ems found time to act in Alex Chandon’s Cradle Of Fear (2001) anthology and Inbred (2011), among many others. Not bad at all for a bubbly British lass never afraid to take her top off when and where it mattered.

The other big name was late New Zealand actor David Warbeck, a veteran of nearly 80 films in a career that spanned a quarter of a century, then in his twilight years. Warbeck started out in theater productions, and performed with a small touring company in New Zealand before being awarded the New Zealand Arts Council scholarship in 1965. The scholarship allowed him to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England which he did for four terms. Sources differ whether Warbeck quit or was expelled (he was rumoured to have had an affair with Geraldine McEwan, the wife of Academy principal Hugh Cruttwell) which led him to a modeling career wherein he figured into various print – and television commercials as well as a number of fotoromanzi with Marisa Meil. His modeling engagements quickly led to opportunities in acting and Warbeck’s first role of note was in Trog (1970), the swansong of Hollywood Golden Age leading woman Joan Crawford. From there David was whisked to Italy by spaghetti western specialist Sergio Leone for A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). He returned to England for the Hammer horror Twins Of Evil (1971) from director John Hough and with Mary and Madeleine Collinson. In 1973 he was tipped to play James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973) before producer Albert R. Broccoli vetoed up-and-coming television actor Roger Moore from the spy-action series The Saint (1962-1969) who cut his teeth for the role as suave Simon Templeman.

In the years that followed Warbeck alternated between horror and action-adventure working for directors Lucio Fulci and Antonio Marghereti on The Last Hunter (1980), The Beyond (1981), Hunters Of the Golden Cobra (1982), and The Ark Of the Sun God (1984). Before Pervirella Warbeck’s last notable effort was Rat Man (1988) with Nelson de la Rosa. Warbeck famously shared the screen with everybody from Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Jack Palance and Peter Cushing to embattled Italian exploitation babes as Janet Ågren, Laura Trotter, Tisa Farrow, Catriona MacColl, and Cinzia Monreale. While doing Pervirella Warbeck was under investigation for running a brothel out of his restored high Victorian gothic Hampstead palazzo, a colossus built by associates of Sir George Gilbert Scott at the time of the construction of St Pancras station. It was custodian to a miniature salon theatre that witnessed performances from Gilbert and Sullivan, George Grossmith and Ellen Terry.

That Pervirella is acquired taste almost goes without saying and it definitely isn’t for everybody. It’s intentionally kitschy in every aspect and the pastel – and cotton candy production design is enoug to send anyone away screaming. Yet there’s something strangely appealing about a steampunk pastiche that closely mirrors Flesh Gordon (1974) in terms of plot but is completely its own beast otherwise. It wouldn’t be until some twenty years later that Josh Collins took to directing his second feature with the equally irreverent and satirical Fags In the Fast Lane (2017). In the two decades after Pervirella Alex Chandon went on to produce a number of music videos for British extreme metal band Cradle Of Filth which culminated in the band featuring in his proper debut Cradle Of Fear (2001). While Cradle Of Filth exploded into the mainstream (at least in metal terms) and have carved out a very… er, interesting career path for themselves Chandon remained a humble unknown. Chandon’s most recent feature is the suprisingly entertaining Inbred (2011) and the short film compilation Shortcuts to Hell: Volume 1 (2013). Perhaps it’s unfortunate that the Pervirella universe was never expanded or explored with a sequel. Or perhaps not, as Pervirella draws as much strength from not having been tainted by sequelitis. Only one question that remains: who will replace Emily Booth as Britain's n° 1 bra-busting cult babe?

Plot: Elaine is not your ordinary witch. She's something else...

The Love Witch isn’t just another indie film. It isn’t just another nostalgia piece either. No, it's something else. It is an affectionate love letter to the fashion, music, and cinematic conventions of the gaudy and exuberant 70s. The Love Witch is a stylistic reverie so lovingly crafted, so wonderfully executed that it feels as a conduit back into that era. Sumptuously designed, beautifully photographed, and perfectly cast The Love Witch is a treasure trove for anybody familiar with late sixties/early seventies exploitation cinema. In that respect it’s almost an arthouse production. Before anything else, The Love Witch is a two-hour throwback to the glamour and glory of 1960s Technicolor and classic Hollywood films, but with far more boiling below the surface. It’s a philosophically provocative musing on gender obstacles and a feminist manifesto wrapped in some of the most enchantingly beautiful production design this side of early Tsui Hark.

It’s framed like a Hitchcock film and unfolds like an early Tim Burton fairytale as Beetlejuice (1988) or Edward Scissorhands (1990), themselves heavily romanticized versions of 1960s romantic dramas. To its everlasting strength The Love Witch is a phantasmagoria of different moods and dabbles in a multitude of subgenres. It has the hyperstylized lighting and high-fashion of a 1970s Italian giallo from Mario Bava, Luciano Ercoli, or Dario Argento; the deep oneiric atmosphere of a French fantastique in tradition of Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971), the erotic quality and soft focus of a mid-70s Renato Polselli or Luigi Batzella gothic horror with Rita Calderoni, all while having the subtextual richness of Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (1970) and a pronounced feminist undercurrent not unlike Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967). It’s probably what something as Pervirella (1997) or Superstarlet A.D. (2000) could have looked like had it been made by a genuinely talented filmmaker on a modest to decent budget.

Newly widowed Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson) moves from San Francisco to Arcata, California to start a new life after the death of her husband Jerry (Stephen Wozniak). She takes up residence in an opulent Victorian mansion and befriends her home decorator neighbor Trish Manning (Laura Waddell). At the local teahouse Elaine meets Trish’s husband Richard (Robert Seeley). There’s an obvious attraction between the two, but Elaine ignores it. At wit’s end Elaine seeks an audience with her mentor Barbara (Jennifer Ingrum) and the head of her coven Gahan (Jared Sanford). Once back home she she brews a potion, and soon finds a lover in university literature professor Wayne Peters (Jeffrey Vincent Parise). The two have a steamy night at his cabin, and Wayne starts to obsess over her. Elaine doesn’t like that, and when she comes to wake him later, she finds him dead. She buries his remains, and sets her sights on Richard, figuring he won’t be able to obsess over her since he’s married to her friend Trish. Elaine once again does her dance of seduction and brews a him potion.

Trish suspects that Richard is having an affair since he drank himself in a stupor and is otherwise ignoring her. The sudden vanishing of Wayne attracts the attention of police investigator Griff Meadows (Gian Keys) and Elaine becomes a prime suspect. Griff, as all men are wont to do in presence of one so elegant, falls madly in love with her. At the Renaissance Faire the coven performs a mock wedding ritual for Elaine and Griff. Meanwhile Richard has killed himself obsessing over Elaine, much to the dismay of Trish. Elaine has the coven perform a love ritual for her and Griff. Meanwhile Trish has figured out that Elaine was the woman Richard was having an affair with, and goes as far to find Elaine’s altar. Intrigued she starts dressing and acting just like Elaine. When word gets out that Elaine is a witch the employees of the burlesque theater call for her to be burned. In the confusion Griff helps her escape and the two take up residence in her apartment, there Elaine concocts him a potion. Upon realizing that Griff was correct that no man can ever love her enough, Elaine stabs Griff to death. In her deepest delirium Elaine imagines that Griff proposed to her and that they are wedded.

A character-driven piece like this irrevocably stands or falls by grace of its lead. As such Samantha Robinson was perfectly cast. She has the wide-eyed features of Barbara Steele, the regal demeanour of Edwige Fenech, Femi Benussi, and Rosalba Neri, and oozes sensuality much in the same way as Soledad Miranda, Nieves Navarro, and Barbara Bouchet – all while retaining an American pin-up quality like Celeste Yarnall or Mary-Louise Parker. It also doesn’t hurt that Robinson sort of looks like a young Mary-Louise Parker. Whether she’s sporting elegant evening dresses, gazing dreamily into the frame, or seductively cavorting around in lingerie in her Victorian abode, The Love Witch made a star out of miss Robinson. Her performance was bound to attract attention, and that it did. Recently Hollywood took notice of Robinson when Quentin Tarantino cast her in his award-winning 1970s epic Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019). Impressive when you think Robinson’s only remembered prior work was the indie thriller Misogynist (2013), and the functionally bland Lifetime television movie Sugar Daddies (2014). “I’m the Love Witch,” Robinson chirps in an early scene, “I’m your ultimate fantasy!” Truer words have seldom been spoken. Hedonism is, can, and should be, a virtue.

The real beauty of The Love Witch is how multi-faceted and multi-layered it is. It’s a cinematic Rorschach test of sorts. You take from it what you want, and you see in it what your tastes steer you towards. Coming to it from the angle that we do (from a cult, obscure, and weird cinema perspective) it’s a celebration of fringe cinema, and of dead genres. It’s as American as they come yet there’s something really French and Spanish about it. The setting is American, but the pastel and pink-white color palette is informed by Italian genre cinema. The Love Witch has a coven, a riff on Satanic panic, the devil cult, and the Inquisition movies of the seventies; the romantic montages play out like those of a commedia sexy all’Italiana (without the overt sexism and machismo), and the entire thing has the feel of a French drama with Muriel Catalá or Isabelle Adjani. It’s Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972) with a glorious helping of psychotronics and psychedelia straight out of All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), or any of the LSD counterculture movies following Easy Rider (1969). It’s equal amounts Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971) as it is Suspiria (1977). Disconnected from the influences that you project onto it, The Love Witch is just very, very good.

That The Love Witch is the work of just one woman makes it all the more impressive, especially with this being an indie. The creative force behind The Love Witch is Anna Biller. Not only did Biller write, produce, and direct this two-hour feature; she also served as art director, production – and costume designer, action choreographer, props master, and composer. If that weren’t impressive enough in and of itself, The Love Witch was only her second directorial feature coming after the retro sex comedy Viva (2007) and a handful of shorts (in 2001, 1998, and 1994). She had to fight tooth and nail to realize her vision and lensed it with a hostile, mutinous crew (that saw a host of their number either leaving or actively sabotaging the production). That Biller has but two credits to her name is testament to how fully realized, lovingly crafted, and richly detailed her features are.

In her score she borrows a few stings from the Ennio Morricone soundtracks to A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971) and All the Colors of the Dark (1972). A good choice, definitely. Truth be told, The Love Witch is the sort of production where you’d expect a few winks and nods towards Bruno Nicolai’s work for Jess Franco, especially something dreamy as A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) or Nightmares Come At Night (1972). In the sixties Samantha Robinson would have been a Bond girl, and a decade removed from that she would have been serious competition for Eurobabes as Soledad Miranda, Edwige Fenech, Rosalba Neri, Barbara Bouchet, Luciana Paluzzi, Yutte Stensgaard, Valerie Leon, Betsabé Ruiz, and Silvia Tortosa. Any which way you slice it, The Love Witch is an exceptional piece of independent filmmaking. To say that we’re excited for whatever Anna Biller does next would be an understatement.