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Plot: bored socialites screw themselves, and others, over on opulent yacht

The abolition of the Hays Code in 1968 finally allowed American filmmakers to capitalize on the Sexual Revolution that was taking place in various places around the world. No longer restricted by its stifling regulations and free of its rigorous censoring directors could finally push the envelope in a more liberated fashion. In parallel movement erotic cinema surged in Canada thanks to Danielle Ouimet and her fellow stars of Maplesyrup porn (which is something of a misnomer as many productions of the cycle were soft erotic movies by and large) and the commedia sexy all'italiana turning up the heat in view of the more looser societal norms.

Leading the charge in terms of sexual liberation and gratuitous display of skin was Top Sensation (released in North America as The Seducers through Jerry Gross' Cinemation Industries), a thriller mostly remembered for being the only thriller, or early giallo, to pair together Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech, two of Italy's most desirable exploitation starlets. In a number of ways Top Sensation laid the groundwork for Nico Mastorakis’ deeply cynical Hellenic proto-slasher Island Of Death (1976). Dismissed on release as an exercise in pulp and tedium Top Sensation has since garnered the reputation of something of a cult favorite. Its formula proved strong enough that it even spawned one or two imitations of it own. Not bad for a movie about a bunch of unlikeable, bored rich people.

Ottavio Alessi had been second unit directing in various capacity since 1940, so it seems only logical that he would eventually ascent to the director’s chair to helm his own features. His only directing credit prior to Top Sensation was the Totò comedy What Ever Happened to Baby Totò? (1964). Handling second unit direction for the production was Rosalba Neri, who had over a decade of experience in front of the camera by that point. Based upon his earlier writing, and the decadence that would give Top Sensation its repute, Alessi was hired to co-write the screenplay for The Snake God (1970) with Nadia Cassini and to later provide the story for the Joe D’Amato directed Black Emanuelle installments Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage (1976), and Emanuelle in America (1977).

Top Sensation takes the central premise of Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962), one part of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), and spices it up with a healthy dose of Mediterreanean eroticism. Directed by screenwriter Ottavio Alessi Top Sensation works despite its minuscule budget and solitary location. In fact Top Sensation spawned imitations of its own with Giuliano Biagetti’s Interrabang (1969), with Haydée Politoff, and Ruggero Deodato’s Waves Of Lust (1975) with Deodato’s wife-to-be Silvia Dionisio in what looked like a constant state of undress. Not that Top Sensation is in any way lacking in terms of bare skin and nudity on display. Capitalizing on the nascent pin-up culture Top Sensation puts its two leading ladies in the skimpiest of bikinis, and more often than not, out of them.

Central to the plot of Top Sensation is middle-aged oil heiress Mudy (Maud Belleroche, as Maud De Belleroche), a jetset socialite, who has taken her mentally challenged, socially stunted son Tony (Ruggero Miti) on a boating trip on her yacht. Tony lives isolated in his bunk and enjoys nothing more than playing with his toy cars, and starting the occassional fire. Invited along for the trip are the stunning Paola (Rosalba Neri) and Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia), a young couple whose frolicking she hopes will spark the flame of sexual desire in Tony. Also on the yacht is Ulla (Edwige Fenech), a high-class escort, to ensure that Tony's first sexual experience is worth treasuring. To its credit the screenplay keeps how Mudy came into her fortune - whether she amassed it herself, or plainly married into it - rather vague. Circling around Mudy like vultures are Paola and Aldo, an upper-class gold-digging young couple, who take turns seducing the seemingly always cranky Mudy. Ulla partakes in the scheme but for entirely different reasons than Paola and Aldo. When the boat experiences technical problems near an island, and Tony takes a liking to naive, world-strange goat herder Beba (Eva Thulin, as Ewa Thulin) things go haywire when her husband Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) gets wind of the situation…

Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech spent most of their screentime in the skimpiest of bikinis, and about as much time out of them. Both women are highly sexual, and completely sexualized. In its defense at least Top Sensation makes no qualms or excuses about the fact. Early on Paola and Ulla notice Andro spying on them from the foliage. “God, I wish he'd move into the open more,” Ulla muses, “he ought to be hard by now” Paola notes in a near-porn exchange. The two girls lure him out by taking their tops off and oiling each other on the deck with sunscreen. When the boat first experiences trouble, Tony disappears and is seen on the nearest island. Aldo and Ulla volunteer to search the shore and return the young boy. At one point Ulla, wearing nothing more than a captain’s hat and a white shirt, runs into a wandering goat nearby Beba’s farm, something which greatly excites her. Aroused by the farm animal she spills out her left breast - which the goat happily indulges in suckling with reckless abandon - as the goat makes its way down she allows herself to be orally pleasured by the animal. Aldo, enthused at the shore-bound vista, wastes no time in documenting the salacious happening with a photocamera he brought along for the trip. Later on the boat Paola and Ulla ravage Beba by feeding her alcohol, and the two are only stopped when Mudy barges in on the lower deck.

The stars of Top Sensation are Rosalba Neri, at the height of desirability at 31, and Edwige Fenech, a freshfaced 21 year old model-turned-actress from France. Neri was regular in peplum, spaghetti western, Eurospy adventures and comedies throughout most of the sixties. Rosalba had also partaken in several Jess Franco productions by that point, back when doing so wasn't considered a surefire way to either sabotage, or end, one's career in the cinematic arts. Top Sensation marked Neri's trajectory towards more risqué productions. Not only did she direct second unit but also ensured that she looks amazing for the entirety of the production. In the seventies Neri would figure into, among others, The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971), The French Sex Murders (1972) (an all-star giallo with Anita Ekberg, Barbara Bouchet and Evelyne Kraft), and The Devil's Wedding Night (1973). Even though Neri was anywhere and everywhere in the 1970s she never truly established herself as a leading lady, much in the same way as her contemporaries Paola Tedesco and Rita Calderoni. In short, Top Sensation is sensational and quintessential viewing for Rosalba Neri completists/fanatics.

In more ways than one Top Sensation was a career-defining performance from the nubile Edwige Fenech. Fenech owned much, if not all, of her acting career to director Sergio Martino. After Edwige's appearance in Mario Bava’s 5 Dolls For An August Moon (1970) Martino directed her in The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and All Colors Of the Dark (1972). The only thing of note that Fenech had done prior to Top Sensation was the amiable adventure Samao, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) along with that other famous comedic star of the 1970s, Femi Benussi. Thanks to her work in giallo with Sergio Martino, Fenech would establish herself as the royalty of domestic exploitation. In the following decade Edwige would make her return to the commedia sexy all'italiana where she originally found her footing. Like her co-star Rosalba Neri, Edwige Fenech doesn't shy from the near-constant or partial nudity that her role requires. She seems to be having a blast.

Top Sensation was the only acting credit for Maud Belleroche and the screen debut for Eva Thulin whose career lasted a brief two years and encompasses a total of four movies. Maud de Belleroche is a Baroness from the exclusive 17th arrondissement of Paris, France who gained some repute and infamy as a writer, journalist and sympathizer to the Collaboration. As a student she was the mistress of Jean Luchaire and eventually followed her second husband Georges Guilbaud in exile to Germany, Italy, Spain and Argentina. De Belleroche was a decorated sportswoman (French junior ice skating champion, French record-holder scuba-diving) and gifted orator for Amis de Versailles, Amis des Châteaux de la Loire, Alliance Française, Connaissance du monde. She published various book under the alias Sacquard de Belleroche and won the Prix ​​Broquette-Gonin of literature of the French Academy in 1963 for Five Characters in search of Emperor. Her memoire The Ordinatrice from 1968 was so popular that it warranted a follow-up a few years down the line. Ruggero Miti - whose acting career lasted from 1966 to 1972, and whose only other credit of note is La Rivoluzione Sessuale (1968) with commedia sexy all-italiana queen Laura Antonelli - has the look of a 1970s Milo Ventimiglia or rather a fairly standard 1970s Italian pretty boy.

There's plenty of the naked female form to be had in Top Sensation, but it is custodian to quite some rich subtext beyond the superficiality of the premise. First and foremost, Top Sensation is about corruption: the corruption of wealth, the corruption of innocence and its brazen transgressive sexual politics qualify it as a giallo. Every character, Beba excepted, is thoroughly reprehensible. Paola and Aldo are two bored upper-class yuppies, with Paola being a bisexual nymphomaniac to boot. Ulla is a first-class opportunist who will jump at every chance if it involves personal enrichment. Mudy is high-strung, bossy, and abusive to anyone in her vicinity, not only Tony. At one point she encourages Beba, battered once more by her inebriated peasant of a husband, to cast off the shackles of the subservient, submissive housewife role she has assumed. However, none of it is genuine, as Mudy only does so as a way of extorting money from Andro via Beba. In other words, every single person, with exception of Beba, on the boat is thoroughly corrupted by greed, jealousy, and emotionally manipulative in the worst of ways.

Bored with their wealth and bored with their lives the socialites on the yacht will stop at nothing to screw over someone, anyone, everyone if it helps in their personal enrichment. Paola and Aldo are hired by Mudy to get Tony interested in the fairer sex, but that doesn't stop the two from trying to seduce Mudy at various points. Paola only shows interest in Beba once it's clear that Tony cares for her. In the ultimate act of corruption Paola and Ulla feed Beba alcohol which leads into a memorable girl-on-girl three-way that makes Paola's sapphic liaison with Mudy pale in comparison. By proxy Ulla is the least morally bankrupt of the socialites as she's merely there on a contractual basis, although that doesn't make her any less culpable in what ultimately transpires. Top Sensation is transgressive and risqué at various points but it never quite develops into something that really pushes the envelope. It's the old warhorse: the decadent ruling class feeding on the proletariat.

Concluded by a quote from Ecclesiastes in hopes of redeeming itself Top Sensation manages to do a lot with very little. With only a single location at its disposal the premise hinges on how well the dialog is able to sell the characters. Terrible English dubbing notwithstanding every actor gives his or her all to the characters. Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are a delight as a duo of nymphomaniac sex kittens that struggle to keep their clothes on, Maurizio Bonuglia revels in playing a sleazebag, whereas Eva Thulin shines as the innocent shepherd girl. Salvatore Puntillo enjoys the role of the somewhat dimwitted peasant, but in return is allowed to rub closely to both Neri and Fenech. Ruggero Miti is at his best in the scenes with Thulin, but his character is not nearly inculpable in the events that unfold. For a production as impoverished Top Sensation is a scathing indictment of the upper-class and reveals some surprising subtextual depth next to its rampant and near-constant showcasing of its generously formed and seldom clothed female lead duo.

Plot: the sins of the father shall be visited upon the daughter

Lady Frankenstein is another of the many Italian gothic horror potboilers with the always enchanting Rosalba Neri in the titular role. Based upon a story by Dick Randall, and written by, among others, Edward Di Lorenzo and directed by Mel Welles (and an uncredited Aureliano Luppi), Lady Frankenstein boasts an international cast including faded Hollywood star Joseph Cotten, exploitation regulars Paul Müller, Herbert Fux, and Mickey Hargitay. Lady Frankenstein stays true to the basic tenets of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel and oozes with enough rustic gothic horror charm, and a surprising amount of Neri nudity, to compensate for the somewhat lackluster script and a distinct lack of striking visuals.

Director Mel Welles had worked for exploitation mogul Roger Corman for over a decade by the time Lady Frankenstein was put into production. According to an interview with Welles in the 2007 Louis Paul tome Tales from the Cult Film Trenches one of the producers – Harry Cushing, a well-to-do American living in Italy - had a thing for Neri and built Lady Frankenstein, originally from a script called Lady Dracula, as a project specifically with her in mind. Neri did not reciprocate Cushing’s advances. When some of the financing fell through at the last minute Roger Corman stepped in. Despite not having a solid script when principal photography began, and the involvement of no less than six writers (Umberto Borsato, Edward Di Lorenzo, Egidio Gelso, Aureliano Luppi, Dick Randall, and Mel Welles), Lady Frankenstein never devolves into incoherence despite a minimum of plot.

In Lady Frankenstein Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) and his assistant Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Müller) have at long last mastered the ability to revive an exanimate subject. In a revolutionary transplant, lifted wholesale from The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) and later repurposed in Marino Girolami’s cynical cross-genre exercise Zombi Holocaust (1981) a decade after this pompous gothic horror romp, the two scientists will place the brain of the soon-to-be-hung Jack Morgan (Petar Martinov) in a recombined body they prepared earlier. Lecherous vulture, part-time grave robber and full-time creep, Tom Lynch (Herbert Fux) is overjoyed at the idea of his old enemy finally becoming of use to him. Lynch assists both scientists in bringing their experiments to fruition as long as there is a monetary compensation. Throwing caution to the wind, and against Marshall’s protests, Frankenstein senior is adamant in commencing the experiment regardless of the circumstances.

At that point the Baron’s college graduate daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri, as Sara Bay), now bearing a degree in medicine from the same faculty that ousted her father many years prior, arrives at the old homestead. Despite a quarter century age gap the middle-aged Marshall has been pining for Tania for several years. Tania immediately puts her comely charms to use, winding Marshall around her finger, while getting wind of her father’s dabbling in illicit necro-biologic experiments. As the Creature (Peter Whiteman) becomes animate Marshall leaves to summon Tania to witness the resurrection. This leaves the geriatric Frankenstein to the mercy of the Creature’s super-human strength. As Tania and Marshall return to the laboratory they find the lifeless body of Frankenstein the elder, and the Creature having fled into the nearby woods. Soon the Creature’s rampage prompts an investigation by Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay). In a three-way power struggle for survival Tania, Lynch, and Harris attempt to outwit each other.

As it turns out Tania does admire Marshall, but not on the way he probably imagined, or desires. Tania has taken a liking to feebleminded but able-bodied stableboy Thomas (Marino Masé) and by her reasoning Thomas’ frame with Marshall’s brain as a guide would form the ultimate countermeasure against the elder Frankenstein’s homicidal Creature. Tania’s seduction (and corruption) of Thomas foreshadows Neri’s work in The Devil’s Wedding Night two years later. In a plot scribbled from James Whale’s The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) Tania builds a second creature not for her late father’s Creature, but for herself. “Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable love for the dead?asked the poster and Tania, in the form of seductress Rosalba Neri, fits that descriptor like no other. To nobody’s surprise Frankenstein the younger is forced to betray her creation, and Lady Frankenstein ends in a sizzling climax, both literal and figurative, that leaves Harris, thwarted at every turn, picking up the pieces.

Joseph Cotten, an American actor in his twilight years, had appeared in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), and The Third Man (1949), Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), the Richard Fleischer science fiction classic Soylent Green (1973) with Charlton Heston, Airport ’77 (1977) alongside George Kennedy and Gone With the Wind (1939) star Olivia de Havilland, and Michael Cimino’s big-budget western fiasco Heaven’s Gate (1980). From 1971 onward Cotten frequently appeared in low-budget Italian exploitation shlock. In 1969 Rosalba Neri had figured into a trio of Jesús Franco productions with the likes of Luciana Paluzzi, Maria Rohm, and Christopher Lee but also starred in the offshore giallo Top Sensation with Edwige Fenech. Neri appeared in the Fernando di Leo giallo The Beast Kills in Cold Blood (1971). A year after Lady Frankenstein Neri starred another gothic horror piece with L'Amante del Demonio (1972), and The French Sex Murders (1972) with Anita Ekberg and Evelyne Kraft, later of The Mighty Peking Man (1977) and Lady Dracula (1977). In 1973 Neri graced the screen, alongside Mark Damon, in the gothic horror throwback The Devil’s Wedding Night.

Swiss actor Paul Müller made uncredited appearances in respectable productions as El Cid (1961), and Barabbas (1961) before becoming a pillar in continental European exploitation cinema, primarily in Italy and Spain, through turns in Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1956), Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (1965) with Helga Liné, Amando de Ossorio’s Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) with Rosanna Yanni, and in the Jesús Franco productions Eugénie (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), The Devil Came From Akasava (1971) and Nightmares Come at Night (1972) with Soledad Miranda, and Diana Lorys. Hungarian actor Mickey Hargitay, father of Emmy and Golden Globe winner Mariska from long-running police procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999), ended up in the Italian exploitation industry and had appeared in Revenge Of the Gladiators (1964), Bloody Pit Of Horror (1965), and The Reincarnation Of Isabel (1973). Marino Masé debuted in the peplum comedy The Rape Of the Sabines (1961) with Roger Moore, and appeared in Nightmare Castle (1965), Emanuelle Around the World (1977), Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III (1990).

Herbert Fux was a veteran of German TV and cinema, having appeared in popular series as Tatort (1972), Der Alte (1980), der Bergdoktor (1992), and mainstream cinema hits such as The Three Musketeers (1993) and Astérix & Obélix contre César (1999). In exploitation circles he appeared in some of the Kommissar X action/adventure movies through out the 1960s, and a few Tiroler sex comedies from Franz Josef Gottlieb and Alois Brummer in the 1970s, and uncredited in the budget-deprived Lady Dracula (1977) opposite of Evelyne Kraft. Fux portrayed the Devil that copulated with nubile starlet Susan Hemingway in the Jesús Franco production Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun (1977). Fux was dubbed in the English language version by director Mel Welles, himself an experienced actor.

One of the more interesting aspects of Lady Frankenstein is its pronounced feminist angle, which isn’t strange considering its release that coincided with the Women’s Liberation movement that was gaining momentum in 1971. Tania Frankenstein is, for good or ill, an emancipated, highly intelligent, determined, coldly calculating woman that will stop at absolutely nothing - including murder - to finish her late father’s experiments on reanimating the dead, or acquire the man she craves. From the moment she is introduced, and especially after her father’s passing near the half hour mark, all men, in one way or the other, become subservient to her whims. Tania’s ambition and desire to vindicate her father’s theories eventually pushes her into the same god-like madness that can only lead to death and destruction. As the only character worthy of an arc it is Tania that becomes the crux in the travails in each of her male co-players. The men that circle around Tania are either bottomfeeders (Lynch), boytoys (Thomas), useless idiots (Harris) or willing accomplices (Marshall). In a Freudian slip that results in her killing Tania exclaims “Thomas!” in a particular passionate lovemaking session with the Marshall-Thomas creature, unleashing jealous rage in the latent Marshall part.

While not among the worst of Frankenstein adaptations Lady Frankenstein is emblematic of gothic horror of the day. It's portentous and heavy on that rustic Hammer Horror atmosphere but on a fraction of the budget. The distinguished presence of Joseph Cotten and the always alluring Rosalba Neri can only carry the rudimentary script so far. Like Spanish production Necrophagus (1971) it is thick in atmosphere, but seldom yields any heart-stopping visuals or arresting imagery. It's functional and competently directed, but rarely inspired as such. There's enough Neri nudity but Lady Frankenstein never aspires to the pompous erotic heights of The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973). Rosalba Neri had appeared in better movies, both before and after, Lady Frankenstein. The score by Alessandro Alessandroni is majestic and gloomy in equal measure. Neri's presence might make it of interest to Italian gothic horror fans, or completists - but Lady Frankenstein probably wouldn't be remembered today if it weren't for her portraying the titular character.