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Plot: diamond is stolen from high-profile target. LETHAL Ladies are on the case.

Andy Sidaris closed the book on the original LETHAL Ladies franchise with Fit to Kill, the conclusion of the three-part Kane storyline and the last of the 5-picture deal that Sidaris brokered after the home video success of Picasso Trigger (1988). Not all episodes were created equal, and some were just plain better than others. The LETHAL Ladies movies never aspired to anything more than fun-loving spy/action romps set in and around Hawaii with a rotating bevy of bosomy belles in candy-colored bikinis and where explosions, shootouts, and an abundance of oversized breasts stood in for trivial things such as inter-episode continuity, ongoing plot, and character development. For a while the series had been losing steam but good old Andy had found a new muse in the interim. The last original LETHAL Ladies chapter Fit to Kill is a glorious throwback to the halcyon days of Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and Savage Beach (1989).

The franchise always largely served as an excuse to flaunt big guns (both literal and figurative), oversized explosions, and the thinnest veneer of a spy-action plot. Nobody loved beautiful women more than the late Andy Sidaris and what better way to get into their good graces than to promise them stardom? In their six years with the series Dona Speir, Roberta Vasquez, and Cynthia Brimhall all had become, to lesser or greater extent, superstars in their own little corner of cult cinema. After Hope Marie Carlton bade the series farewell after Savage Beach (1989) it effectively made Dona Speir the de facto series mascot. Years of headlining the LETHAL Ladies had taken their toll on Speir and she was ready to move on. Fit to Kill was the last featuring Speir, Vasquez, and Brimhall and (obviously) new blood and bodies were needed. Sidaris the elder was, for all intents and purposes, ready to retire the series and what was more fit to kill the franchise than the “Andy’s greatest hits” that was Fit to Kill? In the two years that followed Andy’s son Christian Drew took up the mantle and produced the two expanded universe episodes Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) with his Skyhawks Films. Sidaris the younger may not have gloriously risen to the occassion, but he managed to extend the series’ lifespan beyond what was reasonably expected of it. Both Sidaris universes merged in Day of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998).

To keep its operatives sharp The Agency is organizing war games. After the obligatory swim in the resident pool Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez) engage Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane, as Michael Shane) and Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) in a round of paintball and target practice. Meanwhile at Aladdin Resort & Casino, Martin Kane (Geoffrey Moore, as RJ Moore) is hatching a convoluted plan to bring down federal agent Hamilton, lure his former criminal associate Po (Craig Ng, as Craig Ryan Ng) into the open, and take possession of the vaunted Alexa diamond. At no point does Silk (Carolyn Liu), an Agency informant, find it necessary to relay any of this information. Having failed to produce the Klystron Relay nuclear trigger as ordered, Kane has now fallen out of Po’s and his client’s favor making him fair game for not respecting the criminal code. Po has dispatched statuesque leather-clad hitwoman Blu Steele (Julie Strain) to collect the outstanding debt and the prize on his head.

Back at the The Agency headquarters Lucas (Tony Peck) briefs the agents of their latest objective: the infiltration of a high-society black-tie event wherein philanthropist and entrepreneur Chang (Aki Aleong) will cordially donate the Russian imperial diamond stolen from the Leningrad museum during World War II to a Russian diplomat as an act of restoration. The Agency will monitor the diamond, handle security, and oversee the exchange. It sounds like a simple enough operation. Edy (Cynthia Brimhall) and Lucas commence the necessary preparations, while Donna and Bruce reconoiter the event perimeter for any possible breaches. Nicole busies herself with screening all of the invitees and personnel. Rookie agent Ava (Ava Cadell) will act as a delegate to meet Russian diplomat Mikael Petrov (Rodrigo Obregón, as Rodrigo Obregon) and his aide Gregor (Mark Barriere). Shane Abilene will stay behind at the offices of K SXY radio and familiarize new Agency trainee Sandy (Sandra Wild) with all the necessary procedures, in theory and in practice, before her first field operation. In the confusion at the black-tie party Kane’s tracking necklace is stolen (among other riches) leading Nicole and Bruce on a hurried retrieval mission while being chased by bumbling assassins Evil (Chu Chu Malave) and Kinevil (Richard Cansino). When the true culprit finally reveals himself Donna, Kane, and a few bystanders are abducted. An explosive, bullet-ridden clash between the various factions seems imminent. As the smoke clears and the chaos subsides Donna Hamilton solemny philosophizes that her “work here is done.” Prophetic words, indeed.

A changing of the guards was on the horizon and with the late great Julie Strain the series was given a second lease on life. Strain was a Penthouse Pet (June, 1991), Pet of the Year (1993), muse of Spanish fantasy illustrator Luis Royo, and she who should have been Vampirella. Strain was no stranger to action with roles in Hollywood actioners as Out For Justice (1991) (with Steven Seagal) and Double Impact (1991) (with Jean-Claude Van Damme) next to bit parts in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). As Speir retired from the series Strain became the new mascot easily eclipsing her equally well-endowed co-stars Shae Marks and Julie K. Smith. The new cast never really gelled and there was no real chemistry between Strain and Marks the way there was between either Speir-Carlton or Speir-Vasquez. It was never for a lack of trying on Julie’s part. She took these roles perhaps far more serious than they deserved.

The only real new face (or body, rather) is Sandra Wild. Wild appeared in Playboy several times over the years, most notably in August 1991 as part of the “California Dreamin’” article. In a rare exception to Sidaris casting traditions Sandra apparently never made it to Playmate but appeared in multiple of their home videos. She also starred in the 1990 Michael Bay directed music video for ‘Up All Night’ from Slaughter. Wild amassed a respectable amount of (mostly uncredited) decorative roles in popular television series as Married with Children (1989), Full House (1989), Columbo (1990), Star Trek: The Next Generation (1990), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1994), and Walker, Texas Ranger (1995). Not that that translated into something resembling a real acting career. For better or worse, the casting choices here would be an omen for things to come.

Sidaris, senior and junior alike, were about to learn an important lesson: with great boobs comes great responsibility. While there never was any particular shortage of willing and able Playmates to choose from they would never quite find suitable replacements for both Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton or Roberta Vasquez. Christian Drew tried his darndest to find the right duo (you may interpret that any way you want) but none were really able to recreate the chemistry between the original two platinum blondes. Roberta Vasquez really made the role of Nicole Justin (who always was a thinly-veiled proxy-Taryn) her own and Strain was only second to her in becoming a pillar of the series in her own right. All of which speaks to just how iconic Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton were to the series and how dangerously their shadow loomed over whoever was chosen to follow in their collective footprints. For the most part the rule of thumb was that a Playmate’s bust-size was inversely proportional to her line-reading skills (Julie Strain being the exception). The original LETHAL Ladies would be resurrected for two episodes with Day of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998). No more sequels were produced by either Andy or Christian Drew after 1998. Sidaris the elder himself would pass away in 2007. In the decade-plus since nobody has risen to the task of filling that particular niche. Secretly we’re hoping either Rene Perez or Benjamin Combes will do so, but only time will tell.

Plot: mad scientist is making zombies out of natives on Caribbean island.

What is I Eat Your Skin if not gloriously lunkheaded and outrageously hilarious Florida drive-in hokum from the Sunshine State’s foremost specialist of such things, Del Tenney? Arriving too late to be of any importance in shaping the zombie mythology and harkening back to the halcyon days of Coleman Francis, Harold P. Warren, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Ed Wood I Eat Your Skin was a relic of a bygone era even back in 1964. Surpassed only in sheer incompetence by William Girdler and J.G. Patterson Jr., Del Tenney had made a name for himself with The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) and The Horror of Party Beach (1964). I Eat Your Skin was his first feature before his acting as an associate producer on the epic Terence Young ensemble disasterpiece Poppies Are Also Flowers (1966), only for it to be released some five years later. I Eat Your Skin is a relic remembered for all the wrong reasons and loved for all the right ones. Even Mortician seems to acknowledge as much. Not that that is a good barometer for anything, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I Eat Your Skin was filmed in and around Florida (South Beach, Miami and Key Biscayne, to name the most prominent) over a three-week period in 1964 on an estimated budget of $120,000 under the working title of Caribbean Adventure to hide from investors that it was a horror feature. Tenney had brokered a distribution deal with Twentieth Century Fox who stipulated that he use a union production crew or otherwise the deal would not be honoured. Tenney was none too happy with the elongated production schedule (a week longer than his usual two) and he would end up describing the union crew as, "slow and uncooperative." Second unit direction was handled by that other veteran of Florida exploitation bilge, William Grefé. That Tenney insisted on black-and-white all but ensured that the deal with Fox would not go through. Endearing in its naivité but brazen enough to be exploitative I Eat Your Skin never lives up to the promise of its premise. By 1964 filmmakers across genres were boldly charging forward and pushing the envelope on any number of fronts. I Eat Your Skin does or has none of that. As for more recently, a drive-in theater sign for it can be briefly seen in the long-delayed Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind (which began production in 1970 but wouldn’t see release until 2018) advertizing it alongside I Drink Your Blood (1970). As is age-old tradition, it’s our solemn duty to report that there is no, and will not be any, skin-eating whatsoever in I Eat Your Skin.

At the Fontainebleau resort in South Beach, Miami pulp novelist Tom Harris (William Joyce) is about to engage in his umpteenth poolside affair with a willing bikinied socialite (George-Ann Williamson). Just before Harris can put the moves on her and her irate husband can put hands on him Tom’s escorted away by his publicist Duncan Fairchild (Dan Stapleton) and his golddigger wife Coral (Betty Hyatt Linton). He's to embark on what’s to be an expedition to Voodoo Island in the Caribbean. There Harris is to research the native customs for his next best seller on the estate of European nobleman Lord Carrington. Having landed on the island Tom is attacked by a bug-eyed zombie but manages to escape intact thanks to an intervention by Charles Bentley (Walter Coy), the man in charge of overseeing the estate of the absent heir, and his armed posse. That evening Harris makes his acquaintance with Jeannie Biladeau (Heather Hewitt), the virginal daughter of scientist Dr. Auguste Biladeau (Robert Stanton). Biladeau informs him that the locals partake in rituals involving a plant-based narcotic that puts them in a zombie-like state. Plus, they descend from an earlier tribe who engaged in human sacrifice to appease their god, Papa Neybo. Apropos of nothing, Biladeau has been working in the jungle on a possible cure for cancer based upon snake venom. When Jeannie is kidnapped by the natives for a blood sacrifice to their god the question arises of who’s the graver threat: the superstitious savages and their tribal customs or the god-fearing man of science?

Make no mistake, this is the umpteenth 50s safari adventure enlivened slightly by golem-like zombies and mod-fabulous curvaceous bikini babes. Sporting a breezy soundtrack that is equal parts calypso as it is jazz I Eat Your Skin is about as schizophrenic as its score. Alternately obnoxious and exploitative it never quite manages to settle on a tone. While the suave playboy shtick was timely with the ascension of James Bond in popular culture the Fontainebleau opening feels like one of those bikini comedies with John Agar from a decade earlier. Not that it gets any better once the action moves to the Caribbean. Once there it becomes evident just how much of a relic of a bygone time I Eat Your Skin truly is. The Voodoo Island second half oozes Liane, Jungle Goddess (1956) from its every colonialist imperialist pore. Square-jawed males, mad science, racial stereotypes, and damsels-in-distress abound in cheapo fifties horror tradition. The zombie make-up is schintzy at best but not any worse than, say, Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies (1966). I Eat Your Skin is not well remembered, and to the extent that it’s remembered at all is that it probably went on to inspire the much crazier Filipino, Spanish, and Italian variations of the form. For one, it’s a shlocky drive-in precursor to The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island (1968). The voodoo aspect would be further explored in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), and most of the plot would be kindly recycled in Zombie Holocaust (1980) and Jess Franco’s Devil Hunter (1980).

By the time it was finally released theatrically in 1971 I Eat Your Skin had been outdone in every respect by George A. Romero’s gritty Night of the Living Dead (1968) on the horror side of things. On the other hand by the time the Sexual Revolution of 1968 and the Summer Of Love rolled around it was a completely different time. A year later Top Sensation (1969) and Zeta One (1969) both capitalized on said newfound freedoms. The dawning of the seventies heralded the decade of free love and German, French, and Italian sex comedies were racier than I Eat Your Skin could ever hope to be. It was hopelessly chaste and charmingly old-fashioned by the de facto standard of the day - or even by the standards of 1964. That it was filmed in economic black-and-white probably didn’t help its case either. That it was paired with I Drink Your Blood (1970) (one of the most violent drive-in hits prior to the marquee year of 1972) by Jerry Gross (who paid Tenney $40,000 for the rights) for his Cinemation Industries’ infamous “Two Great Blood-Horrors to Rip-Out Your Guts!” drive-in double feature must have led to some interesting reactions. In the end I Eat Your Skin is barely remembered for anything other than its larger-than-life publicity campaign. Or that it was sampled by Mortician. You decide what’s more important…