Secret Key Motion Pictures strike again, this time with a double-bill of films directed by the prolific and legendary American producer/distributor Jerry Gross - the man who sold us films such as I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and FRITZ THE CAT.

First up is 1970's FEMALE ANIMAL (a.k.a. TEENAGERS FOR SALE; LA MUJER DEL GATO), lensed by Gross under the pseudonym of Juan Carlo Grinella.

In keeping with the attempts to fool the cinema-going patrons of 1970 into believing that this was an exotic overseas production, not only does Gross use a foreign-sounding alter-ego but films in sun-kissed Puerto Rico locations and has his actors deliberately post-dubbed clumsily. The effect is jarring but undeniably effective in a cheap, grindhouse style.

The film itself opens with soft music and the sumptuous sights of Angelique (Arlene Farber) engaging in spirited sex with a love between silk sheets. Check out his enthusiastic kneading of her arse cheeks. Afterwards, he sits back with a cigarette while our young heroine looks bored and dissatisfied.

Her middle-aged partner - a priest! - asks how she got into her current life of doped-up prostitution. Angelique kicks him out, and then turns to the only thing in the world that she trusts: her pet cat. Cue a provocative scene of almost-bestiality, where the pussycat's tongue laps agonisingly close to Angelique's exposed gusset ...

From there, the film goes into flashback mode as we see Angelique leave home and take off into the attractive sunny countryside on her bicycle. Before long she's run off the road by well-dressed tycoon Medici (Vassili Lambrinos) - "ooh, my bike, it's broken" .... As apologetic as he is suave (very), Medici reveals himself to be a local Count and offers runaway Angelique a job in his luscious home as a maid.

But it soon becomes apparent what Medici has in mind. And Angelique is happy to oblige, enjoying the pampering and spoils that come with having an affair with her new employer. Cue more spirited sex, including a most photogenic swimming pool romp.

However, the decadent lifestyle of the rich leads to Angelique enjoying affiances with sultry Francesca (Jeanne Avery) and Medici's randy son Alain (Andre Landzaat). All of which gradually leads - through attempted rape in the woods (very tame) and some laughable rows - to Angelique becoming so jaded that the story comes round full circle, and we see her descend into the life of the film's start.

Stretched out to a pain-inducing 91 minutes in length, this phoney slice of Eurosleaze plays more like a stilted melodrama - a soap opera of cheap decor within it's real house sets, risible righteous dialogue and overwrought performances.

The nudity is quite full-on for it's time, offering a nice amount of hairy black bush and pert unaided breasts. Farber is an attractive lead blessed with a beguiling demeanour and come-to-bed eyes. But when you weigh these attributes up against the lumbering script and endless padding (hippy bands playing in bars; long strolls or bike rides through the countryside, etc), it's an uphill struggle when trying to find this all watchable.

At times it's stylishly shot, with a psychedelic edge shining through on occasion. So for lovers of retro erotica, there may be something to enjoy here. It's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination - just laboured and forgettable.

The film is presented uncut in non-anamorphic 2.35:1. The transfer is taken from the original 35mm elements and is certainly vibrant in terms of colour. However, images wobble and tone changes noticeably between some scenes. Occasionally worn-looking and not exhibiting the sharpest of images, FEMALE ANIMAL looks exactly like what it is: old film.

The English 2.0 audio is reliable for the most part, being hiss-free and audible throughout. The levels do undeniably waver though.

As is customary for Secret Key releases, there is no scene-selection menu beyond the static main menu page. But the film can be remote-accessed by way of 18 chapters.

Extras for FEMALE ANIMAL include an above average audio commentary track from cult filmmaker Sam Sherman. This is an entertaining and alarmingly fluent track that finds the 69-year-old Sherman speaking enthusiastically about his role in helping to market the film. With a good memory at source, this is an insightful track that doesn't need any moderation to keep Sherman's kettle boiling - despite him admitting he had nothing to do with making the film! The commentary track is not scene-specific (in fact, after the initial introduction, it sounds like Sherman's reading from a script) but it's a very compelling yarn nevertheless.

We also get a fine 7-minute new video interview with Sherman - who looks older than he sounds - discussing Jerry Gross, who he clearly has a lot of admiration and respect for.

Next up on this disc is Gross' 1967 directorial debut, TEENAGE MOTHER (a.k.a. THE HYGEINE STORY).

Again starring Farber, this one begins at the local car racing track to the sounds of a funky score. That's about as cheery as it gets though, as we swiftly move to the local high school to home in on surly teen Arlene (Farber).

From the start, it seems as though this is going to be the story of new sex education teacher Erika (Julie Ange). But before long Arlene is the centre of attention, getting fresh with lover Tony (Howard Le May) while keeping one keen eye on her ex-boyfriend Duke (Frederick Riccio).

After a spot of incredibly tame petting and some - gasp! - pot-smoking, our lead female inevitably falls pregnant. But if you're looking for a teenage mother, forget it - Gross' film is more about whimsical music and matter-of-fact documentary-style sermons from Erika before pulling the rug from beneath our feet in the final reel with it's infamous footage of an actual birth.

It's ugly. But it's life. It's also extremely tame by today's standards, but I'll bet it was quite a jaw-dropping way of pimping up your film back in 1967 ...

Laughably Poe-faced and strangely lacking in style, TEENAGE MOTHER is vaguely interesting as a relic from yesteryear. As a film though, it holds little charm.

Presented uncut in it's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the film displays more print damage than FEMALE ANIMAL and the colours are more faded. At least it's a more consistent presentation in this regard.

The English mono audio is adequate throughout.

The film can be remote-accessed via 14 chapters, which isn't too shabby for a 68-minute feature.

Secret Key's disc is rounded out by trailers for both films, plus trailers for DEEP THROAT COMEDY COLLECTION, THE COLLEGIATES COLLECTION and PUNK ROCK/PLEASURE PALACE.

Finally, in lieu of the booklet usually found in their keepcases, Secret Key have this time provided a double-sided postcard of original theatrical poster artwork for each film. The posters are arguably the best things about both films (you've got to love the tagline for TEENAGE MOTHER: "She did her homework in parked cars!" ...).

Interesting rather than entertaining, these two films fit well together on this double-bill and Secret Key are to be commended for going the extra mile with some decent extras.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Secret Key
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review