Title: SPACE-THING / TRADER HORNEE
Year of Release—Film: 1968 / 1970
Year of Release—DVD: 2000 / 2000
DVD Label: Something Weird Video - Image Entertainment
With the recent passing of Dave Friedman, I thought it would be fitting to review a couple of his movies that have found their way onto DVD, courtesy of Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment, the company that released the excellent collection of Something Weird Special Edition DVDs in the late 1990s-early 2000s. The only question was which to review? The “Blood” trilogy, which Dave and Herschell Lewis produced in the mid-1960s, was too obvious a choice, as was the duo’s early “Nudie-Cuties.” Besides, those movies are more Hersch’s than they are Dave’s.
SHE FREAK was Dave’s personal favorite, a loving look at the world of the “carny,” a world with which he was intimately familiar. But Senior Correspondent Bobbie is examining that movie in detail for a future review. I briefly considered the double-feature disc containing two of Dave’s landmark “Roughies,” THE DEFILERS and SCUM OF THE EARTH. He led the way with this type of Sexploitation Film, and there are plenty of titles available that illustrate this phase of his career. Still, when I think of Dave, these aren’t the first movies that come to mind.
When I think of Dave Friedman’s movies, those that have his personal stamp upon them, I think of his Sexploitation Films of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. With equal parts story and sex, these were movies that had a distinct feel to them, a quality that set them apart from those of his competitors. Two of these films illustrate the broad spectrum of Dave’s work, and are available on the Special Edition DVD format. These movies are SPACE-THING, from 1968, and TRADER HORNEE, from 1970.
Billed as the first outer space sex film, SPACE-THING truly takes sex and nudity where no one has gone before. Directed (at least in part, but more on that shortly) by Byron Mabe (as “B. Ron Elliott”), it was written by Dave (under the pseudonym “Cosmo Politan”), who is on record as saying that this was his worst film ever.
Starring Cara Peters (credited as “April Playmate”) as Captain Mother, commander of the Space Cruiser S.S. Supreme Erection, Merci Montello (“Mercy Mee”) as Portia, Steve Vincent as Col. James Granilla, and Dan Martin (“Ronnie Runningboard”) as Willie, SPACE-THING follows the adventures of a Terrarian space crew in the year 2069.
The movie opens with a prologue featuring a man and woman in bed together. As he reads Science-Fiction pulps, she tries vainly to get his attention, displaying her naked body to his disinterested gaze. After several minutes of her parading her voluptuous attributes before this nebbish, he finally takes the hint and begins to make love to his wife. We fade out, to the twinkling of stars, and we see the credits for the movie, a’la the Findlays, painted on the nude body of a young woman (Montello). As the narration begins, we’re informed that Col. James Granilla, of the Planetarian Space force, has been deposed by his mutinous crew and set adrift in a “space-canoe.” His ship had been on a mission to intercept a Terrarian space-cruiser on course for Planetaria, and Granilla wasn’t going to let something as trivial as being without a ship stop him from completing his mission.
He pilots his canoe to make the interception, changes his appearance to that of the Terrarians (who coincidentally look just like normal humans), and then boards the S.S. Supreme Erection, under the command of Capt. Mother (Peters). He claims to be the only survivor of a ship destroyed in an accidental collision. The Captain’s not pleased to have him aboard her ship, but agrees to put him to work. As he begins interacting with the Terrarians, he decides that knowledge of the sexual customs of these strange people might prove valuable. He turns invisible (another useful ability of the Planetarians), in order to observe the crew at play… and brother, do they play!
Shot on an average-sized budget for Friedman’s films to that time (about $17,500), SPACE-THING was far from Dave’s favorite production. The last of Dave’s films to be directed by Byron Mabe, the two had a falling out before filming was complete, and Mabe walked off the set. Mabe, who had been part of Dave’s stock company since he starred in 1965’s THE DEFILERS, had just recently begun to have some success in mainstream film, most notably a starring role in THE DOBERMAN GANG. Mabe had begun to feel as though working for Sonney and Friedman was beneath him, and as Dave discusses in the excellent commentary track included on this disc, his condescending attitude towards his employers had worn very thin. Dave finally confronted him, asking him if he really wanted to be making this picture. Mabe replied “… not really,” and the pair shook hands and parted ways. Dave finished the picture in the director’s chair, including shooting the prologue segment.
As is the norm for the Something Weird Special Edition DVD’s offered by Image, SPACE-THING comes loaded with special features from the vaults of Something Weird Video. These are composed of shorts, trailers, and Exploitation Film photos and poster art. The best of the extras, however, as is the case on any Dave Friedman DVD from Something Weird, is the conversation between Mike Vraney and Dave that takes place in the guise of a “commentary track.”
Having less in common with a serious discussion of the film in question than with a fun, freewheeling chat between old friends as a movie plays in the background, these commentaries are enormously enjoyable listening. They are also extremely informative, as Dave manages to convey a wealth of information in between stories about his cohorts and cronies.
We learn much about Dave’s life in Exploitation that bears little relation to whatever movie is the nominal subject of the discussion, such as the fact that Dave preferred that his actresses not become known by name to audiences. He feared that that would give them the ability to demand higher pay, thus explaining the bizarre stage names the actresses in this film were credited under.
After viewing SPACE-THING, it’s hard not to agree with Dave’s opinion of this as his “worst movie ever.” Still, for fans of Sexploitation, Dave Friedman, and Something Weird Video, it’s priced to take a chance on, at less than $10. Just do what I do—select the commentary track, push play, and enjoy listening to Dave reminisce about the ‘good ol’ days’ as naked lovelies cavort across the screen.
TRADER HORNEE (1970)
At the opposite end of the spectrum from SPACE-THING is TRADER HORNEE, Dave’s tribute to the “Goona-Goona” pictures of years past. Made two short years after the former film, TRADER HORNEE was the latest in a string of ‘big-budget’ (at least, for Sonney and Friedman) pictures from Entertainment Ventures, Inc.
Beginning with STARLET in 1969, Dave made a conscious effort to boost the production values of his films. The fact that his movies were now being booked into regular theaters—both Drive-In and Conventional—and not just the “adult” venues meant that the movies had to look much better than before. This meant bigger budgets (in the case of TRADER HORNEE, about $62,000), locations that weren’t the back alley of the Cordoba St. offices, and at least an effort to have a cast that could act.
The story is simple, though well-put-together. A detective agency in Indianapolis, the Hoosier Secret Service, is hired by the Bank of the Wabash to travel to Africa, to search for a missing heiress. Heir to the famed Matthews fortune, little Prentice Matthews disappeared while on safari with her parents. While their bodies were found, no trace of her was ever seen again. Her twenty-first birthday is now approaching, and the bank president (Neal Henderson) needs to settle the estate. The detective, Hamilton “the E’s are silent” Hornee (Buddy Pantsari) and his assistant Jane Sommers (Julie Conners, credited as “Elizabeth Monica”) are tasked with determining the young girl’s fate, and either confirming her death, or bringing her home to claim the inheritance.
They won’t be traveling alone. Their party will include the last surviving Matthews descendant, weasely Max Matthews and his conniving wife Doris (John Alderman and Luanne Roberts, billed as “Christine Murray”), newspaper reporter Tender Lee (Elizabeth Knowles, as “Lisa Grant”), and an expert on African wildlife, Stanley Livingston (Fletcher Davies). Each has their own reasons for venturing into the land of the dreaded Meshpokas, where the Matthews expedition met its unfortunate fate.
In the excellent commentary for this movie, Dave Friedman and Mike Vraney continue their habit of making these tracks more of a conversation between old friends; though with a good movie to focus on, more of that conversation directly involves what’s happening on the screen. They discuss Dave’s writing process, the many in-jokes in the picture, and just what was involved in making and distributing an exploitation picture in the early 1970s. We’re even introduced to Dave and Carol’s parrot Lolita, who has a cameo in TRADER HORNEE.
Overall, this is Dave’s best executed production, and one hell of a fun comedy. Considered X-rated fare in 1970, it’s doubtful it would even draw an “R” today. It’s one that belongs in the library of every fan of Exploitation Film.
The movies of Dave Friedman were like the man himself—fun, risqué, entertaining, and with a true carny spirit. They promised much, and usually delivered enough to keep fans coming back for more. They weren’t high art; high camp might be a better description. But throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, they kept filling Drive-Ins and Theaters across the country. For the man who had learned his craft at the feet of Kroger Babb that was all they needed to do.