U.S.A. | 1976
Directed by Rudy Ricci & John Russo
Sharon Joy Miller
Rudy Ricci
David Emge
| 82 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Synapse Films
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Review by
Troy Guinn

I asked Eccentric Cinema for a DVD to review, and for my sins, they gave me one. My enthusiasm wilted when I faced the task of viewing 1976 softcore comedy The Booby Hatch, but I rose to the occasion and sat manfully erect at my computer and firmly brought the review to a successful climax. And if my attempts at wit in this opening paragraph arouse your interest, then brother have I got a film for you.
    Let's start things off by admitting that the only reason this movie received a serious DVD treatment from the always-reliable folks at Synapse Films is because it was made by the efforts of several people with connections to George Romero's famous zombie films, Night of the Living Dead (co-writer John Russo, co-producer Russell Streiner) and Dawn of the Dead (actors Rudi Ricci and David Emge), as well as Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead (story creators Russo, Streiner, and Ricci). So Booby Hatch can be considered a curiosity for completist fans of those works, but if that's your motivation for sitting through the film, you'll find it about as rewarding as standing in long lines at conventions for an autograph from the guy that played the "pie-in-the-face zombie" for two seconds in Dawn of the Dead.
    The Booby Hatch begins with a promo reel for Joyful Novelties, a company specializing in manufacturing sex toys and conducting experiments in "better sex" research. One of the company's employees, Cherry Jankowski (Sharon Joy Miller), is frustrated at home because her fussy, intellectual live-in boyfriend Herman (Doug Sortino) insists that sex before marriage will only cheapen their relationship. After we are subjected to the cheesy-yet-infectious theme song (with lyrics like "Cherry Jankowski / I'd give her my house-key") we see that a typical day for Cherry consists of dealing with flashers and men with mirrors on their shoes, a stuttering janitor that lusts after her, and a neighbor who keeps tricking her into his apartment so that he can rape her. Herman secretly dresses up in women's clothes while Cherry's away, and tells her that her abuse from other men is her own fault.
    Meanwhile, another Joyful Novelties employee is having frustrations of his own. Four-time company "Stud of the Year" Marcello Fettuccini (Rudy Ricci, the leader of the motorcycle gang in Dawn of the Dead), finds that his on-the-job performance is at an all-time low… In other words, he can't get it up for the daily sexual experiments conducted in the company's lab. In addition to suffering the expected jibes from his fellow employees ("Check out Fettuccini's droopy weenie!"), and being threatened with termination by Joyful Novelties president Theophilus Suck (N. Detroit), Marcello is disowned by his father, who is more proud of Marcello's street-smart brother, Angelo (David Emge, "Flyboy" from Dawn of the Dead, doing a passable Bogart impression).
    Marcello and Cherry have lunch together, and we learn that they are former lovers and also see that each is the other's only real source of compassion and sympathy. The film follows Cherry and Marcello's mutually humiliating experiences, intermingled with scenes from the daily doings at Joyful Novelties, where technicians in lab coats observe copulating test subjects and monitor the quality of their orgasms… and where the experiments sometimes turn fatal. Eventually, Cherry discovers that Herman is gay, and Marcello discovers that his lost libido magically returns as he and Cherry rekindle their romance.
    Made in the wake of the '70s flood of New Age sexual self-help manuals and the birth of the "sex therapist" (a movement much more effectively parodied in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask), The Booby Hatch lacks the wit for satire with any real bite. Softcore sex films were the last bastion for vaudeville humor, and this is the kind of film where rapists dress in raincoats and wear phallic false noses, where transvestites dress to look like Milton Berle rather than to look attractive, and where the attempts at laughter rely on verbal puns rather than make the most of the comedic potential of the storyline. In a film so obviously uncomfortable with the liberated society it tries to portray, it's no surprise that when Cherry and Marcello go to see a modern sex therapist, the doctor turns out to be a panty-sniffing deviant who puts the make on each of them. In the end, The Booby Hatch is a funny idea without the comedic talents to make it sparkle.
    As for the sex appeal, there are plenty of nude bodies on display, but the eroticism is about as successfully handled as the humor. Still, one of the endearing things about Booby Hatch and other '70s skin flicks is that not all the nudes may be attractive, but at least they look like real people, as opposed to the steroid-and-silicone-injected plasti-Borgs that populate porn nowadays. Hey, you know you're an old fogey when you wax nostalgically for the "good 'ol porn".
    The Booby Hatch is pretty tiresome fare, but one bright spot is, surprisingly, Rudy Ricci as Marcello. Despite his unconvincing attempt at a heavy Italian accent, Ricci has nice comic timing, and makes the most of the weak dialogue while adding some real warmth and pathos to the character. Too bad the same cannot be said of Sharon Joy Miller, whose bland line-readings make Cherry seem dull rather than sweet.

Never let it be said that the quality of any movie determines the effort that Synapse Films puts into giving it an attractive DVD package for a home. A film of this age and budget limitation is never going to look great, but Synapse compensates by giving us two versions. The second version of Booby Hatch goes under the title The Liberation of Cherry Jankowski, and some scenes occur in a different order from that of the original print. There is also an added bit at the end, where Marcello dynamites Joyful Novelties into oblivion, with the help of his brother Angelo.
    Other extras include a commentary from Russo, Streiner, and Ricci, in which they reveal that they were close to closing a deal to have a budget of several million to film Booby Hatch in New York, only to have things fall through, forcing them to settle for making the film in Pittsburgh for $20,000. Other problems came when they had to cut much X-rated material and film last-minute scenes to pad out the running time. All of which tempts one to cut these gentlemen a little slack, but only a little.
    Rounding out the extras is a featurette on David Emge, discussing how he met George Romero, and how he got the role of Angelo in Booby Hatch. Which, considering Emge has all of two scenes in the film, leaves no doubt as to what is the perceived target audience for this DVD. 2/19/10