U.S.A. | 2011
Directed by John Niflheim
Tyrone L. Roosevelt
Jackie Stevens
"Mia Copa" (Tina Krause)
Color | 68 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Independent Entertainment
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Review by
Doug Red

SNEAK PREVIEW | DVD Release Date: September 27, 2011
It's easy to fantasize about the glamorous job of nude photography. After all, who wouldn't like to sit around photographing hot women, posing exotically in their birthday suit, for you to command how they sit, stand, and act? Your own erotic dreams could come true as you find the perfect image to capture. It's even possible that there would be regular fringe benefits to such working conditions... such as the models being very open to try "new things" with whoever strikes their fancy, such as their photographer.
    Writer/director John Niflheim's The Sex Merchants takes a look at the world of nude photography through the lens of the retro-exploitation film. Pete the photographer (Tyrone L. Roosevelt) is an established and successful nude and fetish photographer. Making plenty of money due to his regular magazine buyer, he's able to indulge in his drug of choice and his lifestyle of sexual oblivion. After a big sale, Pete spends the night in a drugged-out haze, dreaming of female charms until he decides he needs physical female companionship and so he calls up Suzy. Suzy is a young up and coming model (svelte vixen Jackie Stevens) that sleeps with Pete, who tempts her into energetic lovemaking with promises of a major photo spread that could launch her, but Pete doesn't come through on his side of the bargain. Mona (lanky fetish model Lavendar Rayne) has a bondage modeling session that soon gets a little more physical than she wanted, as Pete's personal demons get to him. Finally, Mona (zaftig sex bomb "Mia Copia", AKA Tina Krause) is an established model who comes back into the porn fold because she needs the money. Throughout it all, Pete juggles his sexual desires with an addiction to hard drugs, as he manipulates the women in his life to get what he needs (sex and photos) which allows him to get more cash to blow on drugs, and before long he's overextended financially and sexually. Will his dealer extend him credit for drugs? Will his paying work dry up? Will he exploit sweet Suzy to get what he wants? Can he keep up his drug habit and sexual conquests and still function? Will the secret about why Pete's mother acts so weird be revealed?
    The Cosmic Candy production of The Sex Merchants is a throwback to the exploitation films of the past. Visually the film is shot in a similar quick and dirty manner to some of Doris Wishman's B&W roughies, with stark lighting from strong sources, which brings in a visual element of grime and sleaze. To contrast the harsh lighting, the bold color choices remind more of the '70s porno chic period, evoking glamour photography and the clean, candy-colored photography of Russ Meyer. Taken together, Niflheim creates a template for a visual look that evokes the past hallmarks of exploitation cinema while still maintaining the feel of a modern film. The soundtrack is another nice throwback touch, in that it is filled with daffy upbeat musical riffs that seem to have nothing to do with the scene at hand, a hallmark of many a picture in the heyday of sexploitation. Similarly deployed liberally throughout are a number of great sexploitation tropes for the modern audience to indulge, which help cement the love-letter to the past that is The Sex Merchants. At one point or another all the lovely starlets get variously bound and gagged, tied to a chair, doused with oil and rubbed, sensually whipped, foot-worshipped, carnally stripped, nipples roughly manipulated, taken in front and from behind, and are generally displayed in every way.
    The Sex Merchants The film, while still softcore, pushes the envelope of softcore to the breaking point with what is shown of the physicality of the beautiful actresses involved. Mia Copia (An Erotic Vampire in Paris) does her usual outstanding job of bringing a fully-realized performance to the film, but Jackie Stevens (Curious Obsessions, Ironbabe) steals the show dramatically with her portrayal of a woman trying to make it in a tough business, letting her heart and a little bit of false hope lead her to making poor decisions. Lead stud Roosevelt plays Pete in a distanced way, so that the audience never gets behind his emotionally manipulating cipher of a character (although there is a hint of his strange world and the demons that haunt his psyche in the comic finale, which seems to come from left field... and yet does explain a few offhanded remarks in the film). To sum up, The Sex Merchants lets us into the life of a nude photographer and it's filled to the shaking brim with both the stuff of which dreams are made and the residue of the morning after, when the dreams have all fled.

Keeping up the nude photography analogy, Independent Entertainment's 2011 DVD of The Sex Merchants is a relatively bare disc. Aside from the 68-minute feature film, there are trailers for three low-budget wonders: Diary of a Sex Offender, Defiled, and Faces of Schlock. The 1.85/16x9 transfer is nice and crisp, backed by a decent stereo audio track. 9/21/11