Ecstasy in Blue (1976)

Still reaping the rewards from his acclaimed early explicit endeavors, 1975's double whammy of When a Woman Calls and Oriental Blue, the outwardly unflappable Bill Milling went on to indulge his inner jester with a set of happy go lucky fuck film farces made under the moniker of "Dexter Eagle".  French Shampoo, still bearing the "Philip T. Drexler Jr." banner but already a try-out title for this newfangled mischievous alter ego, had been a straightforward sendup of Warren Beatty's racy blockbuster Shampoo.  But the extremely odd Ecstasy in Blue proved a different species of animal altogether, mixing its mundane sliver of a storyline (attributed to Oriental Blue's scripter cum DoP Valentine Muraña) with mindbending doses of dime store surrealism.  The resulting mess of a movie feels like an Ed Wood tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky, presumably wholly intentional on the perpetrator's part who was after all far from untalented as his glossy if ironically considerably more conventional "Drexler " efforts eloquently attest.

For an actor still quaking in his proverbial boots when faced with a script dense with dialogue just the year before on Shaun Costello's Passions of Carol, Marc Stevens acquits himself admirably in the barely less wordy central role of the mysterious Mandarin, a charismatic sex cult leader holding court amidst adoring acolytes inside a dark and foreboding fortress, a magnificent location mined for maximum effect.  Bored stiff, or rather the exact opposite if you catch my drift, the orange-robed potentate pressures his docile doxies to open up in both the literal and figurative sense.  The terrific Terri Hall gets the ball rolling as a dissatisfied housewife looking for kicks in the seedier part of the city in an artsy threesome with a pair of unidentified lowlifes, one of whom sports a sizable gut that almost suffocates her during 69 !  Motormouth henchman Charlie (who else but Bobby Astyr ?) regales him with tales of another stay at home slut, the hot to trot Mrs. Stevens (Cedar Houston, a Carter Stevens regular from Lickity Split and The Hot Oven) who's looking to blow off some steam while her husband's away on business with massage therapist Eric Edwards in a sensuous scene seemingly conceived for another (aborted ?) project, perfectly scored with Nelson Riddle's catchy theme tune to Kubrick's Lolita.  Milling rivals Costello's magpie method of soundtrack scavenging, "borrowing" Pino Donaggio's nerve-jangling notes to the climactic twist of Brian De Palma's Carrie along with most of ELO's 1973 album On the Third Day.

The always hot Helen Madigan appears uncharacteristically prim and proper as an uptight new acquisition to the cult, loosened up under hypnosis as well the artful administrations of Annie Sprinkle, looking lovely in golden silk robes as Mandarin's right hand girl Hentai.  Terri's interpretive dance to an obsessive bongo beat (bringing to mind her background in ballet) while these three get it on really adds to the eroticism.  Plot kicks in as Charlie inadvertently leaves one of the business cards he's supposed to distribute for Mandarin's sister and shady fortune teller Madame Sushi (Crystal Sync) in the hands of his sympathetic sister Melissa (C.J. Laing) who's too busy to notice at first as she's forever struggling to keep the peace between her easily annoyed husband Rick (Jeff Hurst) and the sibling that never shuts up.  The set-up's to lure lonely ladies to the leader's lair, of course, and Melissa walks right into the trap.  A teasing cleansing ritual with Terri and Barbara Carson, a minor league starlet who appeared in Mel Greene's hayseed Big Abner and the Lenny Kirtman produced Ralph Ell rape roughie My Master My Love, prepares her for "Mr. 10½" whose mighty member she attacks with the ravenous rigour Laing's legendary for.

Realizing his error, Charlie sets off in hot pursuit of his sister before she's turned into a brainless sex slave, the cantankerous Rick in tow.  An opium-addled Sushi refuses to divulge the information until both men bring her to the brink of pleasure in a brisk threeway that could have lasted longer.  Never mind that Charlie, who "works" for Mandarin (natch !), should have guessed Melissa's whereabouts without this dirty detour.  Once our "heroes" enter the coven's abode, it's basically one big orgy with most of the cult's followers (sans the noticeably absent and much missed Terri) enthusiastically joining in.  As the guys attempt to wrangle the mesmerized Melissa from under Mandarin's spell, the master grows impatient and hypnotizes all three before unleashing his powers unto the audience with Marc turning to camera, gesturing grandly.  The couple wake up in their own apartment, only to have their morning maneuvers typically interrupted by Melissa's gay brother who has been partying all night.  Charlie's switch in sexuality is a bit of a non sequitur though Astyr should be given credit for taking the twist in stride and avoiding all easy mannerisms, even adding a pinch of poignancy as he nervously reacts to Rick's unabashed nudity.  They soon realize that they have all shared the same "dream"...

Ultimately, Ecstasy in Blue's schizo nature gives off the impression of two films in one : a zany grab ass frolic characteristic of Milling's "Dexter Eagle" persona (to reach full flower with the convoluted spy spoof Blonde Velvet) and a darker, more disturbing melodrama forever pulling at the seams, the "Drexler" influence threatening to take over.  Many shots highlight the striking compositions and artful accoutrements the director, who moonlighted as production manager on other people's projects as diverse as Costello's Fiona on Fire and Jim "Clark" Buckley's Debbie Does Dallas, would soon gain an industry reputation for. 

Directed by Bill Milling (as Dexter Eagle). Written by Valentine Muraña. Produced by Milling (as Eagle) for Mandarin Productions. Photographed by John Arthur. Edited by Craig Harrison. Starring Marc Stevens (Mandarin), C.J. Laing (Melissa), Annie Sprinkle (Hentai), Bobby Astyr (Charlie), Jeffrey Hurst (Rick), Terri Hall (Rhea), Crystal Sync (Madame Sushi), Helen Madigan (Cult Inductee), Eric Edwards (as Ron Richards) (Tony, the Masseur), Cedar Houston (Mrs. Stevens) & Barbara Carson (as Karen Black) (Mandarin Follower). Running time : 78 minutes.

This stunning Art Nouveau stained glass window which serves as a credits backdrop is indicative of Bill Milling's expertise and eye for detail as a production manager

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