High Rise (1973)

Perhaps it was only a monumental streak of bad luck that kept New York native Danny Steinmann from achieving the kind of genre greatness bestowed upon Wes Craven and Bill Lustig to name but two of the most striking career trajectories leading from humble hardcore beginnings to gory glory. Attached to at least half a dozen intriguing projects that for various reasons failed to reach fruition, the three he did manage to complete in the wake of his sexploitation starter proved troublesome little buggers to say the least. The combination of a rough shoot and extensive tinkering at production or distribution level heavily compromised their maker’s original vision.

Reluctant to continue down the pornographic path, though the box office success of High Rise assured he could write his own ticket, he befriended make-up artist Stan Winston, then still an unknown toiling away in the trenches, with whom he would collaborate on what was to become Steinmann’s grand entrance into mainstream cinema, 1980’s ill-fated (and sadly too prophetically titled) The Unseen. Danny’s best known as well as final (finished) film, 1985’s Friday the 13th : A New Beginning, was actually an incentive the series’ producers dangled in front of him as part of a two picture deal that would allow him to shoot the long-awaited sequel to Wes Craven’s 1972 seminal rape ‘n’ revenge classic The Last House on the Left, another one that got away.

Trawling through Times Square one fateful afternoon in 1972, Danny spotted long lines queuing up to enter the World Theater playing Gerard Damiano’s scurrilously successful Deep Throat. His interest piqued, he followed suit with High Rise. Steinmann’s biggest coup came about as something of a fluke however, simply asking his great friend and composer Jacques Urbont whether he could help him out with the film’s soundtrack which he agreed to do entirely free of charge, requiring payment only for the session musicians ! An unsung musical genius, Urbont had extensively worked in every conceivable artistic arena since the ’50s including Broadway shows, popular TV series like Mannix and Mission : Impossible.

Employing the time-honored film within a film construction as a jumping-off point towards total anarchy as cast and crew converge in an increasing blurring of the lines, reaching its appropriate apogee in the climactic free-for-all orgy, High Rise attempts to approach the cinematic delirium of the legendary 1941 Olsen & Johnson farce Hellzapoppin’. Setting the scene, a clumsy slate operator nearly loses a digit announcing the first take. We open on poor insecure heroine Susie (Tamie Trevor), stretched out on the psychiatrist’s couch, confessing her fears of inadequacy in satisfying husband Michael to a sympathetic shrink (The Devil in Miss Jones‘ Mr. Abaca, John Clemens). He advises her to go out and experiment freely with whoever crosses her path that day. As she’s about to go apartment hunting on the East Side, there should prove no shortage of gonad-driven guinea pigs. Working her way through the titular building from top to bottom provides the set-up for superbly shot and edited sex scenes, each introduced by cute cardboard cutout title card.

Batteries Not Included” has Susie drop in on toy-obsessed momma’s boy Herbie (Harry Reems) playing in full postmaster’s uniform with a massive choo-choo train set. As Herbie furiously bangs away at Susie’s box, his larger than life caricature of a Jewish mom is trying to break down the door. “A Tale of Six Titties” finds her cornered by a lascivious combo of international carpet munchers, full-figured German Jutta David (from Shaun Costello’s notorious 1973 directorial debut Forced Entry) versus lanky French Mireille Renaud. Luring Susie into their multi-mirrored bedroom, the dykey duo really goes to work on the delighted newbie in one of the most intense lesbian liaisons committed to celluloid.

Menage a Twat” shows a jaded husband and wife (Jamie Gillis and Barbara Benner) getting their jollies separately from portentously phrased pornography so florid it could have been penned by the great Ed Wood himself until sweet Susie draws them together to the seductive strains of a hippie trippy zither tune. Which brings us to…”Aw-Gee!” If each of the preceding episodes represented a carefully crafted mini movie in its own right, then nothing could prepare for nor compare to the sensory assault dished out by this 20 minute free-for-all with Steinmann and his talented troupe pulling out all the stops. Tapping on yet another door, our heroine’s all but swallowed whole into a bacchanal already in full swing, the likes of which you have never seen. Then ensuing spectacle is dictated by rapid fire editing and an absolutely unbelievable rap rendition riffing off the bouncy title song with no double entendre left untouched.

A kooky comedienne with an infectiously goofy grin, Tamie Trevor could have been a contender were it not for some allegedly deep-seated psychological problems. Soon after shooting wrapped, she checked herself into a New Jersey mental facility. Although High Rise provided Trevor with her single starring role, this wasn’t quite her first time at bat. She had performed semi-simulated Sapphic action with Darby Lloyd Rains and Cindy West in Roberta Findlay’s close to ‘core Rosebud and a brief Reems BJ in Richard D’Antoni’s Teenage Cheerleaders. Her sad fate was adult’s loss as she shows commendable comic timing that genuinely sets her apart from concurrent contemporary sex screen sirens’ amateurish attempts at same, but one of the reasons why this early fornication film farce holds up so much better than nearly all others of its vintage.

Directed, Written & Produced by Danny Steinmann (as Danny Stone). Photography by Maurice Finkelstein. Music by Jacques Urbont. Edited by Robert Salvatore. Starring Tamie Trevor (Susie), John Clemens (as Gregory Pecker) (Michael), Harry Reems (as Richard Hurt) (Herbie), Jamie Gillis (as James Kleeman) (Jack), Barbara Benner (as Samantha Whitney) (Jack’s Wife), Jutta David (German Lesbian), Marielle Renaud (French Lesbian), Cindy West, Darby Lloyd Rains (Orgy Girls), Arlana Blue (as Angel Spirit) & Rita Bennett (as Elizabeth Sunburst) (Belly Dancers). runtime : 65 minutes.

By Dries Vermeulen

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