The Taking of Christina (1975)

Underrated adult auteur Armand Weston’s follow-up to his groundbreaking Defiance (of Good), this no less impressive rape ‘n’ revenge flick marks the filmmaker’s entire exploration of “roughie” territory along with its predecessor, both co-written or “conceived” as a slightly pretentious opening credit would have it and produced by stalwart performer Jason Russell. For the record, his wife Tina (one of the earliest genre superstars whose marital woes were at the root of the substance abuse that was to lead to her untimely death from stomach cancer in 1981) signed on for editing and make-up, not entirely of her own accord as my separate entry on “Sidney Knight“/Simon Nuchtern’s The Debauchers further elaborates upon. Neither one appears on screen on this occasion yet they had been the stars of Weston’s maiden effort Personals from 1972, produced by future fornication filmmaker extraordinaire “Cecil Howard” aka Howard Winters, friends with the director since Kindergarten ! Though The Taking of Christina would routinely seem to adhere to that certain exploitation subgenre centering on violation and subsequent retribution, Weston and Russell cleverly subvert audience expectations at every turn, creating a work as compellingly singular as their previous collaboration.  Pulling no punches in its visual representation of either sex or violence has done it few favors however as all available video and DVD versions have been substantially pared down by the removal of over ten minutes of “contentious content” to promote the pic’s porn palatability.  Perhaps another Holy Grail for Steve Morowitz to sink his pearly whites into ?

Opening title card informs that the film was inspired by true events taking place in the state of California on the first three days of October 1974, setting the ominous tone the movie’s to maintain all the way to its unforgettably downbeat dénouement.  The instantly recognizable moody guitar-strumming by Jack Justis, familiar from many a Joe Sarno endeavor, does the rest. Titular Christina (lovely brunette Bree Anthony, star of Lloyd Kaufman’s Divine Obsession, in what turns out a career-best performance) is the virginal bride to be of handsome if growing somewhat impatient Larry (single shot stud Jack Thompson, looking rather like Paul Rudd) whose ardor she is quick to dampen at the heavy petting stage. Unbeknownst to the happy couple, a pair of petty thugs are knocking over a gas station nearby, loose cannon Frank (a pre-Dan McCord Roger Caine, billed under his real name Al Levitsky) accidentally icing the elderly attendant (TV character actor David Kirk who moonlighted in sexploitation as evidenced by Chuck Vincent’s Mrs. Barrington and Farewell Scarlet) in the process.  Making a run for it with his more levelheaded partner Sonny (Eric Edwards), the pair wind up at a sleazy bar where goodnatured prostitute Mary Jo (Terri Hall, subsequent star of Gerard Damiano’s sublime S&M romance Story of Joanna) tried to chat up blue balls Larry just moments before. She and gal pal Louise (C.J. Laing for once not cast as a victim) hook up with the bad guys, resulting in some truly excellent threeway action (with Laing demonstrating her deep throat specialty) once the too intense Frank angrily backs out. The latter apparently doesn’t like paying for what he assumes he can get for free anyway. So sweet innocent Christina, waiting for her boyfriend outside the movie theater where she works, is abducted for this particular purpose. Dragged off to the house they have broken into (with its rightful owners conveniently absent), Christina’s brutally (if non-explicitly) abused by nasty Frank who rushes out for booze right after. Leaving the girl tied to the bed, Sonny proceeds to clean her up and gently perform cunnilingus before penetrating her as well. Though shot like a love scene with soft lighting and romantic music, this still amounts to rape of course given the non-consensual circumstances. To further confuse the audience, this sequence is cross-cut with an equally tender encounter between Larry (who thinks he has been stood up) and Mary Jo. Following her ordeal, Christina appears to have a change of heart as she comes on to her captors, urging them to take her along. Has the girl got a major case of Stockholm syndrome all of a sudden ? Is she trying to escape by putting the two men up against each other ? See and find out…

Professionally shot by the pseudonymous but hardworking “Harry Flecks” (actually João Fernandez, who incidentally shot most of Damiano’s classics as well as the Jonas Middleton cult favorite Through the Looking Glass, ending an incredible career along the highways and byways of oddball cinema in the safety supplied by US TV), this looks as good as any of Hollywood’s independent productions of the period. What really sets it apart though is the remarkably thoughtful screenplay offering rare opportunities for in-depth characterization to a talented cast. Anthony, who had been mauled by villain supreme Jamie Gillis only the previous year in Claude Goddard’s Winter Heat as well as Bill Milling’s white slavery ring classic Oriental Blue, moves from vacuous virgin to scheming angel of vengeance with utter credibility. Levitsky and Edwards make for a contrasting pair of hoodlums, the latter providing a neatly subversive twist on his usually being cast as Mr. Sensitivity. Most surprising though, all the more so considering she was making her dirty movie debut, is Terri Hall’s sympathetic turn as the kind and classy lady of the night, a part that could easily have taken a turn towards Cliché City. A trivia in-joke occurs when her character tantalizingly strips for Larry and he remarks on how well she moves and asks if she’s a dancer. Though she smiles and denies this, in real life Hall had a background in ballet.  Weston pretty much abandoned this type of edgy, risk-taking material for the remainder of his creative career. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this would lead to an amount of postponed as well as Post Mortem (passing away in 1988) mainstream acceptance with the admittedly exceptional likes of Expose Me, Lovely and of courseTake Off, both of which are now rightfully regarded as prime examples of the genre at its finest.

Directed by Armand Weston. Written by Weston, “conceived” by Jason Russell. Produced by Russell for Unique Films. Photographed by João Fernandes (as Harry Flecks). Music by Jack Justis (as Jack Malkin) & David Webster. Edited by S. Craig Jensen. Starring Bree Anthony (Christina), Eric Edwards (Sonny), Terri Hall (Mary Jo), C.J. Laing (Louise), Roger Caine (as Al Levitsky) (Frank), Jack Thompson (Larry), Chris Jordan (Sally), David Kirk (as Daniel Fitzgerald) (Gas Station Attendant), Sol Weiner (Bartender), Jim Gordon (Father), Leila (Topless Dancer) & Frank Simmons (Theater Manager). Running time : 85 minutes, although most available copies run between 70 and 75 minutes.

The late lamented Terri Hall, who caved in to cancer in 2007, burst onto the blue screen with a vengeance playing a tart with a heart unlike any other

By Dries Vermeulen

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