Miami Movie Mayhem!

The works of B-movie moguls like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Doris Wishman are so bad they're good. And they've become a permanent part of Florida film lore.

That said, he's careful to distinguish Blood Feast, which he calls "total fantasy," from the "total reality" of a movie like Scarface. Rejecting the notion that his creation launched us down a blood-stained slippery slope toward thugs with murderous chainsaws, Lewis looks past what the two films obviously share A death and dismemberment in Miami Beach A to make a point worthy of a former English professor. "There's no relationship between Scarface and Blood Feast," he asserts. "Scarface is dedicated to the proposition that using violence for drama is parallel to entertainment. Blood Feast is dedicated to the proposition that far-out, fantasy violence is, in fact, a facet of entertainment."

Lewis pursued his version of fantasy through more than 40 films, then vanished from the movie world in 1972 after directing The Gore-Gore Girls, a spoof on the genre. In his absence, wild rumors about his death or incarceration flourished, fed by a federal fraud investigation of one of his businesses. "I've heard that I was on a chain gang in Georgia or some darn thing," says Lewis, who is now enjoying a second successful career as a direct-mail-marketing guru.

A woman is taking off her clothes in black and white on Tom Smith's TV screen, shedding mesh-and-wire lingerie while an invisible band plays an out-of-context bossa nova in the background. Smith is talking about the woman's body, how she lacks the plastic perfection of naked women in movies today, idealized out of all sexual appeal. This is a real woman, Smith says, with pimples on her butt. This is what turns him on. "All Doris's women look like my ex-girlfriends from the University of Georgia," he says with a laugh.

"Doris" is Doris Wishman, the woman who made this film, Indecent Desire, and 24 others like it, the woman Smith seems to spend more time thinking about than any other, with the possible exception of his wife Angela. He stumbled across the sixtysomething Wishman behind the counter of the Pink Pussycat Boutique in Coconut Grove, selling sex toys more explicit than anything in the movies she makes.

As Wishman tells it, Smith practically passed out when he realized who she was. "He walked up and said, 'My God, you're Doris Wishman! You're a genius!'" she says in her New York-grandmother voice, leaning on a case displaying (among other things) glow-in-the-dark condoms. "He went hysterical. I swear to you -- he went hysterical."

Smith doesn't remember it quite that way; he says he's not so easily starstruck. Then again, it's hard to see how he could have maintained all his cool. In the universe of exploitation film, Doris Wishman is more than just a star. A pioneer woman filmmaker, she thrived in one of the toughest territories in filmdom. With titles such as Sex Perils of Paulette, Bad Girls Go to Hell, Nature Camp Confidential, and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, Wishman kept her quirky movies playing in grind houses and drive-ins for nearly two decades, until porno destroyed sexploitation and a film-lab disaster ruined A Night to Dismember, her 1983 attempt to jump genres into horror.

Wishman's idiosyncratic style (compared by at least one critic to that of Jean-Luc Godard in its "indifference to composition and framing") and taste for bizarre themes (more titles: The Amazing Transplant, Let Me Die a Woman) combined to create a world as weird as any recorded on film. That weirdness, she says, was a product of the exploitation environment A although given some examples of her work and a little conversation with the director, it's hard to deny that the Wishman world-view is more than just a little bit out of the mainstream. "When you don't have too much money, you have to have a gimmick," she says by way of explaining Double Agent 73, a 1974 vehicle for Chesty Morgan's 73-inch breasts. "So I always managed to have a gimmick. With Chesty Morgan, one gimmick was that she smothers her enemies with her bosom. In Double Agent, she has a camera implanted in her breast."

A spy camera implanted in her breast? Strange as it sounds, there it is -- in her left breast, to be precise, placed there to record the identities of her victims post-bosom-smothering, and not coincidentally to provide an excuse for the repeated exposure of her natural assets. (Chesty and her chest-cam also turn up in Serial Mom; John Waters is a big Doris Wishman fan.) "So you get these awful, pendulous, dreadful-looking humongous tits like every five seconds," Tom Smith says admiringly. "That's classic exploitation. I mean, it really is brilliant. Big, huge, humongous spy tits is something they just weren't doing at Paramount."

No argument there. You've got to wonder, though, what sort of mind could produce the concept of a tit camera. It's unconventional, to say the least; but then, if Wishman had been satisfied with the conventional, she'd never have begun making movies. "There are certain things I don't want to talk about," she says regarding her start in the nudie-movie business. Three decades later it's clear she still feels pain from the event that transformed her life: the death of her first husband four months after they arrived in Miami. Following that tragedy, she says, "I wanted something that would really keep me busy."

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