Where were you when JFK was shot? Anyone sentient during the sixties knows the answer to that question.
But some people may not own up to the true answer. Like the guy who stepped out of the Gayety Theater in downtown San Francisco, squinting into the overexposed daylight, having just seen Mr. Peek-A-Boo's Playgirls. There was probably a palpable tension on the street, a tangible difference in the normal bustle. Maybe a stranger, sensing his disorientation, blurted it out as he rushed by: "Kennedy's dead. Shot in the head in Dallas."
Imagine for a moment the conflagration in this poor man's mind: sudden dread strangling his arousal, bullets and breasts and lust and shame all jumbled in an elevator-drop feeling that he's just stepped from fantasyland into a treacherous place where the ordinary rules no longer apply.
If you can imagine that, then you've got a good idea of what Adults Only movies were like in the 1960s.
When JFK took the reins from Ike, many Americans believed the country was galloping toward some gloriously progressive New Frontier. But before the rifle's report had faded, the nation seemed hopelessly lost in nightmarish terrain. The jungles of Southeast Asia consumed American boys, and no one could explain why. Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all murdered by gunfire. Outraged African-Americans tore apart Watts. Paranoia struck deep; conspiracy theories suggested that maybe we weren't the good guys anymore. Manson babbled, and fresh-faced California girls slaughtered for him.
National Guardsmen shot U.S. citizens on a college campus. Astronauts and hippies both went into space, looking for a way out. With all this roiling through the culture, is it any wonder that Adults Only movies, almost overnight, went from bouncy frolics to brutal rapes?
Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman were shooting Bell, Bare and Beautiful in Florida, featuring zeppelin-busted burlesque star Virginia Bell, when they realized the nudist-movie craze was starting to peter out. They'd ridden it as hard as they could for two years, producing The Adventures of Lucky Pierre; Daughters of the Sun; BOIN-N-G!; Nature's Playmates; and Goldilocks and the Three Bares.
As a tonic to the monotony of happy nude campers, the pair produced a nasty little black and white movie called Scum of the Earth. In a nice display of self mockery, the titular scum, who "dwell and thrive in a morass of depravity," were a couple of guys operating a dirty-picture racket.
"Scum" did fair business, but the production partners knew they had to concoct something new to leap to the fore of the exploitation pack. The next frontier, perhaps, was to show nude people actually engaged in erotic entanglements. They knew that would never pass. In 1963, the sight of a single pubic hair could bring out the riot squad. A penis penetrating a vagina? Absolutely inconceivable.
But what about a knife? Or better yet, an ax? The duo returned to Florida with their regular stock company and Playboy centerfold Connie Mason. In five days they completed Blood Feast, a slaughterhouse of a movie. There was no sex. Instead, women were mutilated by a crazed Egyptian caterer who used their various body parts in his sacred rituals. A partially nude woman was eviscerated on a sacrificial slab; another has her brain cut out on the beach; yet another has her tongue ripped from her mouth.
For Lewis and Friedman, the production was a lark; they spent just over $24,000 and had lots of fun splashing around in new territory, wondering what kind of furor, and box office, their sanguinary quickie would drum up. When Friedman's wife described the end result as "vomitous," he promptly ordered white air sickness bags imprinted "You May Need This When You See Blood Feast!"
The old carny come-on proved infallible. The morbidly curious queued up at hardtops and drive-ins. Critics courageous enough to view the film were appalled. The Los Angeles Times called it a "blot on the American film industry" playing right into Friedman's hands. He was granted an injunction in Sarasota, Florida, to prevent his own film from being shown, then leaked the story to the national wire services, garnering a generous amount of free publicity.
Blood Feast was a money-maker. A pair of blood- soaked follow-ups, Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red oozed out in its sticky wake. These films would become known to the trade as "ghoulies," for their unsettling union of sex and death.