Bragged Little Pill: The Ecstasy Girls (1979)

The third time’s a charm as the saying goes, and Gary Graver’s tertiary trip into titillation is an absolute delight.

“Her soft mouth was the road to sin-smeared violence.”

Ironically, such libidinous poetry isn’t lifted from the dialogue in THE ECSTASY GIRLS, although it is the first thing you see as the title card rises into view. Kubrick connoisseurs will recognise it as the tagline to Killer’s Kiss (1955), and they’d be right, as the poster for the maestro’s sumptuous mid-fifties noir hangs in the bedroom of hard-up thespian Jerry Martin (Jamie Gillis). This jobbing actor mixes in the right circles though, and at a party he bumps into well-heeled J. C. Church (John Alderman), who offers him one-hundred thousand dollars if he’ll sabotage the will of his brother, Edgar (Richard Norris).

Edgar intends to split his substantial fortune six ways: there’s his four daughters, Nancy, Diane (Serena in a dual role), Barbara (Leslie Boyee), and Constance (Laurien Dominique), his sister Madeline (Georgina Spelvin), and J.C himself. However, Edgar is a man who’s devoted his life to sexual morality, and spends much of his dwindling time sat cursing modern day promiscuity: “I’m gonna call Jack Valenti, and hold him personally responsible for the filth is those movies! Annie Hall (1977), The Goodbye Girl (1977)…”

So with the help of ladies man Jerry and his filmmaking buddies George (John Leslie) and Archie (Paul Thomas), J.C tasks Jerry with seducing all five beneficiaries and taping each encounter in order to present a compilation of sleaze to Edgar, thus enabling their inevitable removal from the will.

The Ecstasy Girls was Graver’s third foray into the world of directing adult pictures, and after the shuddering artistry of 3AM (1975), and the Bunuel-inspired style of V: The Hot One (1978), this marked a notable shift for the filmmaker, both in terms of content and collaborators. Firstly, it was the first of ten features he made with producer Harold Lime, a partnership that oozed success, commercially and critically, and lasted until Black Lava (1986). Secondly, it was Graver’s debut comedy in the genre. Admittedly not as bawdy as Co-ed Fever (1980), The Ecstasy Girls still carries a gleeful wink as Jerry sets out on his beguiling venture.

Gillis, as he did over the course of a five-hundred movie career, proves just why he’s considered XXX royalty. Ever the epitome of the assertive male, there’s a scene early on where he’s forced into submission by the leather-clad Serena (his then real-life girlfriend), which makes for a unique and rare experience. In fact, out of all the girls, it’s her that stands out. Too frequently blending into an ensemble, this dual role proves she’s equal to luminaries like Desiree Cousteau and Lisa De Leeuw. Both Leslie and Thomas bring quality to the film, and their dialogue with Gillis add an authenticity that belies the artificiality that seems synonymous with porn now. The guys and gals back then could act as well as fuck.

Filmed in the August of ’78, The Ecstasy Girls went on to sweep the board at the AFAA Awards (Adult Film Association of America), landing an impressive seven gongs, including one for long-time Graver collaborator R. Michael Stringer for his sumptuous cinematography, which makes each luxurious location seems like a billion-dollar Hollywood movie. Ronny Romanovitch’s (aka Richard Hieronymous) score boasts great earworms like This Time We Might Make It, and eagled-eyed cameo spotters will delight in spying Graver and his good friend Jean Clark as a pair of boom and slate operators toiling away behind the scenes.

USA ● 1979 ● Adult ● 97mins

Jamie Gillis, Serena, Georgina Spelvin, John Leslie, Paul Thomas ● Dir. Gary Graver ● Wri. Bill Barron, Harold Lime

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