Hand Of Pleasure, The (1971)

Sometimes, movies can be more than movies.

In One Week, Buster Keaton massaged the real-life stressor of moving with sight gags involving a build-it-yourself house. Keaton’s humor works as advice. He teaches us how to loosen up and enjoy what we have — even when we face difficulties.

It Happened One Night works in a similar way. Director Frank Capra tackled the challenge of trust by reinforcing the benefits of believing in people. The movie is a romantic diversion. But it also gives us a pep talk about perseverance.

In Terror At Orgy Castle, director-writer Zoltan G. Spencer presented nude vampires emerging from mirrors, people having group sex on demonic altars while wearing papier-mâché goat heads, and an occult countess transforming into a man so that she could, “enjoy her two lady friends.” There are no life lessons to be learned in Terror At Orgy Castle. But like the feeling you get when you meet a good friend for hamburgers on a Thursday night after a long week of work, Terror refreshes your brain. Its unapologetic frankness makes it less of a movie, and more of an affirmation of the powers of humans. And it’s not even Zoltan G. Spencer’s best movie.

That honor goes to The Hand Of Pleasure.

In London (aka a back alley in Hollywood), C.I.A. agents are being kidnapped by the Hand of Pleasure, a gang of robotic cat-women who are led by Dr. Dreadful. And by “kidnapped,” I mean that the agents are thrown on a bed in a cell while naked cat-women blow them to death. Dr. Dreadful (played by Spencer) wears a see-through old man mask and observes the sex, hoping to force government secrets out of the agents before they die. Meanwhile, we watch real-life footage of flea markets and protests while a Sherlock Holmes-type detective attempts to explain what’s happening in the movie.

Meet Joe! Joe is a decoy for the C.I.A. who is posing as an art student. Joe kicks off his investigation by watching a striptease involving a woman with fake breasts that look like old footballs. He does this for nine minutes. Then Joe meets Jill, a student who is taking a survey of sexual acts. Joe and Jill have sex. All kinds of it. But they also go to the horse races. And they put on the sparkly Lone Ranger masks from the orgy scene in Terror At Orgy Castle while whipping each other’s asses. Eventually, everyone ends up at Dr. Dreadful’s wax museum. Joe and Jill are drugged while Dr. Dreadful yells, “If my sex-transference machine can turn a woman into a man-hating robot, just think what it will do to a man!”

Zoltan Spencer excelled in creating happy un-worlds that writhed with sexual chaos, shabby recycled sets, and baffling tangents. And like Nick Millard, Spencer’s dream-blasts never lasted longer than sixty-five minutes. The Screentest Girls was Spencer’s meta-enriched ode to adult movie-making in Hollywood. The director cast himself as a filmmaker named Mr. Zoltan. Zoltan has two actresses go through a variety of “try-outs” before saying, “Say, I got a wonderful gimmick — you girls are gonna make it with a gorilla!” And that’s what happens. But like Terror At Orgy Castle, The Screentest Girls was built sequentially. It’s sex scenes strung together by a gimmick with occasional interruptions by bizarro situations, like gorilla blowjobs. There’s nothing sequential about The Hand Of Pleasure.

This movie is a synthetic wonderland of graphic perversion with pop-art colors, cinéma vérité snapshots, and a dollar store version of the headgear from A Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack cuts between drunken cocktail jazz recorded in a dungeon and what sounds like The Velvet Underground warming up for a practice session. Edits interrupt sentences. Sex interrupts dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The travelogue footage looks like it was snipped out of a decaying educational classroom film. Watching this movie is like watching an experiment in “feels” ala Jean Rollin’s The Nude Vampire that is grounded by one of Ron Haydock’s smut paperbacks under his “Vin Saxon” name — unreal, but thoroughly skanky. Hand Of Pleasure isn’t always engaging. But it is a fun sensory overload with a patented Zoltan G. Spencer zinger ending. And a detective with a very fake British accent who says, “It appears that he has been quite fucked to death!”

Unlike most softcore from the early 1970s, the people who appear in Hand Of Pleasure are always smiling and laughing. They seem like they’re having fun while mining the depths of Spencer’s dirty netherworld. The same goes for his other movies. I guess there is a lesson to be learned after all.

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