Alice in Wonderland (1976) -***½
One of the stranger entertainment phenomena to spring up during the 1970’s was the surprisingly long-lasting vogue for pornographic versions of popular fairy tales and children’s stories, often taking the form of cut-rate musical comedies. That sort of thing was perhaps to be expected during the nudie-cutie era of the early 1960’s, but the subgenre survived the transition to increasingly explicit content that came with the final demise of the Production Code in 1968, and X-rated versions of Cinderella, Pinocchio, and many others took over from the likes of Goldilocks and the Three Bares in the following decade. There were also at least a couple of catch-all efforts like Fairy Tales— not true anthology films, but movies that sampled indiscriminately from just about everything the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen had ever signed their names to. But of all the 70’s fairy-tale pornos that I’ve seen, none can compare to Bud Townsend’s Alice in Wonderland for sheer fucked-uptitude. My instinct is to imagine Lewis Carroll turning pirouettes in his grave, but given the recent revival of claims that Carroll may have been a pedophiliac pervert himself, something tells me the man really might not have minded so much.
Townsend’s Alice (Kristine DeBell, from Cheerleaders’ Wild Weekend and Meatballs) is of necessity a bit older than Carroll’s. She’s a small-town librarian in her early 20’s who has thus far lived a life of rigid, virginal prudery. Naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with her mookish, gas station attendant boyfriend, William (Ron Nelson), who has been so insistent about trying to get into Alice’s pants that she’s just about ready to dump him. They have a big fight when William swings by the library during a slow period at the station, and the frustrated man tells Alice that the kind of life she’s living isn’t really living at all before storming off to get back to work. Alice, too, gets back to work at this point, singing as she does so a song about how maybe William has the right idea after all.
That’s when the rabbit shows up. Or at any rate, it’s supposed to be a rabbit. In point of fact, it’s just Jerry Spelman in makeup designed to the standard of an elementary school play, with a pair of rather forlorn-looking ears strapped to the sides of his head. Who can say why Alice doesn’t run shrieking from the library right then and there (that’s certainly what I’d do if a five-foot, talking bunny-monster ever showed up at my place of employment), but she strikes up a conversation with the odd creature and ends up following him through the full-length mirror that hangs inexplicably on one of the library’s walls. (I’ve worked in libraries since I was sixteen years old, and you know what none of them ever used as an element of their interior decor?) This has the same effect on our Alice as it had on Carroll’s. On the far side of the looking glass, she finds herself in a tiny room with two doors, one of normal size and the other one perhaps a foot tall. Because the rabbit obviously left through the miniature door, Alice quaffs the shrinking potion which somebody thoughtfully left sitting on a little table, and goes off in pursuit. (And because this is smut we’re dealing with here, her clothes do not shrink with her.)
From this point, Alice in Wonderland essentially follows the outlines of the familiar tale. In her travels through Wonderland, Alice encounters anthropomorphic animals, talking scenery, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Tony and Sue Tsengoles); attends a tea party thrown by the Mad Hatter (Alan Novak); assists in making repairs to Humpty Dumpty (Bradford Armdexter), who has injured himself falling from a wall; and eventually runs afoul of the tyrannical Queen of Hearts (Juliet Graham, of Terri’s Lesson in Bondage, who was also one of the many anonymous victims in Bloodsucking Freaks). The difference, of course, is that all these episodes now build up to sex scenes of one sort or another, often with accompanying musical numbers. Tweedledum is female in this version, and she spends pretty much every waking moment schtupping her brother. (We can only hope the performers playing the Tweedles share the same last name because they’re really husband and wife...) The “9 7/8” tag in the Mad Hatter’s hatband now advertises the length of his shlong, which Alice inevitably winds up sucking. Humpty Dumpty has not been shattered by his fall, but rather has lost the ability to achieve erection. The Queen of Hearts is still hell-bent on getting Alice’s head, but of course what she really means is that she’s hell-bent on getting head from Alice. And as you might imagine, the fact that most of these sexual frolics are paired up with singing and dancing just magnifies the subversive surreality of the proceedings. It’s like watching a Disney movie, but with explicit sex.
Just how explicit varies from print to print, mind you. As was common during the 1970’s, Alice in Wonderland circulated in both hard- and softcore edits. Even the softcore version of this movie is pretty strong stuff (we never see Tweedledum fellating Tweedledee, for example, but we do see her running her tongue up the underside of his shaft), and from what I’ve heard, the hardcore version is really too much for just about any audience except the die-hard raincoaters. Indifferently composed extreme closeups are said to go on for minutes at a time, turning what is, in the soft version, a relatively well paced and competently shot film into a seemingly endless test of endurance. Now I can’t comment on the veracity of these reports, for I saw only the softcore edit, but I can certainly see how a real-time blowjob or two would play havoc with the movie’s flow, which, as I said, is surprisingly smooth for a porno.
The other big surprise here is the acting. Don’t misunderstand me, now— this is still a porn flick, and the cast was still chosen more for their willingness to have sex on camera than for their acting ability. None of these people are ever going to appear on anyone’s list of favorite screen performers. But neither does even the worst acting in Alice in Wonderland sink to the level one encounters in hardcore porn today. Indeed, star Kristine DeBell later had an acting career outside the sex-film business, making guest appearances on TV shows like “C.H.I.P.s” and “B.J. and the Bear.” (For that matter, the auditorium at B-Fest 2004 was filled with shouts of stunned recognition when DeBell appeared twice in the lineup— first in Alice in Wonderland and again in the early U.S. Jackie Chan vehicle The Big Brawl.) This is a phenomenon you just don’t see anymore, and the current ghettoization of the movie industry into ironclad economic castes (with hardcore porn inevitably at the bottom) makes it highly unlikely that we’ll ever see it again.