Fairy Tales (1978) Fairy Tales/Adult Fairy Tales (1978) -***

     Imagine for a moment that, sometime around 1963, David Friedman had hired a young and unprepared Mel Brooks to write and direct him a nudie-cutie. Imagine further that the master negative of the resulting picture got lost in the mail on the way to the printing lab, forcing Brooks and Friedman to reconstruct the film using whatever outtakes were available. That hypothetical movie would be almost indistinguishable from Fairy Tales. It’s just that it was 1978 instead of 1963. It was Charles Band instead of David Friedman. It was Harry Hurwitz, Frank Ray Perilli, and Franne Schacht instead of Mel Brooks. And of course, there was no unfortunate postal fuck-up to account for why everything looks like it could have used maybe just one more take.

     If this is supposed to be a fairy tale, then obviously the first thing we’re going to need is a handsome prince (Don Sparks). Ours has just turned 21, which would normally make him officially eligible to inherit his old man’s kingdom. However, because the prince has somehow made it to his 21st birthday without exhibiting any outwardly visible interest in girls, his father has stipulated that the boy’s status as successor to the throne is to be conditional upon his demonstrating an ability to produce an heir of his own. After all, the king has posterity to consider— there’ll be no chaotic interregna so long as he has anything to say about it! With that in mind, His Majesty has sent the royal physicians (Irwin Corey, Robert Harris, and Simmy Bow, the latter of whom played small parts in other Band-dynasty productions like Laserblast and Dracula’s Dog) around to give the prince an emergency crash course in the use of the manly hydraulics, and to present him with a little birthday gift (Idy Tripoli, of Auditions). It’s all for naught, however. Even with the lesson delivered in the form of a vaudeville-style musical number, the stakes for the prince spelled out explicitly, and a gift-wrapped naked girl to sweeten the deal, there is no rising of passions or stirring of loins. Not that the prince is gay, mind you— he’s just very, very particular. You see, there’s this painting that has hung on the wall of his bedroom since he was a child, and only when the prince contemplates the girl in that portrait (look closely— it’s a shockingly virginal-seeming Linnea Quigley) does his libido perform according to spec. There’s both an upside and a downside to the prince’s fixation. On the one hand, the girl in the painting does at least actually exist, so attempting to woo her isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility. On the other, Princess Beauty vanished without a trace many years ago amid rumors of some sort of magical curse. Courting her will require finding her first, and according to the doctors’ magical manual, finding her will entail a quest into the Land of the Fairies. (And no, I do not mean DuPont Circle— although one of the physicians sure as hell does convey that impression when the subject first comes up.) The prince is undaunted, however. If finding his dream girl means scouring the Land of the Fairies, then that’s just what he’s going to do.

     The first person the prince meets in Fairyland is Little Bo Peep (Angela Aames, of Chopping Mall and H.O.T.S.), and if you remember the nursery rhyme, you know pretty well what her deal is. I have to say, though, that I don’t recall Mother Goose being nearly so direct about Bo Peep’s inability to keep track of her flock stemming from her being a stereotypical dumb blonde, and I’m positive that the illustrations in the picture books my parents used to check out for me from the Crofton Public Library had the inept shepherdess wearing at least slightly more clothing. Bo Peep makes her introductions in the style of a vaudeville opening act (an opening act that will not be invited back on for an encore, I might add), after which the prince answers her sob story with his own. The girl generously volunteers her services as an heir-producing partner, but that isn’t quite what the prince had in mind. Luckily, Bo Peep is a little too thick to take offense at the rejection, and before she resumes the hunt for her missing sheep, she mentions that he might find what he’s looking for at Gussy Gander’s Shoe of Pleasure.

     You remember the rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe, and had so many children she didn’t know what to do? Well evidently she finally came up with something. Under the guidance of a pimp named Syrus (Sy Richardson, of Repo Man and Petey Wheastraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law), Gussy Gander (Brenda Fogarty, from The Beach Bunnies and A Trip with the Teacher— who was not an old woman by any stretch of the imagination in the late 1970’s) has converted her shoe into Fairyland’s foremost whorehouse, apparently with her multitudinous daughters as the stable. And who knew the old woman who lived in a shoe had such illustrious progeny? There’s Snow White (Anne Gaybis, from Ten Violent Women and Deep Jaws), titillating paying voyeurs like Peeping Tom (Moose Carlson) with the help of her seven pint-sized paramours. Here’s Little Red Riding Hood (Melinda Utal) and her boyfriend, the Big Bad Wolf (the latter of whom looks a lot more like the Big Bad Sasquatch if you’re asking me). When old King Cole (Bob Leslie, of Thunder County and Mako: The Jaws of Death), the libidinous ruler of Fairyland, sends his envoy around to arrange for a house-call, Gussy is able to dispatch no less a luminary than Sheharazade (Nai Bonet, from Nocturna and The Soul of Nigger Charlie) to see to His Majesty’s needs. And that’s to say nothing of the chorus line of singing dominatrices who work in the basement of the shoe, or the recently introduced secret attraction locked away in the attic behind a door painted with a star. Gossip travels quickly in Fairyland, and Gussy and Syrus have heard about the prince and his quest; they figure it’s worth a fortune to them if they can be the ones to straighten the boy out, as it were. Syrus goes to intercept the prince and impress upon him the potential value of his and his partner’s services, rescuing him, while he’s at it, from the unwanted sexual advances of Jack (Jeff Doucette, who went on to Syngenor and The Dentist 2) and Jill (Young Lady Chatterley’s Lindsay Freeman).

     The main body of the film consists of Syrus leading the prince from one room in the Shoe of Pleasure to the next, attempting to interest him in the girls within. And when that looks like it’s going to fail, he takes the boy to his voodoo priestess friend, Auntie La Voh (former Vandellas lead singer Martha Reeves), to get a love potion prescribed for him. Each of these episodes involves much singing and dancing, by the way. Sometimes it’s the same vaudeville-type stuff we’ve seen already, sometimes it has more of a traditional show-tune vibe, sometimes it’s one or the other of those things with a little disco overlay, and sometimes you get (correctly) the impression that the producers dragged in somebody else from the cast or crew and said, “Here, you. We ran out of songs— write us another one.” The S&M girls in the basement do a boogie-woogie straight out of the early 40’s (except with lyrics about flagellation), for example, and Auntie La Voh goes for out-and-out, no-fucking-around disco. (And considering that she’s played by an ex-girl-group frontwoman, it’s no surprise that she does so with a degree of professionalism that blows everybody else out of the open-mike-night water.) Inevitably, none of it makes any impression on the prince’s steadfast flaccidity, and Gussy and Syrus must eventually resort to sending him upstairs to the mysterious star room. And just as inevitably, the unparalleled attraction locked behind its garishly decorated door proves to be the long-missing Princess Beauty, cursed as per the rumors with a preserving magical coma that can be broken only by the kiss of the man destined to be her true love. (The curse also makes Beauty look like a remarkably ugly man while she’s under its sway, but you’ll surely be three or four steps ahead of the movie by this point, and immune to such crude attempts at misdirection.) Matters are complicated, however, by the appearance of three rivals for the honor of awakening the slumbering virgin princess. First comes the Frog Prince (Lee Arries), who has a kiss-dependent curse of his own he wants broken. (Fairy Tales being the sort of movie that it is, it is not the Frog Prince’s whole body, but specifically his pecker that has been sorcerously ranafied.) Then comes King Cole, who has a bug up his ass about virgins, and has heard rumors that the Shoe of Pleasure recently acquired one. Finally, in storm Fairyland’s two vice cops (principal screenwriter Frank Ray Perilli and— get this— Angelo Rossitto, from Scared to Death and The Offspring), who try at first to bust the Shoe’s operators, but who quickly get sidetracked into looking for love instead.

     I must confess to liking Fairy Tales a great deal more than it deserves. The jokes are corny, the music is so terrible that I actually caught myself appreciating Auntie La Voh’s Gloria Gaynor impersonation, and the film plays less like a coherent movie than an unusually long episode of some strange, lascivious variety show. I can’t deny any of that. A lot of my unwarranted affection probably has to do with it being one of the very first skin-flicks I ever saw— nostalgia for one’s youth pulls just as hard through the medium of pornography as it does through any other. It’s also worth mentioning that Fairy Tales honestly succeeds in tickling a couple of my erotic pressure points, and indeed may even have been responsible for creating one of them. I’m pretty sure that initial viewing of Fairy Tales on late-night cable back in 1987 was the first time I ever saw a woman wearing nothing but a pair of thigh-high black leather boots, and that image has lost none of its fetishistic power for me over the years. But mainly, what appeals to me now about this movie is its paradoxical innocence. Even in 1978, this was an exceedingly old-fashioned film; as I said back at the beginning of the review, it could almost be mistaken for something out of the early 1960’s. The rampant full frontal nudity (no strategically placed furniture or foliage here!) and the hints of blaxploitation that Sy Richardson contributes are almost the only things pinning Fairy Tales down to its own time. The variety show structure is familiar from many of the nudie-cuties of the early 60’s, in which it was a fossilized holdover from the previous decade’s burlesque films. The movie’s sense of humor would best be characterized as “blue,” with all the pre-70’s value assumptions that now-obsolete term implies. The casting of the actresses might be seen as a sort of last hurrah for the corn-fed cuties of a bygone era, whose place in the general public’s erotic imagination had already been long usurped by the likes of Marilyn Chambers on the one hand and Sylvia Kristel on the other. Made in an era when transgression itself had become a more, Fairy Tales is charmingly content to be merely naughty. It takes advantage of some of the freedoms won by the rowdier 70’s cohort when doing so suits its limited purposes, but it looks backward rather than forward, and pushes no envelopes of its own. For an “adult” movie, Fairy Tales is endearingly pre-adolescent in its outlook.



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