It’s easy to forget in 2015 that there used to be an entire adult film industry in America that ran more or less the same as the mainstream: studios shot films and distributed prints to porn theaters located in cities across the country, and anyone who wanted to catch one of these films went to the theater (possibly even an adults-only drive-in!) just like they would if they wanted to catch JAWS or STRIPES. In the 1980s, porn made the switch from shooting on film to comparatively cheaper video, and the home video boom helped contribute to the steep decline of the adult film theater. One of the last adult films of the 1980s to be shot and distributed on 35mm film was HYAPATIA LEE’S THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY (1985), a lavish production that stands as a high-water mark in ’80s adult film. Vinegar Syndrome has released a new DVD of the film, along with a bonus feature, HYAPATIA LEE’S TASTY (1985).
The opening credits sequence notes that the film was adapted from the novel by Geoffrey Chaucer by Hyapatia Lee herself, and the impressive costumes on display immediately set the film apart from other low-budget adult films of the era. During a rowdy night at an inn, the Hostess (Hyapatia Lee) proposes a contest to the people going with her the next day on a trip to Canterbury. Each of them will contribute money to a pot, and each member of the party will tell a story during the trip. The teller with the best story wins the pot when they reach Canterbury. The others enthusiastically agree and retire for the evening. The next morning, they begin their trip, and the titular ribald tales begin. Now, given that the time constraints of an adult film, obviously there are fewer contestants.
This version includes the Knight (Mike Horner), the Lady of Bath (Colleen Brennan), the Miller (Dennis Duggan), the Carpenter (Jesse Eastern), and the Monk (Elmo Lavino). While the original work featured stories from all ages about a wide variety of subjects, this version keeps the stories contemporary to the era in which the characters exist, and all of the stories are about sex. Also, there’s a lesbian scene between the Hostess and the Lady of Bath. This is a lot to cover, and director Bud Lee (Hyapatia’s husband at the time) keeps the proceedings moving forward at a good clip. The production design is good enough that it’s never a distraction, and the cast is rounded out by some familiar faces including Marc Wallace, Peter North, and Buffy Davis. In addition to the great production value and cast, there are some clever lines and sly humor throughout THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY, making it well worth checking out.
The second film on this release, HYAPATIA LEE’S TASTY, follows the last day on the air of radio station KNUT after owner Mr. Conners (Jesse Eastern) informs the staff that their biggest ad buyer is going to pull all their advertising unless they can get their ratings up. Figuring they have nothing to lose, the DJs decide to switch to an all-sex format, which includes taking calls of people having sex on the air, DJs having sex with listeners in the booth, playing “sexy” songs (such as “Back Door Annie” by Incest in the Cream Cheese), and providing live sex advice to listeners. No points for guessing whether or not the plan works. TASTY might not be quite as impressively mounted as THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY, but it’s still quite a bit of fun. This is largely due to the film’s charmingly dated pop culture references, which include a complete music video for Hyapatia Lee as Tasty performing “Hit Me With Your Wet Shot” (a naughty goof on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and a girl who can’t stop saying “TOTALLY AWESOME” in what sounds like a space alien accent while having sex on the air.
Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD restoration of the films, as per their usual standards, is excellent. In addition to the beautiful new transfer, the disc includes a full-length commentary track by Bud Lee on THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY, interviewed by Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin. This is a great, informative, and entertaining commentary, and it’s complemented by a video interview with Bud Lee talking about the other film on this disc, HYAPATIA LEE’S TASTY. The disc also features trailers for both films. This is another outstanding release from Vinegar Syndrome, one that provides an interesting look at the very end of 35mm film production in adult cinema.
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