Suburban Roulette

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

My Rating:

A record for tameness among sexploitation films!

Bitable Bytes:
"...Some spiciness...!"
"[Lewis is] bright and engaging!"
"...Among his best!"

What to do while watching:
Turn the sound down and listen to some good music (see my suggestion at the end). Then turn your attention to sending letters to relatives who you may not have communicated with in a long time.

What to eat while watching:
By now you shouldn't be actually watching so there will be no food that's more or less appropriate than any other for you to consume as the VCR churns away.

The most fascinating thing about this reel is the advertisement that starts it for Something Weird Video. Apparently, they offer a wide range of B-flicks from the fifties through seventies, stuff that's perfect fodder for Mystery Science 3000, cult status, or a fragrant rubbish fire. Their selection includes sex, gore, drugs, rock & roll, teenagers, and fast cars. Think high "retro" and low budget.

The "weird" video in question is called Suburban Roulette. This is a tale about the polygamous, wife-swapping couples who live on a cul-de-sac out in the laid-back non-city. The opening credits and theme song play over images that are frisky by Iowa-in-the-early-60s standards. You'll feel very worldly and wise watching, for example, a slow pan of a woman facing away from the camera, wearing a pajama top (that hides both buns) and the man beside her wearing only the bottoms. Cut to an image of both garments being thrown on the floor. Then another very slow pan of the backs of the couple showing that she's now wearing only the bottom and he's wearing only the top. Even ingenues will feel like swingers after watching these G-rated images.

What's the story? A new couple moves into town. Their dialogue reveals that he's had drinking problems and she's slept around some. They vow to do better, starting a new life in the suburbs. But the neighbors are all heavy into drinking and partner swapping. So the very first night in town, when all the neighbors gather at a welcome barbecue, the husband drinks until he passes out and his wife sleeps with the neighbor (without either of them taking off any of their clothes).

The voice-overs are done by one of the jaded neighbors who explains how this orgiastic partying stems from the otherwise humdrum existence of the suburbs. To the film's credit, I can't imagine a better portrayal of ennui.

Actually, this party scene is a flashback, since the film really starts with the new wife on the block being picked up by an ambulance. With the rest of the movie in flashback mode, we know that the moral will be that swinging is bad. We can only hope that there will be some spiciness before we must come to that inevitable moral.

Forty years ago, this might have been considered roguish. I have no way of saying for sure. What I can say is that today, this is the kind of film that you can play in your VCR while the monitor is actually shut off. A black screen has about the same lurid shock value, so California residents can save a bit of electricity with this one.

Here's another great use for this video. Tell your prepubescent kids that you're going to show them a video about sex and drinking. These exploits will so thoroughly bore them, that they'll wait quite a bit longer to experiment with either.

So what lured me to this lurid yawn-filled yarn? Well, it was not long ago that I was unaware of Lewis' films. I was writing copy for a catalog that was sent into 1.5 million homes every month Wanting to be the best catalog writer I could be, I looked toward some of the industry's wisenheimers for guidance. David Ogilvy remains one of the most influential writers on the art of writing advertising. But another bigwig is Herschell Gordon Lewis, a bright an engaging writer on direct mailing and marketing. Just before leaving that job, I managed to get them to buy me his new and already seminal On the Art of Writing Copy, a large tome of good ideas about selling with words.

Eventually I saw Cecil B. Demented, a film by John Waters (and you can read my review in my library). Cecil B. depicts a band of terrorist filmmakers who each sport a tattoo of the name of some underground filmmaker. One of these names is Herschell's. I was stunned. "Why," I thought, "would independent filmmakers care about a marketing writer?"

I thought that there must be two Herschell Gordon Lewises. I cast about online a bit before finding Herschell's own website, where I learned that there is one man who has lived two wildly divergent lives. His stint as a filmmaker included over thirty low-budget gore/sexploitation films. After that, he went into marketing.

It's a good thing he switched fields if this film is any indication, though I can't help wondering if The Gore Gore Girls with Henny Youngman might be better. Are any of you, friends and readers, cult cinema buffs? And if so can you tell me anything about Mr. Lewis' works? I'd rather not sit through another one like Suburban Roulette if that is among his best.

Drop me a line. Thanks in advance.


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