My wife Lily and I have recently relocated to Los Angeles, and for one of our first film experiences here in the city, we went on down to the Cinefamily/Silent Film Theater on Fairfax, which is widely known for its rare niche programming to see “The Sexorcists,” a film that they even described as “one of the great white whales of sexploitation cinema—so elusive and rare, even we haven’t seen it yet.” Armed with that too tantalizing blurb we were thrilled to spend our late Thursday night on one of the plush couches at the Silent Film Theater.
Before I get into the experience of seeing this rarely seen cult film, directed by Louis Garfinkle, one of the screenwriters of The Deer Hunter no less, I should say that as a lifelong East Coaster, I have to address my preconceived notions of California that I concocted during my adolescence of watching spacey exploitation films depicting California as land of sexed out LSD ingesting freaks who are always trying to “experience” things that most East Coast Catholic boys would simply deem as satanic. Even more “mature” California scene films ranging from Mazursky’s 1969 film, “Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice,” to Bill Persky’s massively underrated 1980 film, “Serial,” did little to change my hardened heart that the other coast was a deranged place of self-help gurus and orgies. So, now that we know where I stand here, let’s address “The Sexorcists.”
Originally released in 1970 as “Beautiful People” to cash in on the aforementioned psychedelic scene, the film was re-titled and re-released (with a few scenes added in to keep it up to date with its new epitaph) as “The Sexorcists” in 1974. The film begins with Dr. Voxuber (in Halloween quality devil’s attire) letting you in on his evil plot to control the desires of his group of victims. We then cutaway to a pastoral camp known as “Godiva Springs” where our not good doctor runs a camp in which a group of California clichés is put together to “learn more about their bodies than they would ever dream of learning.” The group consists of Boobs (Leigh Heine), a gorgeous example of a wild 1970s California love child, Ruby Begonia (Sonja Dunson), a repressed African American church woman who is not too thrilled to be surrounded by a gaggle of messed up Caucasians, Shrink (Sina Taylor), a pretty housewife who is looking for a quick screw, Howitzer (Frank Whiteman), a hunky and slightly uptight man looking to lay whatever he can find, and Ding Dong (Ann Staunton), a spinster teacher who never gets much screen time. There is also Bubblegum (John Quinn), a blonde surferboy who chews a lot of gum and does little else, Sheena (Branch Halford), a gay transvestite who takes his character to a place that would make the average liberal arts school undergraduate snap in half from political incorrectness, and finally Burp (Harvey Shain), who is mute except for the occasional expressive oral flatulence.
Voxuber has a list of draconian rules that he announces to his California clan at the start of their stay that includes one that causes more than a few arguments which is “no touching under the waist and above the knees.” Howitzer seems the most pissed by this development and the doctor would spend the entirety of the film, pulling him off of almost every woman in the camp at some point, much to the delight of the Cinefamily crowd. And as I now write about this evening’s crowd at Cinefamily, I would be remiss in my duties to not share their favorite moment, which seems to go off about every ten minutes of the film: an EST-style primal scream that each character does in an ISO shot directly into the camera. They come as randomly as the rest of the plot, and those moments are always met with a good laugh from the audience because they frankly are pretty damn funny. Voxuber spends most of the film putting our group of 1970s California cartoon characters through a series of random self-help exercises but seems to spend most time with the most repressed Ruby Begonia, trying to bring her to a state of self-induced seizure orgasm while our campers watch in amazement and joy. Even after such an experience, Ruby is still filled with enough uptightness to freak out a room of Junior League women.
You may be wondering where the mandatory LSD scenes are hiding, and they are of course near the end of our film when or Voxuber dispenses his LSD infused brandy. An all-night group grope ensues of the trippy kind, but the next day the fuzz is there to whisk Voxuber away because (drum roll) he’s not an actual doctor. Oh no! What is our group to do with Dr. Voxuber’s list of commandments? I guess they just have an even bigger orgy involving a series of shots of underwater boobies and wee wees which is really the only time the “sex” in “Sexorcists” appears on the screen. Now comes another added scene of Dr. Voxuber (now looking a tad like Jon Lovitz’s SNL devil) explaining his successful execution of his master plan or the “orcists” portion of “Sexorcists.”
The evening ended with the Cinefamily curators receiving an ovation of the almost packed house and a promise from them to search for more lost cult films if we liked “The Sexorcists.” I then wondered at this moment how a film like this would’ve played out to an East Coast cult film crowd who might be looking at these characters with the same level of “you see, I told you they are all freaks out here” lodged in their subconscious as it was with me at the start of this evening. Then the thought occurred to me that California residents in attendance might actually have known real people like the ones depicted in the film, which brought me my first moment of actual horror from the evening.