THE LOVE SLAVES (1976)

From one angle, Bob Chinn’s The Love Slaves (1976) is a vehicle for John Leslie as he investigates the dark and shadowy criminal underworld which is using women to do its murderous bidding. From another, it’s an adult film in which the male lead gets laid within the first five minutes and then, curiously, never gets laid again.

A remake of 1966’s The Love Robots (Shiro no jinzô bijo), a Japanese softcore noir distributed by producer Bob Cresse, The Love Slaves has director Bob Chinn (credited as Robert Husong) showing his chops as a great low-budget genre director even if The Love Slaves ultimately proves to be an uneven film. It’s certainly a hardcore feature but, at its heart, its a neon-splashed neo-noir mixed with the themes and sensibilities of a rough-edged sex picture that makes The Love Slaves feel almost like two homages in one.

Looking into the recent string of kidnapped women and spike is drug trafficking is Special Investigator Steve Blake (John Leslie) from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He lives with his medical student sister, Karen (Tanya Shea), and is romantically entangled with Veronica (Veronica Taylor), sister of one of the women nabbed off the streets of San Francisco. However, the former relationship is completely tangential and is forgotten the second the scene is over where the brother/sister angle feels weird and underdeveloped. For example, why would a guy in his position be crashing on his sister’s hideaway sofa? Does he have an alimony payment that keeps him poor? He’s obviously not there for the food if the disgusting, grease-slopped breakfast she serves him with a smile is any indication.

In terms of the sex, The Love Slaves is also a little unorthodox. The film’s story begins with a simplistic setup that wouldn’t be out of place in a loop a few years earlier. Steve comes into Veronica’s apartment and they almost immediately get down to it. It’s prolonged and unusual and backed by incongruous ADR and jazzy and downbeat instrumentals, but it might very well represent the most conventional coupling in this dark, weird, and sinister world.

And, honestly, that’s what makes this the hard noir Chinn wants it to be. For not only is this a sex film in which the lead hardly has sex, every hardcore scene is embedded in a setup where the encounters are cold, coerced, or forced. This isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of heat found here or there within the film (the threesome between Desiree West, Ken Scudder, and Turk Lyon ain’t bad), but this film is a hard balance Chinn tries mightily to maintain. It doesn’t always pan out but it’s never uninteresting. For example, whether one finds Tanya Shea’s getup and overall demeanor a help or hindrance is going to strictly be a matter of taste but her off the cuff masturbation scene captures a fleeting moment such as it is with a keen eye for realism. And that’s all fine, but does it make for good pornography?

Better are the film’s scenes featuring the haunting and stark-white sex dungeon where Alain Patrick instructs his kidnapped slaves to carry out his nefarious deeds. In these scenes, Chinn utilizes the mirror frames of Patrick’s glasses and the location’s minimalism to great effect. Also nice are the stolen moments in the film’s exterior locations (just look at that Safeway!) and the stalking camerawork employed during the abduction scenes. Chinn gets to work in some really effective moments such as Karen’s attempt on Steve’s life and the film’s slo-mo gunshot/cumshot climax (replete with an actual squib). And I don’t give a damn what he thinks of it, in this house, cups go up when Bob Chinn appears in front of the camera as he does here as a friendly neighbor/doctor.

Like Alex DeRenzy, Bob Chinn could handle difficult situations but he never winks at the audience. Sometimes he delivers the tough stuff but it never feels like you need a shower afterward. I’ve seen more joyous acts of physical love in Carlos Tobalina movies that made me feel more unclean than I have in any Bob Chinn film. That said, the sex in this film is mostly cold and ugly. And instead of helping sell the mood, the music that was chosen seems like an afterthought and slapped on at the last minute. It’s generally inappropriate and mostly at odds the action, creating a baffling experience for the viewer in terms of whether to take things at a deadly serious level or gawk at just how full of wrongness it all is.

With Leslie sidelined throughout the film, Thorpe, West, and Astrid Gordon emerge as the MVP’s in The Love Slaves but whatever refreshing charms they bring to the screen are few and far between. For, as stated before, this is a tough world. This is not date night porn. This is a full color, all-in throwback to the roughies of ten years prior. It has a hard edge and runs a mean streak which makes it much more of an experimental blend of genre film and sex picture. It doesn’t always work and is sometimes at odds with itself but it has Sharon Thorpe masturbating wildly on a shag rug in front of an immobilized John Leslie so, in the words of Carl Spackler, it’s got that going for it.

(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain

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