While Bob Chinn’s Johnny Wadd did an outstanding job as a showcase for John Holmes’s hammer, there wasn’t much mystery nor adventure to be found within. Flesh of the Lotus, Chinn’s follow-up that, due to overwhelming demand by theater owners arrived in theaters a couple of months later, corrects this by opening up the space and giving the series a darker undertone with tragic and graphic deaths and a dour trip into the world of narcotics. The end result is a whole lot of fun even if it’s still pretty early in the narrative game and is therefore fairly primitive when it comes to both the sex and action.
The plot is a little more complex than the one found in Johnny Wadd as the titular private dick (John Holmes) is pulled into a mystery surrounding the death of his former girlfriend, Shiela (Heather Starr, née Sheila Rossi). On the trail, he meets sleazy dope pusher Jim Alexander (Alex Elliott) and ultimately tangles with the lethal head of the mysterious, Chinatown-based Lotus society (director Bob Chinn, wearing a snazzy corduroy suit).
As was the case with Johnny Wadd, Flesh of the Lotus was shot in one day on a budget of $750 so it’s all the more impressive that the canvas gets expanded as much as it does by dividing its time between one-take sex scenes and action-oriented exterior work. The film is also an improvement over the first entry in its sexual pairings even if the primitive method of nailing the camera to the floor, panning left and right, and using the zoom like a slide trombone in a Dixieland band makes each encounter seem to last about as long as it takes to actually have sex in real life. This is fun if you’re actually in the mix but, for the sake of cinema, editors exist for a reason. However, given that this was a feature of early hardcore and not a bug, Bob Chinn gets a mulligan.
So since the sexual setups aren’t particularly of great interest, they rise and fall on the mutual enthusiasm of the performers, or lack thereof. So it’s nice to report that the majority of the couplings in Flesh of the Lotus feel like everyone’s enjoying themselves (at the very least). According to Chinn, Heather Starr wasn’t much of an actress as she was a free-spirited and libidinous creature who had a genuine enjoyment for having sex on camera and that comes through loud and clear. Also, the wickedly fun Andy Bellamy shows up (albeit in a different role than in the first film) and has a nice encounter with Jim Alexander. Flesh of the Lotus also dials back the sense of needing to stunt fuck for the gonzo caucus. So out is the unknown actress who embodied the conniving Ms. Hamilton and in is the unknown actress who portrays the tough talking lesbian, Billie Mae Randall. Both characters are meant to be the wild ingredients in their respective stories but there is a sense of a bit more of natural enjoyment here than in the first film, even if Billie Mae is only SLIGHTLY less of a terrifying screen presence than Mrs. Hamilton.
Setting aside the crucial production move that saw Chinn haul his gear down to Chinatown to capture some great exteriors, either using a new location or figuring out how to redress and shoot the interiors of Alain Patrick’s beachside condo to make it look like the cinematic space right out of a Doris Wishman movie was one of the film’s greatest leaps forward. No cost could be too high to restore this film to make all the detail in this film pop and stand out. Swag lamps, wood paneling, and the intricacies inherent in the Chinatown architecture are all sadly lost in the blurry transfer on the VCX DVD.
As 1970’s softcore Love: Denmark Style was a follow up to the same year’s The Girl From Denmark, Flesh of the Lotus wasn’t technically Bob Chinn’s first sequel. But there must have been something to Flesh of the Lotus that was close to his heart as in 2011, he greatly expanded it into a novelization that turned out to be arguably more successful than Michael Mann would be eleven years later when he took a stab at literarily stretching 1995’s Heat into the novel Heat 2. Bob Chinn had no real aspirations to make a series with the character so when the surprising and immediate demand for a follow up to Johnny Wadd materialized, the wheels began to turn. With the Johnny Wadd films, Chinn would get to indulge his inner film fanatic and run up and down noir alley with references that saluted screens big and small and Flesh of the Lotus was the first of these that had a little more than an envelope sketch as a story. Despite its rawness and the delta between it and the outlandishly fun entries in the series that Chinn would make for Freeway Films beginning in 1975, Flesh of the Lotus has more of the franchise’s seed ingredients than the film that came before it.
So while it ain’t exactly From Russia With Love, Magnum Force,or Funeral in Berlin, it’s close enough for rock and roll.
(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain