Retro Ramblings

Reports from the dusty corners of filmland

Spaced Out

The seventies were responsible for many cultural crimes. One of these that the British film industry contributed to was what is commonly known as the sex comedy. You’ve seen these crop up on late night TV: Confessions films starring Robin Askwith, double-entendre titles such as Can You Keep It Up For a Week?, and great British character actors slumming it hoping that the casting agents for serious films and theatre work won’t have spotted them surrounded by pert young starlets in tatty sets looking mildly embarrassed. Unfortunately for those desperate thesps it was the sex comedy film, an extension (oo er missus) of the Carry On and Frankie Howerd Up… series, that kept the technicians and actors in work after the American money readily thrown at the UK during the sixties dried up.

The unusual thing about the British sex comedy is that despite its best efforts it can never actually manage to be sexy. Something about the reserve of the British meant that the filmmakers could fill the screen with nubile young starlets eager to please but had to do their best to stop the audience enjoying it. One example of this can be found in Confessions of a Pop Performer, where young Askwith, inexplicably attractive to the opposite sex despite his average looks, mousy hair and mild acne, has young girls stripping off and throwing themselves at him at every opportunity. In one particular scene he rolls around with a girl whilst on the soundtrack we are subjected to Spike Milligan singing one of his frenetic comedy numbers. Spike Milligan! You can almost hear the director rubbing his hands together as he says to the editor “This’ll kill any erections in the audience.”

I digress. Suffice it to say that when a film is described as a “sex comedy”, you can safely expect there to be little of either. So it was with nervous anticipation that I approached Outer Touch (known as Spaced Out in the US, presumably to make absolutely sure of cashing in with the current success of anything with Star or Space in the title). It was directed by Norman J. Warren, better known for his crop of cult horror titles. I am currently working on a dissertation (hopefully to eventually become a book) on Norman so have been tracking down all his movies. This one was released on DVD a few years ago but has since become quite pricy. You can expect to pay around ¬£30 on ebay, which is only slightly less than the original production budget. Fortunately I had the DVD donated by George Weis, who runs the brilliant DVD Drive-In website, so I was able to see what I had been missing.

As with most of Warren’s films, the cast is incredibly small (in this case only six main actors, two voice-overs and a dog. Oh, and some cows), and it is primarily shot on one set: a spaceship piloted by three sexy female aliens who are forced to make an emergency landing on Earth. They take three humans on board and, well, the fun begins. As with most other sex comedies, the men are either young and spotty or old and horny. The women on the other hand are young, sexually curious and not afraid to experiment with the human reproductive techniques, all in the name of scientific discovery.It’s actually done fairly tastefully and makes a joke of the fact that the man they become crazy about is the young Willy, a self-confessed virgin whose only experience is with dirty magazines. Again, only British sex comedies could have young spotty boys seducing women who would not be seen dead with them in real life. This was perhaps part of the appeal for the audience, mostly adolescent themselves and unlikely to be scoring with a member of the opposite sex any time soon.

Overall the film is entertaining and well acted. The sub plot of a frustrated academic and his frigid fianc√© is amusing and well portrayed by Barry Stokes, who had worked with Warren before on Prey (1978) and was no stranger to the British sex comedy, having made an earlier appearance in Confessions of a Handy Man (1975). Stokes seemed to be channelling Christopher Reeves as Clark Kent in Superman, complete with pushing his glasses up his nose every ten seconds. Of the women in the film, the plaudits should go to Ava Cadell, who plays the ship’s engineer Partha. She manages to be kooky and sexy, and even helps drive the plot every so often. She had also made several appearances in other sex comedies. Somewhat bizarrely she is now Dr Cadell, founder of the Loveology university, and offers courses in all manner of sex-related subjects. You can go to their website and watch her videos. Apparently she often appears on US TV as a “sexpert”. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Outer Touch is probably one of the better sex comedy offerings out there. It’s fairly amusing throughout, has a smattering of sex and nudity, and comes to a surprising (and for one character, painful) conclusion. If you see it on late night TV, you might even enjoy it.Spaced Out

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