Candide on Speed: Alex de Renzy's Pretty Peaches Trilogy
Even in the wild wild west days of adult filmmaking, few directors were as bold and frankly, at times, batshit, as Alex de Renzy. Outre is a classier and equally accurate word to use, with de Renzy's work being interesting, talented, sleazy, exploitative and rarely boring. A fine example of this is his Pretty Peaches trilogy, starting with 1978's original Pretty Peaches.
If one was to go by the original poster art, featuring a lifelike drawing of the film's star, Desiree Cousteau, looking like a curvy Kewpie doll in a cream colored teddy, you could easily assume that Pretty Peaches was another light-as-air adult sex comedy. Which is sort of true, but then again, this is a comedy by Alex de Renzy, so keep that remembrance sealed tight in your cranium.
The film begins with our titular Peaches (Cousteau) driving in a jeep and heading towards her father, Hugh's (John Leslie), wedding to her lovely, new stepmother, Lilly (Flower). Peaches, after several shots of hard liquor, gets jealous of not getting her daddy's attention, and she drives off in a huff. In fact, she leaves in such a huff that she ends up having an accident out in the country, leaving her physically unharmed but unconscious. Whether or not you believe in constructs like luck or fate, you will soon realize that if such things do exist, then our heroine has apparently done something so hideous on a cosmic level that she ends up being put through a series of misadventures that will start to read less like Penthouse Forum and more like the Personals in Nugget. Don't believe me? Keep reading.
While she is passed out, two young cads who had seen Peaches earlier at the gas station while dealing with a seat sniffing gas station clerk, stumble upon our beautiful and knocked out heroine. Kid (Joey Silvera) and his friend at first try to help. However, despite his friend being nervous, Kid immediately starts feeling her up and quickly graduates to mounting Peaches, who awakens right after the attack. In addition to essentially being raped back into consciousness, she also has a wicked case of amnesia. And if you're picturing the old school Conan O'Brien character, Clive Clemmons, waving the devil horns and playing electric guitar while a British voice screams out “Inappropriate!!!”, then give your brain a high five because it is so right.
After the two try to run off with the amnesiac’s van, she ends up tagging along and temporarily moving in with them. That scenario alone sounds like the most demented 70's sitcom plot to have emerged out of the first several strati of Hell. Still riddled with amnesia, she tries to find work, which leads to her getting an enema that is the Fleet equivalent to Vesuvius, in an often-censored scene, as well as being violated in a lesbian gang-bang that plays out like a Mack Sennett riot with gyrations, genitals, and one harrowingly sized dildo. Things get slightly brighter when she connects with a seemingly nice shrink (Paul Thomas.) They make tender love and then, as a romantic gesture, he brings her to one insane-o swing party which quickly turns into a huge oily mess of bodies. Little does Peaches know that daddy Hugh and his new bride will be there too. Will she get her memory back before something really life-altering and de Renzian happens?
Pretty Peaches pulls off some sort of strange alchemy where despite all of the depravity you are witnessing, the tone never veers off its screwball comedy path. It is way lighter than it should be, which make it all the more compelling. A perfect example of this is when Kid sends Peaches to meet his “Uncle Percy,” who is a “Doctor.” This Doctor drags her into a hidden bathroom and after borderline accosting her, he offers her a strange solution for amnesia. All in the form of an enema bag. Peaches immediately says “N.O! No.” His response? “Don't you want to be somebody?” It is that blurred line where hilarity and damaged have the most awkward make-out session ever. Even better are some of the performances, from the eternally solid John Leslie to the underrated Flower, but this is Desiree Cousteau's show all the way. Her sweet face and curvy body rendered her a Betty Boop for the 70's, but with an “I Love Lucy” styled delivery. Nowhere is that more defined than in Pretty Peaches. Cousteau's performance is fun to watch and meringue-lite enough to keep you from calling your own sleazy-shrink.
Little under 10 years later, de Renzy returned to this singular universe with, what else, Pretty Peaches 2. In lieu of a continual storyline from the first film, the cycle is rebooted with young Peaches (Siobhan Hunter) having a sexual curiosity that is matched only by her pie-eyed naivete. Her domineering mother, Eunice (Tracey Adams, who looks as much like a “Eunice” as Bryan Ferry looks like a “Bubba”), is not much of help, with her making incidental cockblocking a borderline profession. This starts with Peaches jock boyfriend Tommy (Peter North), whom Eunice ends up forcing to have sex with her via knife point. (The lady does not mess around!)
Beyond frustrated, Peaches goes to have a heart to heart with her father, Stanley (Herschel Savage). He encourages her to go out and explore the world on her own. She does just that and while hitchhiking, gets picked up by a trucker (Buck Adams.) But before she can lose her flower to a man who probably reeks of black beauties and Red Sovine tapes, a door-to-door hooker (!) (Jeanette Littledove) pops by and they quickly start to knock boots. Peaches watches with rapt fascination but never gets directly involved, which might be the result of the one synapse in her pretty but well-ventilated head that dictates common sense. Losing your virginity in a three-way with a strange trucker and the no-tell-motel version of a lot lizard is an ill-advised thing, not unlike having unprotected carny sex while a bible salesman watches. (Now there's a movie for you!)
Peaches soon reaches her destination of San Francisco, where she stays at the house of her Uncle Howard (Ron Jeremy), his newish wife (Ashley Welles) and his dorky son (Billy Dee.) This side of her father's family are all WAY too familiar with each other, to the point where she would be safer back with the trucker and his dollar-a-dance hooker. While staying there, she meets both her uncle's exotic maid, Crystal (Melissa Melendez) and the superbly eccentric “Granny” (Jamie Gillis.) Yes, you read that correctly. Jamie Gillis is in grandma drag and yes, it is as wrong and amazing as you think it would be. Granny has Peaches don a skimpy teddy that is all the rage in France while schooling her on cleaning techniques. Soon, the big bad wolf comes out and after telling Peaches to keep the fact that she's a horny dude a secret, though no one on the “outside” is aware, Granny shows her the art of physical love.
After that, Peaches ends up in Chinatown, as her parents go to Uncle Howard's. While trying to find their daughter, they end up getting sidetracked by the ick-ick-icky family dynamic. Crystal ends up leaving and taking Peaches to “The Master” (also Ron Jeremy), where more education of the DNA exchanging occurs. But there is one more surprise in store for our heroine, all in an unlikely and yet, oddly expected form.
While Pretty Peaches 2 lacks the screwball-comedy-from-Hell vibe of the original, it does make up for it with some strange plot decisions and terrific camera work. This is one well-lensed film and on top of that, there are some good performances here, namely from Savage, Adams and especially, Gillis, who completely steals the show as the lascivious “Granny.” One would be hard pressed to think of a better “big bad wolf” than Jamie Gillis. Tracy Adams, who was often underused as an actress, has such a strong presence that she easily overshadows Siobhan Hunter. (Whom she was only older than by about 6 years. What is this? Hollywood?) Hunter does look lovely here and in the spirit of fairness, it's not like she is given much to do other than look pretty, bat her wide eyes and get busy.
However advantageous, it is this encounter that sends our heroine on her journey. Will young Peaches find what she is looking for or only get used and chewed up in the process? Pretty Peaches 3, while not quite as well shot as the 2nd one or as bizarro as the first, does stand out for a number of reasons. For starters, it's a weirder animal, with some fairly funny and acidic commentary on religion in general. Whether it is a sleazy, Swaggart-like televangelist (more on him in a minute), lesbian “nuns,” a yuppie New Age huckster or a Ray Ban wearing, “omm-ing” phony-guru, there is little chance for redemption or personal growth in this opportunistic world. The film's surprise ending is further proof of this. It would be heavy stuff if this film wasn't so goony and fun.
Speaking of fun, for starters there is Jamie Gillis as Reverend Billy Bob, crying on air when he's not running from the authorities or getting sidetracked by pleasures of the more Earthy variety. The image of Gillis in a white suit that is way too tight and wearing a cross the size of one of Rod Rooter's wind-chime-sized medallions is one that borders on the life-affirming. It is one of those moments where you can say, “You had me at Jamie Gillis playing a televangelist.”
Keisha is surprisingly likable and warm in the title role, making her seem less cartoony than Siobahn Hunter's version. (Though Cousteau's Lucille Ball-esque performance is still miles ahead of both.) In some ways, she has more in common with the Cousteau version, since sex is something she is not so much seeking out as it is something that happens to find her. In a non-sex role, Jack Baker, whose resume ranged from “Happy Days” and “Kentucky Fried Movie” to “New Wave Hookers,” pops up, making the film instantly even better. Baker was an incredibly talented actor who really deserved a bigger career than he received but he always brightened up everything he was in. This is no exception. Mike Horner also gets a special nod for being really, really funny. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention film legend Richard Pacheco turning up in a small non-sex cameo role as the most glorious wino in recent memory.
The original Pretty Preaches was only available uncut via gray market sources for years in the US, but thanks to the untiring and dedicated folks at Vinegar Syndrome, it is, along with the two sequels, are available, uncut and looking better than ever. The original is now on Blu Ray and has some incredible supplementals, including rare footage of an interview with de Renzy himself. With the trilogy itself, it is a fun adult peek into cinematic chaos bordering on the surreal. It's not for everyone but if you are that person that is open to it, you will love it.