Not that most of the cinephile world needed much more in the way of evidence, but for everyone who thinks George A. Romero wasn’t the driving creative force behind the cult classic Night of the Living Dead, there but for the grace of bras goes The Booby Hatch. Made by Romero’s chief Night collaborators John Russo (who co-wrote) and Russell Streiner (who co-produced), Booby only merits comparison to Romero’s zombie epic in the sense that every creative decision, every performance, every sight gag appears to have been enacted by the walking undead. What makes the ineptitude all the more galling is the fact that there’s the seed of a pretty good idea struggling to emerge.
The movie takes place inside the product-testing laboratories of Joyful Novelties, a pioneering sex toy company that takes its mission to unite all colors, creeds, and clitorises in sexual ecstasy as seriously as NASA took its mission landing man on the moon. If some had to lay down their lives in pursuit of the perfect orgasm—as one busty blonde does while connected to a prototype for a nuclear-strength vibrator—well, such are the pitfalls of progress. Or are they? Suffering at the center of all the dildos, lifelike dolls, and hot transsexual messes are Cherry Jankowski (Sharon Joy Miller) and the newly impotent Marcello Fettucini (Rudy Ricci, who also co-wrote and co-directed), two product testers whose vocational dedication to great sex has left them worn out and unfulfilled. It isn’t long before these two poor fuckers are shown just missing each other in elevators and on soul-searching walks.
Romero may have effused a leftist bent in his zombie films, but Russo and Streiner use their sex comedy to espouse the retrograde notion that the only fulfilling sexual position (physical and socio-political) is one-man-one-woman missionary. Granted, that can only be expected when blue movies meet blue-collar values. But even though Booby‘s vision of free love boiling down to the act of punching a timecard does thematically fall in line with the zombie consumerism Romero was then fleshing out for 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, would it have killed Russo, Ricci, and Steiner to crack even one legitimately funny joke that didn’t revolve around Fettucini’s limp noodle?
Considering The Booby Hatch was probably produced on a budget most Pittsburgh housewives could've covered in three easy installments, the transfer from Synapse Films looks appropriate. Colors are oversaturated when not absent altogether, the film grain is so pervasive it almost approximates the act of looking through beer goggles, and the sound is so muffled you'd have to presume the only thing wired with a mic is Sharon Joy Miller's crotch. Given the filmmakers' experience directing commercials in their formative years, I'd have expected something a lot more gleaming and salable than this, but most of the deficiencies here are likely inherent in the source material.
Maybe I'm too hard on Russo and Streiner. Ricci is the one who, in the commentary track on this disc, comes up with the most stridently WASP-ish asides and, at one point, dismisses any effort to take the movie as being anything other than "a silly little film." (No arguments here.) Un-chivalrous comments about casting buxom beauties from Pittsburgh's talent pool and vaguely racist comments about producers aside, you can't say the commentary track doesn't give you a better idea of where the filmmakers are coming from and the financial obstacles they faced. (One unfortunate obstacle in the track itself: Streiner is apparently nowhere near a working microphone.) Also included in Synapse's package is an alternate edit of the film titled The Liberation of Cherry Jankowski, the denouement of which goes even further in its endorsement of monogamy (i.e. Marcello, having established a working relationship with Cherry, bombs the sex toy factory). Finally, there's a new interview with David Emge, who has a tiny role in this film but went on to greater things as Flyboy in Dawn of the Dead.
The Booby Hatch makes me glad I didn't take John Russo's Making Movies too much too heart.