Thursday, 22 October 2009

The First Turn On!! (Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman, 1983)

The First Turn On!!

The US theatrical poster, featuring some of the cast and people I don't recognise at all (middle two girls).

"The First Turn On!" (1983, directed by Michael Herz and Samuel Weil aka. Lloyd Kaufman)
(note: on-screen title has two exclamation marks)
Version Reviewed: Region Free US "Troma Retro" line DVD from Troma Team Video, as part of "The Sexy Box", similar to their "Tox Box" and "Complete Spill-ogy" sets. Essentially a repackage of their earlier "Before There Was Toxie" boxset, with some (cool) new extras and three early feature films (!) as Easter Eggs.

OF the four Troma "sexy comedies", "The First Turn On!" is by far my favourite. Unlike the previous three films ("Squeeze Play!", "Waitress!" and "Stuck On You!"), all of which had their own surreal and silly charm, "The First Turn On!" is much closer to a conventional "sex comedy" in that it the majority of the cast is teenagers, there's a lot of smutty dopey humour and summer camp hijinx and, for the first time, Troma has finally, really landed smack bang into the 1980s. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the quintessential eighties teen comedy - there's no big sports event, parade, competition or race at the end, as far as I can recall there's actually no scenes where a guy pervs on girls naked in the shower - but it is faster than before, with much less flights of fantasy, more flights of logic and more and more of the "traditional" Troma style. Really, aside from the fact there's no gory violence in it, this is pretty much the same style Troma used on it's subsequent films, "The Toxic Avenger" and "Class of Nuke 'Em High". It's really, really funny too. The..."plot"...basically amounts to this: a tough guy from the street (that's him on the poster), a fat guy played by Googy Gress (who you may have seen in some Farrelly brothers films or Wayne's World 2), a Jewish Princess (far left on poster), a camp counselor (far right on poster) and a really, really, really horny camper with red hair are all trapped deep in a cave, after the fat one farts and causes a cave-in. It's dark, they're running out of air and there's a tarantula crawling around down there. Since the counselor followed them there after they snuck off a nature trail to smoke a joint, no one else knows where they are. They all relate to each other their own first sexual experiences in highly exaggerated, comedic flashbacks. Outside in the camp, Mr Zitzler (who runs the place) demands the kids be found because "some of those kids' parents haven't paid yet" while deranged, horny kids make phalluses, vaginas and breasts in their pottery activities.

Some of the campers mid-"circle jerk" flavourd prankery. Centre-right is Lobotomy, played by Academy Award Winning actor, Vincent D'Onofrio. Really.

"Squeeze Play" added sex and comedy to the sports movie mould, "Waitress!" had a wackier, more Airplane!/Kentucky Fried Movie feel, but 'grounded in a single, restaurant environment, "Stuck On You!" was a sweeter film, kind of Lloyd's attempt at a Mel Brooks comedy, with elements not too dissimilar to Woody Allen's more fantastic attempts. But "The First Turn On!" has a very, very simple and more realistic grounding than any previous attempts (it's not half as wacky as the earlier films), which gives it a lot more time for comedy and sex humour, as the campers all learn to relate to each other (in fact, the movie is kind of like a very smutty "The Breakfast Club" in that regard). Of all the stories the teens tell each other, the only one I didn't like was the one the jewish girl told - it wasn't funny or smutty enough. The fat guy (Henry) has a good story where he goes out on Halloween in a scary ghost costume his mother made (that looks like a Ku Klux Klan outfit), only to save a pretty girl from a gang of black muggers. Googy Gress, who plays Henry, is the bartender in the bowling alley in "Kingpin", when Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid try (unsucessfully) to hustle early in the film. He can also be seen here in "Me Myself and Irene" where he looks pretty different from "The First Turn On!".

Googy gets some.

I also adored both the camp counsellor and the horny kid's storys, too. In the horny kids fantasy, he ends up meeting a Penthouse Pet he likes on the beach and having a threesome with her and his brother's girlfriend. It doesn't sound like much, I know, but the way it's played is total softcore eighties teen beach fantasy with the horny kid constantly wide-eyed and saying "wow" like he's just been told what sex is. The whole segment is a lot of fun, with wall to wall music (that doesn't annoy like earlier songs on Troma soundtracks). The sex in it, like the whole film, is totally unerotic on purpose - it's either being artsy or funny, but it's never sexy.

The camp counsellor's story is also very funny, specifically because of Mark Torgl. If you've ever seen the first "Toxic Avenger", you'll know Mark Torgl as Melvin. Here, Mark's performance is broadly similar - a geeky, twitchy guy with lots of energy - but a lot more knowing. Here, he plays a very sleazy and horny teenager who uses the camp counsellor for sex while she believes he genuinely cares for her. The drive of it is that the counsellor (in voiceover) speaks of Dwayne as some kind of legendary lover, while we see Mark Torgl in bad acne make up drooling and using food to make crude sexually absurd gestures. I'm not sure if the drive is "reality vs camp counsellor's version of events", or "love is blind" or "the entire story is made up". Whatever. Mark is pretty funny in this role and the segment loses something when his character leaves her for another girl.
The other segment is the tough guy's, which is ok, but not great. It's got a hooker plot and there's some nice nudity, but that's it.

It's the eighties - do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan.

The wraparound scenes with the rest of the camp in their absense is also very funny, with Vincent D'Onofrio's character Lobotomy providing some hilarious moments as a deranged and possibly retarded camper who helps with the counselling. There were other very funny moments - the environmental film, the circle jerk prank (a precursor to the sheep prank in "Toxic Avenger") the end with the mother and the water, a joke about a kind of natural aphrodisiac which is obvious but good for a laugh and the end of the film has some nice moments, with the parents going around the camp and being repeatedly shocked.

The end, where the cave-in's all admit they made their stories up, then have a nice little orgy together is not filmed sexily(?), at all, and to be honest, I can think of things more erotic than a naked orgy in a cave-in, with tarantulas crawling around.
I've heard Michael Herz directed this movie solo, and if that's really the case, it's much easier for me to see his contribution to these early films with Kaufman and why they're superior to the later, solo efforts. These films don't make fun of the fact they are in bad taste. They're more sincere this way, and the comedy in this film is faster and less artsy (god, did I say it?) than others of the early Troma period.
I'm not sure what Vincent D'Onofrio thinks of this movie now - Lloyd Kaufman mentions in the commentary that he stopped by at the Tromadance festival and reminded Lloyd that he was fired from "The Toxic Avenger", but on the "Full Metal Jacket" DVD, he definitively states that "Full Metal Jacket" was his first film, which I guess tells us what he thinks of it. Me, I was hoping for him to say something in an interview like "When I did Full Metal Jacket, I was just playing Lobotomy in the army.". Far fetched I know, but he basically pulls the same expressions in both films, it's just in "Jacket", he's fatter and accompanied by heavier, scary music.

If you like the early Troma films ("Toxic Avenger" or "Class of Nuke 'Em High"), you must try "The First Turn On!". If you like early eighties sex comedies (which, like early eighties slashers, is a genre that I find impossible to hate), you will definetely have fun with this. It's far more gratuitous and more consistantly funny than films like "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Porky's 2: The Next Day!", having more in common with the initial, offensive, energy-rush of the sex comedy with films like "Animal House" and "Porky's", but taken further! But it's not very BIG - if I felt one disappointment when first watching this, it's that one expects more hijinks, more set-pieces and bigger crowd shots when one hears the words "summer camp" and "sex comedy" in close proximity. Hell, even "Meatballs III" (not truly a summer camp movie), which was crap, had more to show than this one.

Recommended, especially if you buy "The Sexy Box".

The UK quad poster for "The First Turn On!".

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