Sunday, March 1, 2009

Takin' It Off (1985)

Directed by Ed Hansen
Starring Kitten Natividad, Ashley St. Jon, Angelique Pettyjohn

"Take all your clothes off, and I'll examine you from head to toe. And then I'll examine you again."
"Why are you going to examine me twice?"
"Because you should always get a second opinion."

Kitten Natividad, in her prime, was an extraordinary beauty. There's really no debating that. Unfortunately, her prime was the early 1970's, when she was the reigning Miss Nude Universe. By 1985, the bloom was clearly off the rose. Then again, director Ed Hansen (Party Plane, Party Favors) seemed to gravitate towards past-their-expiration-date B-stars anyway. He was, after all, a frequent collaborator/drinking partner of Buck Flowers. It's no wonder, then, that Takin' It Off is full of over-aged strippers with tired eyes and grizzled drunks in rumpled clothes. It's like a Tuesday night at some dusty, no-budget gin mill, where the local creeps and dead-enders are putting on a show just to keep the demons away.

Hansen had already worked with Kitten on his first 'film', Eroticise (1983), a 60-minute, tits-out aerobics routine starring boob-stars like Natividad and Ashley St Jon set to canned disco. Produced in the wake of Jane Fonda's million-selling workout tape, Hansen's idea was to capitalize on the aerobics craze and throw in a little (or a lot of) T&A into the mix for extra value. It is an oddly mesmerizing piece of work, too 'workout-video' for porn, and too naked for a workout video. As such, it serves no purpose at all, save for Kitten completists and aerobic nudists.

Here, take a look for yourself.

Despite its nullifying premise, Eroticise clearly did enough business on the video rental shelves to warrant a follow-up. Having conquered the difficult world of topless jumping jacks, Hansen dived straight into the seamy world of the T&A comedy. Well, I'm not sure 'comedy' is the fair term. I mean, you tell me:

Betty: "My horoscope says I'm ready for my big break."
Sin: "Oh yeah? Well maybe you'll trip and break one of your tits."

If that's comedy, than Takin' It Off is a fuckin' comedy.

Alright, so Kitten is Betty Big Ones, the top-earner at a bottom-shelf strip club called Charlie Little's Little Playhouse. Despite her ridiculous figure, she aspires to be a TV star, so after a long night flopping those gigantic melons around (and after a bizarre segment with a ventriloquist stripper), Betty visits her agent Harry, a grabby, cigar-chomping creep who tells her she needs to lose three inches' worth of bust-line before she can realistically hope for television work. He encourages her to visit his diet guru brother, Dr Buzz Raunchy.
Peeling herself away from his clammy grasp, she says she'll talk it over with her friends at the club.

Cut to: the Dynamite Sisters, who dress in spandex and a do a dance routine. Hilariously, when it's over, the narrator says, "And the plot thickens."
What plot, sir?

Betty's boss Anita Little (Angelique Pettyjohn, RIP) begs Betty to leave her overripe melons alone, but she decides to visit Dr Buzz anyway. After several minutes of truly groan-worthy gags ("Please sit down. On my face."), Buzz sends her to a psychiatrist, Dr Lucifer Chaser, to get her 'mentally ready' for his strict diet. So, I dunno, she goes over there and shakes her tits for him.

Then she goes back to the doctor's office. He puts her on a vegetarian diet, so she visits a fruit stand run by a country boy named Jim Bob. She asks to see his zucchini and he obliges, so she gives him a handjob while an old lady watches.

Old lady: "Edna, come see this! I haven't seen a zucchini like that since my uncle showed me his in the garden!"
Jim Bob and Betty go home and bone on a bed covered in leafy greens.

Buzz's vegetable diet doesn't work, nor does his popcorn diet, so Betty goes to the library with one of her friends to research breast-reduction plans, but things quickly devolve into a topless disco dance party with 'dramatic' flashbacks to the bullshit that just happened a couple minutes ago. Then she visits an acupuncturist named So Hung. Their entire scene is shot in silhouette behind his office door. Betty has sex with him and he dies. There's a joke in there somewhere, but I couldn't find it. Then the ventriloquist stripper does a Charlie Chaplin routine. In black and white. And then Betty goes home and eats a banana.

If, for whatever reason, you were hanging on all this time to see Kitten's full red bush, you are in luck, because it's in the frame for most of the rest of the movie. She does some weird bathing/strip routine in a giant glass tub and then loiters around her dressing room in full frontal mode. Anita shows up with Dr Chaser and tells Betty that they're getting married.
"Just think of it, Betty," she says, "I'll be Anita Little Chaser."
Christ, they went a long way for a bad joke on that one.
Anita is closing the club, so she gives all her strippers their last paycheck, and gives Betty an extra bonus for all her hard work: a free week at Fosdick's Fat Farm, so she can finally lose that extra three inches.

At the farm (actually some dude's patio), she meets weight loss expert Enrique Fondue, a chubby Paul Lynde type in a pink wig ("Do you like my punk look?") who wraps her boobs in cling foil and puts her on a strict exercise regiment. Said regiment includes yet another dance number set to the maddening theme song. At least this version includes full bush. Amazingly, it works.

"Congratulations," Fondue says to Betty, "You're no longer humongous. Now you're just huge!"
The tits, he means.
So then the girls at the Fat Farm all go running through the woods, in slow motion, while a Vangelis-esque piano plays on the soundtrack.

And our girl Betty? Well, she lands a job as a kiddy show host.
"Remember kids," she says, stroking a stuffed giraffe's neck, "If you can't play with each other, play with yourself!"
And then she takes her clothes off, which is weird. Force of habit, I guess.

Although there is very little actual story involved here - Taking It Off is mostly a series of oddball strip routines stitched loosely together by the breast-reduction storyline - there is an undeniable charm to this clueless, threadbare production that makes it impossible to actively dislike. Kitten, by all accounts an aggressively sexual woman who loved (and loves - she's still going strong) to take her clothes off, is clearly in her element, mugging for the camera and having a ball with the half-baked dialogue and clunky dance routines. She's a living doll with crazy curves, the ultimate up-for-it party girl willing to try anything for a laugh. Sure, she's a little overripe for the part, but I can't imagine anyone else filling Betty Big One'

A grubby little cult favorite during the 80's VHS boom, Takin' it Off has, like it's direct sequel Takin' It All Off (1987), fallen into almost complete obscurity in the DVD era. I can only assume that an Ed Hansen box set is in the works to right this terrible wrong.

Availability: Takin' It Off is available on VHS.

Link: Visit Kitten's official website!

-Ken McIntyre

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