Long eclipsed by the inimitable ineptitude of frequent collaborator Ed Wood, Bulgarian-born director Stephen Apostolof posthumously gets some of the attention he craved in docu “Dad Made Dirty Movies.” Helmer Jordan Todorov mixes family reminiscences with an exploration of Apostolof’s career as a nudie-cutie director, launched in 1965 with the Wood-penned “Orgy of the Dead” and effectively killed with the advent of 1972 hardcore pic “Deep Throat” and homevid. Though barely an hour long, this entertaining nonfiction item is a shoo-in for midnight screenings, especially if followed by “Orgy,” as it was at the recent Transylvania Fest.
A man of many contradictions, Apostolof (often credited as the less foreign-sounding A.C. Stephens) fled communist Bulgaria in the 1940s and came to Hollywood via France and Canada. Republic Pictures’ 1957 anti-communist propaganda film “Journey to Freedom,” helmed by Robert C. Dertano, not only marked Apostolof’s first foray into cinema (as a screenwriter and producer) but is also, supposedly, an autobiographical account of his escape from the Reds.
As Todorov makes clear early on, many the details of Apostolof’s early life are unclear: Was he a dentist or a farmer in Ottowa? Did he study political science at the Sorbonne, or did he join the Foreign Legion? The late director’s third wife, Shelley Apostolof, and his children, who are all interviewed here, seem not entirely sure, either, which only adds to the story’s charm.
In imitation of Apostolof’s films, the docu features a narrator, D.T. Anderson, who here gives (heavily accented) voice to Apostolof’s thoughts and memories from beyond the grave. Period photos, digitally enhanced to introduce some moving elements, illustrate some of these memories, while excerpts from his low-budget and mostly artless films are sprinkled throughout.
Rightfully, the main focus is on Apostolof’s directorial debut and breakthrough, “Orgy of the Dead.” Adapted by Wood from his own novel and starring the psychic Criswell from Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” pic repped the first of a staggering nine Wood screenplays Apostolof brought to the screen. “Orgy” had about 20 pages of script, a cemetery set they could use and “no ideas,” so Apostolof hired strippers from Los Angeles to fill in the gaps with topless dancing. In her hilarious interview segment, Nadejda Dobrev, who played “Slave Dance Girl,” not only recalls her participation in the film but even repeats some of the nonsensical things she had to do.
Apostolof’s other works, including “The Bachelor’s Dreams,” “Lady Godiva Rides,” “College Girls” and the helmer’s only attempt at a mainstream film, 1978’s “Hot Ice,” are treated more summarily, not only because they failed to live up to the relative success of “Orgy,” but also to give Todorov some room to sketch a portrait of the man behind the camera. Though he directed many sexploitation films and famously referred to breasts as “ticket sellers,” Apostolof was also a protective family man who was very active in Los Angeles’ Orthodox community and, after the release of “Deep Throat,” refused to do hardcore porn films.
Pic ends on a somewhat wistful note, though elsewhere, Todorov keeps the tone generally upbeat, funny and interesting, with a good eye and ear for the times.