When a novice becomes enamored with the post-modern preamble known as exploitation, their usual route in begins with a group of seminal figures. Herschell Gordon Lewis, David F. Friedman, Kroger Babb, Doris Wishman, Barry Mahon, Bryon Mabe, and Andy Milligan took the genre and ran with it, introducing subjects and storylines to the motion picture artform that mainstream Hollywood wouldn’t touch with a ten foot, well greased and dipped in antibiotic pole. One of the most prolific was producer Harry Novak. Not only did he make his own mark in the realm of sin and skin, but he introduced hundreds of foreign and underground titles to the market as well. One of his most notorious remains Danish import Dværgen. Retitled The Sinful Dwarf, Novak hoped this completely corrupt tale would become a classic. In some ways – he got his wish. Unreleased for decades, it’s become the stuff of lewd legend.
Young newlyweds Peter and Mary are desperate for a place to stay. Unfortunately, they have very little money. Luckily, former nightclub chanteuse Lili Lash as a boarding house that’s cheap, cheap, cheap. Unfortunately, it’s a front for a diabolic scheme involving kidnapping, drug smuggling, heroin addiction, prostitution, and other immoral acts. Overseen by her undersized dwarf son Olaf, Lash spends her days in a drunken stupor, entertaining her equally inebriated friend Winnie. At night, men visit the various victims they have chained up in the attic, these naked, nubile girls forced into unspeakable acts of white slavery to keep the Lashes in the lap of…well, near poverty. When Peter is forced to find work to supplement his failing writing career, he leaves Mary alone with the crazed clan. Sure enough, she becomes the next target of the Lash business model, a piece of meat to be traded like any other available whore.
There’s a moldy old maxim in exploitation that goes a little something like this – if you’re going to give potential audiences a title so titillating it overwhelms the entire notion of grindhouse gratuity, you better deliver on your implied debauchery. On the plus side, The Sinful Dwarf tries to live up to its lurid moniker. We get several shots of star Torben doing his best little person perversions, and the rest of the film offers nothing but nonstop nastiness. If you’ve never seen a raincoat crowd-pleaser before, get ready. This movie makes the basement pit sequences in Pink Flamingoes seem tame by example. Thanks to Harry Novak, that notorious cinematic entrepreneur of excess and erotica, worldwide audiences got a chance to appreciate this unhinged Danish dementia – and now, finally, it finds its way onto home video. The digital format is ill-prepared for such salaciousness.
Granted, The Sinful Dwarf will seem very familiar to anyone with a previous knowledge of the genre. It follows the exploitation recipe to a form-fitting (and breast enhancing) “T”. There’s so much nudity here that male members of the demographic get little time to reload, and the blatant misogynist tone is take to extremes in both the edited hardcore sequences as well as the moments when drunken old dames Lili and Winnie get their gin-juiced groove on. Director Vidal Raski certainly knows how to satisfy his proposed audience’s prurient needs. There are so many shots of star Anne Sparrow in clingy, mammary enhancing garments that he could be working for Maidenform – and that’s just when she’s dressed. The rest of the time, the camera never leaves her swollen, heaving ‘talents’.
As for the rest of the cast, they are caught somewhere between porn and implausibility. Since they are kept drugged up most of the time, their character’s escape appears impossible. Yet anyone with common sense can see that a group of semi-conscious sex slaves can easily beat up one crippled, cane-reliant dwarf. Even better, when Lili shows up to put the smack down, she’s usually so lubed up on Beefeaters that she can barely walk erect. Yet these women simply lay there, full frontals giving the camera the performance of a lifetime. When Raski gets down to the diddling, it’s borderline offensive in its realism. Those in the know understand that this XXX feature was carved down to get a more commercial release. Yet there’s enough blatant innuendo to keep censors up at night.
In fact, the most horrific thing about The Sinful Dwarf is how “tame” it is compared to other offerings from the era. At this point in exploitation, the Findlays were heading over to Snuff-ville, David Friedman was working on the soft to hardcore transition, and Deep Throat was making smut socially acceptable. Here, all we have is bargain basement depravity dressed up in human oddity histrionics. Critics have mentioned that the movie suffers from a lack of Torben, and it’s true. He’s by far the most intriguing character (elderly female winos aside) and he offers a unique and rather disturbing onscreen presence. The fact that he was the host of children’s shows in his native Denmark speaks a lot about his acting prowess. Still, we could tolerate much more ‘midget’ in this out of bounds effort.
There will be some who find this all too tacky and filthy to endure, a wretched experience without a speck of redeeming value or validity. Others will view it all through a cynical gaze that comes from decades of being desensitized to such seedy, slimy sleaze. Though it could probably never live up to its notorious nomenclature, The Sinful Dwarf is an excellent example of the extremes some filmmakers would go to in achieving a kind of kink immortality. Similar to the myth surrounding such previously unknown quantities as A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine and Year of the Yahoo, we once again find ourselves adjusting our expectations in light of reality. Come to this film expecting the worst and you’ll be gravely disappointed. Enter with a knowledge of all things grindhouse, and you’ll discover a genuine junk joy.