Sunday, July 12, 2009

Abduction (1975)

Back in the 1970s, an author using the pseudonym Harrison James published BLACK ABDUCTOR, which told the story of a rich heiress named Patricia who is kidnapped by political terrorists, including a female named Angela. She eventually becomes sympathetic to her abductors’ views and astonishes her family by officially joining the group.

Shockingly, this is not a true-crime book about the Patty Hearst case, but a softcore paperback novel published in 1972—two years before the Hearst kidnapping. And it’s BLACK ABDUCTOR that forms the core of this sleazy potboiler by 29-year-old director Joseph Zito, who cut his teeth as a film exhibitor and distributor and later became a horror director of some note (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER).

Zito and writer/producer Kent Carroll must have thought they had struck gold when they stumbled upon the novel, as it allowed them to do a quick knockoff without inciting the wrath of the Hearst attorneys. ABDUCTION plays a lot like a trashy Seventies novel—a crude but effective potboiler filled with violence, nudity, lesbianism, miscegenation, and rape. Amazingly, Zito convinced stars Leif Erickson (THE HIGH CHAPARRAL) and Dorothy Malone (an Oscar winner for WRITTEN ON THE WIND) to play the parents, and Lawrence Tierney (DILLINGER) pops in to play an FBI agent.

In the film, it’s Patricia Prescott (TV actress Judith-Marie Bergan making a game feature debut) who is snatched from her campus apartment by extreme left-wingers. Her father isn’t a newspaper magnate, but a real estate developer who takes money meant for low-income housing and spends it on expensive highrises.

One wonders whether Zito and distributor Vantage originally intended to make this a sex film, as it features not only the kidnappers’ constant sexual abuse of Trish, but also her father’s warped insistence on watching videotapes of her rape. It seems unlikely seasoned veterans like Malone and Erickson would have signed on for an X-rated porno, though. Zito favors long takes (the actors are good enough to hold your attention) and eschews a musical score in an effort to make ABDUCTION feel as real as possible. He mostly succeeds, which means you may need a shower after you watch it.

The FBI allegedly sought out the author of BLACK ABDUCTOR—the non-existent “Harrison James”—as a suspect in the Hearst snatch. Some believe the true author may have been none other than CIA spook E. Howard Hunt! Was the Symbionese Liberation Army influenced by this trashy dimestore paperback original? Or did one of the SLA actually author it?

James appears to have been science fiction writer James Rusk Jr.; at least. the New York Times reported it in 1974. The publisher, Regency, which specialized in sex books and magazines, folded without a trace soon after BLACK ABDUCTOR was released. It was reportedly not legally copyrighted, and Dell republished it in 1974 as ABDUCTION: FICTION BEFORE FACT to capitalize on the Hearst case. It’s a fascinating mystery, and one that likely helped Zito’s film at the box office in the fall of 1975.


Trent said...

E. Howard Hunt wrote several novels, so the FBI's theory wasn't necessarily all that far fetched. In fact, Hard Case Crime recently reprinted one of E. Howard Hunt's novels, House Dick. It's a pretty good read. Not nearly as sleazy as this book sounds, though.

Anonymous said...

actuall the writer Harrison James was James H Rusk "The format of that plan of kidnapping Patty Hearst was extracted from a book, published by a publishing company named Nova owned by the Hearst Corporation, entitled Vanished [Tribal Thumb may have meant Black Abductor, by Harrison James, pseudonym for James Rusk, Jr., published by Regency Press, not affiliated with Hearst]."