PETS is a talky production I don't like very much, but it’s essential viewing for fans of 1970s drive-in queen Candice Rialson. Not only is she prominently featured in this adaptation of three one-act plays penned by Richard Reich, but she almost always appears nude, topless, or scantily clad.
After teen runaway Bonnie (Rialson) escapes from her abusive brother, she teams up with angry black hustler Pat (Teri Guzman). The two broke ladies kidnap a middle-aged jogger, tie him up, and drop him off the side of the road with Bonnie guarding him, while Pat ransacks his house. Whether the roughing-up was worth it to the guy is up for discussion, as Bonnie forces the bound man to endure a—ahem—forced seduction.
She then moves on to a roadside fruit stand, where she meets lesbian artist Geraldine (Joan Blackman), who takes Bonnie back to her place and hires her as a live-in model. They begin an affair, which comes to a violent end after Bonnie, who still craves the one physical joy Geraldine can never provide, gets it on with a denim-wearing burglar.
Fleeing the scene, Bonnie hooks up with one of Geraldine’s clients, misogynist art collector Victor (Ed Bishop), who believes women exist only to fill his sexual and material needs. He keeps them—and a few wild animals—caged in his basement, where he sometimes whips and rapes them.
As a showcase for Rialson, PETS sort of works. She’s a very sexy screen presence, whether hitting the sack with a man or a woman, and even if director Raphael Nussbaum has difficulty keeping his stories on track, at least he’s wise enough to show off Rialson to great advantage. As exploitation cinema, PETS is a mess, despite the copious nudity. The lurid ad campaign, including a trailer built around Bishop’s kinky lifestyle and images of a nearly nude Rialson being whipped and crawling on all fours, doesn’t accurately reflect the real tone of the film: a pretentious affair featuring too much steak and not enough sizzle.
Even more surprising than seeing UFO star Bishop, a veteran of several Gerry & Sylvia Anderson productions in England, in his film is seeing Blackman, who twice played Elvis Presley’s female lead in the popular BLUE HAWAII and KID GALAHAD. Rialson received a special “Introducing” credit, even though she appeared in four other films released the same year. She made an impression on many a young man frequenting drive-ins, but was unable to make the big time and retired at decade's end. She married, raised a family, and sadly died in 2006 at the age of 54.