Harry Novak, "the sexploitation king," produced and distributed a prolific number of exploitation films from the early 60s to the mid-70s, including William Rotsler's cult classics The Agony of Love and Mantis in Lace and the influential "monster nudie" Kiss Me Quick! among many others. His "mondo" documentary film Mondo Mod is considered a seminal surfer cult movie, offering early glimpses of southern California's surfing and biker subcultures, and was a film that proved successful enough that it was eventually distributed widely to North American drive-ins by exploitation powerhouse Box Office International Pictures.
Novak's career in films began at RKO during the tempestuous period of aviation millionaire Howard Hughes' ownership of that once-illustrious studio. Hughes' well-known proclivity for featuring buxom women in his productions and the resultant censorship battles RKO engaged in during the Hughes reign could be viewed as[weasel words] precursors to Novak's later career as an extender of the boundaries of sex in cinema, but if Hughes was an influence on Novak, it was not apparent at the time Novak worked for him. Ironically, one of Novak's primary jobs at RKO was helping to handle the studio's distribution arrangement with the Walt Disney studio.
When RKO collapsed in 1957, Novak is rumored to have been the last employee to depart the lot. After his own career in exploitation filmmaking was well established, Novak would eventually launch his own mini-studio facility just down the street from the old RKO backlot on L.A.'s Melrose Avenue, at a location where he was headquartered into the early years of the 21st century. A delightful mini-documentary entitled "King of Camp" was featured as an extra on the initial DVD release of director Ray Greene's documentary feature about exploitation filmmaking SCHLOCK! The Secret History of American Movies; in it, Novak gives a hilarious tour of his old Boxoffice International facilities, which emerge as a kind of parody version of the studio system Novak was originally schooled in. An extensive interview with Novak and clips from his work are also contained within the film SCHLOCK! itself.
After dubbing and distributing a 1956 Swedish melodrama about a "bad girl" in a reformatory under the name "Girls Without Rooms" to limited but respectable grosses, Novak's earliest film productions fell into the "nudie cutie" category. Films of this genre were usually shot in color and contained naked women (with their genitalia always obscured in some way) that spend the length of the film being ogled by lusty men. The men, however, were not allowed to actually come into contact with the women. Novak subsequently followed the pathway blazed by David F. Friedman and others to become a prolific producer of "roughies," a disturbing pre-pornography sexploitation genre which featured noirish black and white cinematography and often substituted violence for the sex act. William Rotsler's Agony of Love is one of the better known examples of this genre.
Novak's later films straddled the line between hardcore and softcore pornography by featuring both full frontal nudity by both women and men, and explicit sex scenes that omitted penetration and money shots. As a producer, his most popular late-period genres were rural comedies (The Pigkeeper's Daughter) and costume sex farces (The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet). Novak also distributed hundreds of exploitable films by other filmmakers, including director Toshio Okuwaki's notorious Japanese art/exploitation film Naked Pursuit (1968).
- Kiss Me Quick! (1964)
- Mantis in Lace (1968)
- The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet (1969)
- The Notorious Cleopatra (1970)
- Wilbur and the Baby Factory (1970)
- The Toy Box (1971)
- Sweet Georgia (1972)
- The Pigkeeper's Daughter (1972)
- The Sinful Dwarf (1973)
- A Scream in the Streets (1973)
- Please Don't Eat My Mother (1974)
- Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman (1975)
- Rattlers (1975)
- Tanya (1976)
- Sultan of Sexploitation, King of Camp (1999) (as himself)
- SCHLOCK! The Secret History of American Movies (2001) (as himself)