Color, 1992, 100 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Joseph F. Robertson
Starring Karen Black, Pat Morita, Kristine Rose, Michael Berryman, Ave Fabian, Teri Weigel, Pia Reyes, Grant Cramer, Pat Paulsen, Huntz Hall, Werner Pochath
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Shuffled off virtually direct to video despite its insane all-cult-star cast, this very sleazy and wildly entertaining horror comedy was one of many films with great cult potential whose releases were botched by Trans World Entertainment. (See also: Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Teen Witch, Sonny Boy, Robot Jox, I Come in Peace, etc.) However, unlike those this one hasn’t been around at all for decades but should get a new lease on life with the 2021 Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, guaranteed to be a big surprise for those who passed over the old Columbia TriStar tapes that used to gather dust at mom and pop stores in the mid-‘90s.
In wilds of Fullerton, California, various men traveling through tend to get waylaid by any combination of four beautiful, hospitable women: Fawn (Rose), Coral (Weigel), Magnolia (Fabian), and Sky (Reyes). As it turns out, they all live on a ranch with their devil-worshiping Auntie Lee (Black), who has a local distribution network set up for her tasty meat pies. Evidently unfamiliar with the story of Sweeney Todd, the locals including Chief Koal (Morita) have no idea what’s going on while Auntie Lee recycles strangers -- the beefier the better -- into her meat supply with the help of her oddball brother, Larry (The Hills Have Eyes' Berryman). However, when they end up with a bunch of rock band house guests in the house, they might have more on their hands than they can digest.
With its flamboyant, colorful visuals and completely insane second half involving a series of music video-style death traps, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that director Joseph F. Robertson had just come off of producing 1989’s Dr. Caligari with director Stephen Sayadian, a.k.a. Café Flesh’s Rinse Dream. In fact, this is the only horror film directed by Robertson, who had earlier helmed the insane Ed Wood, Jr. cross-dressing orgy vehicles Love Feast and Mrs. Stone’s Thing before moving to hardcore fare like A Dirty Western, Tomatoes, and Sweet Alice. Basically you can file this one next to films like The Nesting and Hell Night in the “porn directors try horror” subgenre, and though it takes a while to kick in, he does deliver a heaping amount of nudity in the second half to show off the four nieces (only one of whom, Weigel, transitioned to hardcore). There’s a lot to enjoy throughout here with a game cast and some crazy touches, such as the late arrival of that Guns N' Roses-inspired band including Killer Klowns and Hardbodies star Grant Cramer in a goofy wig. That portion also allows the film to really cut loose in both the body count and sex departments, too, which really makes you wonder why this didn’t at least become a huge favorite on cable TV at some point.
Marking its first appearance on home video in ages, the Vinegar Syndrome disc looks outstanding with a fresh 4K scan from the original negative. Some of the interior afternoon scenes can look pretty gritty thanks to low lighting, but for the most part it's a very vibrant-looking film with the second half in particular delivering some prime eye candy. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track is also surprisingly robust with a nice presentation of the original Ultra Stereo track that decodes very nicely in surround. The music sounds great, too, including the opening use of Suicidal Tendencies' "I Saw Your Mommy" on the soundtrack. In "Express with Less" (19m48s), Berryman speaks glowingly of his experience on the film including memories of Black and the "quiet" Morita as well as Robertson's openness about his professional history. He also notes that this is the only film where he didn't wear his dentures, a choice to give his character an "endearing quality." In "Blood in the Pool" (12m16s), makeup effects artist Roy Knyrim recalls his love of the director (being a big fan of The Slime People!) and the cast as well as the opportunity to unleash a slew of outrageous practical gore effects involving impalements and beheadings. "So Bad It's Good" (10m5s) features actor Richard Vidan explaining how his short role in the opening sequence came about after Lyle Alzado had to drop out for health reasons, plus some choice words about his director's fashion sense. Finally in "Say Yes" (17m10s), Cramer cheerfully talks about his gig on this film and his enjoyment of appearing alongside some beloved actors while getting to play an absurd character that didn't exactly require deep method acting. In a cute little bonus, "the Homicidal Homemaker" offers a quick video recipe (3m11s) for making some of Auntie Lee's meat pies for your very own movie party-- even if you're a vegetarian.
Reviewed on September 21, 2021