Color, 1971, 94 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by Thomas Casey
Starring Abe Zwick, Wayne Crawford, Don Craig, Robin Hughes, Yanka Mann
AGFA (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Vinegar Syndrome / AGFA (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful ThingsSometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful ThingsThe story of American exploitation filmmaking wouldn't have been the same without the insane amount of oddball titles made in Florida from the '60s into the'80s, which served as the sunny stumping grounds for names like H.G. Lewis, Dave Friedman, and Doris Wishman. One of the strangest and most outrageous films from the region, Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things, remains a crackpot cult item awaiting discovery, the sort of gonzo fever dream stumbled upon by brave VHS excavators over the years and spoken of in hushed whispers among those who know they've stumbled on something really special and completely out of its mind.

In a bright and cheerful suburban neighborhood, Stanley (character actor Crawford, hiding out under the name "Scott Lawrence") is a musclebound hippie type living with his dowdy aunt, Martha. However, despite the fact that auntie should be setting off warning bells in every single person who crosses her path, no one seems to catch on that she's actually Paul (Zwick), Stanley's partner in crime. As it turns out, they're both laying low after a robbery that led to an impromptu murder via butcher knife, and Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Thingsboth of them seem to have some pretty serious personal issues that might blow their cover at any moment. For example, Stanley's prone to cruising around and picking up easy Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Thingsgirls for a quick roll in the hay, only to cry out for Paul to come bail him out when the trysts turn sour. Even worse, Paul has a penchant for whipping out a butcher knife and going berserk at the slightest provocation. Stanley's lust for freedom doesn't sit well with his buddy, and their extreme co-dependence (which even extends to sleeping in the same bed) soon reaches a murderous fever pitch involving a hippie van, some cops, a couple of additional murders, and a frenzied climax on a local movie set.

Virtually defying classification, this film was barely released in theaters and only really achieved much awareness in the cult crowd when it turned up on tape from Active Home Video in the early '80s (with an LP-speed bargain release from Video Treasures offering a cruddier bargain option). This remains the sole directorial effort for Thomas Casey, who had worked in various capacities on other Florida-shot items like Flesh Feast and the nudist camp curio Sweet Bird of Aquarius (featuring unabashed appearances by Blood Freak director Brad Grinter and Blood Feast actor Thomas Wood, both of whom turn up in small roles here). Exactly what Casey was going for here is anyone's guess as the film trades in the morphing sexual politics of the time in a Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Thingssimilar vein as The Pink Angels and The Gay Deceivers, but it operates like a psycho-sexual roughie with the obligatory amount of female exposure and savage knife attacks. Either way, it's a Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Thingsreal sight to behold as the two leads spend most of their screen time bitching and howling at each other like a community theater project gone very, very wrong, with Zwick in particular offering a performance that simply must be seen to be believed. It also basks in that incredible early '70s Miami atmosphere you just won't find anywhere else, with a combination of sweltering sunshine, eye-searing interior decorations, and sweaty actors that couldn't have been achieved anywhere else in America.

Long unavailable on home video, Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things made its much-needed return to the public eye in 2015 courtesy of a DVD from Vinegar Syndrome and the American Genre Film Archive, following up on their previous team-ups like Night of the Strangler and Super Soul Brother. Taken from the sole remaining 35mm element of the film, the fresh 2K scan exhibits some unavoidable fading but still makes for a significant upgrade over that grubby-looking VHS tape. Some signs of aging pop up here and there, but it's nothing significant and very easy to ignore considering how massively improved this is compared to the old VHS eyesore. The sole extra here is an audio commentary with director David DeCoteau, who's no stranger to gender-tweaking horror cinema, and yours truly, so it obviously can't really be critiqued here; hopefully you'll enjoy it as an appreciation for this nugget of cinematic delirium, which still resembles nothing else ever projected on a movie screen.

In 2020, AGFA went solo for a Blu-ray edition of the film taken from the same scan, so color timing and framing are the same. You do get a nice Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Thingsuptick in detail though, a given since it's gone from SD to 1080p, with little things like hair and clothing textures getting a visible bump. The DTS-HD MA Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful ThingsEnglish mono track is also fine considering it's from a print and doesn't have any significant issues. Here the earlier commentary is replaced with a new one featuring film historian and Ask Any Buddy creator Evan Purchell conversing with AGFA's Bret Berg about the film in context with the times; since there isn't a ton of background info available on this one, it's mainly about culling through the tidbits out there about Casey, films shooting in Florida around the time, and relevant queer-centric titles from the early '70s. Also among the "Histrionic Extras" are four video treats culled from the Something Weird archives starting off with "The Drag Queen's Ball" (47m38s), a lengthy document of a Tennessee drag pageant ("at Holiday Inn Dinner Theatre - Memphis Cotton Festival 1970 All-Male Cabaret Review") from preparation through performance complete with some familiar show tunes, bad jokes, and lots and lots of wigs and headdresses. Then the Gay Liberation Front's "Gay-In III" (9m54s) features casual interview footage with attendees at an LGBT festival complete with music performances and plenty of opinions about the current state of the world. "Caught in the Can" features the first seven minutes of a softcore quickie (also seen in a 25-minute condensation on Something Weird's DVD of A Scream in the Streets, though the original version runs a stultifying 65 minutes) with smut movie staples Ron Darby and Gerard Broulard dressing up in drag to pose as hookers only to get busted and thrown in the slammer with female inmates for some hanky panky. Finally an "Early Queer Film Trailers" reel (14m13s) features the wild coming attractions for Lusting Hours, My Third Wife George, Sins of Rachel, The Queen, and Gay Liberation.

AGFA (Blu-ray)

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful ThingsSometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful ThingsSometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things

Vinegar Syndrome (DVD)

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Updated review on September 29, 2020