Color, 1971, 95m.
Directed by Thomas Casey
Starring Abe Zwick, Wayne Crawford, Don Craig, Robin Hughes, Yanka Mann
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The 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 both 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 girls 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 similar vein as The Pink Angels and The Gay Deceivers, but it operates like a psychosexual roughie with the obligatory amount of female t&a and savage knife attacks. Either way, it's a real 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 makes its much-needed return to the public eye courtesy of a DVD from Vinegar Syndrome and the American Genre Film Archive, the same team behind Night of the Strangler and Super Soul Brother. This is easily the most impressive transfer of the three courtesy of what appears to be the sole remaining 35mm element of the film, which has been afforded a fresh 2K scan. 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.