THE NEW EROTIC ADVENTURES OF CASANOVA CASANOVA II DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR / IT'S CALLED MURDER, BABY
Color, 1972, 65m.
Directed by Alex de Renzy
Starring Clair Dia, Kandi Johnson, Tyler Reynolds, Dale Meador
Color, 1971, 72m.
Directed by Alex de Renzy
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Color, 1977, 83m.
Directed by John Holmes (Carlos Tobalina)
Starring John Holmes, Susan Silver, Peter Johns, Jane Goodman, Iris Medina, Maureen Spring
Color, 1982, 91m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring John Holmes, Jesie St. James, Bjorn Beck, Danielle, Carlos Tobalina, Rhonda Jo Petty, Susan Silver
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1979, 79m.
Directed by Bob Chinn
Starring Jesie St. James, Richard Pacheco, Paul Thomas, Lisa Sue Corey, Laurien Dominique, Delania Raffino, Jon Martin, Barbara Allen, Blair Harris
Color, 1979, 75m.
Directed by Bob Chinn
Starring John Holmes, Liza Dwyer, Veri Knotty, Vanessa Tibbs, Kandi Barbour, Don Fernando, Delania Raffino, Kitty Shayne
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1983, 101m./94m.
Directed by Anthony Spinelli
Starring John Leslie, Lisa De Leeuw, Cameron Mitchell, Juliet Anderson, Veronica Hart, Kelly Nichols, Samantha Fox, Chris Warfield
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
THE NEW EROTIC ADVENTURES OF CASANOVA
DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR / IT'S CALLED MURDER, BABY
The often astonishing Peekarama series from Vinegar Syndrome has resulted in a slew of amazing titles, and the early 2014 run from the label ramps it up with a string of desirable rarities including what may be its nuttiest double feature yet.
That disc in question is a pair of early films from Alex de Renzy, who went on to cause a sensation with Pretty Peaches, kicking off with the wholly unexpected Little Sisters. Emily (The Cheerleaders' Clair Dia) and Candy (Waltz of the Bat's Kandi Johnson) are out romping in a field picking mushrooms when their mom calls them in for supper, which leads to a nice homey scene with them sitting around scarfing down apples and sliced cheese. Mom (who looks the exact same age as her girls) warns them to never go any further than the woods around their house because these are "very bad times" filled with bad people who would like to pop these two little mushrooms "right in their mouths." Then she tucks them in with a reading of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," setting the tone for the very surreal events about to unfold. Cut to a nearby campfire in the woods where a bunch of slovenly long-haired hillbillies (including a young Tyler Reynolds) are having an orgy, which means there's bound to be trouble when mom goes out alone the next day to fetch some flour. Along the way she stumbles on a chubby woman and her husband who offer some lunch before doing the deed on their picnic blanket (to the strains of "Also Spracht Zarahustra!"), while the girls are besieged by the yokels and gang raped. (One line of dialogue indicates the younger sister is supposed to be twelve, which is thankfully ridiculous and about a decade lower than her actual age.) Finding a misleading note blaming "the dykes" for the girls' abduction, mom runs into a trio of campy drag queens (who flounce in singing "Stormy Weather") and a "dyke camp" where lesbians in sunglasses try to initiate her into the ways of sapphic love. Then she chases the predatory lesbians to a monastery where all the monks are all gay and enjoy shaking maracas and doing each other on an altar (a scene cut from most prints but intact here). From there it's a battle between the goons and lesbians and a random appearance by a guy named Derek dressed as Robin Hood, who instigates the happy, peace-loving finale.
Clearly aiming for the underground crowd that made hits out of films like Flaming Creatures and Trash, this one's a very far cry from your average adult fare and solid proof that Alex de Renzy could get as far out as any of his more mainstream peers. There's little rhyme or reason for what happens but you won't be able to take your eyes off of all the craziness, and at barely over an hour the film never overstays its welcome. The only prior home video version was a severely edited and battered one from Alpha Blue Archives, which you can swiftly chuck aside in favor of this fresh new transfer from a better 35mm print. Honestly, it's amazing any film material survives on this crazy little nugget at all.
Even less orthodox (if that's even possible) is de Renzy's Powder Burns from the previous year, which plays sort of like a filthy variation on the cowboy head film Zachariah. This one actually forgets it's even a sex film until the 45-minute mark (with less than half an hour left to go), instead spending the bulk of its time cranking up the psychedelic atmosphere at a wild west town where the afternoons are filled with gunfights and beer guzzling. A coughing, wheezing narrator named Ernest Sham, saloon keeper and sheriff, tries to tie it all together as he talks about his town, Sewer Pipe Creek, and the ongoing feud with the nefarious McNasty Brothers. Almost all of the action takes place at the saloon complete with a waitress dressed as a Playboy bunny and a showgirl named Lolita who comes speeding up in a Porsche so she can do a striptease on top of the pool table. Soon the entire clientele is knockin' boots around the building, Lolita's at the center of a plan to rob all the horny drunk customers, and a topless girl riding on horseback keep getting cut in for no good reason. Naturally, it all ends in a big shoot out with an ironic social message to boot.
No one gets an official credit here, which makes Powder Burns a real head-scratching mystery. It's tough to imagine what the target audience for this thing might have been, with the midnight crowds flocking to El Topo perhaps in the back of the filmmakers' minds. The editing and sound recording are sloppy beyond belief and the "plot" never congeals at all, but it's so out there that it simply becomes one of those outrageous oddities to have to see just to prove it actually exists. This one's apparently never been on home video at all in any official capacity, which makes it a particularly welcome rescue here even if the final results are definitely for very, very fringe tastes.
And now on to our next Peekarama double feature, a salute to the late, infamous John Holmes. In what has to be one of the strangest variations on Holmes' Johnny Wadd series, 1977's The New Adventures of Casanova has the overly gifted performer adopting a very shaky British accent to play the famous lover, first seen engaging in a sword fight over the opening credits. From there he beds both his dead opponent's lady (Jane Goodman) and some blonde lesbians before waking up in modern day San Francisco. There he talks to his shrink (Susan Silver) about a mysterious wooden box containing an ancient aphrodisiac, which is apparently connected to these vivid dreams he's been having about his famed ancestor. Now thankfully sans accent, John spins an incredibly random yarn about how his box caused a hotel maid (Iris Medina) to start pleasuring herself on the spot, which of course is enough to spur him into action. From there it's one encounter after another including a fling with married pal Tracy O'Neil (who manages to get over her cheating husband in a hurry) and a major "what the heck?" moment when porn vet Blair Harris gets seduced on the couch by his own sister (Maureen Spring). The final third is basically a flurry of sex scenes (accompanied by some really great, funky library music) before the wacko twist ending in which John's inherited sexual magnetism veers in a very unexpected direction.
This goofy shaggy dog of a film is frequently out of focus and almost impossible to assess as a coherent narrative, but the spectacle of seeing Holmes as a time-tripping Casanova and his descendant is enough to make this one worth a look. Direction is credited to Holmes himself, which seems pretty absurd considering his compromised state of mind at the time (including some drug use on camera that looks pretty convincing). The DVD credit for Carlos Tobalina makes a lot more sense and also explains the even looser patchwork of a sequel barely released five years later.
The opening recap of Casanova II sort of lays the historical groundwork while slipping in some production stills from Fellini's Casanova, even including a glimpse of Donald Sutherland! Here Casanova ends up in a follow up duel from that one in the first film, which ends up turning into a threesome with his mortally wounded opponent (a girl in drag) and a female gypsy. That tryst in turn breeds a son, Don Juan (one timer Bjorn Beck), who is adopted by a Spanish noble (Tobalina) and becomes another famous lover and swordsman. He also inherits that pivotal aphrodisiac,which comes in handy for his bedroom activities including a romp with Jesie St. James. From there it's a leap back to the present day for a bunch of outtakes from the first film covering the fate of the aphrodisiac and modern day Johnny, including the obligatory massive orgy scene (complete with the nastiest overdubbed sound effects you've ever heard), a cameo by William Margold as a TV reporter, and a bonkers anti-war message in the closing minutes that's about a million years removed from the way the movie started.
Both titles were briefly issued on VHS from Caballero (with the first pretty severely edited and long of circulation); the ancient transfer for the second film was recycled as part of a Caballero six-disc DVD set of Holmes films but looked really awful. As usual, they're quite impressive here with fresh widescreen transfers boasting an often intense array of colors and pin-sharp detail. Theatrical trailers for both titles are included.
From there we go a bit more traditional with Hot Legs, another in the small batch of titles listed as a "film by Gail Palmer" (who also got the credit for The Erotic Adventures of Candy). At least Bob Chinn gets an official but more discreet directing credit here for a lightweight comedy about a ladies' hosiery company started off by sailboat enthusiast John (Martin), chain-smoking nail biter Mort (Pacheco), and sultry Sandy (Bills, a.k.a. Delania Raffino). Model Jesie St. James is good at bedding everyone they need but not so hot on the professional front, though she does make some time for a memorable fling with the sweet wardrobe girl, Julie (Corey). Deadlines and union regulations are quickly pushing Mort over the edge, but there's still plenty of time for everyone to get it on including their main photographer (Paul Thomas) and pretty much every woman in sight including Sharon Kane and Barbara Allen. Will the company's new racy photo campaign be enough to keep it afloat? Actually you never really find out for sure, but by the end you'll be too distracted to care.
A bouncy little disco-era diversion, this one often feels like a Roxy Music album cover as interpreted by a California porn movie crew. There's plenty of kitschy pop culture craziness to be found including a great photo shoot on roller skates in a gigantic flashing light booth, and the all-star cast seems to be having a ball throughout. Nothing really groundbreaking or memorable, but it's a nice little nugget of fun from the Me Decade.
Then it's Chinn time again on the same disc with California Gigolo, which opens with a fun theme song ("Gig-a-gig-a-gigaloooo...") and basically spends its brief running time charting the exploits of stud for hire John Holmes, whose questionable taste in clothing doesn't hamper his busy daily schedule. Aided by his assistant Gomez (Fernando), who also has a nutty side plot of his own, John performs his services on Liza Dwyer, Kandi Barbour (sadly mostly implied during the brief opening), Vanessa Tibbs, and the one and only Veri Knotty, whose proclivity for kink gives the film an unexpected jolt in the final act with Holmes acting out a window washer scenario not easily forgotten. Along the way you also get some fun location footage of '79 Beverly Hills locations including the Brown Derby, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and pretty much every single luxury car dealership. Both titles look stunning with intensely colorful presentations that easily outclass the ancient VHS-era transfers we've had before. Definitely one of the strongest Peekarama releases to date.
Finally we have a title that isn't officially part of the Peekarama line but sort of belongs there in spirit anyway: Dixie Ray Hollywood Star, better known for its very different mainstream, R-rated edition, It's Called Murder, Baby. Both are included on the Vinegar Syndrome disc, a double feature in function if not in name, and it's a great opportunity to compare how radically the same film can transform for different audiences a la Dracula Sucks.
An impressively ambitious and lavish ode to film noir films of the 1940s, this one arrived just as home video was started to chip away at the theatrical market for adult films. It made sense to shoot two versions to ensure a recoup on the investment, though the "mainstream" version turned out to be pretty tame compared to some of Hollywood's studio-released noir tributes just before it, Body Heat and especially I, the Jury (which is still one of the sleaziest films ever released nationwide in theaters). Here we have porn vet John Leslie as private dick Nick Popodopolis, who has to explain to a couple of cops (headed by police lieutenant Cameron Mitchell, fresh off his turn in My Favorite Year!) why there's a dead body in his office. In flashback we follow the past couple of days as the trouble started with Adrian ("Aunt Peg" Juliet Anderson), whose carnal services in his office are just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out she's the bisexual secretary to Dixie Ray (Lisa De Leeuw again), a gorgeous sexpot and potential femme fatale who's being blackmailed over some incriminating photos. Even after obtaining the negatives there are still some prints floating out there, which means Nick's recruited to hunt down the guilty party and untangle an increasingly deadly web that leads to murder.
As you'd expect, the Dixie Ray cut features Leslie bedding almost the entire female cast in detail while the plot lurches around with several connecting threads in the story hopped over entirely. Newcomers may be better off starting with It's Called Murder Baby, which features a huge amount of crucial story material and actually works better as a straight-up '40s love letter. That edition populated the shelves of many video stores in the '80s (including every single Blockbuster Video on the planet), which led to some pretty confused customers lured in by the cast list. Everyone looks great in period garb (with De Leeuw in particular almost knocking the camera over with her star wattage in a few shots), and it's still a stylish reminder of how far removed theatrical adult fare is from what you'd ever seen projected on big screens today.
Vinegar Syndrome's disc presents both cuts in new transfers from the original negative, with Dixie Ray looking a notch more clean and vivid. Both of them are huge improvements over their VHS predecessors, with the XXX cut looking way too bright and oversaturated and the Lightning Video transfer of the R-rated one featuring almost no color at all (as usual for most of their output at the time). The really filthy theatrical trailer for Dixie Ray (which focuses almost entirely on anatomical close ups and sidesteps the film's considerable other merits) is the sole extra and drops the Hollywood Star part of the title.