Color, 1974, 91 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Paul Aratow
Starring Larry Hankin, Jane Brunel-Cohen, Norman Pierce, Paul Thomas, Tweed Morris, Clair Dia
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Lucifer's Womencareer of producer Sam Lucifer's WomenSherman is littered with bizarre projects borne out of earlier films, with massive plot overhauls and added footage turning them into entirely different beasts, sometimes with the aid of director and pal Al Adamson. Trying to parse out the histories of these films can cause a migraine -- just try figuring out Raiders of the Living Dead -- and one of the weirdest is the case of Lucifer's Women, an occult sexploitation curio from 1974 (shot under the title Svengali) that sat around ignored (after a marginal release from Sherman sub-label Constellation Films) until Sherman and Adamson decided to chisel it into a whole different film called Doctor Dracula. Apart from a couple of references to Bram Stoker's creation, there's no connection to Dracula in the original film; thus, new scenes were shot and a huge amount of editorial license was used to create a releasable product that left most moviegoers scratching their heads. The original Lucifer's Women was considered extinct for decades, but thankfully it's been discovered and given its first video release from Vinegar Syndrome to finally make sense of the whole crackpot affair.

Occult researcher John Wainwright, Ph.D. (Escape from Alcatraz's Hankin), is causing a stir in literary circles with his latest book, The Second Coming of Svengali, complete with a swanky book launch party. Fancying himself the reincarnation of Svengali himself complete with a long beard and a penchant for kinky psychic stage shows, Wainwright has an odd relationship with his publisher, Sir Stephen Phillips (Pierce), who doesn't read his books but has some very dark ties to the real underground black magic scene. They both run with an odd strip club crowd including aspiring pimp Lothario Roland (porn star and director Paul Thomas, doing an outrageously terrible Southern accent and billed under his real time, Philip Toubus, just after appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar), who likes to serve cocaine for breakfast. Roland wants to get in the sack with the appropriately Lucifer's Womennamed Trilby (Brunel-Cohen), a performer who in turn is much more interested in John and isn't totally averse to lesbian experimentation with best pal and fellow dancer Barbara (Morris). Meanwhile Stephen believes he's reincarnated himself and must pass on to another body by having Trilby kill him in a sex ritual at the height of their climax -- on her 21st birthday. Stephen turns out to be an exceptionally nasty piece of work who conducts black Lucifer's Womenmass ceremonies with abducted women, forcing them to bend to his will on the path to becoming a "sensual object." With everyone now chasing after Trilby, it's only a matter of time before she finds herself in the clutches of the forces of darkness with only her personal Svengali as possible salvation.

Though it has a number of horror trappings including supernatural soul-jumping shenanigans and a crazed sequence involving sacrificial sex with a giant horned goat (Church of Satan honcho Anton LaVey supposedly served as a consultant), Lucifer's Women is far more concerned with appealing to a nudie audience. The first third is filled with burlesque footage, and both female leads have extensive nude scenes including a three-way scene with Thomas that feels like it's about to tip over into more explicit territory at any second. It gets especially strange in the final stretch as Hankin gets to play a lengthy scene in a dual role (you'll have to see it to find out why as the film can't seem to figure out the difference between reincarnation and possession) and spiritual mumbo jumbo takes over ("The only truly illusory thing in this word is emotion") for a nutty string of events including an homage to The Wizard of Gore of all things. Director Paul Aratow (who didn't do much besides the earlier, very odd adult film China Girl) is obviously constrained by budgetary issues, with several scenes obviously shot in very insufficient lighting; the film stock also looks cheap, which suits the seedy settings well enough.

Lucifer's WomenCreated in 1978 and sort of released over the next four years, Doctor Dracula (90 mins. 39 secs.) is also included as a bonus tucked away in the list of special features. That isn't surprising as it's far, far less coherent than the main feature, though for Adamson fans it's fun seeing how he managed to wedge regulars like John Carradine and Regina Carrol into the proceedings. For some reason this redo amps up the exposition, keeping the chatty parts of the original and padding them out past the point of endurance while jettisoning all of the sex and violence. Here the whole Svengali plot is turned into a rivalry with Dracula, now hiding in modern day society as Gregorio (Geoffrey Lund) and interacting with Hankin via some new footage shot with the actor. Not surprisingly, the film was deemed unfit for a theatrical release and ended up being sold for international TV in a package deal to 20th Century Fox, who must have had buyer's remorse right away. Lucifer's Women

Doctor Dracula made its DVD debut in 2005 from Image Entertainment as part of a string of Al Adamson and Sherman releases, which is reflected in the special features containing six trailers for titles like Mad Doctor of Blood Island and The Blood Drinkers. The open matte transfer was obviously created for TV broadcast and features a ton of extraneous headroom (and accompanying technical gaffes). A trailer for the original cut of Lucifer's Women is included along with that "rarely seen" House of Horror live horror show promo Sherman inserted onto most of his releases for some reason.

As mentioned above, the 2018 dual-format release from Vinegar Syndrome clears up a lot of questions about the relationship between the two films and how the original narrative actually played out. Both films look excellent as long as you take their technical limitations into consideration, well up to the company's usual standards with natural film grain intact and no Lucifer's Womenmajor digital chicanery done to make them look more modern. The restoration of the original framing to Doctor Dracula at least gives it more of a professional appearance, and that crazy red lighting during the climax looks nice and vivid. The DTS-HD MA English mono tracks both sound perfectly fine, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The Lucifer's Women trailer shows up here in a fresh new transfer, and a couple of substantial new goodies have been added as well. A new interview with Thomas (20m4s) is virtually with the price tag all by itself as he spins out an amazing, candid account of his showbiz life including his time on Broadway, a coke-smuggling bust that caused him to temporarily change his porn name, his introduction to porno chic in San Francisco via Autobiography of a Flea, his segue into R-rated moviemaking with this film (including an unexpected issue that popped up during his big love scene), and his lack of professional discipline that kept him from pursuing more mainstream roles. Finally and most illuminatingly, Sherman himself contributes an audio commentary to Doctor Dracula that lays out about how the original film came about and ended up in his library, the reworked version ended up going to television, and Adamson became involved in doing the new footage. He also points out a lot of relevant faces on screen and notes that some nudity was actually shot for the bathtub attack scene but never used. Needless to say, the whole package is an unexpected slice of fringe cinematic scholarship that makes the world a slightly better place.


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Reviewed on January 25, 2018.