Color, 1987, 92m.
Directed by Eric Louzil
Starring Melanie Coll, William J. Kulzer, Judi Trevor, Howard Knight, Elizabeth Carlisle
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Troma (US R0 NTSC)
Though it's technically a Troma film, you won't find any of the studio's trademark goofball mugging and latex silliness in this crackpot merger of '80s action pulp and trashy women-in-prison sleaze. A mostly no-name cast complete with Doris Wishman-style dubbing manages to make turn this into the sort of berserk oddity that exists outside of normal terms like "good" and "bad," which should be obvious in the opening minutes when the film is suddenly pulverized by a brilliant metal theme song by Grim Reaper. (Seriously, this has one of the greatest soundtracks ever committed to celluloid.) After hearing it, you'll be walking around yelling "LUST FOR FREEDOM!" for hours.
First seen undercover in a tacky black wig, Gillian Kaites (Coll) is a tough-as-nails cop with impeccable taste in eyeshadow who ends up dribbling cosmetics all over her face when her boyfriend/partner gets blown to bits during a sting operation. She decides to hit the road and heads out to the desert, where she picks up a distraught female hitchhiker who claims to be on the run from an illegal prison labor camp. They're also being followed by a creepy black van apparently in collusion with the local sheriff (Kulzer), and before she knows it, Gillian wakes up from a druggy haze to find herself in a hellish women's prison filled with sadistic wardens, long sapphic showers, and every possible form of female-exploiting crime including a snuff movie operation and forced slavery. It's up to Gillian to mae friends fast and come up with a way out to satisfy her LUST FOR FREEDOM!
Shot for peanuts in Nevada, this was the directorial debut for Eric Louzil, previously a producer on two notorious early Kevin Costner cheapies, Sizzle Beach U.S.A. and Shadows Run Black. His ability to crank out an exploitation film on time for little money was enough to earn him gigs on two Class of Nuke 'Em High sequels and outside jobs on sexy thrillers like Fatal Pursuit. You certainly can't accuse Lust for Freedom of being dull, and even now it still works as an oddly sincere party movie that seems to shift gears every five minutes or so on the way to its lively, incendiary climax. Plus one of the inmates is played by Michelle Bauer, so that's enough to recommend it right there.
Troma hasn't been stingy about keeping this one available on home video, though it's always flown pretty far under the radar and hasn't enjoyed much of a cult reputation. That may be partially due to the crummy cartoon cover art they inflicted on their DVD release, including an appropriate two-pack with Escape from Hell. Fortunately you can ignore that ancient transfer from a moldly old 1" tape source thanks to the 2014 Vinegar Syndrome DVD, a fresh HD scan from the original 35mm blow-up negative (it was originally shot in 16mm). It's still a gritty, cheap-looking movie, of course, but the bump in quality is obviously right from the opening seconds. The mono audio is also an improvement, considering the original source, and it'll make you wish you had a Grim Reaper soundtrack pronto. As for extras, Louzil provides a feature-length audio commentary in which he covers the production history from finding a prison in California to scraping together a functional cast, some more problematic than others. There's also a feisty trailer and a ten-minute interview with producer/Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman, who's considerably more focused here than his usual self-promoting gigs on his own label's releases.
Buy from Diabolik
Reviewed on April 5, 2014.