Color, 1976, 82m.
Directed by Cirio H. Santiago
Starring Jeanne Bell, Rosanne Katon, Trina Parks, Jayne Kennedy, Tony Carreon
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1976, 82m.
One of the many, many, many action films cranked out in the Philippines, this particularly rowdy offering comes from one of the country's busiest drive-in specialists, Cirio H. Santiago (in between gigs on TNT Jackson, Vampire Hookers, and Death Force). Released theatrically by Dimension Pictures and circulated on VHS by Continental, it's been largely unseen by American audiences for years but did pop up discreetly in Australia as the second disc of a 2011 deluxe edition of Mark Hartley's epic Filipino exploitation documentary, Machete Maidens Unleashed. With interest in that berserk chapter in cinematic history at an all-time high, it's a good thing Vinegar Syndrome unearthed it to initiate a new generation of viewers.
Sort of a female mercenary film by way of both the blaxploitation and women-in-prison subgenres, our tale concerns the efforts of tough pirates Kelly (Three the Hard Way's Bell) and Angie (The Swinging Cheerleaders' Katon), a couple of modern-day Robin Hoods who use their spoils to help starving villagers, to infiltrate a female slavery ring operated within acoffee plantation turned internment camp. If they succeed, the government won't lift a finger to stop their activities, but that means going up against the nefarious Montiero (Carreon) and his goons. The baddie's mistress, Serena (Death Force's Kennedy), turns into a possible ally once they're inside, and they also earn the trust of inmate Marcie (Parks, the back-flipping Thumper from Diamonds Are Forever) to track down one of the prisoners, Kelly's sister. Many, many gunshots ensue.
Anyone approaching this as a typical film about women doing hard time and taking lots of showers will be confused by this one, which functions far better as a bullet-spraying action film. The casting of all four female leads with African-American actresses is enough to make it something of a standout, and the fact that all of them have reasonably solid showcases makes one wonder why this approach wasn't taken more often.
Apart from some funk music here and there, it avoids the usual blaxploitation trappings and instead makes most of its female characters independent and physically capable, which is enough to make one forgive the often generic dialogue and cardboard characterizations. Of course, it's going to find most of its audience as a prime example of Filipino action filmmaking alongside better known titles like Savage Sisters and The Woman Hunt, with which it definitely compares favorably.
Vinegar Syndrome's DVD is about on par with its past Santiago releases, which means they've done as good a job as possible with a fresh 2K scan of the original negative. It's still a pretty grungy film with a lot of softness in some shots and a pretty flat appearance during many indoor scenes, but it's an impressive and accurate representation considering the elements. Colors look very healthy and vibrant where they should (especially those omnipresent greens), and the mono English audio sounds just fine. The sole extra is a theatrical trailer, which is about as explosive and aggressive as you'd imagine.
Reviewed on March 16, 2015.