Color, 1980, 91m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Holly McCall, Jamie Gillis, Lysa Thatcher, Herschel Savage, Mai Lin, Serena, Michael Morrison, Tawny Pearl, Kitty Shayne, John Holmes

Color, 1980, 78m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Jamie Gillis, Brooke West, Serena, John Holmes, Jon Martin, Suzanne French, Billy Dee, Kitty Shayne, Mai Lin, Juliet Anderson, Eric Stein
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Sexual Heights

An ongoing monthly tradition inaugurated by the label Vinegar Syndrome is the "Peekarama" series, a line of adult double and triple features usually showcasing the work of a single film director. A while back we took a look at one batch of 2014 releases, and here's a rundown of highlights from the tail end of the same year with a particular emphasis on Carlos Tobalina, a director favored above all others by the Peekarama line and credited under the films here as "Troy Benny."

A perfect snapshot of the swinging lifestyle that dominated the '70s, Sexual Heights takes a look at the decade from the vantage point of 1980 and begins with the revelation that "More divorced men live in San Francisco than in any other city in the world! Being divorced might be lonely... But not for all..." This is immediately proven as we see John Holmes and Kitty Shayne getting it on in one of the ugliest bedrooms ever conceived by mankind. After that ten-minute prologue, the real focus of the film arrives as we meet four divorced guys (Jamie Gillis, Herschel UndulationsSavage, Michael Morrison and Jesse Adams) living together in one house where they sit around the bar sipping cocktails and watching porn movies on their toploading VCR. They all have respectable jobs (lawyer, engineer, etc.), but mostly they're revved up and thinking about sex all the time. As it turns out, Savage is harboring a grudge against the babysitter (Tawny Pearl) who wrecked his marriage; he decides to get back at her via a ridiculous plan involving two of the guys dressing up in drag and the other as a businessman and chauffeur. Naturally that turns into an orgy, and Tawny has to call in some reinforcements for this "groovy party" including favorites Lysa Thatcher and Holly McCall.

Padded with unused loops to provide the VCR scenes and those unrelated John Holmes scenes (including a welcome appearance by Mai Lin), this is hardly the most cohesive film by Tobalina but it does make for a very entertaining sex comedy, complete with a nonstop parade of famous faces and interior design atrocities. Pearl makes for a vivacious centerpiece even if she isn't always photographed in the most flattering light, and the library music is daffier than usual as it leaps for perky commercial ditties to strange suspense cues.

Sharing space on the same dual-layered disc is Undulations, another Tobalina offering from the same year. Featuring much of the same cast and a similar video-watching theme, it revolves around a TV show where Mai Lin, Suzanne French and Kitty Shayne interview Gillis and Holmes about sex (of course). That's pretty much it as we get a patchwork of encounters illustrating their fantasies, with old pros like Juliet Anderson and Serena adding some spice to the proceedings. It's a considerably more threadbare production than the main feature with the set walls barely dressed at all and every shot blasted with the same intense lighting, but the cast is fun to watch and the padded footage comes with a few more surprises than usual (including an early, out-of-nowhere reel of footage from a San Francisco pride parade). This one was originally released on VHS and DVD in slightly edited form by VCA, but the Vinegar Syndrome release is uncut and in much better condition. Sexual Heights was much tougher to see, previously out only in faded, spliced-up condition as a gray market VHS from Alpha Blue Archives. In traditional Vinegar Syndrome fashion, both features are transferred from the original negatives and look absolutely gorgeous. The theatrical trailers are included for both.

Color, 1979, 81m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Dorothy Lemay, Kitty Shayne, Brooke West, Misty Regan, David Morris, Mick South, Mike Horner, Daoud Alar

Color, 1979, 90m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Jamie Gillis, Dorothy Lemay, Jesie St. James, Serena, Sally Regan
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Three Ripening CherriesIf that isn't enough Tobalina for you, we're just getting started as we move to another double feature kicking off with Three Ripening Cherries, the only adults-only film "based on an essay by Guy de Maupassant." As you can probably guess from the title, this one's about the sexual misadventures of three young daughters and their mom, Rose (Shayne), whom we first meet trying to school them on sex ed at the dinner table. Accompanied by classical music, Mom regales them with stories about her intoxicated first time with an older man and her debauched behavior as a teenaged bobby-soxer, including a session in the woods with varsity player Mike Horner. The ultimate lesson is that you should try to only have good experiences and sometimes it's best to wait for the right partner, but the girls -- Lemay, West, and Regan -- seem to take this as a free pass to explore each others' bodies in the bedroom and fantasize about their ideal partners at school. However, when they try to put their sexual daydreams into action with two football players, a gym instructor, and a kinky math teacher, it doesn't quite turn out like they planned. One of Tobalina's best films, this benefits from a strong central premise and a really great cast who probably kept the raincoat crowd in their seats for the entire film.

Not surprisingly, this one's been quite popular on home video following its theatrical run from Essex (who issued it on VHS). It popped up on DVD from both Gourmet and a couple of editions from Alpha Blue, but the Vinegar Syndrome version is easily the one to beat; it looks mint fresh throughout with the usual cavalcade of gorgeous colors (and it's an Sensual Fireunusually well-lit film, too), though the mono audio can only do so much with the less impressive audio (which sounds like the mics were positioned way too far from the actors).

Feature number two on the disc is Tobalina's Sensual Fire, another star vehicle for Gillis and apparently an outlet for Tobalina's love of sparkly lens flares. Roy (Gillis) enjoys a very carnal relationship with Jesie St. Janes, complete with swanky dates out on the town in San Francisco. However, his devotion is thrown into a spin with the arrival of her daughter, Tina (Lemay), who seems to spend all day in her bedroom playing with her electric best friend. Both Lemay and Gillis can't stop fantasizing about each other, and it's really starting to take a toll on his work. However, things finally come to a head at a masquerade disco party where, dressed as Zorro, he gets to finally act out his dreams and straighten his tortured psyche. As usual, St. James and Gillis turn in fine performances, and there's even a cute little twist ending, too. The negative is in slightly rougher shape than the previous film, but it still looks great and makes for a fine addition to the Peekarama catalog. Incredibly, this doesn't seem to have ever had a legit North American video release before, which makes it even easier to recommend. Trailers for both films are also included.

Color, 1977, 72m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Iris Medina, John Holmes, Annette Haven, Leslie Bovee, Peter Carter, Bonnie Holiday

Color, 1979, 77m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Dorothy Lemay, Bonnie Holiday, David Morris, Debra Espinoza, Kitty Shayne, Mike Horner
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Fantastic OrgyNow we jump back a couple of years to earlier in Tobalina's career with two completely plotless exercises, starting off with Fantastic Orgy. This one actually opens up by showing the film's theatrical poster and a female voiceover promising, "Hello, friends! Prepare yourself to view a great movie. The action takes place in San Francisco, California [shocker!], the world's most sensual city." The film revolves around Iris Medina (playing herself), who has one ability: "Sex! Sex in the way you like it." It turns out our narrator is "Martha Sharpe," Champagne Orgywho sits at a desk and tells us she's a "reporter" (dubbed over her clearly saying the word "actress") to act as our guide to female freedom in sexual matters. From there's is a hodgepodge of footage (some black and white) with Medina shoots a movie with all of her pals (including Annette Haven) in a string of orgies, much of it obviously outtakes from Her Last Fling (more on that below), with a variety of participants including John Holmes, Annette Haven, and an uncredited Paul Scharf, Sharon Thorpe, and Tyler Reynolds. It barely qualifies as a movie, but as instructive lesson in how to recycle your leftovers, the results are fascinating and often unintentionally hilarious given the flat, emotionless narration that drones on and on to pull it all together.

Equally resourceful at milking the most out of available resources in Champagne Orgy, which revolves around a wrap party thrown by Tobalina himself after filming the math classroom scene from Three Ripening Cherries. Tobalina then interviews some prospective guest about turning the shindig into an orgy, complete with spiked champagne for everyone. Then all the partygoers have sex all over Tobalina's furniture. That's pretty much it for the storyline as the entire final hour bounces back and forth between the coupling, with a German Shepherd occasionally peeking through the French windows behind them for some unintentional comic relief. Actual dialogue comprises about 5% of the movie, so basically what you think you get with the title is exactly what's delivered. Again the transfers both from the 35mm negatives, and both have been extremely hard to track down until this release; it's downright miraculous to see them looking so impressive, and both trailers are here, too.

Color, 1976, 77m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Sharon Thorpe, Leslie Bovee, John Leslie, Bob Migliano, Annette Haven, Bonnie Holliday, Joey Silvera, Miguel Jones, Candida Royalle, Turk Lyon

Color, 1976, 72m.
Directed by Carlos Tobalina
Starring Sandy Pinney, Annette Haven, Candida Royalle, Paul Thomas, Carol Tong, Desiree West, Paul Scharf
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Carnal HavenThe obligatory orgy scene also opens up Carnal Haven, a jazz-scored trifle from even earlier in Tobalina's career. Once again we have a narrator surveying the wilds of '70s San Francisco, which is apparently populated entirely by hedonists. "Let's pick out one couple," he observes before settling on married John Leslie and Leslie Bovee, who's enraged about his roving eye when other women are around and the mysterious phone numbers of hookers in his jacket pocket. As our narrator opines, money can't buy them happiness, so they belong in the swingers' scene rolling around naked on the ground with thirty other naked people. Other couples are also initiated into the scene including Turk Lyon and Candida Royalle, who are so stressed out over arguing about the groceries and doctor appointments that it's off to the sack to work everything out. There's also the obligatory sex education instruction subplot, which was enough at the time to give the film "socially redeeming content" to overcome the era's legal definition of obscenity. The lessons are provided with plenty of instructor demonstrations, which apparently tie in with the orgies being conducted under their auspices. Some famous names turn up here, too, with Joey Silvera as one half of another couple involving in the scene and a welcome appearance by Annette Haven (whose teeth look stranger than usual here) for a lesbian menage a trois near the end of the film. Her Last Fling

This one's been fairly obscure since its release until a gray market Alpha Blue issue as part of a Tobalina double feature, but you're far better off with the Vinegar Syndrome version as it's easily as good as any of the director's other titles in their catalog. Colors look great, and there's nary a sign of film damage to be found.

A bit more plot heavy is Her Last Fling, a porn take on the British classic Last Holiday. Here poor Sandy (Pinney) finds out she has "a terminal disease" (never exactly specified), and "modern science has done all it can." With little time left, maybe two or three weeks, she decides to blow her savings exploring the group sex scenes in Las Vegas and San Francisco (with pretty much the same participants at every meeting). She basically hops from one living room group scene to the next, with occasional hot tub pit stop, before cruising her way back to the big twist ending.

Lead actress Pinney had a fairly long career but rarely got cast a lead, for reasons that should become obvious whenever she tries to emote. Fortunately that's not much of an issue here as she mainly serves as the centerpiece for a constellation of adult stars, and for some reason we keep getting insert shots of John Holmes' most famous appendage at work. It's pretty mid-tier Tobalina overall, with lots of great vintage location work and almost nonstop carnal encounters to keep the viewer from ever getting bored. This has been one of the toughest Tobalina films to see for a long time without a single American authorized video release, and it's been revived here in terrific shape; again the elements look like they've been left completely untouched for decades and couldn't possibly be better as far as standard def transfers go. Very impressive presentation, and again both trailers are also included.

Color, 1976, 82m.
Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler
Starring Liz Swanson, Frank Margello, Joan Woodman, Harry Moran, Eddie Bach, Anna Leeds

Color, 1972, 50m.
Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler
Starring Jim Parker, Carolyn Brandt, Rock Heinrich

Color, 1973, 60m.
Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Red HeatOur final stop on the Peekarama train is another director far less famous for his adult work: Ray Dennis Steckler, the Las Vegas auteur behind drive-in perennials like The Thrill Killers and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. With horror gigs drying up after Blood Shack in 1971, he adopted names like "Cindy Lou Sutters" and "Sven Christian" for his hardcore output, which nevertheless betrays his oddball sensibilities and affinity for strange horror cinema.

Definitely a few rungs lower in terms of production value and professional gloss compared to the movies mentioned above, Steckler's adult output has been a ragged staple of public domain labels since the VHS days, culled from rough-looking prints and, by the looks of it, many shot in 16mm. First up here is Red Heat, a Las Vegas travelogue put together to tie together a bunch of random X-rated loops. It's all narrated by "Sutters" (an anonymous female actress) offering some background about the performers in the vignettes, such as a butch married woman named Nancy who decides to explore her sexuality by doing porn. There's also a guy who decides to get some on the side once too often to the consternation of his frizzy-haired girlfriend, Red, who stabs him in the shower and justifies the film's title by strutting around the Strip and posing for a nudie photographer. She also likes to lie around fondling her switchblade while a guy on a motorcycle rides around presumably looking for her, intercut with lots of other anonymous people trysting while "Sutters" and her cameraman, "Herb," bark directions in the background. (One has to wonder whether the POV-shot scene with Herb and one lass is Steckler himself.) Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire

No one's attractive and it's all clumsily shot, but the Vegas footage is pretty incredible, featuring loads of vintage billboards for acts like Tom Jones, Helen Reddy and Joan Rivers. Seedy and compulsively entertaining, it's a genre-mashing experiment like no other; try watching this on a mind-melting double feature with the previous year's Diamonds Are Forever. Vinegar Syndrome's shockingly good transfer manages to breathe some life into this one, which used to look like a real eyesore from a handful of cheapo labels in very abused condition. Here it looks great with actual vivid color throughout and only a smattering of scratches here and there; very nicely done.

The other two films here were obviously kept in less pristine condition, but they still look better here than prior versions (most famously from Something Weird). The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire is a truly daffy bargain-basement production and plays more like a particularly perverted kid's backyard movie than an actual feature, clocking in at 50 minutes and featuring hand-drawn credits. Steckler's wife and frequent muse, Carolyn Brandt, plays a narrator in a wild getup who takes us into the world of her husband, Count Dracula (a scenery-chewing Jim Parker), who keeps a ring of vampire hookers on call to perform for him, please his hunchbacked assistant (Heinrich), and go on the prowl for fresh Vegas blood. In between hirsute sex scenes, a tubby Professor Van Helsing sits around wondering where Dracula might be. It's a complete mess of a film, but as an example of the odd trend of merging horror and smut that proliferated in the '70s, it's definitely a curio you won't easily forget.

Our final film, Peeping Tom, is the most typical of Steckler's Sutters output, which slapped together loops and voiceover into a plotless quilt of sex scenes and shots of people riding around Vegas. (See also: Weekend Cowgirls, Teenage Hustler, etc.) Previously issued by Something Weird as The Creeper, it features an anonymous voyeur cruising around Vegas spying on various unhealthy-looking couples arguing and copulating, complete with sometimes hilarious dubbed-in exclamations of ecstasy ("Hoo lordy, them doggies really rollin' tonight!"). As cheap and ragged as they come, it's hardly Steckler's finest hour but an oddly perfect capper to this deranged trio of Las Vegas smut fests.

Reviewed on January 1, 2015.