Color, 1972, 80m.
Directed by Marc Lawrence
Starring Toni Lawrence, Jesse Vint, Marc Lawrence, Katherine Ross, Paul Hickey
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Troma, Simitar (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Al!ve (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL)

PigsPigsA haunting oddity that's been baffling people for decades, this rural drive-in horror film was a passion project of sorts for Marc Lawrence, a formerly blacklisted character actor with credits ranging from Key Largo to the James Bond films Diamonds Are Forever ("I didn't know there was a pool down there") and The Man with the Golden Gun. Mortgaging his own house to fund the film, Lawrence wrote, directed, and starred in a twisted story that went through a seemingly countless string of titles both before and after production with various edits and storyline shifts along the way. Lawrence gave himself the role of Zambrini, a farmer and cafe owner first seen having a nocturnal chat with a recently exhumed dead body he's about to feed to his pigs, whom he explains aloud have developed a taste for human flesh after snacking on another poor sap who passed out drunk in their vicinity. A nearby pile of shoes indicates this is hardly the pigs have also been well fed for quite a while.

Lawrence also enlisted his daughter, Toni, to star as Lynn, a young woman who drives into the dusty California town and ends up getting a job at Zambrini's cafe. Lynn seems to be in a fairly distraught state, given she hears a creepy lullaby in her head every time she sees a straight razor and keeps making teary, pleading calls to her father on any available pay phone. The local sheriff, Dan (Macon County Line's Vint), tries to keep some order in this community of oddballs, but he finds his work cut out for him when a one-night stand sends Lynn over the edge to the point that she carves her bed mate up into a bloody mess. Zambrini helps her get rid of the body by feeding it to his pigs, but it's clear that all of their problems are a long way from over. Pigs

If you've seen this film before, that synopsis might sound a little off. That's because significant additional scenes and drastic reediting were performed several times over the years, with a very unconvincing (and masculine) double standing in for the Lynn character in some shots for an entirely new, lengthy prologue fleshing out her backstory complete with incest, murder, a stint in an insane asylum, and an escape plan in a nurse's outfit. The newer, completely ridiculous footage has been appended to every home video release in some form or another over the years, with the longest, most incoherent variant, Daddy's Deadly Darling, turning up on VHS from Paragon. A censored and significantly shortened version also turned up on DVD from Troma in a rancid, highly compressed transfer as Pigs, minus any extras, while a German DVD carried over the same transfer with the slightly longer "German" prologue (showing Lynn as a child in a hilarious bad wig, also shot Pigsfor the Darling version). All home video versions also conform to the reissue versions by featuring a completely different ending, cobbled together by recutting the original film and adding new footage to suggest that Lynn has staged her death so she can keep hitchhiking across the state on a murder spree. On top of that another version was created for a reissue in the wake of a certain religious horror craze with titles including Love Exorcist, Blood Pen, and The Strange Exorcism of Lynn Hart, complete with another new prologue showing Lynn in the throes of a pig-snorting demonic possession a la House of Exorcism. Seemingly every print has different variations containing separate edits culled from Lawrence's original cut, though oddly, the closest thing many viewers could Pigssee to his first edit in the '80s was its airing on Elvira's Movie Macabre under the Pigs title. Though much of the violence was censored, this edition shed a huge chunk of the Daddy's footage and served as a strong intro to the title for many impressionable horror kids (who were also exposed to the likes of Blood on Satan's Claw and Silent Night, Bloody Night via Elvira around the same time).

That brings us to the 2016 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition from Vinegar Syndrome, an astonishing feat of restoration that pulls together the extant film elements for the various versions to present Lawrence's original cut for the first time on home video. Bearing the title card The 13th Pig (an early title after other working ones like Menu for Murder), this is a far more accomplished, coherent, and enjoyable film in every respect. None of the awkward reshoots are here, and all of Lawrence's original footage is back in place; that means the 80-minute running time is far more different than you'd expect since it drops six minutes of those reshoots compared to the Troma disc and other prior releases. The entire story plays out differently (and explains that on-screen title), with Lynn's madness revealed gradually and her twisted history only revealed in full at the end of the film; it's a much smarter way for the events to unfold, and the resolution here is far more downbeat and eerie than one we've seen before.

Given that previous home video versions have been unwatchable pig slop, it's nice to report that the new 2K transfer here is a massive improvement all around and finally brings out the atmosphere and visual strangeness in the film buried in past transfers. It's still a soft, cheap-looking film with only so much potential in the existing source elements, but anyone Pigsfamiliar with its history at all will be shocked by the improvement here. Optional English subtitles are provided for the PigsDTS-HD MA mono track, which sounds about as good as it could under the limited circumstances. The various versions are reflected here via the complete exorcism opening (which is utterly insane and bears the Blood Pen title), the complete opening and closing Daddy's Deadly Darling sequences bearing the title Daddy's Girl (in a title card you have to see to believe), a hefty gallery of poster art and promotional images from its 12+ years of reissues, and theatrical trailers as both Pigs and Love Exorcist (listed as Love Exorcism on the menu). Though Marc Lawrence died in 2005, there's still quite a bit of info about the film here in the new supplements kicking off with Toni's memories of him and the project in the 14-minute "Back on the Menu." In addition to discussing her reaction to the script and revealing her favorite scene in the film, she talks quite a bit about her dad's history including his trauma over the blacklisting ordeal (which left him so shell-shocked he couldn't recognize his wife at one point). In the 13-minute "Somewhere Down the Road," composer Charles Bernstein recalls how he made this film in his early days finishing up his music studies and taking the job in exchange for a Lawrence painting intended for Fellini. He also goes into the creation of that infectious, ominous theme song, which features his own vocal since he couldn't pay to bring in another singer, and briefly chats about how the score foreshadowed his later work on Gator. Of course, he also went on to White Lightning and a host of horror-related favorites including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cujo, Love at First Bite, and The Entity. Finally, an audio interview with cinematographer Glenn Roland (conducted over the phone judging from the audio) and VS's Joe Rubin covers virtually his entire career since his teen years, including his stint on two Ilsa films (which he fell into due to an Orson Welles project swiping the original DP!). It's a pretty technical chat for the most part (and doesn't get to Pigs until close to the halfway point), but there's some fun material here including anecdotes about what to do when blood squibs spray all over your camera lens.

Reviewed on March 20, 2016.