MARCH 24, 2018

Murder on the Emerald SeasIn an unexpected The Muthersmove that will hopefully become an ongoing tradition, Vinegar Syndrome surprised fans with a pair of double-disc Blu-ray sets celebrating five years of history-making film discoveries. Each set obviously contains five films making their Blu-ray debuts after previously appearing on DVD, and the bump in quality for each of them is substantial. The adults-only 5 Films 5 Years - Volume #1 brings together Too Naughty to Say No, the joyous comedy cult favorite Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls, the fun Hypathia Lee vehicle Ribald Tales of Canterbury (previously on a DVD double bill with Tasty), Bob Chinn's deranged, John Holmes-starring tropical Nazi porno Prisoner of Paradise, and the (relatively) lavish '40s noir Dixie Ray Hollywood Star in its hardcore variant. The films are spread wide across two discs with no frills, which gives them plenty of breathing room to shine more brightly than their SD predecessors (which already looked pretty great). The vivid color schemes and often eye-popping detail are a real joy to behold, and we all know there are plenty of other gems to give the same treatment should this tradition continue. 5 Films 5 Years - Volume #2 focuses on the sex-free exploitation side with a collection of five thrillers and action films from the vaults, all of them solid choices that should make fans happy. The oft-requested Dungeon of Harrow (previously released as a substitute main feature on DVD with Death by Invitation after the whole Savage Water withdrawal thing went down) is probably incentive enough for many, and for Ribald Tales of Canterburya grubby Hot and Saucy Pizza Girlsregional period horror film, it's unlikely to look any better than this vivid, colorful presentation. Also on hand are the Filipino actioner The Muthers, Carlos Tobalina's baffling crime movie patchwork Flesh and Bullets, John Hayes's bullet-paced trash wallow The Hang Up (one of the most astounding titles VS has ever released), and in a surprise move, the rare Murder on the Emerald Seas, previously available only as a very limited (500-unit) convention and (barely) online exclusive. Once considered a lost film (with alternate titles like The Great Masquerade and The AC/DC Caper), it's a bizarre precursor to both Cruising and Partners as masculine cop Robert Perault (who died way too young in 1990) going undercover in drag to infiltrate a cruise ship where he hopes to unmask a killer who's been knocking off transvestites. Imagine a low-budget riff on Some Like It Out and The Gay Deceivers but with a serial killer angle thrown in, and that sort of gives you an idea of what to expect from this early, obscure Florida-shot offering from Alan Ormsby the same year he worked on Deathdream and Deranged. Yes, really. Once again all five titles look great, though in typical fashion, it's the Tobalina that looks the most immaculate with an insane amount of color intensity and detail. You can buy the first volume here, the second volume here, or both in one easy bundle.

Flesh and Bullets Dungeon of Harrow The Hang Up
Dixie Ray Hollywood Star Too Naughty to Say No Prisoner of Paradise

Joe BulletDefinitely one to file under the "well, it's different category" is the 1973 South African soccer/crime mash up Joe Bullet, which features a warbling pop theme straight out of a spaghetti western ("He's the man who fights evil! He's the man who fights crime!") and a bizarre history that makes it far more compelling than it would be on its own terms. Shot with an African cast headlined by Ken Gampu (King Solomon's Mines, The Gods Must Be Crazy), it's about the travails faced by soccer team The Eagles who are feeling the heat from the local crime syndicate, who like to stab people in the bathroom and perform random abductions. They even install a crooked trainer to give the mob a leg up when the Eagles win the big "cup final," so it's up Joe "Bastard" Bullet to put a stop to these strong-arm shenanigans. According to the packaging on the Blu-ray and DVD releases from 88 Films, the film went through stages of being banned and unbanned in its native country ("by the apartheid regime!") and has been pretty much impossible to see until recent years. It isn't the prettiest transfer in the world since it's been cobbled together from the two surviving 16mm prints, but considering the extreme rarity of the title, we'll certainly take whatever we can get at this point. The mono track features a huge amount of dubbing and odd ADR work, which is actually pretty charming once you get used to it. Extras include a newly-created trailer and an informative audio commentary with writer-producer Tonie van der Merwe and moderators Calum Waddell and Benjamin Cowley.

The Resurrection of Zachary WheelerLightning BoltSpeaking of different, Code Red isn't one to shy away from pairing up head-scratching films for double features -- and that's certainly what you'll find in the Blu-ray pairing of Antonio Margheriti's ragged 1966 Italian-Spanish action oddity Lightning Bolt (a.k.a. Operazione Goldman) and The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler, a 1971 all-star sci-fi quickie basically thrown on here as a standard def extra. The main film stars Hawaiian Eye's Anthony Eisley as a wannabe 007-style hero named Harry Sennet who's out to stop a nefarious bad guy from toppling U.S. rockets (a la Dr. No) during their launch via a nautical base beneath the waves. Chock full of stock footage, big hair, ridiculous dialogue ("I'll kill you, fat man!", and jazzy Riz Ortolani music, it's pretty much mid-level Eurospy nonsense presented in surprisingly solid condition here with a 2.35:1 HD transfer that easily outclasses the terrible cropped versions seen on TV. The second feature doesn't fare as well, not surprisingly, and looks pretty ratty here. At least there's some amusement to be found in seeing Leslie Nielsen, Angie Dickinson, and Bradford Dillman slumming in an independent cheapie about a reporter (Nielsen) who starts snooping when he sees the fatally injured Senator Wheeler being wheeled away after a car crash, only to stumble on a conspiracy involving mysterious transplants, bongo drums, and a creepy twist that's still relevant today. Fortunately the concepts here are strong enough to overcome the ragged, TV-style execution, foreshadowing some of the medical and ethical terrors that would soon become commonplace in '70s sci-fi films. The Blu-ray also includes a fuzzy Lightning Bolt theatrical trailer and bonus ones for Foxbat, This Is a Hijack!, Warlock Moon, and Simon - King of the Witches.

Tom of FinlandThough his name hasn't fully infiltrated the mainstream yet, few erotic artists have had a lasting impact on the level of Tom of Finland. Born Touko Valio Laaksonen, the Finnish creator of hundreds of works depicting exaggerated, idealized depictions of men with an emphasis on beefy physiques and fetishistic clothing and attributes. His distinctive style has influenced many gay and straight artists ever since, but it wasn't until 2017 that someone managed to make a film about his life. The result, Tom of Finland, is a slick, well-acted survey of his life from the post-World War II genesis of his work through the controversies surrounding him in the public eye; star Pekka Strang is both convincing in his performance and a surprising dead ringer for the real Tom for the most part. The first half is extremely tame and staid, but it improves considerably in the second hour as his influence kicks in with a trip to America and the subject matter becomes a lot more urgent. The U.S. release from Kino Lorber looks great on Blu-ray, with super-clean digital lensing that definitely doesn't evoke the period but does make for a fine home theater showcase. The DTS-HD MA audio is about half Finnish and half English depending on the locale, while extras include a minor batch of deleted scenes, a 10-minute visit at Tom's home with Tom of Finland Foundation VP S.R. Sharp and several admirers, a campaign featurette, 12 minutes of sound bites with Tom of Finland Company co-founder Durk Dehner, a 3-minute "television speak" (which plays like an EPK reel), and the trailer. Released at the same time on Blu-ray and DVD is the 1991 documentary Daddy and the Muscle Academy, which runs a scant 55 minutes but makes for a fascinating companion piece after viewing the main feature.

A Touch of SexOne of the more baffling trends during the golden age of adult theatrical films in the '70s is the use of inserts (XXX footage of different performers) spliced into feature films, either to spice up a softcore (or sometimes completely non-sexual) title or cover up for an actor's lack or unwillingness to go all the way. Many American and European productions were suddenly turned into hardcore titles with a bit of editorial tinkering, with some of the more outrageous examples even winding up provoking lawsuits. One example of this method can be found in the Impulse Pictures DVD release of A Touch of Sex, a softcore comedy obviously shot in the early '70s that ended up being released in 1975 with some not-bad attempts at porn inserts stitched in. Michael Pataki (Grave of the Vampire) stars as Mark, a songwriter first seen writing a ditty while staring at a photo of Ricky Nelson and promising this is gonna "be the big one!" A chance at the big time arrives seconds later when old buddy Biff calls from Beverly Hills (while boffing a nymphet by the swimming pool and grinding the phone in her crotch) and offers a chance to fly him out for a chance at tunesmith stardom. Upon arrival he's confronted with waka-waka funk music and nymphomaniacs who assault him in a limo, but that's just the start of his freewheeling adventures through the hedonistic world of '70s L.A. The cover art spotlights the presence of popular soft and hardcore star Rene Bond, who plays Biff's fiancée and makes her grand entrance getting busy in a tight red slicker having sex on a couch while Mark warbles "Wowee I'm in Love." Featuring an appearance by that popular rock group Tommy Vaseline & the Penetrations, sex in an airplane and a recording studio booth, and lots of familiar exploitation faces like Sandy Dempsey, Cyndee Summers, and John Keith, it's a crazy quilt of a movie that probably played a lot more smoothly in its intended softcore form. There's still crackpot fun to be had though, with Pataki really giving it his all in a funny goof of a performance that shows why he became a successful character actor in more mainstream fare. And would you believe it has almost the exact same ending punchline as Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut? Never released on DVD before, the film has been transferred from watchable print that's clearly seen its way through quite a few projectors on its way to your home.

HelenaMore insert mania can be found in another DVD release from Impulse Pictures, the far more shocking French offering Helena (originally released as La Villa). Alain Nauroy was on the cusp of jumping into bona fide hardcore filmmaking when he directed this sordid saga about Helena (Valérie Boisgel), who drives her ratty car up through the hills to a villa to meet by her on-and-off playmate, Roy. Instead she ends up being greeted by the bathrobe-wearing Frank, the property owner, who informs her that Roy's busy trysting upstairs with someone else. As she sulks and complains that "All men are bastards," Frank swoops in and makes his move as he talks Helena into taking a long, soapy bath he can watch from outside. Soon he's servicing her in a swimming pool and proposing that she give him four days to win her over, but there are a lot of surprises in store... and more people destined to arrive at the villa, include a gang of deviants (featuring mainstream actor Richard Darbois, who popped up in several XXX French films around this time for some reason and always used body doubles). Running a tight 73 minutes, this one takes a really wild detour in the last half hour into what might be described as a cross between Last House on the Beach and Story of O, with a truly transgressive and harrowing finale involving forced shaving that's far more jolting than the unnecessary and highly unconvincing inserts that pop up here and there. The English-dubbed print used here appears to be complete, and though again not in the most stellar shape, it's a real rarity that will often having you shaking your head at the insanity you're seeing.

Night CallerIt's hard to believe there was a time when obscene phone calls were actually a cause for concern, but long before the days of caller ID, hapless citizens of the '70s (and, to a lesser extent, the '80s) were frequent harassed by foul-mouthed strangers at all hours of the day. The slimy trend popped up in mainstream films in everything from Black Christmas to High Anxiety, so it was natural to work it into adult films, too. One of the prime examples is 1976's Night Caller, a dark and disturbing Anthony Spinelli film about an isolated, heavily-accented sad sack named Bobby (David Brook) who becomes fixated on watching the carnal activities of his neighbor, Carol (Monique Starr), and her husband (Ken Scudder). He starts spouting lascivious come-ons to her over the phone (and talks about panties a lot), a process that spills over into others around him including a cross-dressing prostitute. However, when he decides to make contact with Carol in the real world, things start to get messy. A visually dark, foreboding film, this one sure feels like a horror film even if the plot doesn't quite go all the way into that territory; it could easily be programmed next to more overtly violent fare like Forced Entry as well as something like 1980's Maniac or Don't Answer the Phone. Brook really gives it his all here as the slimeball protagonist, with the phone call sequences actually delivering more queasy intensity than the bona fide sex scenes. Previously seen in murky and frequently censored editions, Night Caller looks much better than ever before on Vinegar Syndrome's no-frills DVD release; the packaging notes that this is newly restored in 2K from "16mm vault elements," and though the sound is still pretty crackly and flat, it's great to see it in such vastly improved quality. The nerve-jangling electronic soundtrack is reminiscent of Lipstick and a real standout, too.

IntrusionMoving into true roughie territory, another gritty '70s title given its first respectable home video release on DVD via Vinegar Syndrome is 1975's Intrusion (or, according to the title card, The Intrusion), a particularly nasty home invasion/sexual assault quickie about a particularly ugly day in the life of New York suburban housewife Ellen (Kim Pope) when her husband (Levi Richards) takes off for a long business trip. Posing as an insurance salesman, an anonymous creep (Michael Gaunt) shoves his way into the house and forces himself on her for a very protracted period of time. Ellen hopes salvation will arrive with her best friend Gail scheduled to come around, but the intruder has other plans... This one also had a pretty dismal video history including a torn-up print source used for Alpha Blue's gray market DVD (as part of a Lost Films of Kim Pope set with VHS-sourced presentations of Summer of Laura and Schoolgirl's Reunion), so it shouldn't be much of a shock that the Vinegar Syndrome one stomps the others into the ground. It looks immaculate (relatively speaking, for what the film is) and sounds infinitely better, especially when it comes to another ominous, experimental electronic score. Extras include the theatrical trailer and an interesting 18-minute interview with Gaunt (a.k.a. Michael Dattore), who chats about his early acting career (where his "wise guy" personality kept him from getting repeat gigs) and how his audition for this, his debut film, turned out to be a first-time project for a couple of guys trying to pay off their student loans!

Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter FreakFar from roughie territory but just as weird and worthwhile is another 1975 adults-only film, Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak, which is probably best known for its eye-catching poster design used for a widely distributed T-shirt. It was also the most potent trailer featured on the second volume of Something Weird's Bucky's '70s Triple XXX Movie House Trailers series, which inspired people to track down some pretty ragged-looking VHS copies (sometimes under the title She Can't Get Enough and eventually sourced for equally drab DVDs from Gourmet Video and Alpha Blue). As much a counterculture comic gem as a traditional X-rated title, it's an outrageous confessional delivered by Billy (co-writer and director Zachary Strong, a.k.a. Zachary Youngblood) to a sympathetic gas pump attendant, Helen Madigan, about his lifetime of sexual misadventures and his ongoing kink for peanut butter. It all started with an outrageous early incident involving his aunt, bodily emissions, and a peanut butter sandwich, which leads to a raucous three-way involving his cousin and a comparable confession from Madigan. "Special guest star" John Holmes (who has two scenes, one of them sexual) and Constance Money are more famous than the two main stars, but fortunately Young and Madigan are both great here in appealing, demanding roles that require more range than usual. The crazy, whiplash attitude here is really infectious as the viewer really has no idea where it's going from one sequence to another, and the Vinegar Syndrome DVD is a real revelation as it not only looks great but is also completely intact; the packaging notes it's compiled from both 35mm and 16mm elements, including the full peanut butter commercial opener scissored from most versions. Both bonus features are audio-only and well worth checking out, a pair of lengthy phone interviews (conducted by an uncredited Casey Scott) with Youngblood and assistant director/assistant editor Jo-Anne Surtees. The Youngblood one is a real stunner as he starts off talking about his less than stellar time in the military, his unorthodox first adult film excursion (which hasn't been documented anywhere), and his journey through filmmaking including stories about distribution, working with fellow writer Jerry Abrams, his propensity for humor, and several of his other films including Hot Teenage Assets and Visions of Claire. The Surtees track is a more straightforward reminiscence about the production of this particular film (she's still friends with Young) with chat about coordinating the rock club footage and feeling very "Alice in Wonderland" working in the industry.

Sessions of Love TherapyAs anyone familiar with the evolution of adult films knows, the move to public theatrical distribution was really made possible with the advent of "white coaters," or instructional films that used sex footage in a teaching context to get through a legal loophole at the time. It was all a ruse of course, with a doctor usually sitting a desk providing the necessary scientific justification for a bunch of unrelated sex demonstration footage. Two later holdovers from this approach can be found in a Vinegar Syndrome Peekarama double feature DVD that kicks off with the rare Sessions of Love Therapy, which starts off with a hilariously fragmented string of admissions to the camera from our cast before we settle into a stylized couples therapy session involving demonstrations against a stark black background. Rene Bond, Ric Lutze, Sessions of Love TherapyKeith Erickson, Suzanne Fields (in yet another terrible wig), Billy Lane, Sandy Dempsey, and others are involved in these hands-on lessons revealing the truth about such practices as "the Greek way" and multiple uses for a vibrator. Apart from one ratty injection of a stock loop scene halfway through, it's all amusing fun and a solid showcase for some of the early '70s' most recognizable stock players. The more familiar 101 Acts of Love has been hanging around since the VHS days courtesy of Something Weird, but it's been given a nice face lift here and looks better than ever. This exploration of the merits of any "mutually enjoyable" act involving "marital love" has an English female counselor helping a possibly frigid wife deal with her hang ups, which launches into an hour of psychedelic footage of various couples showing off different positions (mostly on rotating beds). You'll probably start to feel dizzy about halfway through, but it's also visually audacious at times with an insanely saturated color palette and some striking projection effects on the actors' bodies. Again it also serves as a fun opportunity to spot early '71 performers (with several sequences obviously shot fully or partially softcore) including John Keith again, legit actress Luann Roberts, William Howard, and Sue Peters. The sole extra is a Sessions theatrical trailer.

Hippy HookerAnother title that might ring a bell with Something Weird collectors makes its pressed DVD debut as the headliner in Hippy Hooker 1970s Grindhouse Triple Feature, another in the line of After Hours' 42nd Street Pete line. As usual he introduces the films, with the title one functioning as a California-shot curio about a shaggy-haired surfer dude (Al Moore) who keeps dreaming about cruising around Laurel Canyon and sharing a joint with an aging, Hippy Hookertattooed, bisexual hippie prostitute. He shares the angry outcome of the story with his bedmate, but it turns out that's just the start when they decide to go to a nearby sex party and... uh, that fills up the rest of the movie. Moore (who only appeared in a handful of other films) has obvious performance issues that a mediocre editor just barely tries to conceal, but it's a slice of sun-splashed, unexpectedly hostile weirdness that refuses to coalesce into any sort of coherent whole. Up next is Nattie's Pleasure Palace, an old-timey look at the goings-on at a whorehouse where... well, the audio's so poorly recorded it's hard to tell, but it has something to do with a guy trying to get one of the hookers out of the business while the other working girls bathe together, play cards, and service their new landlord who's inheriting the property from his dad. The whole cast is pretty rough on the eyes, but at least it runs under an hour. Finally, The Girls from Wam-Bam follows a pair of girls from a collection agency as they work their way through a string of "pay or get laid" schemes with a bunch of guys including Moore again and a father and son at a farmhouse. This one's actually the most entertaining of the bunch as it moves pretty quickly, crams a surprising number of sex scenes into its brief running time, and has a hilarious stolen soundtrack including prominent use of "I Love How You Love Me" decades before Twin Peaks: The Return.

Baby Face 2It took a while for director Alex de Renzy to mount a sequel to one of his most famous U.S. box office hits, 1977's Baby Face, but he finally came through in 1986 with Baby Face 2 -- which has (almost) nothing to do with the narrative of the first film. Though still shot in 35mm, it's a fascinating demonstration of how radically adult films had changed in style over less than a decade, with a much more splashy '80s color scheme and very, very different fashions and hairstyles in every single shot. The fun kicks off with a main theme shamelessly cribbed from the song "Magic" by The Cars and on-screen narration by Candie Evans as we follow the pandemonium unleashed when Careena Collins' impending wedding inspires a very naughty bachelorette party organized by her horny friends, two of whom (Lois Ayres and Melissa Melendez) are seen separately bedding Kevin James. From there it's a parade of bikinis, sex toys, naked hot tubbing, and edible underwear, at least until the male stripper shows up in the form of slovenly, cigar-chomping Jamie Gillis, who introduces a crazy supernatural twist at the halfway point that results in one of the screen's longest, weirdest bacchanals. Complete with a prominent poster for the first film and a cast of stalwarts including Kristara Barrington, Tom Byron, Lynn Franciss, Taija Rae, Marc Wallice, and the soon to be blacklisted Stacey Donovan, this is a fascinating blend of crackpot storytelling and nearly nonstop sex scenes that's as featherweight as can be but quite enjoyable as a skin flick time capsule. The dual-format Vinegar Syndrome release (Blu-ray and DVD) looks absolutely stunning, in keeping with the label's track record of other de Renzy titles, and easily blows away the sickly-looking old DVD from VCA (which was also significantly censored). English SDH subtitles are also provided, and the sole extra is the theatrical trailer.


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