B&W, 1990, 111 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Nikos Nikolaidis
Starring Panos Thanassoulis, Meredyth Herold, Michele Valley
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Synapse Films (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

On a jet-black night in the countryside during a torrential rainstorm, a ragged, bleeding man (Thanassoulis) is found near death in the mud by two Singapore Slinggoggle-wearing women, a mother (Valley) and daughter (Valley), who are disposing of the remains of their latest victims. Singapore SlingThey take the man back home and call him Singapore Sling, initiating him into their twisted world in which they reenact the gruesome deaths of their domestic help-- as well as a young woman named Laura, whom Singapore Sling has been seeking. Completely insane, the women subject him to a variety of ridiculous sexual ordeals involving shock therapy, bodily fluids, various foodstuffs, and handcuffs, not necessarily in that order. Not surprisingly, all three are sucked into a vortex of perversion that will prove difficult to escape.

While the basic premise of this berserk Greek cult item might sound like a rehash of captivity drive-in films like Death Game (not to mention shades of Onibaba), watching it unfold is something else entirely; shot in luminous black and white with gorgeous visuals right out of the '40s film noir textbook (including some explicit references to Laura via the dead character's name as well as the daughter's similar portrait and blatant music quotations), this is perhaps the ultimate collision of high art and gutter-level sleaze. A cult director in Greece but little-known elsewhere, Nikos Nikolaidis came closest to breaking through to the international market with this film, which appalled most mainstream distributors but became a sensation of the video-trading circuit, largely thanks to excellent timing as it hit right at the beginning of the first Singapore SlingEuro-cult video boom and immediately followed such other horror/art hybrids as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Singapore SlingLover and Opera.

However, what really sets this film apart is its refusal to separate graphic sexuality from violence; the extreme nature of the various scenarios involving the three characters quickly reaches a Sadean level of intensity by the halfway point, though considering its reputation for "hardcore" material, it's surprising how much is implied rather than shown. For example, the notorious vomit and urination sequences (repellent as they undoubtedly are) don't really show as much as the viewer might think, and the horrific finale (which foreshadows a murder in Seven by several years and was largely responsible for getting this film banned in England) thankfully leaves the most gruesome details to the imagination. Only a graphic fruit-masturbation sequence really treads the line into non-simulated territory (and looks like a cheeky nod to Walerian Borowczyk's infamous "pearl" scene in Immoral Tales).

Certainly not a film anyone would have ever pegged for a mainstream home video release at the time, Singapore Sling was eventually rescued from years of substandard Singapore Slingvideo releases with Synapse's lovingly prepared DVD edition in 2006. The beautiful photography finally looks crystal clear, with rich chiaroscuro lighting that now makes its artistic merits impossible Singapore Slingto ignore. The source material is in excellent condition for the most part, with a vertical scratch hovering for a while after the one-hour mark causing only a minor disruption in what is otherwise an immaculate presentation. The film was shot entirely in English, but Thanassoulis' melancholy voiceovers were recorded in Greek; as a result, the provided film elements feature awkward (and crooked) burned-in English subtitles which necessitated Synapse to also offer a new "masked" subtitle option presenting more professional and well-written text that might be more accessible to newcomers. This technique is nothing new (see The Incubus and Eva for other examples) and works okay here under the circumstances. Extras include the wild two-minute theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.

In 2024, Vinegar Syndrome provided the film its much-needed upgrade to Blu-ray with a fresh 4K scan from the 35mm original camera negative. The result is a nice surprise in multiple respects as it opens up the framing on the top and bottom to provide more satisfying compositions throughout, and Singapore Slingfinally you can say goodbye to those pesky burned-in subs. The negative was completely clean so you get a nice optional subtitle track here instead, with optional full English SDH subtitles as well. Singapore SlingImage quality is superb with rich blacks and fine detail, and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is excellent as well. The 2011 doc "Directing Hell" (80m47s) covers the work of the late Nikolaidis via a wealth of video material including Q&A appearances, academic assessments from the likes of film critic Rozita Sokou, interviews with actors including Jenny Kitseli and Takis Moschos, and tantalizing film clips from a lot of titles you'll probably never see on U.S. home video. Also included are separate new interviews with the director's wife, Marie-Louise Bartholomew (11m39s), Valley (12m22s), Thanassoulis (9m6s), and cinematographer Aris Stavrou (5m23s), which touch on the production process, prior projects like the unorthodox Euridice BA 2037, the arduous but often rewarding extremes of the performances, the evocation of classical art and cinema imagery, the director's occasional taskmaster tendencies, and thoughts on the film's very divided and turbulent reception. The package also comes with a 20-page insert booklet featuring a new David Church essay about the film's transgressive approach, its use of noir elements, and place in the '90s art-horror landscape.


Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)

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Synapse (DVD)

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Updated review on May 16, 2024.