Color, 1978, 74m.
Directed by Rene Martinez Jr.
Starring Wildman Steve, Jocelyn Norris, Benny Latimore, Peter Conrad, Lee Cross
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
'70s blaxploitaton doesn't come much cheaper or goofier than Super Soul Brother, a commercially acceptable title for this film originally released under a much touchier title still retained on the actual prints. It marked the third and final film for director Rene Martinez Jr., made less than a year after his oddball Miami crime film, The Guy from Harlem. That strange South Florida atmosphere carries over here for a story ostensibly about a wino imbued with superpowers, but that gimmick actually takes up barely more than a third of the film as the first 45 minutes are basically a raunchy comedy about criminals trying to set up the perfect diamond heist.
We first meet our villains in an office/lab where midget scientist Dr. Dippy (The Funhouse's Conrad) is using lab rats to perfect his new formula, which makes the subject impervious to death and capable of super strength. Unfortunately the miracle drug also kills its recipients within a matter of days, so he also needs to come up with an antidote. His sponsors, criminal duo Bob (Latimore) and Jim (Cross), aren't too keen on waiting around to set up their first score, so they decide to go ahead and find their first unwilling test subject: Steve (comic "Wildman" Steve, a.k.a. Steve Gallon, previously seen opposite Rudy Ray Moore in Petey Wheatstraw and The Guy from Harlem), a cheerful bum who gets sweet talked into going along with their plans. That includes drug injections in his posterior (which is funny because, you know, butts), and the booty humor continues when they set him up with female company to indulge his passion for having his heinie cleaned, just like his mama used to do. Steve strikes up a romance with the doctor's nurse, Peggy (Norris), which factors into the complications that ensue when it's time to test out Steve's new abilities, which include bending metal rods and lifting a heavy safe to make off with the diamonds inside.
The acting and direction of Super Soul Brother could charitably be called amateurish, with most of the actors sounding like they're reading their lines for the first time off of cue cards. That said, it's often hysterically funny especially when it comes to the characters' oddball sex lives, be it the diminutive scientist's taste for buxom aging companions or Steve's amusing "Can I do it here on the couch?" bit, probably the funniest bit in the whole film. There's also a surprisingly heavy amount of nudity at times, which makes you wonder exactly who the target audience for this was intended to be.
Super Soul Brother first popped up on VHS back in the '80s from Xenon, clocking in at 77 minutes and featuring a very weirdly framed transfer. Apparently this was composed for 1.85:1 but shot open matte with all of the extraneous info at the top, which means over a third of the screen was filled at the top with dead space including blank ceilings and other compositionally pointless elements that made it a baffling viewing experience throughout. On top of that it was still significantly cropped on the left side, throwing the whole thing even further off balance.
The 2015 bare-bones DVD release from Vinegar Syndrome improves significantly on the visual front with a correctly framed transfer and a radically superior color scheme, restoring the garish '70s decor to something close to its original intensity. That said, the 35mm source print from the American Genre Film Archive definitely shows signs of wear with green scratches and jumpy splices proliferating on and off throughout; the opening few minutes and the safe-lifting sequence are the biggest casualties, resulting in a final running time nearly three minutes shorter than the Xenon one. No actual scenes appear to be missing, just a few lines of dialogue and some damaged reel changes, but completists may want to hang on to their VHS tapes... well, just because. The lengthy cast credits have also been restored back to the original place kicking off the end credits as opposed to the Xenon version, which tacked them on at the beginning after a video-generated opening title card.