Color, 1972, 86 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Michel Levesque
Starring Phyllis Davis, Ella Edwards, Timothy Brown, Pamela Collns, Cliff Osmond, Angus Duncan, Jackie Giroux, James Houghton, James Whitworth
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The 1970s was a hotbed of bad girls going to prison and getting into even worse trouble behind bars, and you'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite out of the many sordid epics pouring onto movie screens seemingly ever week. One title that's stuck in viewers' minds more than most despite its relative scarcity in recent years is Sweet Sugar, a particularly colorful entry that features snappier, nastier dialogue than most and a cavalcade of plot twists that hurl the story in directions you'll never see coming.
Sent to the slammer when the South American playmate she's picked up for the day offers her a joint and turns out to be an undercover cop, Sugar (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' Davis) is given a choice since she's already presumed guilty: wait a year for her trail, or take two years with a probable reduced sentence cutting sugar cane in the local fields. Soon she's chucked on the back of a truck along with some of the other best-dressed female convicts you'll ever see and shipped off to do hard labor under the unforgiving Costa Rican sun. There she strikes up a friendship with another inmate, Simone (TV vet Edwards), just in time as a new shipment of male forced labor arrives. Eventually it looks like handing all these women machetes might not be the greatest idea, even if they're at the mercy of the nefarious bubble bath aficiando Dr. John (Duncan), who lives in a swanky plantation with a big canopy bed and has a deal going with the local authorities to keep acquiring fresh meat for his unorthodox "ethno-pharmacology" experiments in his guest room.
Deliciously absurd and loads of fun, Sweet Sugar is clearly inspired by the recent Roger Corman hit The Big Doll House and bears a bit of a resemblance to the same year's The Big Bird Cage, including an outrageous bit involving a suspended cage and a raging fire. Davis really owns the film with her bitchy line deliveries and seductive screen presence, but the whole film is a tacky early '70s treat with the shortest shorts you've ever seen, machine gun battles, mad science, and other
Released theatrically by Dimension Pictures, Sweet Sugar went to VHS in the '80s from Continental Video (alongside several of the indie studio's other films like Terminal Island, also starring Davis) and was fairly difficult to track down for many years. In 2017, Vinegar Syndrome issued a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition with reversible cover options (the original poster or a new design by Derek Gabryszak) with an almost blindingly colorful transfer from the 35mm interpositive.
In addition to the theatrical trailer, you also get a new interview with screenwriter Don Spencer, "It's Love, Girl!" (13m1s), who also penned The Big Doll House and The Student Nurses. He chats about coming from USC and working with Stephanie Rothman, with his first job as a story analyst coming after completing his thesis and doing some work for TV pros at the time. He also confirms this was meant to cash in on the success of The Big Doll House and points out his favorite moments, including the "nude lesbian swim scene" and the memorable sex machine (which is totally cribbed from Barbarella, but it still works here). Incredibly, he also talks about this being shown on an airline(!), which sounds a lot more fun than what we get these days.
Reviewed on May 26, 2017