“Doctah, I’m a lesbian. Can you cure me?”
Vinegar Syndrome moves a few steps back from its recent focus on 70’s hardcore classics and one off period obscurities towards classic grindhouse auteurist cinema with their latest release.
Tackling for the first time the less salubrious portion of the back catalogue of the inimitable Roberta Findlay, we get a pairing of hard-R softcore and straight up hardcore adult pictures, one from the very start of her adult film career, the other smack dab in the middle of same and featuring several ‘name’ commodities to its credit.
First up is The Altar of Lust, starring the improbably monikered “Erotica Lantern”. Amusingly, the voice overs for the psychiatrist and her patient are (quite obviously) performed by Michael and Roberta Findlay themselves!
Their thick New Yawk accents and disinterested, flat delivery add unintended humor to lines like this:
“Vivica, are you certain he held no animal attraction for you?”
(Dreamily) “No. He was loathsome. (Testily, with growing annoyance) I told you that. What kind of detail must I go into? Why won’t you believe me? (Without missing a beat) I guess I’ll have to tell you.”
Our heroine, a not entirely unattractive but somewhat hangdog bottle blonde with a nice body (picture a less freakish Lady Gaga, I guess) climbs rocks in a great pair of knee high white go-go boots and see-through white lace panties (there’s a hideous floral print mini too, but it’s better not visualized).
Some old wino with a face weathered by gin blossoms (longtime Doris Wishman cameraman C. Davis Smith) chases after her, strips her, and bites down on her nipples a bit too hard. We get to see his flabby white ass jiggle more than we ever really needed to, and he faux-humps away at her pathetically while making bizarre faces. I found myself concentrating a lot on her gold choker during this sequence, just for sanity’s sake.
Seriously, take my word for it – he may give an amusing joint commentary with Doris on the old Elite disc for A Night to Dismember, but visually? This guy is truly nauseating.
She finds herself ‘for the first time in her life, truly happy’ with a pre-mustachioed Harry Reems, who unlike the repulsive drunk does actually feel her up before once again dry humping oddly and showing far more of his hairy ass than any man need ever be exposed to. Boy, Roberta really does dig missionary, huh? At least she does some hilariously bored moaning and undercranks the film when ‘Erotica’ finally takes top. Is this film supposed to be funny?
Things finally move towards an X rating in the shower scene, where they’re definitely going at it for real, feeling and soaping each other up while Harry gets visibly aroused. But wait, they’re fake humping again. What the…? And what’s with those goofy duck faces he’s making, or the mediocre acid rock song playing throughout?
So Harry’s a two-timer, and she catches him with a less appealing Swedish blonde named ‘Marie’ (Suzy Mann) who pulls ‘Erotica’ into a three way…oh, wait, ‘Marie’ just kicked Harry out, triggering some homosexual panic and gender role confusion in our heroine as well as blowing a good 15 minutes of running time.
Harry and ‘Erotica’ go to a ‘party’ in an empty apartment. Oh, wait, here comes the owner ‘Linda’ (Laura Cannon), a rather middling redhead who immediately goes at it with ‘Erotica’, while Harry gets a free show from an attractive ‘belly dancer’ (‘Ariana Blue’) who looks a bit like 80’s coke fiend porn starlet Aja – she’s definitely the best looking thing in this film.
You know, laws back then were pretty screwed up. There may be no actual penetration (the faces and motions are really fake), but Harry definitely is fingering and eating all these ladies…so is it hardcore or not? Whoa, hold up, our ‘belly dancer’ just gave Harry oral favors, no ambiguity about it.
“Jokingly, she said that she preferred me to her hairbrush.”
‘Erotica’ goes back to visit ‘Linda’, who’s diddling herself with her hairbrush. After the bad acid rock stops, we get treated to a very familiar CAM archives cue, which then morphs into a sort of jazz oddity with chimes, vibraphone, horns and fuzz guitar (probably more Italian film soundtrack goodness). ‘Linda’ continues to make weird faces like she’s crying as ‘Erotica’ diddles her.
Finally, our shrink (porn director F.J. Lincoln) violates his Hippocratic oath in time honored smoker tradition, humping our gender-confused heroine as more lousy acid rock blares. She doesn’t seem very excited by his ‘treatment’ until she hallucinates his being ‘Linda’. We get a few too many close ups at what appears to be glaring red sores all over his back, and the title card comes up – the end.
Angel on Fire (aka Angel No. 9) is a bit more standard for adult fare.
Well…standard may be pushing things a bit. Gone are the voiceovers, but things are still odder than usual. There’s no title card, for one thing. The girl (‘Carol’) humping our obnoxious ‘hero’ ‘Steven’ (Alan Marlow of Abduction of an American Playgirl) has some terrifyingly fucked up teeth that make her look vaguely like Clint Howard, for another. Then there’s the testy little fact that she tries to trap him into marriage by going off the pill…what the hell?!? Yes, instill real-world fear and sexual panic into your one handed, trenchcoat wearing scum theater audience…
Then “Mr. 10 1/2” Marc Stevens, who’s getting blown while driving, runs him down with his VW van (it’s pretty funny, you have to see it) and ‘Steven’ goes to heaven, where he gets to live out the plot of Switch, working out his penance by coming back to earth as a woman. Oh, but he gets to fuck an angel first. WTF?
There are a lot more name porn stars this time around – beyond Marlow and Stevens. You get Marlow’s Playgirl costar Darby Lloyd Rains, looking a whole lot thinner and more attractive here as a redhead, Sarno leading man Eric Edwards (also of Virgin and the Lover), Abigail Lesley herself, Jennifer Jordan, and the ubiquitous Jamie Gillis.
Once again, Rains’ main selling point is the fact that she actually seems to be enjoying herself (she even visibly gets off by herself under water jets in a shower!) but the difference between the relatively shapely, redheaded Rains on display here and the beefier, Janis Joplinlike blonde version of Abduction of an American Playgirl cannot be overemphasized – it’s amazing that the two films came a mere year apart.
Sooo…in his new body, ‘Steven’…er, ‘Stephanie’ (Rains) balls the guy who killed…uh, hir (Stevens), has some solo shower fun, gets it on with a bi-comfortable girlfriend of…er, Steven (the sadly uncredited ‘Linda’, a brunette who’s the best looking thing in the movie outside of Rains herself…not something I’d have expected to be writing after being introduced to her via her somewhat plainer and thicker set self in Abduction of an American Playgirl!).
We’re supposed to believe the scales of cosmic justice are balanced when ‘Stephanie’ gets involved with nasty horndog Jamie Gillis, who basically screws every girl in town, some even with her help, so desperate is she for him to like him (!). Things wrap up when we discover that not only can angels get it on with the dead, they can even do it with each other (!) and finally the film comes full circle with a repeat of the opening sequence, but with Gillis in the ‘Steven’ role this time around. He begs to get his original body back, and is told that he’s “earned his wings”, and that “your suffering is over and you are cleansed”. He gets it on one more time with Angel No. 9, and heavenly choral music plays to a shot of clouds in the sky. The end.
I am either the best or worst person to review films from Roberta Findlay.
As listeners to the podcast are well aware, I was one of the very few to get through her noted defensiveness and (apparent) disdain for her work’s audience to score a hilariously blunt and warm hearted career length interview with the lady herself.
Despite her oft-stated misgivings towards fans of her and her late husband Michael’s oeuvre, I found her to be quite personable and warm hearted, at least to a fellow New Yorker (as I often tell people in relation to that interview, I got the distinct impression I was going to get invited over for matzoh ball soup or something – it was that kind of virtual relationship).
Further, she has a healthy sense of bemusement at the various areas she (and Michael, whose films she claims to have had little input or involvement with) has tackled over the years – unashamed yet far from self-deluded as to the merit and impact of her work in the 60’s grindhouse/cult arena, her 70’s work in straight up porn, or her mid-70’s through mid-80’s horror work.
She was whip smart (oh, was she ever!) and quick with the wisecrack, but sweet and self effacing beneath it all. While I’ve interviewed many heroes and celebrities in the filmic and music arena over the past few years of the podcast, Roberta remains at the very top of the list for my favorite interviews (and interviewees).
As such, Vinegar Syndrome could put out any Findlay effort and get an assured thumbs up from my end – the simple fact is, I just love this lady and her films.
But when you’re dealing with cult film, there’s always a certain bias and level of familiarity and appreciation expected of the viewer, to remove oneself from the standard, programmed mindset that lies to the world at large that the pinnacle of filmic worth lies in how much money was spent in its creation, and achievement based on how closely they resemble the sainted explosion and CG-filled juvenalia that followed in the wake of the detestable duo of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who together created the “blockbuster” “event” film and thereby managed to sideline if not utterly destroy decades of auteurist, visionary independent film. Heroes? They should be vilified.
And in that light, every truly personal, idiosyncratic oddity falling outside and prior to studio run theatrical chains, mindless CG lightfest ‘roller coaster rides’ in lieu of plot, character and viewer engagement, can in itself be considered something precious, whatever its awkwardness and failings in execution.
Because it is in these very flaws, in the truest sense of camp, where viewers realize these efforts to be often laugh inducing, yet and still much beloved for their intrinsic oddness and specialness, that we see the basic absurdity, yet core loveablity, of the human condition.
And yeah, that’s why I love cult film.