Vinegar Syndrome digs up a somewhat obscure piece of my own misspent youth with their restoration and release of Eric Louzil’s Lust for Freedom.
Even those who may not remember catching this one on late night cable back in the day should recall Grim Reaper’s Rock You to Hell album, an unusually commercial effort containing the anthemic theme song for the film, whose entertaining video featured members of EZO (a Gene Simmons produced Americanized improvement on Japan’s Flatbacker, whose two albums were quite excellent examples of 80’s metal at its best) and the poofy haired British band itself performing inside the film’s prison set.
While it might have been nice to have said video appear here as an extra, it’s absence is hardly a deal breaker. Despite this, Reaper fans should be quite happy, as both that track and the album’s title cut are played more or less in full throughout the course of the film (with nearly the entire soundtrack in fact consisting of these two songs played several times over!)
Louzil, whose in his simultaneous role as producer was responsible for both slasher oddity Shadows Run Black and one of the best of the ‘heavy metal horrors’, Mark Freed’s Shock ‘Em Dead (which featured both a newly ‘straight’ Traci Lords and the crazed fretwork of Nitro’s Michael Angelo Batio), would go on to direct two sequels to Troma’s Class of Nuke ‘Em High and the Shannon Whirry Skinemax ‘erotic’ policier Fatal Pursuit, but it is this, his first venture behind the camera, for which he is best known.
Pretty if dumb Melanie Coll (in her sole filmic effort) is a lady cop who runs off after her fiancée is killed during a flubbed sting operation. Picking up a desperate hitchhiker while driving through the desert, she finds herself caught up in a frame that leaves her behind bars at a women’s correctional facility which serves as a front for snuff films(!). Worse, Warden Maxwell (Howard Knight) and his hulking Native American henchman Jud (the aptly monikered John Tallman) roam the highway actively recruiting for both prison and filming…
While hardly as campy as the Wendy O Williams Reform School Girls or as hilarious as Tim Kincaid’s Bad Girls Dormitory, Lust for Freedom is definitely one of the more entertaining WIP films of its era, chock full of loveably bad performances from single appearance nonactors. Outside of a brief but welcome effective cameo sequence with pretty porn starlet Crystal Breeze and prolific scream queen Michelle Bauer (nee McLellan), GLOW veteran and former roller derby regular ‘Queen Kong’ (Dee Booher, who’s even granted an in-house wrestling match here) is about the only recognizable name attached to the project, though Sherriff Coale (William Kulzer) may be familiar to Troma fans from other Louzil productions such as the aforementioned Shadows Run Black and Class of Nuke ‘Em High II.
With a bit less skin than usual (you get a topless scene or two and a quick shot of bush here and there, that’s about it), if you dig women in prison films, you know what to expect here. The 80’s variant, like most products of that strangely conservative, day-glo era, is simultaneously ridiculously cheesy and conversely quite entertaining. With no real sense of gravitas or underlying message, Lust for Freedom is all candy floss nonsense, with prisoners going around in tight fitting designer jeans and tank tops, blowing smoke in the faces of officialdom and spouting such brutally realistic prison lingo as “scumbucket!”
Like many low budget films of its era, the picture is marked by a strong grain content. Blown up from 16mm to theatrical 35mm, this is endemic to films of its ilk, and Vinegsr Syndrome provides as sharp an image as possible given the base limitations of the source material.
In a brief but informative extra, Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman points out how the Reagan presidency didn’t only kick off the long socioeconomic dissolution of our nation, deregulation of the banking industry, disempowering of the Sherman Anti Trust Act and FDA oversight (those being only a few of several major linchpins directly attributable thereto!), but even led to the abolition of cult, drive in and independent cinema!
Yes, you read that right – with the overturning of the Consent Decree of 1948, the Reagan Congress deregulated some anti-monopoly legislation that kicked off a sudden and pervasive major studio ownership of and chokehold on theatrical distribution and theater chains, allowing major Hollywood players to push their own product directly to the public while forcing out independent competition – local distribution networks, mom and pop theater owners.
With no place to peddle their wares, independent films get squeezed out, and those who produced them either move to the majors or find another line of work. Hello, emptyheaded, soulless ‘blockbuster’ effects-driven ‘cinema’…goodbye cult film of all stripe. That man has a LOT to answer for.
Regardless, the era was still responsible for a large number of enjoyable if scaled down straight to video offerings (which themselves would vanish sometime around 1993) of which Lust for Freedom (and more particularly, Louzin’s later works) can arguably be considered a part.
Those like myself who grew up on these sort of video store/late night and pay cable ‘masterworks’ should be delighted to see this one on DVD at last.