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DVD_MOCKUP

Vinegar Syndrome continues to sift through a seemingly endless cache of interesting obscurities with their release of two cult costume epics from the early 1970s, available on either limited edition Blu-ray or standard DVD.

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“Don’t be so rough, be patient, I’m not an animal.”
“Once I get through with you, you will be.”

First up, we have the more worthy of the two rediscoveries: the Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio by one Eric Jeffrey Haims (presumably no relation to late 80’s teenage posterboy Corey). 

An early 70’s, somewhat oversexed take on a turn of the century costume epic crossing softcore erotica with ostensible horror, the film is grounded in a very Andy Milliganesque milieu, albeit minus Milligan’s flair for nasty, gossipy dialogue and amazingly dysfunctional familial relations.

After rambling on about “famous sadists” both literary and real as credits roll (for a good 5 minutes, mind), our narrator appears onscreen in period dress to tie all this unrelated historical and fictional ballyhoo in to split personality disorder, or as Haims would have it, “Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome”.

A nice old hotel doubles for the “Florence Nightingale Institute” (marked off by a piece of plywood with that designation written in script), where prospective nurses are put through such rigorous on the job training as watching gruesome animal vivisection and having endless flings in the (literal) hay with members of the staff and each other.  At least in terms of the second part of the job description, nice work if you can get it…
 
Our first scenario features a pretty blonde in a terrible old lady wig and afflicted with a Sandy Duncan vocal tonality being forced to strip in front of a leering and self-frugging head nurse.  As our auto-manipulative matron notes (and as will be hammered home subsequently), the head of this particular institution is rather particular about what his employees wear.  But think about it.  If you had this sort of power over your distaff employees, would you really have them dress up in frumpy full body peasant dresses?
 
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We attend an all female biology class run by Dr. Mark Carter (John Terry), where he vivisects a frog in closeup, Rene Cardona style (shades of Night of the Bloody Apes!) for a seemingly endless several minute period.  There’s no real reason for this narrative detour other than to provide a bit of grossout action for the punters.  In point of fact, with an obsessive attention to this sort of high school biology level grossout, we’re treated to lingering closeup footage of the aforementioned frog dissection and vivisection not once, but several times throughout the course of the film.  “When I sin, I sin real good,” to quote Glenn Danzig…
 
Getting back to the actual story (you mean there’s been a story thus far?!?), the rather Tod Slaughteresque Dr. Cabala (clearly not one to hide his malevolence) and partner Dr. Boges (Mady Maguire) are visited by Det. Kinkaid (scriptwriter Donn Greer) to investigate the opening credits (if offscreen) murder of nurse in training Janet Pender (Cathie DeMille) by pitchfork.
 
A dull tryst between Garr Lang (Duane Grace) and one of the girls is spied upon by an exaggeratedly drooling Moss (the pseudonymous “Hump” Hardy) before the scene is thankfully cut off by murder.  Shortly thereafter, Cabala, Boges and Kinkaid walk in on a stairwell scene between a top hatted, mustachioed “prize pupil and reincarnation of Florence Nightingale” June Gemini (ubiquitous cult film and hardcore starlet Rene Bond, whose surname is mispronounced “Jimeenee” throughout) and a turn of the century showgirl-lingerie bedecked Amber Van Buren (Nora Weiternik, whose thick Dutch accent leaves her coming off like some freakish cross between Uschi Digart and Arnold Schwarzenegger).  They’re rather conveniently rehearsing for a staging of the play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…

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In the end, the killer falls on one of their own murder weapons, our narrator reappears to deliver the worst impression of Mr. Hyde ever caught on film, and credits roll.  
 
Operating in a very similar vein to both Milligan and Pat Boyette’s Dungeon of Harrow, this is all period fetish, ridiculously campy overacting and canned music, with a bit of skin thrown in to the mix for good measure. 

Adorned with a no-budget soundtrack and repertory theater costumerie, this is so Milligan it hurts, while reveling simultaneously in the sort of pseudo-viscera of Pat Patterson’s Dr. Gore (or perhaps even Herschell Gordon Lewis, but it never quite approaches that level of care and quality(!) and a cast of highly oversexed types allowing for plenty of nudity and more lesbo groping action than a viewer can ever possibly snore their way through.

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In parts feeling like an attempt at Italian gothic, plotwise there’s next to nothing to find or discuss: it’s all about atmosphere.  Marketed on what passed for “sex” and “gore” at the time (mainly topless closeups of gracelessly mauled mammaries and “tastefully filmed” missionary position, offset by repulsive animal vivisection footage and a few gallons of red paint), all the film really has to offer a modern audience is its camp tomfoolery and a nigh-AIP feel modulated by what must have been a 65 dollar budget.

Bond, being the only cult star of note herein, never appears quite as luscious as she would in films like Ed Wood and Stephen Apostolof’s Fugitive Women, Greg Valtierra’s Teaser, Lew Guinn’s Country Hooker or Carl Monson’s Please Don’t Eat My Mother.  Hampered perhaps by some awful, frumpy maid dresses cum prison shifts, she seems pudgier and more auburn or brunette than her usual vivaciously cute redheaded self. 

Be aware that even on Blu, this is a very grainy print, with flickering light and print damage to show for its age and state of neglect over the intervening decades.  But as always, Vinegar Syndrome provides what is likely the only opportunity viewers would ever have gotten to revisit these long forgotten grindhouse gems of yore, much less cleaned up and processed to the extent we see here, so we can count ourselves lucky to have it in such relatively good condition as we see here.

As a fan of this sort of drive in grindhouse fare, I found Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio quite enjoyable in its bizarrely naive mix of sex and horror.  Hailing from the early ’70’s but feeling very much like it was produced a full decade prior, if you take away the reprehensible animal cruelty bits, it’s good seedy fun all around. 

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Next up, we get another of the literal handful of films helmed by Haims, A Clockwork Blue.  Haims also produced this one alongside his wife Shelley, who wrote the somewhat schmaltzy theme song. 

The star of the production is one Joe E. Tata, a longtime television bit player who gives his best Jerry Lewis impression here as “Homer” and amazingly continued his career unimpeded by his appearance herein…

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Once again, we have our pal Donn Greer on hand, both onscreen as a somewhat beefy Julius Caesar and behind the scenes, credited for “Art Works”.  Rene Bond returns, this time with fellow hardcore starlet Suzanne Fields (billed here as “Susannah Fields”) in tow, as does Mady Maguire.  Terri Bond is back as production assistant, and perhaps tellingly, given the film’s decided borscht belt leanings, editing and post production are by a Schlomo Bina(!)  Better yet, the film was executive produced by an “Al Hard”…the credits alone are amusing on this one…

Apparently the production was handled by the Sopranos, as the crew includes the likes of “Big Joe” Sullivan, “Papa Joe”, “Dodgie”, Mickey “K” and “Hots” Mullins.  Umm…yeah.  I saw nothin’. 

An absurdity structured to showcase somewhat outdated (and often quite ‘politically incorrect’) Catskill Mountains style borscht belt humor, A Clockwork Blue revolves around mama’s boy Homer (Tata) who discovers a pocket watch time machine.  Suddenly it’s a sort of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where he meets such historical figures as Paul Revere, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame DuBarry, Anne Boleyn (Rene Bond), Erik the Red, Caesar (Greer) and Cleopatra.

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There’s a few small hardcore inserts, at least in the limited edition Blu- ray version, but they’re really nothing to write home about, so the decision on format, should you have the opportunity to snap up the Blu, should lie more on your feelings on Blu vs. DVD than the chance to see a few quick if prurient frames extra.  For those keeping count, the films clock in at 1:21:41 and 1:26:28 on the Blu vs 1:21:41 and 1:26:23 on the DVD.  Now, I could’ve sworn there was more than 5 seconds of inserts, but there you have it…

Naturally, Jekyll looks a hell of a lot better on Blu, as does Clockwork.   But regardless of which format you choose and unlike the lead feature, the picture on A Clockwork Blue is in good enough shape to pass either way, with the picture being quite clear and colors especially vibrant. 

Regardless of how silly and outdated the humor may be, the whole affair is all so broadly arch and tongue in cheek that it’s impossible not to crack a smile now and again (a particularly fey Brutus commenting on a Caesarean orgy proves especially amusing).

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The ladies are unusually attractive for a production like this, with an apparently unnamed blonde Leslie Ann Down type in the Betsy Ross sequence, Priscilla Alden (Mady Maguire) and Cleopatra (Shannon West) being particular standouts.  There was clearly a larger budget than usual for this sort of thing, most of it being spent on the costuming, which is of an atypically high standard.

Unlike similar efforts such as the recently released Russ Meyer-helmed Fanny Hill and Albert Zugsmith’s the Phantom Gunslinger, this film, while eminently forgettable, is reasonably likeable in its own off-kilter right. 

While certainly nothing to write home about, when paired with the more interesting Jekyll & Hyde Portfolio, a Clockwork Blue is worth a look to fans of the sort of higher budget costume softcore epics Harry Novak was so fond of. 

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