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It’s that time of month once again, and June’s adult double bill from the mighty Vinegar Syndrome features two films directed by John Hayes, also known for his Something Weird style oddities Dream No Evil, Fandango and Jailbait Babysitter.

Now, without question, Hayes is probably most (in)famous for the entertaining hippie-zombie film Garden of the Dead and the weird but quite enjoyable Michael Pataki horror Grave of the Vampire.  But like more than a few exploitation filmmakers of the era, he had a brief second career in adult film as “Howard Perkins”.

And at least one of them’s a real doozy.

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After leaving the craptastic Bill Cosby Sidney Poitier ‘comedy’ Let’s Do It Again (‘with Jimmie Walker!’ The marquee trumpets…*) Rosemary (Sharon Thorpe) and longsuffering boyfriend John (John Leslie) are, quite understandably, doomed…

*one of a pair of films the duo did which more or less represent the Jell-O Pudding Pops of blaxploitation…

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While not wholly unattractive, with her whiny Rita Rudneresque voice and Silvia Plath meets Gloria Stienem demeanor and dress sense combined with a set of enormous hips and a somewhat awkwardly disproportionate build, Thorpe is an unlikely choice for a lead, to say the least.

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After doing her damnedest at talking Leslie out of taking a job in law enforcement, the music turns all creepy.  Rosemary is going to stare at herself in the mirror and talk to herself.

“it was such a nightmare to be a child.  Now I’m the adult.  Yes.
Sex is always so degrading, so unclean.  I’ll teach my girls all the good things. To be pure in mind and body.”

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Nursing a pair of blue balls, our hero heads to what appears to be the same stairwell and apartment building from a reverse angle.  But this time “Rosemary” is a different, identically dressed person (the stunning Leslie Bovee), one who’s as oversexed and lascivious as Thorpe was prudish and standoffish.

Turns out ‘John’ was appropriately named, as he’s a regular for a hooker who keeps a closetful of Rosemaryesque outfits in stock just for him.  Picture just how much money she must be making off this guy, to go that far…

John, you see, gets his jollies by balling a substitute, one who has to pretend she’s his screwed up girlfriend, right down to the evening’s clothing…  Casting all semblance of logic to the wind, it’s actually a fun and filthy scene, with a lot of dirty talk, something Leslie would make into something of a specialty of his over the years.  In the end, he throws a few dollars at the poor girl and leaves her hanging, despite her literally begging for more.

Did I mention she’s got a bizarre character name?  Seriously: not Eunice (which would have been odd enough, unless you’re talking 90 year old women…), but “Unis”.  So I guess instead of Unus the Untouchable, consider her Unis the Very Touchable…

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“Excuse me for asking, but are you a nun or something like a nun?  Well, the way you dress, plain.  Most of the nuns dress like that nowadays.  They’ve given up the habit.”

Rosemary goes to visit her father, but his apartment is empty.  A sleazy couple (Ken Scudder and Monique Cardin) show up claiming to be bringing the results of an impromptu photo session with her photography crazed parent, but whoops!  They’re dirty pictures.  Guess what happens next.

Hilariously, the guy is overdubbed by a much older man, presumably either the director or producer, who urges Rosemary in a thick, gravelly and phlegm-soaked New Yawk accent to “suck da juice right outta her!”.  It’s like Ben Grimm and the Yancy Street Gang dropped in on the filming of a porno, it’s that bad.  He keeps this up throughout the scene, much to the amusement of anyone viewing.

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“Tracy and Marsha are members of a cult group who believe that all of life is sexual.  Of course, I don’t share their beliefs.”

Leslie does in fact become a cop (in apparently record time!) and meets up with newly minted teacher-at-a-girls’-school Rosemary.  He also gets to meet two of her “prime girls” (Candida Royalle and Melba Bruce), who stop mid-introduction to drop to their knees and start chanting a pagan prayer about getting laid(!)

This is where the film starts getting really trippy, as they all attend a funeral where the mortician looks like Dick Cavett (the amusingly pseudonymous John Seeman).  After a Sisters of Death-style pagan ritual of sorts from our sex cult sorority sisters, the two give the undertaker a case of rigor mortis-style stiffness and he embalms them accordingly.  The blonde (Melba Bruce) is kind of cute.

This gets Leslie all hot and bothered, and he gets to dry hump Rosemary at last.  Yep, you read that right: just a dry hump, that’s all she’ll allow.  But then she’ll go right back to the sleazy guy that raped her (Scudder again) for another round or two.  She even lets the guy go when Leslie comes around to ‘save’ her and Scudder chokes the rookie into submission!  Then she goes so far as to start getting it on with her weird cultist students…yeah, she either really hates the poor schmuck, or she’s got serious issues.

Papa Emeritus wants some, too.

Papa Emeritus wants some, too.

Eventually it devolves into a hallucinatory “fantasy” piece where Rosemary imagines the entire cast coming together literally and figuratively for a mortuary-set orgy where our Cavett clone comes in full face Ghost makeup and we get to see a nice closeup of Thorpe’s rather nasty C-section scar.  Bizarre.

Paying strong attention to setting and aesthetics, Hayes moves from set to set, indoors and outdoors with the same visual flair and panache.  There’s even a nice reverse tracking zoom when Rosemary visits the funeral parlor near the end, and some quirky handheld work which, while thankfully used sparingly, certainly takes risks.  Taken all together, it shows Hayes to be a cut above the standard, both directorially and cinematographically speaking.

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In all, Hayes delivers one of the hotter films we’ve seen from the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome to date, with plenty of kink, noticeable but restrained humor and pretty girls (particularly Bovee and Bruce). What more can you ask for?

Next up, another “Howard Perkins” effort from two years later, Hot Lunch (which also comes with alternate scenes from the “soft” version – a bizarre affectation you’d occasionally encounter with some of the more plot driven porn of the period).

Unfortunately, this one has almost nothing in common with the odd but rather enjoyable Baby Rosemary.

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Basically the story (such as it is) follows a young, balding schlub (Jon Martin) through one low-paying job after another.  There’s also some business about our lead female (Brigit Olsen) cutting a deal with a rich lady who digs orgies.  It really doesn’t matter.

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With more middling to downright unattractive, foul mouthed women than even the storied Sadie, there’s not much to recommend here, unless you’ve always wanted to see hardscrabble women diddling each other with cooking implements (wooden spoons, rolling pins, cake basters, the more ridiculous the better).

For some reason, Hayes retains the freakish character name of “Unis”, this time essayed by a rather more butch than usual Sharon Kane (who I recall sorta liking in the 80’s…).  Desiree Cousteau’s in the cast, but her hair’s more short and frizzed out than Anni-Frid Lyngstad circa Waterloo.  And if that coiffure faux pas doesn’t make you shudder, nothing will…

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At least lead Brigit Olsen isn’t too bad to look at, though she only gets naked for one scene and has a deep nasally voice that offsets her appeal somewhat.

There’s not a hell of a lot more to say about this one, except to note that Hayes retains (and even improves upon) his aesthetic sense, with a few absolutely gorgeous and well appointed spreads on display and the same nice mix of interior and exterior footage.

yeah, it's another picture of Olsen.  Trust me, she's the only thing worth seeing here.

yeah, it’s another picture of Olsen. Trust me, she’s the only thing worth seeing here.

Bottom line is, get it to ooh and ahh at Hayes’ surprisingly strong visual aesthetic and occasionally showy camerawork, and for the freaky but rather erotic Baby Rosemary.  Just consider that other stinker on the disc a freebie bonus.

Yeah, Hot Lunch seriously sucks, on nearly every level.  But taken as a package with its far superior lead piece?  This one’s still well worth checking out.

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