I recall seeing some portion of Sugar Cookies a few years back on a VHS dupe, pan and scan Troma release, and being wholly unimpressed. I found it dull, pointless and decidedly undersexed – opinions that certainly retain some measure of validity even now. But whether due to (greatly) improved visual clarity and color or a more unedited print this time around, I can finally see some merit to the film’s longstanding cult status.
In fact, I downright enjoyed it.
Warhol Factory regular, Velvet Underground stageshow domme and Silent Night, Bloody Night starlet Mary Woronov stars in what is very likely her sexiest role, self assured and very much in control of all the other characters throughout. Adorned in one elegantly slinky number after another and more undressed on film more than she ever would be again, she nearly approaches the great Audrey “Olga” Campbell with her performance and demeanor here.
The stunning Lynn Lowry (The Crazies, I Drink Your Blood, Shivers) brings her willowy and ethereal, almost otherworldly hippie fawn schtick to play, and gets naked…a lot (though admittedly, there’s not enough full frontal for my tastes). She even gets to tap into the Woronov school of costumerie a bit – check out that outfit when they head out on the town! Sadly, they’re actually out shopping for clothes, which results in her modelling some perfectly hideous flouncy outfits more suited for a suburban Tupperware party. I mean, really. What she already had on looked stunning. What the hell were you thinking?!?
After a weirdly hypnotic (but horribly sung and saddled with stupid lyrics) theme song by Kaufman and someone named Gershon Kingsley, we join “Alta’ (Lowry in a horrid wig) and her weird boyfriend Max (George Shannon, a seedier cross between The Mod Squad’s Michael Cole and Beware! The Blob director Larry Hagman) who gets off on playing full chamber Russian roulette and using a pistol as a phallic substitute. For no logical reason whatsoever, he blows her head off, and then does the news report about her “suicide”(!)
Max has a hot blonde secretary, all legs and breasts. Damn, she looks familiar… Good Lord, it’s Jennifer Welles!?! She’d go on to be more of a straight up cougar porn star for the MILF crowd in later years, but the woman is so vastly more attractive here in her apparent prime that it’s actually hard to believe we’re discussing the same person.
On the flip side, he also appears to have been involved with the horrifyingly grotesque, drag queen-esque Monique van Vooren (Flesh for Frankenstein), so there’s no accounting for this guy’s taste. On the one hand, Lowry (even despite the fright wig) and the young Welles. On the other…(shudder).
Woronov’s fellow Warhol hanger-on Ondine pops up for a bit part as Woronov’s live-in pal Roderick (“Camilla, this’d better be quick, I’m cooking a souffle!”), and there’s a weird comedy subplot with a fat guy named Gus (Daniel Sador), who we have to watch doing stair climbing exercises, showering, and sleeping with a really skanky hooker while in drag. He even gets his own Kaufman/Kingsley theme song, “big Gus, an all-American man”, that plays throughout. Once again, you have to ask: what the hell were they thinking?
Before long, our two leads are running around in matching outfits and getting just a lit-tle too close, if you catch my drift. There’s a somewhat Image-like sequence where Woronov orders Lowry to go naked…well, topless, anyway, for Max in an outdoor garden. Doesn’t hold a candle to the roses and grapes of Metzger and Rebecca “Mary Mendum” Brooke, but still suggestively kinky and a much appreciated nod to more refined tastes.
In the end, Woronov gets her way and flits off cloaked through the city streets, looking for all the world like Peter Murphy of Bauhaus…
Director Theodore Gershuny was actually married to Woronov, which is probably why the two films she actually came off best in were both under his aegis (the other being the aforementioned Silent Night, Bloody Night). There’s a lot of that laid back, early 70’s hippie head film vibe to the proceedings, sort of like Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary without the horror. If you’ve seen that, Death by Invitation or Silent Night, Bloody Night, you know the exact kind of sleepy feel to expect here.
Gershuny has a strong eye for location and aesthetics, with some truly stunning spreads and furnishings (like those absolutely groovy capsule chairs…). Hardwood flooring, plush shag rugs, stained glass windows, wood paneling, crushed velvet upholstery and furniture, fireplaces, statuary, lush and abundant indoor greenery and even a castle setting. If I had the kind of money to fund it in today’s absurdly skewed economic climate, this would be the sort of place I’d be residing in, without hesitation.
Beyond the two Kaufman/Kingsley numbers, they keep playing some ersatz take on folk standby “sally go round the roses” by a mediocre bubblegum act…Pentangle’s version this ain’t. To Gershuny’s further credit, he apparently despised that horrible song about Big Gus and the insipid lyrics Kaufman came up with for the theme (no telling what he thought of the faux-folk number, though I have my suspicions). Ted, you’ve certainly got class…
Practically a mumblecore prototype, this is the sort of film where there’s almost no actual plot to speak of, but an inordinate amount of characterization. Think of it as the flipside mirror image of today’s Hollywood – instead of brainless CG explosions and constant “action” without build or attention to actual character and subtext, this is all the latter with almost zero of the former.
If I had to choose between the two, I’d take the Sugar Cookies approach any day. Even so, be aware that outside of an hour and a half spent focused on a bunch of odd characters’ respective interrelationships, there’s really not a lot going on here. Yeah, there’s two murders. But when it comes down to brass tacks, the fact is that nothing actually happens. While eminently watchable, it’s really no surprise the film more or less tanked at the time of release.
Once again, Vinegar Syndrome takes the weird expedient of splitting the extras between the Blu-ray and the DVD, which must frustrate the hell out of buyers who haven’t made the switch to Blu yet. Even as a multi-format viewer I find this ridiculous – why do I even need the DVD, if I can play Blu, and why the hell do I have to put in BOTH just to see all the extras? It’s a mild inconvenience, but somewhat absurd, given the space capabilities of Blu.*
*I’ve been informed, somewhat to my surprise, that to mirror the DVD (which did in fact contain all three of the extras) would indeed compress the film proper in its HD-Blu format. I guess this is why Vinegar Syndrome’s releases tend to be so much crisper and more vivid than most similar labels…
There’s an extra (in fact the only one on the Blu) with Lynn Lowry where she admits to being a “hot tamale”, talks about shaving her bush (sheesh!) and how she doesn’t think she overacted in the film (cough). Most bizarrely, Lowry actually makes the straight from outer space assertion that she doesn’t think the film is about lesbians(!)
Over on the DVD are both Woronov and cowriter/producer Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman goes on and on about ‘discovering’ and hitting on Lowry, his family’s politics (which apparently failed to rub off on him…) and how he knew the young Oliver Stone would either “be an axe murderer or cure cancer”. He also claims to be the only scriptwriter, with Gershuny only being credited as cowriter due to some disputes in post production. According to Kaufman, the interiors were all done in Kaufman’s mother’s loft and that of a neighbor of theirs, which says a hell of a lot about the man’s financial background…a later mention of his father’s law firm representing them against a welching distributor seals the impression.
The crass, brassy Kaufman does show himself to be surprisingly savvy in at least one aspect of his filming style, though, in that he always films sex scenes first to avoid actresses balking at nudity last minute. Not exactly the sort of forethought you’d associate with the guy behind Tromeo and Juliet and Class of Nuke ’em High…
Woronov is only onscreen for 5 minutes or less, where she’s given a comparatively half-assed interview by Kaufman himself (complete with some guy in a Toxic Avenger suit lurking behind the couch). But the lady does drop a few zingers, sharing the viewers’ disbelief that the film Gershuny informed her he was “writing just for her” turns out to be about a murderous lesbian (“I mean, why didn’t he write something…nice?”). Even more jaw dropping to her than that is the fact that he further put himself in the film nude (“with black socks on, pretending to screw a hooker!”). You have to guess that this film’s part and parcel of why they’re not still a happy couple…
Kaufman then proceeds to rather crassly imply this was all OK, as the lady was well experienced in real life “Sapphic eroticism”. He then follows this choice bon mot with a disbelieving “you were never a lesbian?!?”. Woronov, admirably unfazed by all this lowbrow badgering and insinuation, blows this one right out of the water (“I don’t like tits, for one thing!”). Damn, I’m liking this lady more and more as we go along (insert hearty laugh here)…
The final verdict? Forget it came, at least in part, from the pen of the clown behind the rather déclassé, often disgusting and consistently lowbrow Troma films, and don’t expect much in the way of plot or character development.
Just enjoy the languid atmosphere, lush and Decadent sets and fairly kinky vibe as you spend an hour or so in the presence of three reasonably elegant, unquestionably attractive ladies.
Ignore the astronomically less impressive cast of (mostly male) oddballs, weird failed attempts at comedy (hello, ‘Gus’) and generally terrible soundtrack (if the theme were left as an instrumental, that would be the only decent portion!), and settle in for a relaxing and welcome window back into more interesting times.