Vinegar Syndrome ports and upgrades another Troma release, the grim 1972 proto-slasher Pigs.
Very 70’s-style drifter cum hitchhiker Lynn Hart (Toni Lawrence) just so happens to wind up looking for a job and a place to stay in the smalltown diner and pig farm (!) run by former circus clown and tightrope walker Zambrini (Marc Lawrence).
While locals like the concerned Sheriff Cole (Jesse Vint) try to warn her the man’s a bit off, she’s having none of it, and continues to both work for him and sleep under his roof. But the story flips rather quickly, when she’s groped by a sleazy construction worker who gives her a lift (Erik Holland), and while we’re never actually shown her approaching the guy for a follow up date (!), she winds up bedding and killing the guy in very short order.
But lest any aggro-feminist types attempt to put some sort of female revenge angle on the film, this line of thinking goes nowhere fast, dropped in favor of a far more linear and obvious familial insanity narrative, with a last minute “twist” that only would have worked if we weren’t shown the aforementioned killing (and a certain rather broadly and regularly hinted-at relationship) more or less right off the bat…
I’d been exposed to Pigs many years ago, thanks to a much-regretted Netflix rental (remember when they used to send DVDs to your house in the mail?), and to say the least, I did not care for it.
Here, Vinegar Syndrome ups the ante somewhat by combining a few prints and release edits of the film in conjunction with director’s daughter and (co)starlet Toni Lawrence to recreate Lawrence the elder’s original vision for the film, and as such, it is admittedly a very different view, subjectively speaking.
While the story continues to have more holes than a well aged Emmentaler Swiss cheese, at least now it seems more watchable as a middling “yeah, this one was released too” sort of film in the early 70’s rural horror subgenre (which arose in the wake of the then-prevalent move among hippies to “find America”, only to run afoul of some rather reactionary smalltown Midwestern and Southern attitudes towards their “new values” and aesthetic).
As grotty and unpleasant as it is bucolic, and more of a metatextual comment on Lawrence building a film around himself and his daughter than any sort of early slasher, feminist statement or even coherent filmic narrative, Pigs is still an extremely problematic film on all but the most basic of levels.
But the fact that I could sit through and even, to some minor extent, appreciate it this time around says a lot for the efforts of Vinegar Syndrome and Ms. Lawrence – the original Troma release was one of my most detested (neo)slasher views ever, alongside the equally grubby (and subsequent to and in light of this restoration, far more unwatchable) S.F. Brownrigg Don’t…films.
Extras include an often amusing chat with likeable (and still attractive for her age) starlet Toni Lawrence, who talks about studying under Olympia Dukakis, how the film was a family affair (cowritten by her parents and both directed by and costarring her father!) and her father’s problems with the blacklist under the McCarthy witchhunts.
Then we get one with rather Norville “Shaggy” Rogersesque composer Charles Bernstein, where he mentions trading the score for a painting intended for Fellini (sabotaged by a misspelled dedication) and the recording of title cut “somewhere down the road” (which he also provides vocals for), followed by an audio only talk with cinematographer Glenn Roland.
The festivities close out with some alternate opens and closes, including a particularly amusing one for “blood pen”, which was released in the wake of William Freidkin’s decade-defining opus as “exorcism” or “love exorcism” and featuring Robert Simon (of the Amazing Spiderman TV series) as a Catholic priest (!) and a sorta-Lawrence lookalike in bad corpsepaint yelling “fuck me!” over and over without the slightest hint of conviction.
You also get trailers for the alternate release variants, each of which comes with far less grotty looking footage filmed in the mid to late ’70s and which feel like they would have made far more entertaining films than the original!
The bottom line is, your reaction to Pigs depends on a few things.
Have you seen it before? If so, and you have any interest whatsoever in revisiting the experience, this one does represent a definite upgrade from the prior iteration.
If not, are you really hardcore on collecting oddball films of this subgenre? If so, think something like the aforementioned Brownrigg films or Deranged – this is hardly the sort of primo drive in exploitation the 70’s were known for and capable of.
But as with more than a few of the Troma ports, while a decided visual (and in this case, overall) upgrade from the Kaufman release and spruced up with a few nice extras, Pigs remains a sort of bottom of the collection affair, and hardly the sort of thing for even cult film fans to get overly excited about.