Vinegar Syndrome restores and upgrades a few offerings from legendary New York auteur Roberta Findlay.
Two of her very last (and consequently, arguably best non-“erotic” films before retiring from the film industry altogether, Prime Evil and Lurkers are so closely related as to share the same leading lady…and yet, an entirely different experience from one another.
Prime Evil follows not only prior Findlay horror efforts The Oracle and Blood
Sisters (and the colorfully gruesome urban survival opus Tenement, each of
which elicited several amusing anecdotes during our career-spanning interview a few years back), but the entire 70’s subgenre of satanic shockers (or if you prefer, Ira Levin-esque urban and rural paranoia films) that followed the success of Rosemary’s Baby.
A slightly nonsensical script revolving around the Brotherhood of Satan-like
concept of sacrificing “virgins” (all strangely decidedly adult ones, mind you) in exchange for extended (or “eternal”) life and riches, Prime Evil pulls in elements of nunsploitation (and To the Devil A Daughter in particular), with no less than two sexually abused young women who wind up consecrated as sacrificial lambs (one becomes a nun, the other is scarred by her youthful forced experiences into frigidity and fear of men per se, thus (ostensibly) explaining their “virginhood” well into their thirties).
As with To the Devil a Daughter (or for that matter, TV movie The Devil’s
Daughter), the satanic cult actually seems to be run by a Catholic priest, but it’s all a bit jumbled…and if the lead’s father is responsible for her situation, why is he made up (poorly) to look like an old (if rich) man? What happened to that “13 years of not aging”?
In any case, despite (or perhaps because of all the hammy dialogue, low rent puppetry, weird character bits, amateur theater declamatory line delivery and quirky comedy characters (what’s with the bit about the “young” hooker she takes in as a social worker case? The blonde junkie with a law degree whose idea of being in love is giving her boyfriend a manly enough punch in the arm to nearly knock him over? The cold coffee spewing cop sidekick? The dumpy, sex obsessed exercise partner? The list goes on, as do the (unintentional?) laughs), Prime Evil just works, at least for fans of grindhouse sensibilities, and Findlay in particular.
The cast seems to have been gathered from friends and locals…on both films, actually…so subpar is much of the acting, and so singular looking are most of the cast – it wouldn’t be all that far off to say Findlay’s casting on these two films was practically Felliniesque. But again, it all just adds to the fun and entertainment value, for those who can appreciate the cheese and campiness of cult cinema (particularly of that decade).
Lurkers is quite similar, but a bit of a letdown in its first half, revolving around the same frontwoman (Christine Moore), who this time is haunted by memories of her insane, murderous mother and the ghosts (or “lurkers”) who reside in her childhood apartment building.
As an adult, she works as a concert musician/cellist (which allows for a
cameo for Findlay’s domestic and financial partner Walter Sear and his studio SearSound – Sear also provides music and production on both films, as well as many others from her later career), but is prone to see ghosts at random intervals…and as with Prime Evil, her weird boyfriend (Gary Warner) is in on things with a sinister cult.
There are still some rather random moments (what’s with the ghostly rider they pick up at the park? How about the nutjob stalking his girlfriend with a
sledgehammer? The Latino street gang that threatens her silently for no
apparent reason?), but this one feels less template or married to a particular school of genre film like Prime Evil, and more of a quirky side note and addendum to the former film’s template. To quote Cheech & Chong, “Let’s make the same thing…but different, you know?”
Even so, Findlay knows how to make an apartment building…or the streets of New York, for that matter, look threatening (see also Tenement), and there are moments that almost work in a straight horror film scare sense (the party towards the end, the ghosts hovering around her bed, the aforementioned random weirdos and lunatics that pop out of the woodwork when she’s left alone by her childhood building).
Actually, there is a precedent for Lurkers. At least in its final act, the film quite directly brings 1977’s excellent The Sentinel to mind, complete with intimations of old folks with active sex lives, lesbian couples and BDSM (gasp! the horrors!), plus the suggestion that the building is a gateway to hell, populated by the spirits of the eternally damned – hell, there’s even a Catholic-related ending and suggestion of eternal circularity at the end…but with far less scares, eerie atmosphere or star power than its progenitor a decade prior. Even so, the denouement still works, even watered down and updated to the dayglo 80’s.
Vinegar Syndrome upgrades Rhino’s old Horrible Horrors release of these
Crown International pictures from their far muddier, grainier and lower contrast prints which ran 1:23:21 and 1:33:31, respectively – the new versions run 1:27:04 and 1:33:50 by way of comparison.
When it comes down to brass tacks, this one’s really all about Prime Evil. But if you like that film, then you’ll probably enjoy at least the second half of
Lurkers as well.
Hell, I always did.