Porn auteur Carlos Tobalina takes a stab at the mainstream with FLESH AND BULLETS, a spectacular failure (actually two) that is nevertheless compulsively watchable.
Tired of robbing banks to pay his alimony, child support, mortgage, and his own expenses, Roy (Glenn McKay) heads to Vegas in order to make the takings of his latest last (hmm…) In the bar, he meets down-on-his-luck Jeff (Mac Morrow) who is also being sucked dry by his wife and has determined that the only solution is to kill her. Roy suggests that they kill each other's wives so that they each have an alibi for the crime, with Jeff using his marksmanship skills and Roy organizing an accident for Jeff's outdoorsy spouse. Both men have killed before, Roy massacring women and children in Vietnam and Jeff having executed the two homosexual wrestlers (DRACULA SUCKS' William Margold and Bill Lupo) who raped him; but to ensure that they each carry out their end, they each vow to kill the other should they fail. Jeff organizes an accidental meeting with Roy's wife Dolores (Cydney Hill) and her daughter Gina (Gina Tobalina) while Roy meets Jeff's wife Gail (Susan Silvers) in a seminar. Jeff quickly gets her into bed and discovers that not only is she not the "frigid bitch" Roy called her, but she is indeed the best lover he has ever had; and, as such, she deserves to live a little longer. Jeff also has the best sex ever with Gail and also connects with her son Billy, the son he never had. As both men find themselves falling in love with their intended victims, they are pressured into going through with the act or eliminating each other first. Jeff finds that he has an ideal suspect to frame when Dolores' rapist/stalker Don (Robert Z'Dar, MANIAC COP) threatens her, and Roy finds that a trip into the desert affords many opportunities for seeming death by misadventure; but can they go through with their agreement with golden opportunities for happiness within reach?
A modern take on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN without the clever characterizations, tense scripting, or playful performances (things usually devoid in Tobalina films), FLESH AND BULLETS has the setup of an adult film and delivers little T&A and an ending whose setting seems ideal for a film noir downer ending but instead "climaxes" as an expression of Tobalina's simultaneously new age-y and retrograde views of sexual bliss as social progress where partners (and their children in this case) are interchangeable so long as the sex is good. Scenes are drawn out and further elongated by narration when that time could be spent showing more skin (Tobalina seems not have done his research and cut the nudity down to the bone). Perhaps due to his mainstream ambitions for the film, it is more slickly and carefully shot than his porn productions, but there are many points where it could still be mistaken for a soft cut of a porn film (Dolores does not seem to enjoy sex at all as the sounds she makes during her love scenes with Jeff and her rape scene with Don sound exactly the same). The film is ultimately more interesting for what it was and what it became than as a thriller.
The film started out as THE WIFE CONTRACT with no names before Tobalina re-edited the picture, reshooting certain scene and adding others, top-billing blink-and-you'll-miss-it "special performances" by Yvonne DeCarlo (THE MUNSTERS) and Cesar Romero (BATMAN), as well as slightly beefier but superfluous bits by Aldo Ray (THE HAUNTED) and Cornell Wilde (THE NAKED JUNGLE) in his last role as cops apparently still investigating Jeff's murder of the wrestlers after ten years in two superfluous scenes that also feature model Bill Cable (Wakefield Poole's BIJOU) as a colleague. FLESH AND BULLETS also includes the participation of RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE's Mike Cartel and his wife Mari as, respectively, a dupe in the opening bank robbery and a hostess at one of the Vegas hotels (both also served as assistant directors). Sharon Kelly/Colleen Brennan (LADY DYNAMITE) also appears for a single-shot scene as a car rental agent.
Transferred and restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives, the anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) encode of FLESH AND BULLETS sports vivid colors during the Vegas night scenes and generally good detail (a few daytime exteriors look sport harsh shadows and highlights because they were rushed and shot without permit). The Dolby Digital 1.0 track is clean with flat sound effects but clear dialogue and some presence in the music (which may have been recorded "especially" for the film in stereo as mentioned on the advertising, but is mono here).
Besides the film's theatrical trailer (3:45), the disc includes as its major bonus the entire alternate original cut THE WIFE CONTRACT (97:03 versus FLESH AND BULLETS' 84:54) from a rare Dutch VHS release. The first notable difference is that the divorce decrees have been moved to the opening with the original judge actors who would be replaced by DeCarlo and Romero. The robbery also takes place before the credits, which now break up the scene between Roy and his hooker (Mai Lin, UNDULATIONS). The hotel room conversation between Roy and Jeff goes on a bit longer, including an appearance by Tobalina himself as a porter. Other scenes feature slight extensions and sometimes more leisurely transitions. One of two major differences is an entire sequence in which Jeff stalks Dolores with a rifle as she takes Gina to school and is stopped by a motorcycle cop (Michael Andrew) on the way home takes place mid-way through FLESH AND BULLETS but is logically placed in the third act of THE WIFE CONTRACT since Jeff realizes he cannot go through with the killing because he loves her. The other difference is the complete lack of an investigation into Jeff's murder of the wrestlers (these scenes seem to have been added to the FLESH AND BULLETS version for Ray and Wilde since there is no equivalent with other actors in this earlier cut). The image is fullscreen and, of course, looks weaker than the HD master, but it appears to be the only source for this version. There is a trace more hiss in the Dolby Digital 1.0 digitization of the tape audio. The burnt-in Dutch subtitles are unobtrusive, being left justified and utilizing slim lettering. (Eric Cotenas)
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