FUGITIVE GIRLS (1974) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Stephen C. Apostolof (as A.C. Stephen)
Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome follows up ORGY OF THE DEAD with the sixth collaboration between A.C. Stephen and Ed Wood Jr. with their Blu-ray/DVD combo of FUGITIVE GIRLS, the fourth volume of their Sexploitation Signature series.

When her boyfriend (Joe Pepe, THE ZEBRA FORCE) knocks over a liquor store and shoots the owner, Dee (Margie Lanier) becomes hysterical and is shoved out of the car by him during the getaway. No one believes her story and she is sentenced to a desert correctional facility for women. After butch Kat (Tallie Cochrane, CANDY TANGERINE MAN) – who blew away her pimp after he turned her on to chicks – claims Dee and forcibly pleasures her, she decides to drag the fresh meat along with her on a prison break. They are accompanied by white trash Toni (Rene Bond, COUNTRY HOOKER) who robbed a bank with her boyfriend and stashed the loot, black Paula (Jabie Abercrombe) who castrated her pimp boyfriend, and dope smuggler Sheila (Donna Young, ZERO IN AND SCREAM) who are all being cut in for a share of Toni's loot. Dodging the guards and their dogs, the quintet fall in with a group of hippies lead by Presser (Douglas Frey, THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ZORRO) but their distaste for unwashed free love soon has them taking to road disguised as hippies in a car stolen from a motorist (Forman Shane, DROP-OUT WIFE) taken for a non-consensual ride by Toni and Paula. Stopping for gas at a remote airstrip, the women soon have more to worry about than the police when a bike gang decides to have some fun with them.

Not so much a women-in-prison film as a jail break flick that goes the DEFIANT ONES gender-flipping of Jack Hill's BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA one better by upping the count of escapees and adding lesbianism to the racial backbiting of Toni and Paula. Being a Stephen C. Apostolof film, the emphasis is on lengthy sex scenes – including Kat's oral rape of Dee – and plenty of opportunities for the escapees to casually disrobe amidst the chase like shaking out the lice-ridden hippie clothes. The fight scenes are rudimentarily-choreographed and much of the action feeble, but the film moves along at an adequate clip to move from one sex scene to the next. While Young, Lanier, and Abercrombe are decent enough performers when clothed, Cochrane and Bond are reliably entertaining as they are given room to go over the top as only they could in a girl gang film scripted by Ed Wood Jr. (PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE). A SCREAM IN THE STREETS' cross-dressing killer Con Convert plays one of the hippies.

Released theatrically by Apostolof's own company SCA Distributors in R- and X-rated versions, FUGITIVE GIRLS – also known as FIVE LOOSE WOMEN – became hard to see in the latter version during the video era with differing cuts released on tape as FUGITIVE GIRLS, HOT ON THE TRAIL, and WOMEN'S PENITENTIARY VIII. The uncut version even proved elusive for S'More Entertainment's release of the film separately and in the three-disc set THE LASCIVIOUS WORLD OF A.C. STEPHEN with DROP-OUT WIFE and LADY GODIVA RIDES. Restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer presents the fully uncut version looking virtually spotless, crisp, and colorful as much as is allowed by the original photography with well-lit interiors, sunny exteriors with harsh shadows, and seeming night-for-night shots and day-for-night shots that reveal enough of the goings-on without seeming unnaturally brightened. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track gets the job done with clear dialogue and likely library music tracks. Optional English SDH subtitles only resort to (mumbles) once or twice.

As with recent releases of Apostolof's and Wood's ORGY OF THE DEAD and Wood's THE VIOLENT YEARS, the film is accompanied by a new commentary by filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey. While Grey provides the Wood anecdotes and draws parallels between this film and THE VIOLENT YEARS for its girl gang theme, Henenlotter draws on an interview he conducted with Apostolof along with an unpublished one conducted by Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney. They suggest that the film might have been Stephens' attempt to get away from pure sex films since his last theatrical credits were R-rated films. They discuss what little they know of the shoot – the correctional facility being a Boy Scout camp – both the better- and less-known cast members, and boozers Wood and soundman Dick Damon (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) begging Apostolof to "accidentally" lock them in the liquor store location after filming. Also offered as an alternate track is an archival audio interview with actress Cochrane moderated by Casey Scott. Cochrane discusses her beginnings, including some harder-to-see hardcore works, her marriage to Patrick Wright (THE CHEERLEADERS), and anecdotes of varying levels of detail about a roster of on-camera and behind-the-scenes talent Scott throws at her. The phone interview audio quality requires amplification but it may lend itself to a repeat listen. The disc also features the film's theatrical trailer (4:53) and promo trailer (0:30) and comes housed with a reversible cover. (Eric Cotenas)