Director(s): Howard Ziehm and Michael Benveniste
Vinegar Syndrome

Two rarities from the beginning of FLESH GORDON auteur Howard Ziehm's career come to DVD finally in uncut form with Vinegar Syndrome's double bill of HARLOT and TIJUANA BLUE.

An early collaboration between Ziehm and Bill Osco (COP KILLERS), high school sophomore "bad girl" Mary (Fran Spector, REFINEMENTS IN LOVE) prefers to make money hitching and hooking (we see blowing a motorist and stopping just before climax to charge him ten dollars) than studying for finals. "Good girl" schoolmate Melody (Patty Alexon) has only gone as far as getting felt up by her brother's best friend, but she begs Mary to take her along one afternoon. They get picked up by another motorist (Bill Pruner, RIDE A COCK HORSE) and Mary steers them towards a more comfy spot in the elevator of a nearby office building. When they are interrupted, Mary threatens to yell rape unless the driver gives her satisfaction, so they head up to the roof for a threesome with lookout Melody. Mary decides that seducing her teacher Mr. James (Leroy Jones, VIRGIN HOSTAGE) will get her a passing grade in finals. When they are caught in a bathroom stall by Miss Gladstone (Judy Angel, SOUTHERN COMFORTS), the spinsterish principal needs little encouragement to join in ("I had you figured all wrong," says Mary, "you're a big ol' dyke!"). With Mary preoccupied, Melody reluctantly accepts a ride from a young guy who first just wants to watch as she uses a dildo on herself and then to be punished for watching him by some not-too-convincing swats with a hairbrush. Emboldened, Melody accepts a ride from a biker (HARRY HARD, DETECTIVE's Butch Griswald), but this encounter may have tragic consequences.

When HARLOT hit DVD in unauthorized form through Alpha Blue Archives in a Ziehm triple feature with CITY OF SIN and HOT COOKIES, it did so in an abridged form of roughly forty-eight minutes (vs the 63:54 timing of the current transfer) which may have been the result of a lost final reel or an intentional edit that ends things on a violent note by abruptly cutting to black as the biker tries to rape her. IMDb lists actor Griswald as uncredited because that earlier transfer is missing the cast list at the end, and IAFD lists him as a nonsexual performer. The uncut version's additional sixteen minutes veers from horror to comedy and experimental film techniques as a not-to-terrified Melody runs from the pratfalling biker, they run around romantically in slow-motion, screw on the beach in various positions, and even streak through a farmer's market in slow motion (achieved with the actors running from one van to another at the other end of the street) before managing to end on an even more downbeat note than the earlier transfer. The streaking scene is one of a couple ambitious and daring bits for this early pornographic work, as the rooftop sex scene is captured not only at length in close-up but also from the aerial perspective of a helicopter. Melody also introduces her voyeur/masochist to balling by riding him as they drive down the street to the guffaws of various passersby. The direction of Ziehm and Michael Benveniste (who also co-directed MONA: THE VIRGIN NYMPH) and the grainy 16mm photography lacks the threadbare flare of later efforts like STAR VIRGIN but it's a silly enough effort with a downer of an ending and a humorous closing scene.

Directed by Ziehm under his "Harry Hooper" pseudonym, TIJUANA BLUE is a somewhat more ambitious but less satisfying effort. Jamie (Howard Alexander, PRISON GIRLS) is a dope user but resists lucrative propositions by "The Man" (Keith Erickson, THE GODSON) to become a dealer until his girlfriend (Jill Sweete, THE JEKYLL & HYDE PORTFOLIO) announces that she is pregnant. Keeping the baby or getting rid of it is going to cost them, so Jamie accepts the assignment to go down to Tijuana and pick up a package from a contact codenamed "Oddball". Although he is warned by The Man not to get involved with "filthy whores or preverts," Rick (Martin Victor) – the buddy Jamie brings along for protection – is getting a blowjob from a waitress/hooker the moment they arrive at the 76 Club in search of Oddball. After an interminable sixteen minute sex scene on the bar (which features unauthorized uses of "96 Tears" and "Louie Louie"), performer Gina (Carmen Olivera, ENSENADA PICKUP) gives Jamie the address of a whorehouse but contact Maria and her cohort (Andy Bellamy, TOUCH ME) mistake him and Rick for customers and put on a lesbian floorshow for them before Maria. When Maria gives him the address of yet another whorehouse, Jamie senses that he is getting the runaround, especially when the next contact is a nymphomaniac who will only give him Oddball's address if he and Jamie bone her and her two friends (FIVE LOOSE WOMEN's Eve Orlon and TROPIC OF PASSION's Chlorine Stillwater). As their search for Oddball continues, Jamie finds yet another "distasteful" test in store for him.

TIJUANA BLUE is unconvincing in its setting and unexciting in its use of a drug trafficking plot to string together overlong and ugly-looking sex scenes (particularly the bar scene in which the harsh red and blue gels and grainy, underexposed 16mm lensing does not flatter the slack, bared flesh at all). TIJAUANA BLUE also arrived on DVD from Alpha Blue Archives in an abridged version (it also had a release from Something Weird Video as HOUSE OF WHORES), but this one lost thirty-four minutes compared to the 92:27 timing of Vinegar Syndrome's transfer. While earlier transfers of HARLOT may have lost or deliberately dropped a reel, TIJUANA BLUE was definitely shortened for release. Among the deletions are approximately the first seven minutes of the first sex scene (beginning in progress minutes the undressing and foreplay), a sequence of Jamie strolling and thinking about The Man's proposal after learning his girlfriend is pregnant (the short sequence is made interminable by the echoing repeat of The Man's dialogue), the bar sex scene thankfully loses about ten minutes, the lesbian scene loses over five minutes followed by about two minutes of unconvincing travelogue footage, the second whorehouse scene loses only two-and-a-half minutes, and the final beach scene also loses about two minutes from the head. These cuts may actually have been for the better.

Mastered in 2K from 16mm archival elements, Vinegar Syndrome's progressive, non-anamorphic 1.33:1 fullscreen transfers of HARLOT and TIJUANA BLUE are full of scratches, fading, and other damage but there is still high definition detail beneath it for the better or worse when it comes to the invasive insert shots. The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks are clean apart from the hiss and other bits of noise that accompany the scratches that extend to the optical track. The DVD's sole extra is an audio commentary by director Howard Ziehm on HARLOT. Joined by an uncredited associate, Ziehm discusses how the film – along with MONA: THE VIRGIN NYMPH – was one of his and Osco's early attempts to move up from loops to more plot-oriented porn features and describes enthusiastic Spector as a "hot little Beverly Hills slut." At first, Ziehm does a lot of play-by-play of the onscreen action, but then starts providing some anecdotes about the performers including Spector and regular Griswald aka "Reb" (as well as one male who had refused to go down on an actress because he felt his friends at the gym would make fun of him for the act), experiments with handheld camera and creative angles and coverage (including the switch from a standard zoom for much of the photography to a 10mm wide angle lens for the hardcore closeups), and having their office base constantly on the move due to the vice squad. They also discuss his partnership with Osco as well as how the premiere of HARLOT coincided with a lawsuit over the film HOLLYWOOD BLUE. It's an amusing and informative (if sometimes ungallantly candid) track that is a nice bonus for a Peekarama double bill. (Eric Cotenas)