LUCIFER'S WOMEN (1974) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Directors: Paul Aratow and Al Adamson
Vinegar Syndrome

Thanks to the film tampering distribution team of Sam Sherman and Al Adamson, LUCIFER'S WOMEN get up into the stirrups for DOCTOR DRACULA in Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo restoration.

Former academic-turned-illusionist Dr. John Wainwright (BREAKING BAD's Larry Hankin) has just published a tome about reincarnation in which he asserts that he is the reincarnation of mesmerist Svengali. His sickly publisher Sir Stephen (Norman Pierce) reveals that he too is a reincarnation of the leader of Satan-worshipping coven The Society of the Bleeding Rose, and that Svengali has been brought to them in order to replenish their psychic energy through the "aggressive incorporation of other souls" by way of a human sacrifice. Wainwright is to use his mind-bending hypnotic powers to lure pure, virginal exotic dancer Trilby (Jane Brunel-Cohen) into their coven to kill Sir Stephen on the stroke of midnight on her twenty-first birthday at the moment of orgasm, allowing him to move into another body. The weakening of his own psychic energy has allowed Wainwright to realize that his body is actually being controlled by the spirit of Svengali, and that his own attraction to Trilby is as much a danger to the cult's mortality as her coke-addled hooker roommate Barbara (Tweed Morris) who own seduction of Trilby is part of a plot by pimp Roland (Paul Thomas, 7 INTO SNOWY) who wants to take her virginity and turn her out.

An R-rated entry into the trend of Satanic (and Satanic sex) pictures from the seventies – a few of which like this one took on The Church of Satan's Anton LaVey as a consultant – LUCIFER'S WOMEN has an intriguing premise, incorporating the Svengali story into a scenario of devil worship, possession, and reincarnation with Wainwright's hypnotic wooing of Trilby contrasted with Sir Stephen's sadomasochistic domination of one of his newest inductees (a possible reference to THE STORY OF O which had made a splash as a Just Jaeckin film adaptation). Although no soft X or hardcore variant exists, it would not be surprising to discover that it might have been a possibility at the planning stage as the San Francisco-lensed production features a couple of the region's porn stars including Thomas – billed under his real name Paul Toubas under which he appeared in mainstream pictures like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and some episodic television – and the end credits list Ken Scudder (BABY ROSEMARY) as one of the party guests. Unfortunately, the potential of the story is not realized either in terms of horror or eroticism – although one shocking bit with Sir Stephen and his slave appears to depict watersports until the camera tilts up – largely thanks to the low budget, the R-rating, stiff supporting performances (particularly Wainwright's laughably "British" manservant played by Robert W. Carr), and ultimately the casting of comic Hankin as a seductive leading man. While technically a virgin, Trilby does end up masturbating to a Guido Crepax-style erotic comic book and also thumbs through the bestselling tome 100 YEARS OF EROTICA: A PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTFOLIO OF MAINSTREAM AMERICAN CULTURE FROM 1845 TO 1945 authored by Paul Aratow himself who followed up LUCIFER'S WOMEN with the hardcore CHINA GIRL and would produce the SHEENA feature film adaptation for Columbia Tri-Star.

Released theatrically by Independent-International's short-lived sister company Constellation Films that also released THE HOUSE IN NIGHTMARE PARK and THE BOOBY HATCH, LUCIFER'S WOMAN died at the box office. Not one to give up on the exploitation potential of a property on which he had spent money, distributor Sam Sherman once again hired director Al Adamson (BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR) to "doctor" the film into something marketable for Independent-International's television package (along with a foreign VHS market video deal). The result was DOCTOR DRACULA in which the Wainwright-Trilby storyline battles for prominence with the parallel story of Stephanie (Susan McIver, DYNAMITE BROTHERS) who has suffered from terrible nightmares since the death of her young and seemingly healthy mother Valerie (also McIver). While her concerned physician father Elliot (Don 'Red' Barry, BLAZING STEWARDESSES) has brought her to The Society of the Bleeding Rose under the advisement of colleague Dr. Henry Radcliffe (John Carradine, BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE) that the occult may be able to help her seek answers about her mother's sudden death. Although a member of the cult, Dr. Gregorio (Geoffrey Land, NURSE SHERRI) insists that Stephanie is in need of psychiatric treatment. Although Wainwright/Svengali is falling for Trilby, he is apparently willing to give her up in exchange for Stephanie who he helps learn through hypnosis that her mother was drained of blood by a vampire and further uses his powers to lure her into the cult. When Elliot becomes concerned about Stephanie's sudden interest in Satanism and black magic, Dr. Gregorio proves to be the only one truly able to "help" since it turns out that he is the vampire who killed Valerie and has plans to reunite Stephanie with her mother.

While DOCTOR DRACULA was released on VHS by CBS/Fox, it was long believed that LUCIFER'S WOMEN was a lost film, especially when the former film appeared on DVD from Image Entertainment in 2002 offering up only the trailer for LUCIFER'S WOMEN as evidence of what the film might have been like before Adamson's revisions. Although LUCIFER'S WOMEN and DOCTOR DRACULA have similar running times – 91:16 and 90:59 respectively – the synopsis above reveals just how much the films differ in content. Besides the curtailing of all scenes involving nudity and sex for the constraints of television, Sir Stephen's scenes are largely cut down with Carradine's Radcliffe fulfilling his expository duties by either reiterating plot points or delivering equivalent dialogue for scenes removed. The characters of Roland and Barbara are also largely missing from this version after their first scene, with Wainwright confessing his responsibility for the fate of one of them even though the scene depicting it has been removed. Beside added scenes with Barry, Carradine, McIver, and Land, the film has also been padded out with four stalking and killing scene as Land's vampire preys on various women, including Adamson's wife Regina Carroll (DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN) who discovers Gregorio's coffin and thinks it is one of his kinks, a woman bitten in her bubble bath, and another who is chased through the woods and climbs a tree to get away from him. The climactic cult scene is restaged with no sex or nudity, a Trilby double, and a face-off between Svengali and Gregorio. Hankin was available for the reshoots and looks a tad gaunt since the new footage was shot sometime in the early eighties according to Sherman's commentary (although the release date in references for this version is 1978). Gary Graver (MORTUARY) shot the new footage which has been scored with library tracks heard in other Independent-International productions. The availability here of LUCIFER'S WOMEN reveals that the original is indeed a "better" film in that it is more coherent, but not necessarily a better film. Sherman and Adamson might have been better off making an entirely original production called DOCTOR DRACULA since Adamson's direction is better than usual and Graver's photography is more atmospheric even if the setups are limited by the budget and shooting schedule.

Vinegar Syndrome are a bit ambiguous about their restoration other than advertising it on the back cover as being "scanned and restored in 2K from 35mm negative elements." The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of LUCIFER'S WOMEN is relatively clean apart from some rare vertical emulsion scratches, but presumably the dark and grainy photography is as much the fault of the original photography (an early credit for Robbie Greenberg who moved up from the likes of BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER and SWAMP THING to FREE WILLY and UNDER SIEGE 2). Some of the shared scenes actually look marginally better in the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of DOCTOR DRACULA, making one wonder if the original negative had been cut up to make this version. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono tracks on both films are pretty clean and both versions offer optional English SDH subtitles.

DOCTOR DRACULA is accompanied by an audio commentary by distributor Sherman whose tracks are always interesting and informative. Besides a capsule history of Independent-International and his partnership with Adamson and Dan Kennis, he reveals that Kennis had brought on marketing man Max Stein who really liked LUCIFER'S WOMEN and thought he could make it into a success with the right campaign. Sherman then discusses the changes Adamson made to the film for television and the video deal with Fox, including the casting of Carradine, Land, and Barry who had worked with Adamson's father on westerns (Adamson's mother also has a cameo). There are plenty of interesting tidbits about the company's operation with other films – including McIver freaking out over a nude scene in I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE – as well as his throwaway reference to the title DOCTOR DRACULA appearing on another film in foreign territories (besides the German retitling of KILL BABY KILL as THE DEAD EYES OF DR. DRACULA, Sherman's own earlier I-I Paul Naschy pickup FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR was titled THE VAMPIRE OF DR. DRACULA in its co-production country). The disc also includes an interview with actor Thomas (20:04) in which he discusses his beginnings on the stage with JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, his casting in the film version, and being brought to Los Angeles by the William Morris Agency. Although he landed a couple small movie roles and episodic TV parts, he admits that he did not have the discipline to stick to his craft. Moving up to Mill Valley with his then-girlfriend who was managing a waterbed store, he found work in commercials, print ads, and on the stage there and ended up deciding to stay there where he started appearing both in porn loops, big budget porno chic productions like the Mitchell Brothers' AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FLEA, as well as softcore films like LUCIFER'S WOMEN (his putting down roots in the area is presumably how he ended up in the San Francisco-set prologue of Joe D'Amato's EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD as a mover who gives Laura Gemser a ride in front and in back of his van). Of the film, he also recalls feeling that Hankin was ill-suited to the Svengali role and felt that LaVey would have been a better choice. A digital essay is provided by Diabolique Magazine's Samm Deighan who provides some background on the Svengali story, the trend of Satanic sex films (including the goat sex subgenre), and also makes an intriguing point about how the "purity" of Trilby is more complexly-rendered in LUCIFER'S WOMEN. The trailer (2:05) for the film is also included along with a reversible cover as well as a limited edition collector's slipcover with new artwork by Kevin Thomas. (Eric Cotenas)