Director: Albert Zugsmith
Vinegar Syndrome

Until recently, most of producer/director Albert Zugsmith’s post-respectability late-1950s/1960s exploitation productions (except for HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and SAPPHO DARLING) had been nearly impossible to find on home video, only available, if at all, on gray-market bootlegs of inferior quality. This situation has been mitigated somewhat over the last few years with the release of CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER and SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE on Warner DVD, and Blu-ray and DVD editions of THE BEAT GENERATION by Olive Films. Vinegar Syndrome now plugs another gap in Zug’s DVD filmography with a welcome double-feature release of the first two of his mid-’60s trilogy of black-and-white “psychosexual” exploitation melodramas, shot back to back in 1965 and 1966, and previously among the toughest Zugsmith films to see (the third is MOVIE STAR, AMERICAN STYLE OR; LSD, I HATE YOU). Personally, I have been lusting after a release of ON HER BED OF ROSES since seeing the minute and 35 seconds of distilled weirdness that is its trailer on Something Weird Video’s MUNDO DEPRAVADOS/THE LOVE CULT disc years ago.

Both INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION and ON HER BED OF ROSES (AKA PSYCHEDELIC SEXUALIS) take the time-honored form of the 1930s/40s roadshow Road to Ruin melodrama—with a bespectacled medical professional presenting to the audience in lurid detail all the dangerous, immoral behavior they are admonishing them to avoid—and update the genre for the free-swinging (and anxiety-ridden) 1960s. The bad-girl heroines of both features find themselves in need of a doctor’s care, but instead of a back-alley abortion or shot of penicillin, they need psychotherapy to treat the neuroses brought on by their sexually “free” lifestyles. One Dr. Lee Gladden plays the psychologist in both films, and INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION is ostensibly based on “The Dr. Gladden Study on Changing Sex Mores in Our Modern Civilization.” Internet searches find no mention of this study, other than in the context of this movie, so this claim is probably just exploitation ballyhoo, though Gladden is stiff enough as an actor that it wouldn’t be surprising if he was actually a psychologist in real life (he’s credited as technical advisor on ROSES).

INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION opens with married low-rent lothario Pierre (Alex D’Arcy, HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND, FANNY HILL) nervously hustling his latest fling, Chinese-Hawaiian-American Margaret “Peggy” Bardot (Lovey Song, ON HER BED OF ROSES), to a cheap (“$6.00 per night”) motel for some illicit sex. Dr. Gladden quickly plugs his book The Incredible Sex Revolution, then presents a mondo-style rundown of the different historical/cultural variations on monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, and wife swapping in vignettes featuring Adam and Eve and the Old Testament, (badly faked) African natives and Eskimos, and the invention of the “key swap” game by a Civil War cavalry unit (D’Arcy and Sharon Cintron pull extra duty in cameos in these episodes). The case of Peggy Bardot is then presented in detail through flashback sequences triggered by her intense therapy sessions with Dr. Gladden.

Peggy meets handsome Aaron (Christopher Warren) at a wild Greenwich Village party, but their relationship remains chaste at first, and Aaron rescues Peggy from dedicated swinger Jan’s (Ric Marlow, ON HER BED OF ROSES) advances at another, even wilder party where female dancers model Rudi Gernreich topless bathing suits and uncredited Pat Barrington (AGONY OF LOVE, THE ACID EATERS) does the twist standing on her head. Aaron and Peggy’s relationship deepens, but they wind up swapping with Jan and Dusty one alcohol-fueled night at a motel, and, unbeknownst to Aaron, Jan continues to pursue Peggy, even asking her to marry him, her confusion leading to long discussions, some under hypnosis, with Dr. Gladden about sex, love, animals, and swinging, backed by melancholy flutes on the soundtrack. Peggy decides to marry the more sensitive Aaron, then is shocked when he tells her she’s a “square” (apparently the most cutting insult you could level at someone in 1965) and that he doesn’t find her “stimulating,” and begins pressuring her into attending wife-swapping parties (“everybody’s making out today!”).

While making telemarketing calls at home for Ladies Home Journal, develops an intense friendship with neighbor Theresa “Tessie” Morton (Playboy Playmate Sharon Cintron, Mimi on BARETTA), who’s hiding a mysterious past and constantly refers to Peggy as “Lambie Pie” and “Honey Lamb.” Aaron proposes swinging with Tessie and her husband Harold (Hampton Fancher, ROME ADVENTURE), which the previously repulsed Peggy considers out of curiosity, but at a pool party at Pierre’s bachelor pad, Harold comes on to her and she flips out. Things soon turn ugly and violent with Aaron, and Tessie breaks her silence about her shocking past to Peggy. After more seemingly endless mumbo-jumbo about dependence, rejection, and transference, and a big argument with Dr. Gladden, Peggy asks Aaron for a divorce, and after rejecting frog-fraced Pierre’s marriage proposal at a scavenger hunt party (where Lori Williams, A SWINGIN’ SUMMER, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, turns up as a scavengee), he and his goon gang-rape Peggy in a hotel room while Aaron looks on helplessly. Dr. Gladden decides he must put Peggy under hypnotic regression to try to finally get to the bottom of her issues.

Part roadshow-style “educational” presentation, part heavy soap opera melodramatics, with elements of sex farce and mondo movie thrown in for good measure, THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION will be fascinating for Zugsmith devotees and aficionados of exploitation, sexploitation, and Adults Only movies of the type Something Weird specializes in—not to mention bad dancing and 1960s modern decor—but probably a pretty tough sell to the mainstream consumer. The movie’s ultra-low-budget origins can be inferred by the credits of its two producers—Reza Badiyi, an assistant director on Robert Altman’s THE DELINQUENTS and AD and actor in CARNIVAL OF SOULS (later a prolific TV director and title designer), and executive producer John Rhinos, whose only credit is as associate producer of Ray Dennis Steckler’s RAT PFINK A BOO BOO. At 102 minutes, the movie would have benefited from some tightening up of the editing and dialogue, and the generally lethargic pace, occasionally amateurish acting, and seemingly interminable stretches of narration and clinical dialogue will probably make it tough going for all but exploitation devotees and college Psych students. Virtually all the gratuitous nudity (in the mondo segments and the topless bathing suit party) is over by 40 minutes in, so it’s mostly soap opera dramatics and jargon-heavy therapy scenes for the last hour. I still found the movie very entertaining, particularly as a document of the times (that period of sexual confusion and angst in the early ’60s before the Sexual Revolution kicked in for serious) exhibiting the convoluted, schizophrenic morality, non-sequitur dialogue, and leering sleaziness of similar contemporary efforts such as PROMISES! PROMISES! and 3 NUTS IN SEARCH OF A BOLT. There seems to be a sincere effort in Zugsmith’s screenplay to deal with serious adult sexual issues, similarly to Joe Sarno’s explorations of the dark underbelly of 1960s suburban morality, but the therapy scenes tend to break the dramatic tension built up in the “soap opera” portions, and while the movie is well shot and edited, Zug’s intentions are also somewhat undercut by the silly mondo/nudie cutie sequences. The movie remains probably too talky for the raincoat crowd, and too weird and slow-moving for Normal Moviegoers, but if the preceding sounds like fun to you, you’ll probably find a lot to like.

INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION is presented on DVD in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced, transferred in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative of the uncut “hot” international version. While there is some minor speckling and spotting, worsening a bit around reel changes, and several reel change dots on display, the image overall looks pretty stupendous, with deep blacks, clean whites, and rich grayscale. Grain is tight and unobtrusive, and sharpness and detail are impressive. Audio comes through clean and clear, with no noticeable issues. Given the age and lineage of this movie, there’s nothing to complain about here, and Vinegar Syndrome should be commended for unearthing both of these rare titles and treating them with such care. The sole extra for INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION is 3:18 of alternate “soft” scenes, which obscure the nearly total nudity of Eve in the Genesis segment with pasties and optically superimposed fog (she’s literally wearing nothing but a fig leaf in the hot version), and replace the topless dancers at the swimsuit party with fully clothed counterparts. These scenes show considerably more scratching and blemishing than the feature, but otherwise look good.

Ostensibly based on psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s groundbreaking Psychopathia Sexualis, ON HER BED OF ROSES literally starts with a bang as college washout and stunted social misfit Stephen Long (Ronald Warren), apparently in the midst of a psychotic break—cued by the trippy, reverberating soundtrack—plucks a bloom from his prized rose bushes, walks zombie-like through his built-in pool, embarks on a reckless, destructive car ride, then removes a high-powered rifle from his bass fiddle case and starts picking off random drivers along a rural highway. As police close in, he puts the barrel in his mouth and blows his head off, all the while tightly clutching the rose in his bleeding hand (a scene likely inspired by an attack on April 25, 1965, in which a sniper killed three motorists and injured 10 others along Highway 101 south of Orcutt, California, before committing suicide, the event that was also the basis of a similar scene in Peter Bogdanovich’s TARGETS). As in INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION, Stephen’s story is told in flashback through the psychotherapy sessions of his girlfriend Melissa Borden (Sandra Lynn, MOVIE STAR, AMERICAN STYLE), a nymphomaniac with a “guilt complex” and a history of suicide attempts, and who passes out at the sight of a rose. Once again, “Dr. Lee Gladden” is on hand as the nerdy psychologist, who in ROSES employs some sort of creepy, incestuous “transference” method with his female patients (“kiss Melissa like you kiss mommy”) to allow them to release their anxieties. Or something like that.

Nympho Melissa crushes on repressed, virtually asexual neighbor and “kindred soul” Stephen while Stephen’s suffocating, slutty mom Rachel (Regina Gleason, SPEED CRAZY, REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS) entertains men in his rose-filled backyard cabana. Melissa’s mother Joanna (Barbara Hines, THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES) delights in tormenting her daughter by seducing and stealing all Melissa’s “boyfriends,” most of whom are old enough to be her father anyway. Both Stephen and Melissa have “mother trouble,” and Melissa also bears the guilt of an incestuous relationship with her father Arthur (Ric Marlow, THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION). At a wild party with both Tahitian and topless belly dancers (Pat Barrington again), and a guy wearing a fringed Daniel Boone shirt, Melissa freaks out when friend Sally (Lovey Song, THE INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION) makes out with Arthur. Long, loopy dialogue scenes with the shrink later, the now suicidal Melissa finds her relationship with “first and only friend” Stephen deepening (“he wants to marry me, just as if I hadn’t slept with 101 guys”), but Melissa and Stephen’s budding idyllic romance never gets off the ground due to Stephen’s inability to consummate. Overpossessive, castrating Rachel attacks Melissa (“you filthy whore!”) and Stephen mid-kiss, beating him into submission with a belt, and Melissa is suspected when Rachel is later found dead. Finally, Melissa confronts evil Joanna, who has now set her sights on Stephen, setting in motion a tragic chain of events precipitating Stephen’s breakdown and rampage as depicted in movie’s opening scenes.

It would be unrealistic to expect any movie to live up to its trailer, especially the concentrated dose of insanity that is the trailer for ON HER BED OF ROSES, but ROSES turns out to be more ambitious and satisfying than INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION, providing more red meat for exploitation enthusiasts to chew on, though it, too, suffers a bit from languid pacing and a 101-minute running time. There is some gratuitous nudity during the party scenes, again dispensed with after 40 minutes or so, but nothing resembling the goofy nudie-cutie shenanigans of INCREDIBLE SEX REVOLUTION, and the mostly no-name but more-capable cast plays everything straight, Regina Gleason in particular earning kudos as the venomous Rachel. ON HER BED OF ROSES and MOVIE STAR, AMERICAN STYLE were the only producer’s credits for Robert Caramico, cinematographer on dozens of 1960s and 1970s horror and exploitation titles, including ORGY OF THE DEAD, THE WILD SCENE, OCTAMAN, and MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS, and production design on ROSES was handled by Ruth Zugsmith, Al’s wife. The effective score, ranging from lush romanticism to trippy weirdness, was written and conducted by singer/composer and RCA and Vee Jay producer Joe Greene, who penned Louis Jordan’s hit “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” among others. Oddly enough, this reminded me at times of Ron Ormond’s fruity PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ME, with which this would make an interesting double bill.

As with SEX REVOLUTION, ON HER BED OF ROSES is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced, and transferred in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative of the uncut “hot” international version. The usual light speckling is in evidence, as well as several reel change dots, a few fleeting instances of very light lining, and some blemishing around reel changes, but overall the image is clean and strong, with deep blacks, clean whites, and rich, well differentiated grayscale. Sharpness and detail are more than acceptable, with barely evident fine grain structure. Included as an extra are alternate “soft” scenes (totaling 3:55) used for the U.S. edit of ROSES, consisting of clothed footage to replace the nudity in the party scenes, in the same near-pristine condition as the feature. Odd trivia note: The bikini-clad “stickup girl” in the fedora in one of the party scenes (featured prominently in the trailer) has a bad, dubbed Jimmy Cagney impersonator voice in the movie, but a deep bass male voice in the trailer (to avoid a lawsuit perhaps?). (Paul Tabili)