Director: Ray Dennis Steckler
Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome's second Peekarama triple-billing brings us some of the rarely seen pornographic works of Ray Dennis Steckler.

In RED HEAT – not to be confused with the 1988 Walter Hill/Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick (or even the 1985 Linda Blair women-in-prison one) – Cindy Lou Sutters is the offscreen narrator, a "female pornographer" who has come to Las Vegas to make a porn film (with her cameraman Habib). She seems to have found a breakout star in Mary – who she christens "Red Heat" because of her hair – but she proves unavailable when after she brutally stabs her cheating boyfriend in the shower and then wanders the strip (having developed a taste for murder). In the meantime, Cindy coaxes a performance out of thrice-married but unsatisfiable Nancy and an interchangeable line of hairy and scraggly "studs" and makes do with hookers supplied by their talent agent (who also owns a massage parlor) as they shoot "local color" (i.e. padding) and quickie loops while waiting for their star. Meanwhile, Mary slices her way through a string of hopeful johns destined to cross paths with a motorcycling psychopath who has already ripped off members of the production.

Even with the gloss of 35mm (well, if you consider visible herpes scars and stretch marks glossy), RED HEAT – particularly in its first-person camera shots of prostitutes blowing cameraman Habib – feels more like some bizarre collection of swingers' home movies fleshed out with Vegas production value shots rather than a motion picture of any sort (or even a hardcore loop). Presumably it was a scripted production that fell through, giving Steckler the impression that he had to tie disparate sex scenes into a cohesive narrative rather than just moving on from one scene to another. Ditching the sex scenes and expanding on Mary's psychosis might have given us a companion piece to Steckler's SINTHIA, THE DEVIL'S DOLL while a murder vignette that takes place in the desert outside the city has a momentary desolate atmosphere that almost has one wondering what Steckler's BLOOD SHACK/THE CHOOPER would have looked and felt like had it been shot on 35mm with the same degree of care that he shot this film's interior scenes and moist insert shots.

HOT VAMPIRE is actually Steckler's THE MAD LOVE LIFE OF A HOT VAMPIRE in which poor Carolyn Brandt (a Steckler regular), swathed in black and positioned between two tacky-looking statues narrates the fate that befell her camera-mugging husband Count Dracula (Jim Parker) – and his hunchbacked servant (Rock Heinrich) – when he decided to settle down in Arizona. On a nightly basis, the count sends his three female servants out on the town to collect blood in vials (actually faux-crystal flower vases) gorily sucked out of the members of unsuspecting johns. His activities go unnoticed until disco-shirted Dale (and his Fran Drescher-sounding/Regina Caroll-looking wife) contacts former professor Dr. Van Helsing to look into the disappearance of his sister's body after she died in a car accident. Looking into the number of bodies of men found bloodless in motel rooms, Van Helsing surmises that Count Dracula has setup digs in the desert. Armed with a silver stake (read: knitting needle), Van Helsing and Dale follow his undead sister back to Dracula's lair to end his bloody reign ("Run Dracula, run!" cries his wife from somewhere in the beyond).

PEEPING TOM – also known as THE CREEPER – is not a pornographic rip-off of the seminal Michael Powell film; rather, it follows a night on the town of a "weirdo" who derives pleasure from watching others make love. He looks in on a bickering couple, a foursome, a portly delusional guy and that Fran Descher-sounding chick from HOT VAMPIRE, and other 8mm quickie loop-worthy bits that should have been otherwise lost to time. The film seems to lean its sympathies towards the weirdo by making the sex scenes as ugly as possible – it is hard to tell if the bickering couple are really good actors able to remember pages of scripted dialogue while the camera is locked down, actors fallen on hard times doing improvisation, or two exhibitionists doing some sort of angry role play (and the camera gets so close that might just be a pubic hair in the camera gate in one shot) – but does not draw a direct connection between the peeper and the audience; instead suggesting that he might just be peeping on you next…

Alpha Blue Archive's earlier release of RED HEAT reportedly ran only 66 minutes, while Vinegar Syndrome's version runs roughly eighty-one minutes (I'm guessing most of what was removed was "local color"). Transferred from a 2K scan of a 35mm archival print, Vinegar Syndrome's progressive, fullscreen 1.33:1 transfer may be the best-looking release of any Steckler film ever. Transferred from 2K scans of 16mm archival prints, HOT VAMPIRE and PEEPING TOM look more grotty than grainy (with the latter film looking particularly ravaged during the opening credits which are shot off a backboard) but no more worse than DVD transfers of Steckler's "mainstream" production. The Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks are in variable condition but the dialogue and library music is never disrupted. There are no extras, but the disc is stuffed with just over three hours in the features themselves. (Eric Cotenas)