Pilipino director Eddie Romero is probably best known for his gore-filled monster trash “Blood Island” trilogy (BRIDES OF BLOOD, THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, BEAST OF BLOOD), but the filmmaker was also prolific in the action/exploitation arena. Having helmed a few low budget war films during the 1960s, Romero later dabbled in the more practical “women in prison” genre with BLACK MAMA,WHITE MAMA, which was released by AIP in 1973. The following year, Romero directed another partial WIP tale with the outrageous SAVAGE SISTERS, another AIP release now available from MGM as part of their Limited Edition Collection of manufacture-on-demand DVDs.
In an unnamed banana republic, a general plans on smuggling a suitcase full of $1 million U.S. dollars out of the country. Those plans are thwarted when a group of bandits lead by Malavael (Sid Haig, SPIDER BABY) ambushes and kills those escorting the cash. Malavael also promised to split the money with a local revolutionary group, but instead shoots them in cold blood. In the meantime, a blonde American Jo Turner (foxy Cheri Caffaro, GINGER) and Asian Mai Ling (Rosanna Ortiz), both with ties to the murdered revolutionaries, are captured by authorities and put under the watch of a hooker turned sadistic cop Jackson (Gloria Hendry, BLACK BELT JONES). Before she gets into any heavy interrogation of the two female prisoners, she is convinced by the shady hustler W.P. Billingsley (John Ashley, THE EYE CREATURES) that it’s best to bust them out of prison so that they could lead them to the dough. Jackson ultimately teams up with the other two ladies to form a trio of “savage sisters”, but they have to determine whether or not they can trust their horny male counterpart while dodging the military and attempting to outwit the cutthroat killers holding the stolen loot.
SAVAGE SISTERS was no doubt inspired by Jack Hill's two early 1970s WIP flicks (BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE), both lensed in the Philippines when producer Roger Corman realized he could get more bang for his buck (not to mention those exotic locations, perfect for this type of picture). By 1974, the Pilipino exploitation genre was running out of steam, and pretty much at its end (with exception of a few late editions here and there) so it’s fitting that SAVAGE SISTERS is pretty much a send-up of what came before, and it’s not afraid to bring on the laughs. Hendry’s lead character itself is a caricature (a black prostitute who becomes a notorious policewoman, known for her torturous interrogation methods) and likely influenced by the model already set by Pam Grier in at least a half a dozen of these types of films. Her Jackson is introduced questioning a rapist, strung up the balls on a string which lies underneath his t-shirt, tugged from above his head (she subsequently ties the other end of the string to a doorknob, slamming the door as she makes her quick exit! Ouch!).
Although Caffaro’s (the tall, leggy star of the highly successful “Ginger” trilogy, and here billed as a “guest star”) and Ortiz’s characters are played fairly seriously, most of the others are played for comic effect. Haig (with a long black wig and beard making him resemble an infuriated Frank Zappa with a Spanish accent) is a cold-blooded killer, yet he would fit right into a live action Disney film. His sidekick is played by Vic Diaz (we reviewers believe that there was a law at one time that Diaz had to be cast in every single Filipino exploitation endeavor) who sports an eye-patch and lets his jelly belly hang out of his purposely snug shirt. Longtime Filipino acting legend Eddie Garcia (he was Dr. Lorca in BEAST OF BLOOD and the vampire patriarch in CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES) is a buffoon military captain out for self publicity, and he travels around with a personal photographer to proove it. Garcia’s Captain Morales is seen on all fours as a begging doggie in an S&M game with a female officer, and when he’s run over by a jeep, the result is something out of an old Warner Bros. cartoon.
American star John Ashley had been a teen idol and appeared in a number of AIP films before relocating to the Philippines for years, headlining mostly horror and science fiction pictures (many directed by Eddie Romero). Here, he plays a shifty fitness-obsessed playboy type who conveniently (and consecutively) beds all three “savage sisters” in their attempts to test his loyalty (each barges into his room as he does push-ups in his underwear). Ashley also co-produced this film, and would soon wind down his acting career in favor of producing (he would go on to successful TV shows such as THE A-TEAM and WALKER, TEXAS RANGER). As for Ashley’s and Romero’s production, it runs a swift 86 minutes, high on action and full of gunplay and explosions (as well as four-letter words to assure an R rating). And although it’s practically null on nudity (a few side views of breasts and semi-open blouses) it’s got a fun, sensually teasing quality to go with its humorous attributes. The music score is by none other than Les Baxter (here billed simply as “Bax”), and the AIP veteran (who scored everything from gothic chillers to trendy biker films) keeps it lively and funky, while making light of the onscreen violence and playfulness.
MGM is presenting SAVAGE SISTERS on home video as part of their Limited Edition Collection of made-on-demand DVDs. The transfer holds the film to its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. During the first few scenes, it appears as if the image is a bit soft, but once the movie kicks into full gear, it looks fine and quite sharp actually, with very little in the way of grain. Colors are bold, and looking at all the loud clothes shown onscreen (especially Ashley’s big-collared 1970s shirts), this is a very colorful film, and the transfer displays that well. There are a few fleeting (and I mean blink and you’ll miss them) blemishes on the source print, but all in all, this is a great looking presentation of a nearly-40-year-old film. The mono audio is also in good shape, with no noticeable defects. No chapter menu is included, but the viewer can move ahead at ten-minute intervals throughout the presentation. AIP's original theatrical trailer is included as an extra, and it's presented full frame. MGM’s cover art utilizes a dupey-looking black & white ad mat printed on a pink background; it’s a shame they didn’t use the beautifully eye-catching one-sheet poster art instead. (George R. Reis)
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