Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome's first boxed set effort is a sampling of twelve Los Angeles storefront theater hardcore efforts with the handsomely-packed THE STOREFRONT THEATRE COLLECTION VOL. 1: THE PO-NO.

While larger porn theaters like The Pussycat chain screened 35mm feature-length productions, the so-called storefront theaters – nothing more than dark rooms with a screen, projector, and folding chairs – showed grungy 16mm productions, often with hand-made titles, no stars (although a few would make names for themselves in porn later on), and no production values to speak of. The first disc commences with the short "Girl Acrobatics" (4:52) in which a woman blows her husband while he does a handstand. The first "feature" is HOMER – THE LATE COMER (1970) – credited to "Ian De Praved" – in which mother-harangued porn editor Homer lives in a world of sexual fantasy that takes him away from real life at the worst moments. He dreams he is a Roman emperor serviced by a court dancer and fantasizes about his boss and secretary as Bonnie and Clyde-esque robbers who make love on top of their ill-gotten goods, but his shower and rubdown by a pretty office girl may not be as imaginary as he at first believes. With sex scenes and mismatched inserts as unattractive as the performers, the film is more interesting as a time-capsule (it's easy to imagine Homer's schlubby porn cutter as he walks the streets of Los Angeles being easily overlooked by overlooked by DRAGNET buzzkill Joe Friday while raiding working the vice squad).

The first-person EROTIC POINT OF VIEW (1972) is even more obnoxious but not without interest. Erotic writer Mr. Cox babbles on about masculinity and femininity, domination and submission as he engages in voyeuristic research for his next book. His secretary is blind but efficient (and the only movie blind person you may be wishing to trip and seriously injure themselves) as she shares some of her own fantasies and procures interviewees. She takes on a dirty hippie and a black hustler (who brags of being paid not to have sex because of the size of his endowment) and finds him a sheltered virgin looking for a first time (which gets uncomfortably rough with some convincing discomfort and some hopefully fake bleeding). More interesting is a pair of lesbians who tastelessly cop to molesting one's three-year old son on a regular basis before enacting their other activities for Mr. Cox's edification. The sex during this scene is enthusiastic and believably awkward played to the camera with Cox annoying prattling on about masculine and feminine behavior after one of the lesbians has already decried making such a distinction in a lesbian relationship. One of the lesbians also yodels into a dildo while her mate gives floppy Cox a blowjob. The film ends with a film-within-a-film screening of the "Sweet 13" which is a rather innocuous short with a pair of obviously of-age women taking on two guys.

Other than some examples of ancient erotic artwork, MONDO PORNO (1971) stays closer to home as it looks behind the scenes of pornographic film production in Los Angeles. Producer George Gasser makes a case for his films being more natural than regular motion pictures in portraying rather than simulating sexual desire. Pornographic screenwriter Syla discusses her methods of research, writing in accordance with the male audience demands, her preference for writing what she knows and does over exotic fetishes, and visiting the sets to watch her work realized and consult (as if that would really happen). A starlet discusses the mechanics of pornography (demonstrating her method of coaxing an erection with a dildo) and discussing her own preferences for gangbangs ("I guess I like the feeling of being raped"). Two performers on a break (Ric Lutze and Rene Bond) not only offer up their own shooting anecdotes and preferences but also sound off against the vice squad and politicians ("Who in the hell has a fuck movie ever hurt?"). This sequence seems part candid and part performance piece from what are probably the film's most decent performers. A Kenneth Mars-esque lab technician discusses the evolution of pornographic films and a move towards quality over quantity as the smaller producers have been scared off by the vice squad raids. He is not in favor of making pornography legal if only because it would mean competition from other labs. The film finishes off with an interview with a theater owner who discusses the economic reasons for switching from regular movies to pornography as well as the seeming inconsistency in which theaters are more subject to raids. The film has some valid points, but it obvious that the intercutting of hardcore sex outtakes (mostly of a more slicker and professional level than some of the actual porn films in this set) is the reason most will have bought a ticket for this one.

SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE (1970) is another one of the exceedingly ugly in every respect quickies. A would-be groom and his fiancée are so worried about their lack of privacy living with her mother that they screw on the dining room table. The next day, the groom's car breaks down on the way to the church and he is waylaid by a bikini-clad grocery shopper for a romp in the fields, a stoner who wants to buy his broken-down car but cannot screw the money out of his girlfriend (so the groom has a try), and then is a third wheel when he hitches a ride with a couple who are more interested in boffing in the flatbed than getting him to the church on time. As his bride – who has suddenly acquired an English accent – paces the church stets, the groom thinks to catch up with her in her sister's apartment and is delayed even further.

Disc two commences with the uncredited short "Orgy in the Woods" (17:49) in which two couples frolic separately and then together. Shot outside with sync sound, it delivers what is promised if four's a crowd. The first feature is SWINGING PLAYBOYS (54:05) – or just "The Playboys" as the title card reads – in which one of the titular characters goes bed-hopping in his own home, trying to satisfy two women separately without their knowledge of one another before he finally resorts to calling in reinforcements (John Holmes). SUCKULA (57:42) stars George "Buck" Flower (THEY LIVE) as news anchor George Smutman who reports on vampiric activities in Los Angeles in between pornographic parody ads of "wet look" lipstick that stands up to oral sex, Folger's Coffee, "Peen by Sassoon", and Cal Worthington's used car ads. In a series of vignettes, Rodney Alucard and Luna the female vampire go after blood but find their victims preferring a good fuck. Flower doubles in drag as a female reporter, proving that he was willing to do anything before he became better known as a grizzled character actor.

Not to be confused with Byron Mabe's film made the same year, Mark Hunter's THE BIG SNATCH (1972) is a down and dirty rape revenge flick in which junkie Harry tries to steal Mary's purse but she wants a screw instead. Afterwards, he beats her up and takes her money. His friend John tells him that Mary belongs to The She-Devils, a gang who beats up men who are unable to take them all on in the sack, and they are now hunting Harry for putting one of their number in the hospital. Harry hides with prostitute Rosie, but finds himself ambushed for a gangbang with a not-so-happy ending. Disc two closes out with Rik Tazi'ner's THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (57:42) – not to be confused with the Mickey Hargitay/Jayne Mansfield peplum THE LOVES OF HERCULES – a film that makes Jess Franco's MACISTE films look accomplished. Much has been written about the labors and conquests of Hercules, but not so much about the inner man. In his later years, Hercules became somewhat of a hermit, preferring the solitude of his coastal lair despite numerous unsuccessful attacks by sadistic and gluttonous despot Tokar. Tokar hits upon the idea to send kidnapped Princess Amira to seduce Hercules in exchange for her freedom. Amira wears out Hercules with twenty minutes of boffing, and the hero finds himself in chains as the frustrated witness to an orgy of Tokar's slaves. Hercules prays to the gods to restore his strength, but will he take revenge or join in?

Disc three has no short film, commencing with the all-star SHOT ON LOCATION (1972) – credited to John Donne (ALICE IN ACIDLAND) – in which producer Vinnie (Ric Lutze) endeavors to get his wife Agnes (Kim Dupont) and brother-in-law/boss Garick (Bert Davis, WIHTOUT WARNING) off of his back for his extravagant spending on location shooting for his pornographic western by catching the recently married man in the act with wouldbe starlet Hanna (Sandy Dempsey, COUNTRY HOOKER) with the help of his script girl Maggie (Rene Bond) and Garick's lesbian secretary Bea (Roshell Rush, TIJUANA BLUE). In order to keep things quiet, Garick appoints Hanna the star of the picture. Vinnie mistakes stranger Carla (Eve Orlon, BLUE MONEY) for Hanna and happily beds her. When Hanna finally does show up on set, there is one starlet too many and Vinnie's cohorts are demanding payment. A somewhat amusing satire of the movie business, SHOT ON LOCATION might have made a decent 35mm feature with a little ambition and better performances (Lutze plays it broadly and the Donne never goes for a second take when his actresses trip over lines). Suzanne Fields (FLESH GORDON) and Andy Bellamy (JOHNNY WADD) also star.

The mysterious THE TOUCH is a hardcore caper flick in which the appropriately named "Snow" is blackmailed into moving $100,000 worth of cocaine in one week by Mario (John Holmes) who has some incriminating film of her. Snow makes the rounds in Los Angeles looking for buyers, giving them a sampling of the product which inevitably leads to sex scenes as soon as Snow leaves. With her most promising clients more interested in fucking than snorting, Snow teams up with some of her friends to double cross Mario and get the film back. A seriously dull flick despite the presence of Holmes and a good performance by the actress who plays Snow (who does not even take her clothes off or engage in hardcore action), the film is dragged out by ugly sex scenes with some unknown performers looking as if they are already strung out. More interesting if indifferently directed is CARNAL GO-ROUND (1970) in which ballbreaking hooker Alice shows hayseed Minnie the tricks of the trade. Minnie proves her metal with a relentless pounding from playboy John before Alice takes her to a high class party thrown by voyeur Norm. For some unknown reason, Norm then contacts Minnie's fiancé Albert (Ric Lutze) and exposes Minnie's new life as a hooker. After a very public blow-up in a park (with seemingly real passerby observing the hokey dramatics), Albert finds himself in bed with Alice. Part silent film, all amateur acting, the film only has four hardcore performers with Norm's orgy consisting of more antics from John (seemingly in his own apartment where he banged Minnie) and footage from an entirely different film with zoom-happy camerawork and an even grainier image. The most creative and amusing sequence is Alice's seduction of Albert which takes place on Road Runner and Coyote bedsheets with cutaways to close-ups of the cartoon characters and their thought/speech bubbles.

The set closes on a bizarre note with ALL-AMERICAN HUSTLER, a somewhat pretentious, arty independent porn film that tells one week in the life of a hooker. After breaking up with her cheating boyfriend, Carol returns to life as a high-class call-girl, operating out of her swanky apartment and the well-appointed bedrooms of swinging parties. During the lengthy party scene, it appears as is the story will follow Carol's hustling of a city councilman for land deal on behalf of the party's quartet of corrupt hosts, but all we get is a shower sex scene with Carol's roommate Candy (after she has shot up in close-up) and a realtor intercut with Carol warbling a torch song. The rest of the film is largely plotless, expecting to titillate us with a series of hardcore encounters between Carol and her clients even as it wants to convey how deadening the experiences are for Carol. When she finally loses it and pours out her pain to Candy, it is a moving dramatic moment; but the downbeat climax also inadvertently brings the boxed set to a rather grim close.

The twelve films and two shorts are divided between three DVDs illustrated like the cardboard case and foldout disc holders with posters from the films and other similar features. The films play automatically upon loading although they can also be selected from a menu screen. Quality varies from film-to-film with all exhibiting some degree of damage, no scratch repair, and seemingly as much color correction as could be done beneath the fading, splotches, and mold (SWINGING PLAYBOY looks the worst followed by probably HERCULES). The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio is clean, although subject to original recording/dubbing and the damage on the film which extends to the optical tracks full of pops, hiss, and buzzing. There are no extras but the three discs are pretty much packed and justify the retail price at just under three bucks per film. (Eric Cotenas)