SWEET SUGAR (1972) Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Michel Levesque
Vinegar Syndrome

SWEET SUGAR is "raising more than just cane" in Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Entrapped for prostitution and drug possession in Mexico, Sugar Bowman (Phyllis Davis, TERMINAL ISLAND) is given the choice of waiting a year in jail for her trial or cutting cane for two years. She chooses the latter and is shipped off to the plantation of Dr. John (Angus Duncan, HOW TO SEDUCE A WOMAN) along with hooker Simone (Ella Edwards, DIRTY O'NEIL), seventeen-year-old Delores (Pamela Collins) put to work for her guardian's profit, and lesbian mankiller Fara (Jacqueline Giroux, TRICK OR TREATS). Sugar discovers that this is no mere work farm as their meager pay comes with exorbitant deductions, the girls are subject to being brutalized and raped by the guards and also forced to be test subjects for ethnopharmacologist Dr. John's experiments with drugs geared towards ramping up the libido and doing away with inhibitions. Although Simone advises her that things will be much easier if she does what she is told, Sugar resists and rebels, leading to punishment for all of the women and earning Simone's scorn. Although Simone has not been above using her body to get favors, she finds herself falling for chain gang worker/voodoo priest Mojo (Timothy Brown, BLACK HEAT). While Simone sees leverage against Dr. John as a way of achieving better working conditions, Sugar wants to escape and seduces blue-balled guard Rick (James Houghton, SUPERSTITION) to arrange for transport. After Delores is raped by the doctor, she and Fara join Sugar's escape attempt which soon becomes a fiery and vengeful riot when Simone is taken to Dr. John's torture chamber.

A somewhat more conventional follow-up to director Michel Levesque's debut WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, SWEET SUGAR was one of Dimension Pictures' responses to competitor New World Pictures' women-in-prison films – particularly Jack Hill's THE BIG DOLL HOUSE from the same screenwriter Don Spencer – and went south of the border while Corman was still in the Philippines (Corman would shoot a number of films in Argentina later on in the eighties including DEATHSTALKER). The more unpleasant aspects of the captive women scenario like Sugar's violation by smoking gun barrel are leavened by the scenery chewing of Duncan and Cliff Osmond (INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) as sadistic head guard Burgos, Davis' characterization of a woman who gets by on her back but does not consider herself a prostitute, the repartee between Rick and elder Max (Albert Cole, MEAN MOTHER) who makes bets on the likelihood of Rick striking out with the prisoners ("You've got it backwards, it's 'now I'm gonna snatch a kiss!"), and some of the more outrageous punishments for the prisoners like being set upon by a horde of cats injected with a drug to reduce them to a primitive state. The following year, Davis would appear in another WIP-esque entry for Dimension Pictures with Stephanie Rothman's TERMINAL ISLAND which also featured Cole and James Whitworth (THE HILLS HAVE EYES' Papa Jupiter) who plays a brutal guard here.

SWEET SUGAR got its first authorized video release in 1982 by Charles Band's Cult Video label under the title SHE DEVILS IN CHAINS (which IMDb lists as a title for the New World Pictures Filipino WIP film EBONY, IVORY, AND JADE) and then under its original title in a truncated version from Continental Video as one of their double feature tapes (this one with the Italian WIP film ESCAPE FROM WOMENS PRISON). Two unauthorized releases followed in the 1990s: Hurricane Pictures' HELLFIRE ON ICE in 1990 (along with Edoardo Mulgaria's ESCAPE FROM HELL as HELLFIRE ON ICE 2, and from T-Z Video in 1994 as CAPTIVE WOMEN 3 (in a series that also included retitlings of SS EXPERIMENT, ELSA FRAULEIN SS, THE STORY OF LINDA, HELL PENITENTIARY, AMAZONIA, and SAINT-TROPEZ VICE). The film had no official release during the first two decades of the digital age and was better known in the form of outtakes of Davis' nude scenes which appeared in the Wizard Video compilation FAMOUS T&A. While other Dimension Pictures titles popped up on DVD, SWEET SUGAR makes its debut from Vinegar Syndrome as a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo from a 2K scan of the original 35mm interpositive. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 encode is sharp, colorful, and virtually blemish-free apart from the usual reel change marks. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is clean and free of any noticeable damage, crisply rendering the dialogue and music (including a strange theme song by Don Gere who also provided the score for WEREWOLF ON WHEELS). Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Besides the film's trailer (2:13), the disc also includes an interview with screenwriter Spencer (13:01) who graduated from UCLA's film school with an emphasis on writing, worked as a story analyst at National General Pictures until it folded and then was a substitute teacher when he was contacted to script STUDENT NURSES and then THE BIG DOLL HOUSE for New World Pictures. He emphasizes that he did not work with Roger Corman or Jack Hill but with Stephanie Rothmann (THE VELVET VAMPIRE) and Charles Swartz (TERMINAL ISLAND) in developing projects and admits that SWEET SUGAR was a copy of THE BIG DOLL HOUSE. A "Halfway to Black Friday" edition limited to 1,500 copies, SWEET SUGAR comes with a reversible cover and an O-card with new artwork by Derek Gabryszak. (Eric Cotenas)