Director: John Hayes
Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome's latest Drive-in Collection double feature pairs up two more rarities from GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE director John Hayes.

Although the poster proclaims that "Some women are born to be SWEET TRASH", the titular character is actually walking, talking, Irish-American stereotype Michael Joseph Donovan, a middle-aged Coney Island longshoreman targeted by a mysterious organization's super computer as possessing the perfect set of character flaws that make him an ideal addition to their staff of programmed manipulators. In debt to loan shark Dan (William Guhl, Hayes' THE CUT-THROATS) for four thousand dollars, Michael thinks he can pay off his debt with Queens over Aces in saloon owner Pete's backroom poker game by borrowing another two thousand from him. He loses the game, but this turns out to be through the machinations of the organization – controlled long distance by annoying, pudgy playboy Mr. Rizzo – and Dan makes him the offer to work for him or have his fingers broken by his boss Mr. Carlisle's thugs. Michael outsmarts Dan and his would be cripplers, escaping into the night; however, this is the beginning of a surrealistic journey in which everyone he meets either tries to ensnare him or triggers vivid hallucinations. Michael appears to escape this nightmare with the help of torch-carrying nurse Helen who hides him out in a house belonging to a former private patient; but, by this point, the organization has deemed that anyone who tries to help Michael is expendable.

A messy and muddled attempt at a paranoia thriller in which an IBM Supercomputer dictates the fate of the little guy while the corrupt and powerful dabble in sexual diversions (unimaginative ones at that), SWEET TRASH is mostly dull stuff. Our loud lead seems like less of a film noir heel than an "aw shucks" Jimmy Stewart circa IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and his love interest cannot even make eye contact with the camera much less him. Bafflingly, abundant nudity just seems like padding to a story that seems more made up as it goes along than planned out (the non-punchline of an ending renders the entire "adventure" redundant). The film was lensed by Hayes' regular collaborator throughout the sixties Paul Hipp (THE BOOGENS) and Henning Schellerup (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) with some degree of flare outside of the more cramped locations while composer Mario Toscano (ALL THE LOVIN' KINFOLK) weaves an Irish ditty in and out of the film's score. Suspense is seriously lacking, but the climax does include some unexpectedly splattery shotgun blasted squibs.

A vice cop dedicated to, but not relishing, protecting perverts from exploitation by other perverts, Lieutenant Walsh (Tony Vorno, FANDANGO) has THE HANGUP when he impulsively helps young runaway Angel (Sharon Matt, Herschell Gordon Lewis's LINDA AND ABILENE) escape a raid he organized on the compound of the Svengali-esque Mr. Pirano (the annoying guy who played Mr. Rizzo in SWEET TRASH). Setting the girl up in his apartment with the goal of getting her back home to her parents in Pasadena, Walsh tries to resist her charms without arousing the suspicion of his horny landlady (who he plumbed in the bathroom while she was supposed to be fixing his sink). Walsh eventually gives in to Angel's alternately girlish charms and womanly experience, but his romping with her in the countryside and on his apartment floor (and window sill) takes a toll on his work. When Mr. Pirano attempts to blackmail Walsh for his relationship after the cop gets carried away at a forest-bound hippie love-in, Walsh must evade the suspicions of partner Richards (THE LOVE BUTCHER's Erik Stern) as he finds himself embroiled in the very vices that still sicken him.

A more straightforward drama of sexual manipulation, THE HANGUP is not particularly erotic despite (and in some cases because of) all of the undraped flesh; although the world of smut should not be alluring from the hero's perspective. The film does get off to a good start with a an implant-enhanced redhead (Bambi Allen, the former half of LINDA AND ABILENE) stripping and masturbating before an audience of rough-looking transvestites (intentionally), lesbians, and "Master" of Ceremonies Karen Swanson (DRAG RACER) and a vice bust that takes an unexpected twist, but all of the other twists are quite obvious. Vorno and Matt give it a good try as the tragic lovers ("I'm gonna rape you good!"). Hayes' only opportunity for some faux surrealism comes with some hazy filters during the hippie orgy, but he and cinematographer Paul Hipp (assisted by Henning Schellerup again) have a go at some bargain basement expressionism during the third act which takes place mainly at night in shadowy environs; just before the end credits fade out we are treated to a still frame recap of the events in black and white, and the images really do have a more lustrous film noir look in monochrome than the same shots did in color). The exterior used for the hotel in the opening sequence is none other than the Kimberly Crest House which was featured prominently in Tom DeSimone's HELL NIGHT, while Pirano's abode is the Garbutt House used in the eighties Carolco gore film SUPERSTITION. Vorno is billed as "Sebastian Gregory" and his character as "Sgt. Walsh" although he is referred in the film as a lieutenant and only once late in the film as a sergeant.

Vinegar Syndrome's progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfers are derived from 2K scans of the original 35mm camera negatives, which both look quite sharp and boldly colorful. Light scratches are apparent at times, but it seems as if the increased speckling is the only indicator of the reel changes as there were no apparent reel change markers. THE HANGUP is the better-looking of the two transfers, but both look great given their rarity (especially when compared to DVD releases of Hayes's films from other companies). The Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks have some faint hiss but are clean and the dialogue intelligible. The sole extras are trailers for the two films. The trailers for both are spoiler-ish, but SWEET TRASH (3:00) is standard length while THE HANGUP is more than twice as long at 6:49 and – like the trailer for Hayes' THE CUT-THROATS on Vinegar Syndrome's limited DVD of that film – features three instances of alternate takes (two with frontal nudity while the same performers are covered below the waist in the same shots from the feature). (Eric Cotenas)