A WOMAN'S TORMENT (1977) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Roberta Findlay
Vinegar Syndrome

Roberta Findlay probes the body and mind of an unstable woman in A WOMAN'S TORMENT, on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

Although socialite Frances (Crystal Sync, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS) is having an affair with psychologist Otis (Jake Teague, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS) – the husband of her best friend Estelle (Jennifer Jordan, ABIGAIL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN) – her academic husband Donald (Jeffrey Hurst, SLAMMER GIRLS) blames their marital discord on the presence of Frances' step-sister Karen (Tara Chung) who he believes is mentally unbalanced and needs psychiatric care rather than being left to sit in the dark in her bedroom as the "monster in the attic" all their high society friends would like to meet. Although Frances does not want any sort of scandal connected to her family name, she relents to Don to discuss it Otis. Overhearing their discussion, Karen flees to the family's desolate island cottage where her hold on reality further erodes and she seduces and murders anyone who happens upon the cottage in the offseason: from Larry the lecherous lineman (Michael Gaunt, INTRUSION) to busybody neighbor Mrs. Grudlow (Marlene Willoughby, MORE THAN SISTERS), to a young couple looking for a place to picnic and screw. Worried when she cannot contact Karen, Frances sends Otis to talk to her first, and then follows herself, walking right into a possible bloodbath.

A hardcore work that functions as a bridge between director Roberta Findlay's seventies hardcore porn work and her 1980s horror and exploitation films, A WOMAN'S TORMENT riffs on REPULSION (with a couple hallucinations of a knife-wielding assailant in a stocking mask) but its execution is rather uneven with Chung alternately amateurish and hilariously droll while the concern of Frances and Donald for her does not preclude sexual interludes, much drinking, and singalongs of "Roll Out the Barrel." Indeed, the softcore version of the film still features plenty of nudity while revealing just how superfluous the sex scenes actually are to the story, especially since Jordan, Teague, and Hurst give compelling enough performances while conveying the exposition. Only the seduction-turned-rape scene between Gaunt and Chung generates much in the way of heat and tension. Willoughby contributes some comic relief as the nosy, judgmental, holier-than-thou (with her "Boycott the Museum of Natural History" T-shirt) neighbor who not so much looks after the cabins as peeks into them before getting her just desserts. In spite of Chung's lack of thespian skills, the downbeat ending manages to be somewhat affecting, and one can see that Findlay seemed far more interested in the story than the skin in this film. Had Findlay made the film in the eighties with more gore than sex, it might have made an interesting triple bill with Chuck Vincent's DERANGED and DEMENTED (which was not helmed by a porn director but did feature Harry Reems in a leading role).

Released in the early 1980s by Select-a-Tape (the company that distributed the Andy Milligan titles under the "Midnight Video" banner) and then later by VCA, A WOMAN'S TORMENT's first digital release was the unauthorized Alpha Blue Archives double feature with TIFFANY MINX. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and includes both the hardcore (85:00) and softcore (87:13) versions. Although the running times differ by only two minutes, the softcore version trims down the sex scenes while leaving some incidental frontal nudity, and also features some alternate scenes like the first part of the exchange between Karen and Mrs. Grudlow in which the latter explores her kitchen rather than stealing one of her lightbulbs (as she does in the hardcore version) and Karen actually speaks to her in this version. Karen's masturbatory shower scene is cut down considerably with cutaways to her encounter with Gaunt as well as a shot of two children sitting on the beach at sunset. Both transfers are colorful and as sharp as the shallow depth-of-field allows in the many close-ups and roving camera shots during the sex scenes while the non-sex scene range from crisp-looking to a little soft (on the commentary, Findlay admits to opening up the f-stop while the camera was running to contend with lighting changes). The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono tracks are relatively clean, with Walter Sear's score coming through richly during the more languorous cinematic passages, and Vinegar Syndrome has provided English SDH subtitles for both versions.

Findlay provides an audio commentary on the softcore version moderated by Casey Scott, and it seems as though the softcore version was chosen not so much because it offers more story-related scenes in place of the sex so much as Findlay's disinterest in shooting sex scenes (utilizing a telephoto macro lens and pretty much moving the camera up and down until the requisite amount of film was eaten up). She reveals that the production company name D.F.S. stood for herself, Walter Sear, and Dave Darby, a partnership that also netted RAW FOOTAGE, FROM HOLLY WITH LOVE, and BEACH HOUSE (presumably shot in the same beach house as this) which Darby's wife deemed "unnatural" and finished in court with lecherous Darby still refusing to acknowledge Findlay as an equal partner in suggesting an equitable split of half going to him and half divided between Findlay and Sear (rather than buying him out, they stole the negatives). She reveals that the film's beach house was on the Atlanique stretch of Fire Island that was not accessible at the time by ferry, with the crew cursing her for having to carry all of the equipment to the house on foot. She also reveals that Chung got bored and ran off with the gaffer who may or may not now be a Bill Maher show producer, requiring Findlay herself to don the wig and dress to double for inserts and shots from the back (Chung was actually bald under the wig by choice). Scott provides some information on the current whereabouts of some of the film's actors while Findlay gives her impressions of them at the time.

A Quad Cinema Screening Q&A (22:38) with Scott and Findlay following the screening of the hardcore version reiterates much of the same information, sometimes verbatim since the two of them had recorded the commentary track on the same day prior to the screening, but it is sometimes more entertaining to hear some of those same responses in the presence of a game audience. The disc also includes an interview with actor Gaunt (16:07) who provides his impressions of Findlay and Sear, the opportunity to ad-lib during his scene with Chung since she was largely silent, and an anecdote about Darby's reluctance to take him and the actresses back to Long Island at the end of the day's shooting that suggests the producer was indeed as sleazy as Findlay intimates. The disc combo also comes with a reversible cover in which both artworks are eye-catching but the more atmospheric one on the inner side (which also adorns the DVD side) is one I have chosen to display. (Eric Cotenas)