WONDER WOMEN (1973) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Robert Vincent O'Neill
Vinegar Syndrome

Robert Vincent O’Neil’s WONDER WOMEN fittingly makes its high definition bow on Blu-ray courtesy of Vinegar Sydrome (hint, hint: the logo music).

Contrary to the theme song, the titular “Wonder Women” – whose numbers include Maria de Aragon (O’Neil’s BLOOD MANIA), Roberta Collins (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE), and an unbilled Marilyn Joi (NURSE SHERRI) – do not have super powers; they are in fact the globe-trotting henchwomen of Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan, NIGHT CREATURE) who needs able bodies for her transplantation experiments. On his way to Australia, Los Angeles police detective Mike Harber (Ross Hagen, THE MINI-SKIRT MOB) becomes stranded in the Philippines when his passport is confiscated by Lloyds of London insurance agent Lorenzo (Tony Lorea, FIVE THE HARD WAY) who wants to hire Mike to find a missing Jai-alai player (Ross Rival, KILLERS VS NINJAS) before his company has to pay out a half million dollars. A “blind” witness’ description of the kidnapping of the athlete by a gang of women driving a hearse gels with the circumstances around a similar disappearance of a basketball player in the States, and points to the mysterious “Chapel by the Sea”. What Mike does not know is that his every action is under observation by the Wonder Women who will use their bodies one way or the other to prevent him from discovering Dr. Tsu’s lair before she can perform a financially lucrative brain and body transplant on a paraplegic duke (Lorea in a laughable dual role).

Not quite as thrilling or exploitative as the poster art suggests, WONDER WOMEN is nevertheless thoroughly entertaining for pretty much sticking to the formula of Philippine-set exploitation films. There is a visit to the cockfights (which inspired Hagen’s later film SUPERCOCK), an impressive foot chase through a Manila market, an even more impressive car chase with knocked over fruit-stands, enthusiastic extras diving out of the way of cars (and off of bridges), and on-lookers who must have seen these pics shot on a daily basis. Ubiquitous Philippine exploitation film vet Vic Diaz turns up here intermittently as Jeepney driver Lapu-Lapu. The mad doctor aspect is novel, with her lair being a sort of Pop Art temple with a dungeon of “mistakes” down below. Hagen is an entertaining and energetic lead, and De Aragon is equally impressive in the fight scenes; however, she is the only one of the Wonder Women that gets much character development (at least in the US version, see below). Kwan – who also did SUPERCOCK and NIGHT CREATURE with Hagen – is a bit stiff as somewhat of a Bondian villain, but Sid Haig (SPIDER BABY) is also on hand as Gregorious (or “old fishmouth” as Hagen calls him) who handles Dr. Tsu’s financial affairs and seeks out wealthy clients. Hagen is the credited producer, but the “executive in charge of production” is exploitation director Arthur Marks (LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT), and the theme song was performed by Annette Thomas who sang the theme song for Marks’ THE CLASS OF ’74 (a pseudo-sequel to his film THE ROOMMATES which incorporated footage from the 1972 sexploitation film GABRIELLA, GABRIELLA). One of the film’s executive producers was actor-turned-evangelist Ronald Remy (MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND), and banners bearing his name can be seen draping the back of more than a couple Jeepneys. The opening track of Carson Whitsett’s porntastic score (seriously, watch the opening) was sampled by exploitation Blu-ray/DVD company Vinegar Syndrome for their logo.

Originally released theatrically by producer Arthur Marks' General Film Corporation and on VHS in 1982 by Media Home Entertainment as THE DEADLY AND THE BEAUTIFUL, WONDER WOMEN had its first DVD release from Retromedia utilizing a print supplied by star/producer Hagen. The transfer was HD-mastered and anamorphic and colorful but the short-end photography looked variable and sometimes quite murky. A dispute over copyright ownership had Code Red announcing a competing edition that did not materialize, but Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negatives from the other rights holder and it boasts superior detail and color as well as slivers of additional information on the sides and top of the frame. Faint scratches still remain in some shots but it is overall a cleaner transfer with better contrasts, which pay off in scenes with more saturated color gels as well as the "magic hour" sequence early on in the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono audio track is clean and the music track has one wondering whether Vinegar Syndrome directly lifted their logo music from the audio track of the elements utilized here. English SDH subtitles are also included.

Retromedia's disc featured a commentary track with O'Neill moderated by Fred Olen Ray while Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin moderates a new track with the director who has finessed his recollections about the film to the point where the two tracks sound very similar while the new one does have some additional tidbits that make it worthy. He reveals that he was approached by Marks on the basis of THE PSYCHO LOVER and BLOOD MANIA to go the Philippines and develop a treatment by Hagen titled “The Island of Cannibal Women.” Arriving two weeks ahead of Hagen and location scouting with Remy, he came up with a more interesting story idea based on the locations he wanted to utilize and Hagen was on board with the new idea. Scripting to shooting was accomplished within four months, with the first week devoted to the chase scene that sold Marks on the satirical bent of the script where he had previously expected a straight action film. Maria de Aragon was the only American actress they had to fly in as the other actresses were already in the Philippines doing other pictures along with Haig. He also refers to the Filipino crew’s “mañana syndrome” – the polo sequence taking three days to shoot because the players and horses were not available on the same day – shooting with a limited selection of lenses, and having to make stunt weapons, as well as the enthusiastic Filipino stunt men. The film’s release was hindered by an injunction by Fawcett Comics who objected to the WONDER WOMEN title (O’Neill actually prefers the alternate THE DEADLY AND THE BEAUTIFUL title or his original THE CHINESE PUZZLE). The coda sequence was directed by Marks and tacked on after O’Neil had put the rest of the film together.

The European version apparently ran a bit longer, and the Retromedia disc included five scenes from a letterboxed tape source while Vinegar Syndrome has included the European cut in its entirety (90:15 versus 82:11) in high definition. The scenes revolved around Dr. Tsu’s assistant Vera (Claire Hagen, THE SIDEHACKERS) and her attachment to athlete Tony (still photographer Beau Marks, who went on to co-produce films like DIE HARD and PREDATOR) whose eyes Tsu plans to transplant into a wealthy customer, Tony’s reaction to losing his eyes, and a scene featuring the satisfied customer dining with Gregorious and Tsu. These bits explain Vera’s otherwise nonsensical motivations and actions during the climax. The Retromedia disc featured an interview with stunt coordinator/second unit director Erik Cord (THE TOWERING INFERNO) while Vinegar Syndrome includes a videotaped excerpt (12:44) from a 2007 New Beverly screening featuring a Q&A with O'Neill, Collins, Haig, Hagen, Joi, and Cord. The disclaimer mentions the poor video quality as well as some footage which has gone missing over the years, and what remains is rather underwhelming as half the running time is taken up by the introduction of the six participants before they even come up to the front. The Retromedia DVD also included a short excerpt of silent 8mm footage shot on location, two workprint VHS-sourced scenes from the unfinished 1983 sequel WARRIOR WOMEN along with a trailer, TV spots, a radio spot, and a photo gallery while Vinegar Syndrome includes the theatrical trailer (1:55), TV Spots (1:50), and a still gallery. The cover is reversible and a limited run of copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome includes a slipcover. (Eric Cotenas)