Vinegar Syndrome’s last 70s hardcore double feature was an East Coast affair, but their latest Peekarama disc takes a look at what was happening on the other side of the country around the same time. This disc features two films directed by “Lisa Barr,” the directorial pseudonym of actor/filmmaker Joseph Bardo. Bardo acted in films for Ray Dennis Steckler including THE THRILL KILLERS, THE LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS and BODY FEVER. Behind the camera, he worked on Earl Barton’s TRIP WITH THE TEACHER (starring Zalman King) and was cinematographer on Bud Townsend’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND: AN X-RATED MUSICAL FANTASY.
The poster for DEEP ROOTS, the first film of this double feature, claims the film is “Deeper Than THROAT, More Powerful Than ROOTS!” You certainly can’t fault Bardo for lack of ambition! Unsurprisingly, Deep Roots falls much closer to DEEP THROAT than ROOTS on the cinematic spectrum. Billy (Jesse Chacan) decides to leave his reservation, where he has “deep roots,” and find out how other people live. His approach to this mission is to drive his motorcycle to Los Angeles and have sex with a lot of women. The focus of the film changes a bit after the introduction of Joan (Anita Sands), a young woman who is about to be married to her longtime boyfriend Dave and is worried that she’s missed out on sexual experiences with other people. Billy is happy to help her out, and their parallel erotic adventures begin. That’s pretty much it as far as the story here goes.
What DEEP ROOTS really brings to the table is a few unique sex scenes and Liz Renay (John Waters’ DESPERATE LIVING) in a prominent supporting role apparently playing herself. As for the first, the first scene with Billy and Joan involves the pair painting each other’s bodies as extensive foreplay before transitioning into an extremely messy (and colorful) sex scene. Later, she seduces a hair stylist who gives her pubic hair an extensive cut and blowdry. Still, Joan’s finest moment is the scene in which Liz Renay tries to teach her a striptease. She looks lost and desperately uncoordinated, but seems to really be having a great time.
The film climaxes with a swingers’ costume party that brings Billy and Joan back together, along with “Fifty Beautiful People” (as they are credited) and a highly annoying guy doing a Groucho Marx impersonation. After the orgy, Billy inexplicably returns to the reservation, explaining to the camera: “You know, you really shouldn’t leave where you belong.” The audience can only assume Groucho drove him to it.
STARLET NIGHTS, the second film on the disc, is a very confused modern take on “Snow White” starring Leslie Bovee (star of Kemal Horulu’s LUSTFUL FEELINGS, which appeared on a previous Vinegar Syndrome Drive-In Collection disc) as the wicked stepmother Joyce, trying to convince her husband that his daughter Snow White (Candy Nichols) is not as innocent as he believes. That’s giving the film a lot of leeway on storyline, and calling it a “loose adaptation” would be generous. Most of the traditional names and concepts are in place, but mostly this is just Joyce’s show. She has sex with “fantasies” who come out of her bedroom mirror (Jesse Chacan of DEEP ROOTS as a “Genii” and Tyler Horne, cycling through celebrity impersonations), spikes an apple with aphrodisiac and beds her agent’s secretary Mrs. Sneazy (Monique LeBare) to convince her to give the apple to Snow, and then throws an orgy to prove to her father she’s a whore. This is a busy day!
Joyce’s plan backfires when film and television producer Aron Grumpy (Rick Roberts) shows up at the party and runs into Snow before he leaves. Snow, insatiable from the apple aphrodisiac, shows Grumpy a very good time and he gives her a leading role in his new television series “Charlie’s Devils.” STARLET NIGHTS relies on pop culture references for easy jokes: for example, when Joyce storms into Happy’s office to berate him for letting Snow White get the part in “Charlie’s Devils,” he informs her that Grumpy has decided to instead cast Joyce in Francis Ford Cappuccino’s THE GODMOTHER.
Things don’t go so well for Snow on the set of the show, though. After shooting her second scene with John Bashful (Scott James), she eats an apple and ends up in the hospital. Meanwhile, Joyce and her maid seduce Grumpy again and she ends up with a three-picture deal. “Hollywood!” Joyce exclaims to the camera. “This is my fucking town, and I love it!”
Aside from bad celebrity impersonations and pop culture references, STARLET NIGHTS unfortunately relies on gay stereotypes for much of its humor. Joyce’s “Fantasy” gives her the apple doing a limp-wristed, lisping dialogue, and Joyce’s interior decorator and Snow White’s stylist at the television studio are both ridiculous caricatures. These characterizations stick out as particularly odd given the relative restraint DEEP ROOTS shows towards its main character’s ethnicity—other than Joan mentioning she’s “never had an Indian before” and Billy’s old-Hollywood “Indian” outfit at the costume party, it’s hardly mentioned at all. Making its gay male characters the butt of cheap jokes is perhaps not out of place for adult films of the era, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
This Peekarama release offers an interesting West Coast contrast to the first release in the series, although it’s not quite as strong a double feature DEEP ROOTS is certainly worth a look for Liz Renay’s appearance alone (“I’ll be there with bells on—and sequins and tassels and my tits hangin’ out!”). While Leslie Bovee gives a very enthusiastic performance as the wicked stepmother in STARLET NIGHTS, the film tries too hard to be “funny” and overshoots into “shrill.” Both films are presented in widescreen, scanned in 2k from 35mm archival prints, and while both prints had clearly seen a lot of action, there’s no doubt these films look the best they possibly can. As per usual for Vinegar Syndrome, as a time capsule of West Coast porno feature filmmaking of the era, this is well worth checking out.
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