It seems hard to believe, but Vinegar Syndrome hasn’t even been around for two years yet. Their first releases hit the market in March of 2013, and in just under 18 months they have established themselves as a hugely influential home video imprint. Their tireless dedication to preserving independent and adult film history, paired with an impressive slate of high-quality releases, have made them invaluable to the paracinema fan community. One of their first “Drive-In Collection” releases was a double feature of films (CONFESSIONS and EXPECTATIONS) by vaunted adult director Anthony Spinelli, and another followed later (FIRST TIME and ORIENTAL BABYSITTER). Now, Vinegar Syndrome returns with their first Peekarama release of Spinelli films, and it’s an impressive set.
First up is the drama CRY FOR CINDY (1976). Cindy (Amber Hunt) is a high-priced prostitute working to put her boyfriend through medical school, but when he discovers her double life and is beaten up by her pimp, Cindy has a breakdown and commits suicide by jumping out the window of her swanky apartment. At her sparsely attended funeral, her two female friends Nora (Mitzi Fraser) and Yvonne (Maryanne Fisher) and her boyfriend Dennis (Spender Travis) reminisce about her life. Nora and Yvonne think back to how they recruited Cindy, who was a shy hairdresser named Anna before she began turning tricks. Dennis looks back and wonders what he could have done differently to save Anna from her fate.
For having such a downer of a setup, the tone of CRY FOR CINDY is not quite as dark as one would expect. Cindy takes to the work quickly and eventually finds herself enjoying it, which causes her a tremendous amount of guilt. She still loves Dennis, but she is obsessed with meeting new people and having new experiences—and making a lot of money doing it. There’s a strong emphasis on character here, which is both good (it’s not just a parade of contextless sex scenes) and a bit of a problem (Amber Hunt, in her first film role, is only sporadically convincing as Cindy/Anna). The rest of the cast does a great job of fleshing out their characters, though, and Spinelli doesn’t blink from giving the film a total downer of an ending.
This set also includes the softcore version of CRY FOR CINDY, which is basically exactly the same film minus about 20 minutes of hardcore footage (running about 65 minutes). It’s a testament to how well Spinelli handled the film around the sex that it works pretty well on its own. The inclusion of this version of the film appears to have been made at the last minute, since there is no mention of it on the DVD case artwork at all. There’s also a disclaimer at the start of the film that explains Vinegar Sydrome had “a beat up 35mm print, extra space on disc #2 and some free time on a weekend.” They apparently did some minor color work but mostly present the film as it was scanned, giving tech/AV geeks a fascinating look at what the company does when they do full restorations on features and not just straight scans. Despite the disclaimer, the video quality of the soft core version of CRY FOR CINDY is not bad, but it’s also obviously inferior to the 2K scan of the hardcore version.
The second film in this set is TOUCH ME (1971), one of Spinelli’s first films. In this film, Dr. Lloyd Davis (Tom Stevens) discusses the concept of a sexual encounter group with the audience before the film becomes a fictional version of one of these groups. The group includes troubled married couple Lisa and Robert Stevens (Andy Bellamy and John Keith), pushy salesman Harry Belmont (George “Buck” Flower), virginal Doris Welby (Rene Bond), nymphomaniac Marianne Nelson (Sandy Dempsey), lesbian Betsy Lyman (Suzanne Fields, star of Alpha Blue’s recent DVD release of Ed Wood’s THE UNDERGRADUATE), super-stud photographer James Salter (Richard Smedley) and impotent Bill Bradford (Ric Lutze). The doctor introduces each character and explains why they have come to the group before beginning a series of sexual “experiments.”
While TOUCH ME does include quite a bit of hardcore sex, it is used to help establish the characters and their relationships instead of simply titillating the audience. The cast is game and mostly solid, and this is about as far from a fun “love-in” as you could get with this kind of setup. Feelings get hurt, boundaries are crossed, and in one extremely uncomfortable scene one of the characters basically rapes another one while everyone else sits around and watches. All the characters are forced to face difficult truths about themselves and their sexuality, and while there’s no doubt most of that is 70s psychobabble, the actors commit to selling some difficult emotions. Meanwhile, Dr. Davis ends up looking less like a therapist and more like a creepy enabler by the time the film ends. Maybe that was Spinelli’s point?
And now we get to the real find in this set: AN ACT OF CONFESSION (1972), Spinelli’s notorious “nunsploitation” film. Vinegar Syndrome tracked down a 16mm print of the “soft” version of the film and put the question to its fans on Facebook earlier this year: release this version, or wait until a hardcore print surfaced (an exceptionally unlikely prospect given the film’s troubled release history)? Fortunately, the vote seems to have been in favor of releasing a restored “soft” version as opposed to having the film remain mostly unavailable (awful bootlegs have been around for ages), and Vinegar Syndrome elected to add it to this release of Spinelli features.
In AN ACT OF CONFESSION, young nun Sister Beatrice (Kim Durey) recounts her struggles with being tortured by sexual fantasies. These “daydreams” plagued her all of her life, so she decided to become a nun to battle the temptations of the world. However, even after becoming a nun, Beatrice was plagued by increasingly graphic and blasphemous erotic fantasies about fellow nun Sister Jennifer (Cyndee Summers), Father Beauvier (Keith Erickson) and the young men studying under him, Brothers Joseph and John (Franklin Anthony and Neville Francis). These fantasies move from straightforward lesbian sex to the Brothers tying Beatrice to a crucifix and having sex with her. While explaining some of her fantasies to Father Beauvier, he is unable to control himself and masturbates in the confessional with the same hand he uses to hold his rosary. Finally, Beatrice has a sexual vision about Jesus himself, and decides to join a hermitage order, from which she recounts her stories. Here, completely isolated in the mountains, Beatrice considers herself a true “Bride of Christ,” alone and able to serve without distraction.
There’s no doubt about it, AN ACT OF CONFESSION is legendarily controversial for a reason. Anyone with even a hint of sensitivity concerning Catholic iconography is going to want to steer well clear of this film. It opens with a title card claiming that its intent is “to portray the very human side of those in conflict regarding their commitment to a life of reverence,” even referring to such literary sources as Dante, Boccaccio and Voltaire as precedents. While AN ACT OF CONFESSION may not be quite on the same level of literary thoughtfulness as any of the works those names might bring to mind, it does arguably present a positive portrayal of a young woman who rejects all of the temptations of the world and finds peace in solitary service. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of imagery here that will make people deeply uncomfortable, but AN ACT OF CONFESSION is certainly not just a simple nunsploitation picture playing off its shock value.
Overall, this is easily one of the very best releases in Vinegar Syndrome’s Peekarama line so far. In addition to offering two solid hardcore features, it also gives fans a peek at how the technical side of restoration works (with the barely-touched soft core version of CRY FOR CINDY) and a chance to finally see a decent-quality version of a virtually lost classic of the era (edited though it may be). This is the kind of release that has earned Vinegar Syndrome its reputation, and keeps fans eager to see what treasures they may unearth next.
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