Carlos Tobalina made a lot of hugely successful adult films in the 70s and 80s, so it makes sense that Vinegar Syndrome have released over a dozen of his films in both double features and as standalone discs. They probably sell pretty well, too, since many of them feature big-name adult stars of the era such as Serena, John Holmes, Jamie Gillis, Dorothy LeMay, Paul Thomas, etc. etc.

In January, Vinegar Syndrome released two more Peekarama double features of Tobalina’s films, one disc featuring 1979’s THREE RIPENING CHERRIES and SENSUAL FIRE, the other with 1981’s SEXUAL HEIGHTS and UNDULATIONS.



THREE RIPENING CHERRIES, purportedly based on an essay by Guy de Maupassant (!?), is about sisters Sally (Dorothy LeMay), Lucy (Misty Regan), and Ann (Brooke West). One day they come home from school to get a lecture from their mother Rose (Kitty Shayne) about sex, complete with flashbacks to Rose’s early sexual experiences. Horrifyingly, the first of these is her being raped by a family friend as a young teenager, which is represented in the film mostly as Rose screaming “NO!” on the soundtrack over and over again while her daughters make pained expressions. Once Rose is done with her talk, the sisters retire to their room for a lesbian threesome which their cousin Claudia (Rosa Lee) steadfastly refuses to join, choosing the company of her silver vibrator instead.



For the rest of the film, the three girls have sex with each other while fantasizing and trying to seduce fellow students and a couple of teachers. Lucy goes after her cute gym teacher, who meets her at a hotel but can’t get an erection. Sally makes a move on her math teacher, who has unusual tastes. By the end of the film, the girls have decided to wait until they meet guys they really like to have sex with, or just use Claudia’s vibrator that they stole from her room. THREE RIPENING CHERRIES is incoherently edited and a huge chunk of its run-time is typically taken up with the three sisters — who, by the way, bear virtually no resemblance to each other or to their mother, once again mitigating the creep factor of Tobalina’s casual approach to incest — in lengthy unbroken orgy scenes.



SENSUAL FIRE opens with some crazy lens flares and some very exciting library music, which is sort of totally inappropriate for the comparatively subdued action that follows. Roy (Jamie Gillis) invites his lover Laura (Jesie St. James) and her daughter Teena (Dorothy LeMay) to move in with him. Unfortunately, Roy quickly becomes obsessed with the beautiful Teena, and consults a psychiatrist friend who refers him to Madame Rose. Madame Rose runs a brothel catering to very specific requests, and after Roy drops by and has sex with the secretary (Serena) while the other girls sit around looking bored, he believes his problems are over. Then he spies Teena through his office peephole again, and it’s back to the drawing board.



Unlike most of the recent Tobalina releases, SENSUAL FIRE features no lengthy orgy scenes. It’s even edited in an order that makes sense, with events happening in coherent, chronological order, and without too many repeated ad-libbed lines! Tobalina himself makes an appearance in SENSUAL FIRE as a priest (seriously) who suggests that Roy should visit Madame Rose again when his lust for Teena returns. The priest also figures out that Roy is obsessed with the girl because she looks like a girl he had a crush on in high school but never had sex with. Despite Madame Rose providing Roy with an exact double of Teena (the double also played by LeMay), Roy finds his desires unsatisfied and comes up with a plan to fix the problem for good. The film ends with a predictable punchline that Gillis tries like hell to sell, but which still falls flat due to its forehead-slapping obviousness.




The second January Tobalina double feature opens with the flatly reprehensible SEXUAL HEIGHTS. A series of title cards informs us that San Francisco is home to more divorced men than any other city on Earth, and then we visit the home of four divorced men living together. These four men are Ron (Jamie Gillis), Joe (Herschel Savage), Jim (Jesse Adams) and Art (Michael Morrison), and as the film joins them they’re settling in for an evening of standing around their bar watching porno movies obtained by Joe and calling each other the horniest guy in each man’s chosen profession, presumably so the audience will have some way of differentiating them other than their hair color and the fact that Joe wears glasses. Sure beats writing characters! While watching one of the videos, Joe is reminded of the babysitter Laurie (Tawny Pearl) who “ruined his marriage,” and then tells the story of how that happened, which is that Joe tried to rape the teenage girl and his wife walked in on the act. Obviously, the other three guys all agree that the divorce was clearly Laurie’s fault.



This story gives Ron an idea for the evening’s entertainment. The four men will dress up as a husband, wife, chauffeur and maid, and call up Laurie to come “babysit” at their house. Laurie will ingest any number of doped food and drinks and smoke some marijuana-laced cigarettes that they’ve left around the house, and they’ll “get back at her” for ruining Joe’s marriage. This being a Tobalina film, Laurie walks right into the plot and happily has sex with three of the guys (Joe, fearing being caught, hangs back), then calls over three of her friends to join them all for an orgy. Surprise! A Tobalina movie featuring an orgy, and two female characters in it are supposedly sisters. Meanwhile, across town John (John Holmes, maybe playing himself?) has completely unrelated but refreshingly consensual sex with Amy (Mai Lin) as horribly embarrassing “oriental” music plays on the soundtrack. Eventually, Joe is unmasked/unwigged at the orgy, and it turns out Laurie was in love with him the whole time! Cue racist maid joke, and credits. SEXUAL HEIGHTS packs a lot of incredibly offensive material into 90 minutes.



Finally, UNDULATIONS shows the audience a broadcast of a public broadcasting show called “Undulations,” hosted by May Lin (er, Mai Lin), Georgia Drugg (Suzanne French), and Maggie Miller (Kitty Shayne). The show is mostly made up of the women talking about sex, which is handy since their guests are Jamie Gillis and John Holmes. There is also some footage of a gay pride parade, but gay rights are quickly dismissed as not being as important as some other junk these women want to talk about. Which is just more sex. UNDULATIONS is a completely plotless string of sex scenes, barely connected with footage of the “show” and padded with some pointless shots of a man and a woman in their respective homes watching the show and presumably becoming aroused. The film expects us to guess this because they make faces that look vaguely surprised and just this side of “not asleep” every so often. Hilariously, UNDULATIONS ends with a freeze-frame of the woman getting up and walking out of her room stopped at what looks like a totally arbitrary point, and then the credits roll.



Compared to the other filmmakers whose work Vinegar Syndrome has released, Tobalina’s work is easily the weakest from a technical standpoint. More often than not, Tobalina seemed content to hire a bunch of people to have sex in front of a camera, while he took tons of footage and later assembled films out of it hodgepodge with unrelated footage shot later. Regardless, Vinegar Syndrome gives his films the same respectful and careful restoration they give all others, and these discs are no exception. All four films have been restored from their original 35mm camera negatives and feature theatrical trailers for both films on each disc. While it is obviously a part of Vinegar Syndrome’s mission to save these films for posterity, Tobalina’s films are consistently the least cinematically interesting films in their lineup. Diehard Tobalina fans and fans of the actors included in these releases will want to add these discs to their collections, but anyone else will be fine giving them a pass.





Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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