Most cult film fans probably know Ray Dennis Steckler best as the man behind such oddities as RAT PFINK A BOO BOO and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES!!?, but he also made many adult films throughout the 70s and 80s under a number of pseudonyms. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re watching a Steckler film of any type, thanks to the distinctive voice of his wife Carolyn Brandt, who appeared in or narrated quite a few of his films. Vinegar Syndrome has collected three of Steckler’s 1970s adult features for their Peekarama line, and it makes for an intriguing change of pace: Steckler’s special brand of filmmaking on the cheap gives these films a particularly gritty feel quite different from most of the adult films Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing. These are the kinds of films where the girls don’t wear high heels in bed, so the audience gets a good look at their (almost invariably) dirty bare feet!
First up is RED HEAT (1975), made under the pseudonym Cindy Lou Sutters. Billed as a sort of horror/thriller, the film is actually a weird meta-porn that tracks three different story lines that occasionally intersect but never really entirely come together. Cindy Lou Sutters (voiced by Carolyn Brandt) is casting for an adult movie and comes across a young redhead perfect for her film’s lead. The girl’s boyfriend gives her the name “Red Heat,” but before shooting can start Red catches her boyfriend with another woman and stabs him to death. She wanders the streets of Las Vegas in a haze while Sutters and crew recast the lead role and continue with production. Meanwhile, an anonymous guy on a motorcycle drives around robbing various shady characters. It seems like only a matter of time before this thug and Red cross paths, but what will happen when they do?
RED HEAT is mostly a movie about making porn movies, which was a popular topic for adult films of the time. We spend a lot of time with Sutters and her crew as they cast and shoot their film, and these scenes actually reveal quite a bit about the humdrum mechanics of making a porn film on the cheap. For example, when Red disappears, Sutters replaces her with a masseuse named Sherry. They go to shoot around a lake with Sherry in a bikini and some people playing around in a speedboat to give the film extra “production value,” which helps attract distributors. All the sex scenes in this portion of the film are accompanied by a lot of direction from “Sutters” and her cameraman Herb, probably giving viewers a pretty good idea of what being on set might have been like. The other segments of the film following Red and the robber are narrated by “Sutters” and feint at the idea of being a psychological thriller, but nothing much becomes of them. RED HEAT is mostly worth a look for its surprisingly candid look at how things work behind the cameras of an ultra-cheap feature.
THE MAD LOVE LIFE OF A HOT VAMPIRE (1971) was made under the name Sven Christian. In this virtually plotless horror/comedy, Dracula’s wife Elaina (Carolyn Brandt) tells the story of “Hunchback” waking Count Dracula (Jim Parker, looking an awful lot like Joe Flaherty’s Dracula from SCTV) from his long sleep. Dracula in turn wakes his three vampire brides, watches as they have an orgy with Hunchback, and then sends them out into the night to bring him back some blood. Meanwhile, Van Helsing meets up with an old friend to talk about the mysterious disappearance of his friend’s sister, who was killed in a car accident but whose body never made it to her own funeral. Running barely over 50 minutes, it takes nearly as long to say this film’s title as it does to watch the entire movie. Dracula mugs relentlessly at the camera and says weird stuff (to kick off the orgy, he commands: “Do what is known as ‘your thing!’”) while Elaina provides commentary like “Dracula is groovy!” The sequence where the vampire brides go out to seduce men for their blood takes up a full half of the film’s running time, and you could be forgiven for forgetting they’re supposed to be vampires by the time they finally take bites for blood (from somewhere a bit more… private than the neck).
Rounding out the triple feature is another Sven Christian film, PEEPING TOM (1973). This film opens with an introduction to our hero, a “weirdo” who enjoys watching people having sex. We then follow him from house to house as he peeps in the windows on a variety of different people doing (to borrow a phrase from Dracula) what is known as “their thing.” That’s the entire plot of the film, which feels very much like a series of short vignettes shot separately and threaded together with footage of Peeping Tom running around Las Vegas at night, often in slow motion for dramatic effect. Steckler reuses a couple of the sets from HOT VAMPIRE, suggesting that those scenes were perhaps shot at the same time as that feature and saved for later use here. The ending suggests more adventures of Peeping Tom may be on the way, but it seems unlikely that ever happened.
Vinegar Syndrome presents all three films scanned in 2K from archival 16mm prints, and it shows. As opposed to the slick 35mm camera negative scans of many of their Peekarama and standalone releases, all three films here have quite a bit of visual noise. They’re still entirely watchable, though, and all the evidence that the films were sourced from well-worn honest-to-god “grindhouse” prints only adds to their lo-fi charm. This release will be a must-have for Steckler fans, and fans of 70s adult films looking for less polished fare than the comparatively big-budget fare of Bob Chinn and Carlos Tobalina will find a lot to like here.
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