Vinegar Syndrome announced its first wave 2018 DVD and Blu-ray film restorations this past week and if these Jan. 30 releases are any indication of what is to come … it is going to be a very good year for film fans!
Now writer/director Jamaa Fanaka’s Christmas of 1979 blaxploitation film release of Penitentiary, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy, is probably the “high profile” restoration among the group, we are actually looking at A.C. Stephen’s 1974 film, Fugitive Girls (aka: 5 Loose Women) — a “sexsploitation” classic in its own right — as being the more interesting (film-wise) among the mix … so let’s start there.
Dee (Margie Lanier) is in the wrong place at the wrong time as the film opens and pays the price for it. Her weasel of a boyfriend left her parked in the car while he went into the liquor store and robbed it … oh, and he also murdered the clerk. She gets convicted of being an accessory to the crime — even though we know that she is innocent — and heads off to the slammer, which just happens to be the lovely confines of “The Correctional Facility for Women.”
Really? Who writes this stuff … “The Correctional Facility for Women?” Why none other than Edward D. Wood Jr.!! Yup, that Ed Wood!!
In any case Dee is tossed in with some real criminals — Kat (Tallie Cochrane), Shiela (Donna Young), Toni (Rene Bond) and Paula (Jabie Abercrombe) — and after some forced sex-play with Kat (who is doing time for killing her husband), the five escape. As the film progresses, the five have a run-in with hippies, an airstrip owner by the name of Pops (played by Edward D. Wood Jr.), who is onto their escape and bunch of crazed bikers.
Now, why is this film so fascinating? First off, A.C. Stephen’s is a pseudonym for Stephen C. Apostolof, who directed a number of these sexploitation films during the period, including College Girl Confidential, Lady Godiva Rides, Office Love-In and The Snow Bunnies (also written by Edward D. Wood Jr.). The film edition that has generally circulated is the edited theatrical release — a number of exhibitors at the time wouldn’t touch it because of the lesbian sex, including the rape by Paula and Toni of a motorist they hijacked.
Vinegar Syndrome has unearthed the original uncut version of the film — a 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative — which clocks in at 96 minutes (the cut-down theatrical version ran roughly 86 to 90 minutes).
Sexploitation and Ed Wood … what’s not to like about Fugitive Girls?
As to bonus nuggets, there is a commentary track featuring director Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Frankenhooker, etc.), who is joined by Ed Wood biographer, Rudolph Grey (“Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy”) and a vintage interview session (audio only) with Kat (Tallie Cochrane).
Circling back to Penitentiary, Vinegar Syndrome has a new 4K film restoration (from the original 35mm camera negative) ready for this Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack edition.
As to bonus goodies, there’s a vintage commentary track with filmmaker Jamaa Fanaka and a second commentary option with the second assistant director Sergio Mimms. There are also three featurettes — “Too Sweet for Penitentiary,” “Filming Penitentiary” and “Producing Penitentiary.”
Also on the Jan. 30 release calendar from Vinegar Syndrome is Lucifer’s Women and Doctor Dracula. This one is a hoot-and-a-half. It’s the same film, just rearranged.
Details are a little fuzzy — we’re talking about a film production from 40 years ago — but pretty reliable sources report that the late filmmaker, Paul Aratow, wrote and directed Lucifer’s Women and then it got shelved (the copyright is 1974).
Enter director Al Adamson, who, along with cinematographer Gary Graver, who just happened to work with Al Adamson on the 1974 sexploitation film, The Naughty Stewardesses and the 1976 film release of Black Heat, got involved. Next came Geoffrey Land of Adamson’s 1975 follow-up to The Naughty Stewardesses, Blazing Stewardesses, and they shot new sequences (with Geoffrey Land as a vampire).
Not done yet, enter Michael Bockman, Adamson’s film editor for Black Heat (who also was the film editor for Adamson’s Cinderella 2000 and Nurse Sherri), who re-cut the film using the original footage and the new footage.
Confusing? Sure. In any case, Independent-International Pictures, which was founded by Al Adamson and Sam Sherman, handled the theatrical distribution (in March of 1978 … so something like four years went by from the time Lucifer’s Women was finished and the newly-minted rework of Doctor Dracula hit theatres).
What Vinegar Syndrome has done is to restore not only Doctor Dracula, which has been out on DVD previously, but they’ve unearthed the original 35mm negative of Lucifer’s Women and restored that as well (both 2K restorations). So you get two for the price of one!!!
Sam Sherman, the co-founder of Independent-International Pictures, provides commentary and there is a video session with actor Paul Thomas.
Rounding out the Jan. 30 release calendar is director Bob Vosse’s 1984 adult entry, Young Girls Do, starring Erica Boyer … a DVD release from a 2K restoration is planned. And the next installment in the company’s wildly popular “Peekarama” series will feature the double-bill of filmmaker John Christopher’s Velvet High and Summertime Blue. Of note, Misty Regan provides commentary on Velvet High.