Exploitation TV: Volume Twelve

This week's programming is centered around a trio of strange, lethal ladies.

This edition of Exploitation TV contains images that are NSFW.

For cinephiles, the definition of home video label Vinegar Syndrome’s name is something like a secret handshake. The disease it references consumes celluloid. When film stock starts to degrade, it releases acetic acid, the key ingredient in (you guessed it) vinegar. This phenomenon became a plague during the 80s, chewing up prints of pictures improperly stored in hot, humid conditions. In many cases, where reels of smaller films were scarce due to budgetary restrictions, one bad case of vinegar syndrome could rob the planet of an artist’s work. 

According to a ‘12 study conducted by the Library of Congress, only 14% of nearly 11,000 movies made between 1912 and 1930 exist in their original format. Around 70% were lost completely. Coming in at a close second in terms of casualties is the Exploitation Era. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as many of the weirder, more obscure movies made during these decades of disrepute are pictures we’ve probably never heard of in the first place. Thankfully, the Bridgeport, Connecticut boys at VS own a private archive, from which they’ve been pulling and scanning prints of overlooked horror, exploitation and smut cinema from all eras. To make it easier on all us degenerates, they’ve even established a streaming service, where you can log in and watch all the back alley oddities they’ve been uncovering and preserving, so that true vinegar syndrome doesn’t rob us of any more great trash art. 

For the twelfth installment of EX TV, we're featuring a trio of bizarre, often lethal ladies (with a Donald Farmer double feature!)...

Gretta (a/k/a Death Wish Club, a/k/a The Dark Side To Love) [1984] (d. John Carr, w. Philip Yordan) 

One of the features that was chopped up and used as filler in Night Train to Terror ('85)Gretta is a rather singular game of cinematic exquisite corpse, twisting and turning in a way that feels almost improv'd from scene-to-scene, but still somehow adds up to a (somewhat) coherent whole. A med student (Rick Barnes) falls in love with the titular porn star (Merideth Haze), not knowing she's under the control of a literally hypnotic pimp (J. Martin Sellers). In a fit of obsession, he seeks her out, and is led down a dark path into a "death wish club", where a group of individuals who have all almost died in peculiar ways meet to unleash poisonous bugs, or zap themselves with homemade electric chairs. It's all part of a not-so-elaborate scheme to get back to death's door and feel that rush - sort of like if the bank robbers from Point Break ('91) decided that Russian Roulette was their new cheap thrill of choice. 

While the shoddy aesthetics and bizarre performances could easily render Gretta easy to write off, the propulsive way John Carr's weird out shifts from irrational plot point to irrational plot point is nothing less than utterly compelling, as Haze represents a strange sun that this gutter universe revolves around. At one point, Gretta transforms from a smutty centerfold, to an identity confused mermaid, to a jazz pianist named "Charlie", whom the med student goes cruising for other women with. Is any of it supposed to mean anything? Tough to tell. It could all be a comment on how women are possessed and controlled by men, until they're not even sure who they truly are anymore, but that might be giving the picture a lot more subtextual credit than it actually earns. Instead, Gretta could just be a mesmerizing slice of deep fried gold; exploitation of the highest order that wants to invite you into its own secret club, the wacko euphoric daze it leaves you in intoxicating enough to justify its existence. 

Demon Queen [1987] (d. & w. Donald Farmer) 

SOV assassin Donald Farmer's succubus nightmare feature debut - if you consider a 55-minute backyard bloodstained fetish tape a "feature" - Demon Queen is a trip through a bombed-out shell of Fort Lauderdale, where these nondescript hotel suites and garishly lit malls are nothing more than a hunting ground for the titular eater of men (Mary Fanaro). Once she's taken in by a drug dealer (Cliff Dance) who speaks with an outlandish New Yawk accent and is constantly sniped by his live-in coke fiend girlfriend (Patti Valliere), it seems like her offer to become a sort of living dead zombie servant is probably better than toiling away in Nowheresville, Florida. 

At one point, a video store clerk (Robert Tidwell) wonders out loud if his customers are getting bored with all the sex and violence that fills the tapes on his shelves, and this feels like Farmer pondering through homemade pulp if his little $2,000 project will have any impact on a horror crowd caught at the tail end of '80s splatter glut. Perhaps this is why his evil seems so mundane and unassuming. Your death could be waiting in the mall food court, for all you know. That's not to say Demon Queen is some kind of philosophical exercise, but this barely competent apocalyptic slice of amateur madness is certainly trying to offer a self-aware alternative to safe, mainstream horror. It's certainly not pedestrian, but it'll also only be for a very specific sort of trash connoisseur. 

Savage Vengeance [1993] (d. & w. Donald Farmer) 

The SOV pseudo-sequel to Meir Zarchi's rape/revenge scum classic I Spit On Your Grave ('78), Donald Farmer strips the original down to nothing more than sexual violence, comeuppance, and then literal law classes where a professor explains why "no jury in the world would convict her!" It's a wild, exploitive misinterpretation of Zarchi's already dubious claims that the first film was a grindhouse act of primal feminism. There's nothing of real value to be found in Farmer's murky, underlit frames, despite the fact that the director's certainly come a long way in terms of basic composition, as Savage Vengeance approaches competence on several elementary craft levels that his previous films had not up to this point. 

While Farmer was improving behind the camera, I Spit On Your Grave star (and Zarchi's former spouse) Camille Keaton was feeling nothing but debasement in front of it, and finally abandoned the production before it actually finished principal photography. Not only does this departure explain why Savage Vengeance feels so abrupt by the end of its scant 65-minute runtime, but also the idiosyncratic editing choices, such as the entire "flashback" intro - which recaps the first movie's gang rape crime before the bright yellow credits cease rolling - played entirely in montage, without any dialogue. Farmer's own rape/revenge saga was certainly a movie discovered in the editing bay, as Zarchi even threatened to sue, causing Savage Vengeance to dub out her character's name to avoid legal conflict (see if you can catch it). Maybe Farmer's film should've stayed on that cutting machine, as it's just a nasty little nothing of movie (though, had it never been released, we would've lost Perry Monroe's utterly bonkers psychedelic organ score). 

Tune in next week for three more picks from your new favorite channel. In the meantime, log in to Vinegar Syndrome’s streaming service to embark upon your own filthy adventures.

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