Apparently, pigs eat anything. So says the tagline on the DVD cover for Troma’s release of 1972′s criminally underappreciated “Pigs.” I say “criminally underappreciated” because even grizzled exploitation fans seem pretty divided on this one — what few reviews there are online tend to be decidedly mixed at best, and the movie scores a whopping 2.6 out of 10 on IMDB’s review scale/popularity-meter. As usual, friends, I’m here to tell you that the rest of humanity os absolutely wrong. “Pigs” (also released under the far more apropos title of “Daddy’s Deadly Darling”, among about a dozen other titles) is actually something of a neglected little masterpiece. Sigh — if only the human swine would recognize it for what it is.
Shot in 1971/2 in rural California (standing in for what one assumes from watching is the south, in a generic sense), “Pigs” was directed, produced, and written (under the pseudonym of F.A. Foss) by longtime Hollywood veteran Marc Lawrence, who conceived of it as a starring vehicle for his daughter, Toni (Billy Bob Thornton’s first wife for you celebrity trivia buffs), who unfortunately can’t act all that well. So it’s a definite labor of love, albeit one with such a disturbing incestuous subtext to it that it makes for morbidly compelling viewing. Allow me to explain.
Toni L. stars as Lynn Hart, a seriously disturbed young woman who endured years of sexual abuse at the hands (okay, not really the hands—) of her father before finally snapping and killing the sick old bastard (though she still continues to call him on the phone). One night, she (way-too-conveniently) escapes from the asylum where she’s cooped up and hits the road, finally ending up at a dreary roadside cafe operated by an eccentric old-timer named Zambrini(played by Marc L.), a former circus performer who has a somewhat checkered, shall we say, past of his own (perhaps allegorical of Lawrence himself, who had a thoroughly respected career as an actor, mainly, until being blacklisted by the McCarthy witch-hunts in the 1950s). Zambrini takes her in as his new waitress and allows her to live in the back of the place.
Lynn soon learns that Zambrini has a secret, though — the herd of pigs he keeps have developed a taste for human flesh! One night, evidently, and old drunk stumbled into their pen, passed out, and they ate him, and ever since nothing else seems to satisfy the hungry hogs. Rather than following a more sane course of action (like, say, selling off his herd for slaughter, or even doing it himself — he does run a cafe, after all, and he could a feature pork chop special every night), old Zambrini decides the best way to keep his hogs happy is to dig up corpses from the cemetary under cover of darkness every night and feed them to the swine. Zambrini cuts a little deal with Lynn, though — if she keeps her mouth shut about his nocturnal activities, he won’t ask any questions about her past and will do his best to make sure the local idiot sheriff , Dan Cole (played by Jesse Vint), doesn’t either. Given that an escaped insane-asylum patient isn’t likely to find a better deal than that, Lynn agrees and soon she and Zambrini develop a sort of surrogate father-daughter bond.
Let’s pause her for a minute and consider the implications here. We’ve got a movie written, produced, and directed by a father, specifically for his daughter, about a young woman who was molested by her father who then essentially ends up, by dint of circumstance, turning to another older man for help, who just so happens to be played by her real father. It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to read much into the seriously twisted undertones here.
But back to our story. The aforementioned sheriff is the biggest numbskull you’ll ever meet. When a nosy little old busybody calls him to report her suspicions about Zambrini digging up the deceased, not only does he not look into it much, he tells her that even if Zambrini is doing what she thinks he is, there’s probably nothing illegal about it! Furthermore, he takes a quick liking to Lynn even though she acts exactly like you’d expect an escaped mental patient on the run from the law would act! In short, the guy defines the term clueless.
The powers that be back at the state hospital haven’t forgotten about Lynn, though, and when they come sniffing around, and Zambrini tries to hide her as best he can, this little 80-minute epic reaches its denouement, about which I’ll remain silent.
“Pigs” is an atmospheric and involving little piece, but really gains power when you have a full understanding of its backstory as outlined above. Taken on its own merits, it’s certainly a notch or two above most exploitation fare, and twisted enough in and of itself to maintain one’s prurient interest from start to finish, but when one keeps the backstory of its production in mind, it really rises above the lvel of above-average B-movie fare and into the sphere of disturbed — and disturbing — private psychodrama writ large before the public. And it’s for that reason that this reviewer considers “Pigs” to be essential viewing for all fans of grindhouse and drive-in fare.
Troma released “Pigs” on DVD back in 2005, and it subsequently sold out and went out of print. In the last few months, however, they have seen fit to reissue it as part of their “Troma Retro” line, and while it’s great to have this twisted little classic available again, I do wish they’d tried to find a decent print, because this one seriously sucks. It’s way too dark, to the point where it;s hard to even tell what the hell is going on in some scenes, and haphazardly (to put it kindly) edited, with frames occasionally repeating for no reason whatsoever a few seconds after they were just shown. Lloyd Kaufman claims, in his typically annoying introduction, that the film has been “digitally remastered” and “lovingly restored,” but please. We may be Troma customers, but we’re not that stupid.
On the extras front, the only thing of any use whatsoever are the production notes, which are interesting, albeit only presented as plain text. Apart from that, we’ve got the aforementioned Kaufman intro, some Troma previews, and a couple of PETA spots which I guess sort of tie in with the pigs theme, but really don’t have much value beyond that.
However, don’t let any of that deter you. Despite these admittedly huge flaws in terms of DVD presentation, “Pigs” is definitely worth seeing. If only to get you to swear off bacon forever.
“Pigs” is an oinker, sure — but hardly a turkey.