Archive for April 15, 2013

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One thing’s for sure — they don’t make ’em like this anymore.

And that’s too bad, really, because if there’s one thing the shot-in-1973, released-in-1974 exploitation oddity Massage Parlor Murders (originally released with six minutes of additional footage featuring an at-first-reluctant, later-even-more-reluctant —uhhmmm — “client” choosing to high-tail it out of a New York “health club” once his fetching young — again with the uhhmmm — “masseuse” displays her — third and final, I promise, uhhmmm — “wares” under the title Massage Parlor Hookers) is, it’s fun. The kind of dirty, seedy, oughtta-make-you-feel-guilty-but-oddly-doesn’t fun that just plain can’t be had at the movies today.

Fortunately for us, there’s Vinegar Syndrome, a newish cult label that made quite a splash a few months back with their Lost Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis DVD box set and has followed it up with their so-far-downright-awesome “Drive-In Collection” series and this, their first (at least to my knowledge) DVD/Blu-Ray combo release. And what a release it is! But more on that later, first the particulars of the film itself —

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A killer with, we’re later to learn, a very warped sense of morality apparently has an axe to grind (or a face to bash in, or a switchblade to unsheathe, or a — you get the idea) with the “working girls” at a Times Square massage parlor called, appealingly enough, the Venus Paradise. Rather than quit en masse as the dead bodies begin piling up, though, as you’d think they would (but which would probably result in an already-slim 80-minute feature being whittled down to a half-hour production at best), the ladies keep plying their profession (it is, after all, the world’s oldest), and why not? They’re under the tough-as-nails protection of two gritty New York vice cops, in the form of  ultra-low-rung exploitation vets John Moser and George Spencer, the latter of whom is finding himself with some trouble on the domestic front due to his overly-enthusiastic full-scale immersion, at least psychologically (or should that be psycho-sexually?) into the grimy, anything-goes-for-a-price underworld he’s, lucky guy, getting paid to poke his nose (at the very least) in. Their investigation starts when a good-time gal named Rosie (Chris Jordan, in an early and decidedly even-farther-down-the-barrel role than those she’d later become known best for) meets a gruesome and untimely demise, proceeds through a few predictable twists and turns (Rosie’s roommate, Gwen, played by Sandra Peabody — who’s best known for her starring turn as doomed-as-all-hell Mari in Last House On The Left, where she worked under the name Sandra Cassell — falls for Moser ; there’s a low-rent imitation of the famous car chase scene from The French Connection, things like that) as well as some decidedly unpredictable ones (like the cops questioning none other than Brother Theodore himself!), and finally ends pretty much like you’d expect it to, with plenty of vintage, Plato’s Retreat-era 42nd Street footage thrown in for good measure.

What sets this film apart from many of its counterparts, though, is its grimy authenticity. Only Andy Milligan came close to matching the street-level (or maybe that should be gutter-level) grittiness and desperation that directors Alex Stevens and Chester Fox capture here, and he always filtered it through a lens warped (enjoyably, at times unbelievably, warped — but warped nonetheless) by his own obsessions and — okay, one more uhhmmm — “sensibilities.” This is the straight dope, as it was, and the sleaze unrepentantly oozes from every frame. Hell, even much-later Law & Order  stalwart George Dzundza plays a guy named “Mr. Creepy” here (and he also served as a co-producer!).

The titular “massage parlor murders” themselves aren’t terribly well-realized, of course, but that’s part of the charm. This is the lowest of the lowest of the lowest of the lowest of the low . Is there any better way to spend your free time?

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Now, about that Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray/DVD combo. I’ve taken a look at both discs, and frankly the Blu-Ray only looks marginally better. Which isn’t meant as a knock, rather it’s high praise for how fucking great the DVD looks. Taken from a remastered high-def transfer, the picture on both is damn near flawless barring the occasional warped frame, and the same can essentially be said for the two-channel mono sound — absolutely pristine, apart from the occasional near-complete audio dropout. Honestly, friends, to have something this obscure — it’s never been released on home video before in any format, even VHS — look and sound this good is flat-out miraculous. As far as extras go, there’s an option to view this in either the Massage Parlor Murders or Massage Parlor Hookers cut, the theatrical trailer is included, there’s a largely uneventful outtake reel, and the package is rounded off with a radio spot for the film from back in the day. The real treat, though, are the exhaustively-researched, meticulously-detailed liner notes provided by Temple Of Schlock’s Chris Poggiali, which clearly establish him as the guy on the planet who knows the most about this particular film. They’re a joy to read and really enhance one’s understandings of the proceedings to an unbelievable degree. Bravo, Mr. Poggiali, bravo. As a fellow B-movie critic/amateur historian, I’m in awe (and, truth be told, green with envy).

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Try this — next time you’re at your local live peep show booth (assuming there are any left in your town), after you’ve blown your last handful of tokens on the the girl on the other side of the window (you know, the one who tries to keep the veins on her arms covered up and talks about needing extra cash to pay for her kid’s medicine), screw up all your courage and reach into that trash can in the corner. Plunge your hand in there good and deep (you might want to wear rubber gloves). Reach under all those discarded Trojan wrappers and those used (you know what for) kleenex. Go down beyond the crusted, dried-out, half-empty vaseline tubes and those safety razor blades caked and flaking with the blood of the girl who slit her wrists in there a few weeks back. Reach for the bottom. The very bottom. I guarantee you’ll find a copy of Massage Parlor Murders waiting there for you. Take it home. Clean the the lube, the cum, and the slime of who knows (hell, who even wants to know) origin off the case. Pop it into your Blu-Ray  —or DVD — player, sit back, and enjoy. Congratulations, you lucky, twisted,  hopelessly sick bastard.  Underneath all the hurriedly,  desperately tossed-out remains of  humanity’s most basic — and least talked-about — urges, you’ve found celluloid gold.