Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: April 9, 2013.
Director: Chester Fox, Alex Stevens
Cast: Sandra Peabody, George Spencer, John Moser, Chris Jordan, Brother Theodore, Anne Gaybis
Year: 1973 Purchase From Amazon
As the liner notes included with this release from Vinegar Syndrome detail, there aren’t a whole lot of details floating around out there about Chester Fox and Alex Stevens’ film, Massage Parlor Murders. The IMDB lists it as a 1976 production under the alternate title Massage Parlor Hookers but evidently it was announced in 1973 and submitted to the MPAA for an R-rating that same year, but an article was written about the movie in adult magazine Genesis in 1974. It’s all rather confusing, but at the same time pretty interesting, particularly when you learn who had a hand in what in regards to the production and distribution of the movie.
But what’s it all about? Well when the movie begins we see a man in a room with a lovely massage parlor attendant named Rosie (Chris Jordan) – but not for long, because after the camera lingers on her nude body for a bit, she’s murdered in cold blood. Thankfully two of New York’s finest – a younger blondish guy named Jimmy O'Mara (John Moser) and a surlier older guy named Danny Rizotti (George Spencer) are on the case and they follow a clue or two and soon wind up at the apartment she shared with her roommate, Gwen (Sandra Peabody). Before you know it, Gwen and Jimmy are an item while surly, grumpy Danny is bitching at his poor wife (who, it should be noted, hands him a cold can of Budweiser every time he comes home from work) about the case.
Before you know it, another body appears, and then another and it starts to look like there’s a serial killer about preying on the women of Manhattan’s finest rub ‘n tugs. Our detectives chase down a guy named Mr. Creepy (Law & Order’s George Dzundza!), but no dice. Jimmy attends a pool orgy only to wind up in a high speed chase across Manhattan’s west side where he takes down a fuzzy dude in a leather jacket, but that doesn’t add up either. Eventually they find themselves face to face with a spiritualist lunatic named Theodore (Brother Theodore) but just like the earlier leads, this one just doesn’t check out. The killer, on the other hand, is getting increasingly daring with his murders and the pressure is starting to get to poor Danny!
In terms of plotting, Massage Parlor Murders isn’t going to blow anyone away but don’t let that stop you, as this one comes up aces in pretty much every other department that matters. Well, maybe not every department, but it’s awesome. You want a quirky case of B-movie veterans? You got it. Check out Joe Sarno regular Chris Jordan in that early murder scene looking good and while she’s only on screen for a few minutes, it’s cool to see her pop up here. Last House On The Left’s Sandra Peabody (or, if you prefer, Sandra Cassell), gets a considerably more substantial role here as she and Jimmy hobnob about New York City, taking in the sights in Times Square, making out in an apartment and enjoying a picnic in what looks to be Central Park. We even get an appearance from the one and only Brother Theodore here, spouting off dialogue that’ll make your head spin as he rants to the cops about his plans to reappear on the other side of the Hudson River and his wishes to have his head replaced with broccoli. Look for Basket Case’s Beverly Bonner playing one of the massage parlor attendants
The movie is paced well and the chase scene through Manhattan is well shot and impressive. In fact, the camera work does a great job of capturing those vintage seventies locations that make movies like this so interesting for so many people. There are plenty of marquees in the backgrounds showing off different seventies movies from all manner of genres to spot and a few interesting New York landmark, some no longer with us, scattered throughout the film. There’s plenty of female skin on display thanks to the lovely ladies of the cast and the murder scenes don’t shy away from stage blood, even if observant viewers may notice a dead body breathing or blinking here and there. All of this is set to a ridiculously eclectic score that alternates between fuzzed out guitar heavy rock and soft, tinkling elevator music – very strange. At eighty minutes in length the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome or ever feel padded. It’s lean, it’s mean, and it delivers exactly what you want it to.
Note: This release contains both the original cut of the film and the re-release version. The difference between the two is that the original version contains an opening scene that runs roughly six minutes long before the opening credits. This scene serves as a bit of foreshadowing as it details some of the exploits that occur in one of the massage parlors in question and it sets up the lunacy to come in a rather effective way.
Massage Parlor Murders is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Using the ‘35mm conformed original camera negative’ as a source, the restoration has cleaned up the image without taking away from its gritty, grainy, film-like qualities. So what we wind up with is a movie that looks very true to its roots. Colors are perfectly garish and tacky in that early seventies sort of way, lots of bright reds and drab browns making for odd contrast. Detail is generally very good, with some scenes looking softer and/or grainier than others but most appearing quite clean and sharp without any evidence of artificial boosting or tweaking. There’s one spot where the frame jitters a bit for a couple of seconds but outside of that, the image is quite impressive. There’s still evidence of print damage throughout the movie but never in a way that distracts or takes away from the film. Texture looks really good, whether it be the paper fibers in the folds of a beat up copy of Screw Magazine, the creases in a leather jacket or the palpable stickiness of the gaudy fake blood used in the multiple murder set pieces. Skin, and there’s lots of it here, looks like skin, never waxy or overly pink. Given the film’s history, it’s hard to imagine it looking a whole lot better than it does here.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided for the picture. Though not a lossless mix, the audio presumably sounds about as good as it’s going to get. It’s obvious that large chunks of the movie were shot without live sound and dubbed in post and so we have a few fluctuations here and there and a couple of shots that sound a little more muffled than others, but overall, considering the age, obscurity and low budget of the movie, there’s little room for complaint. The completely erratic score in particular sounds pretty good here.
Aside from the two different versions of the movie, the disc includes just under eight minutes worth of outtakes from the film. The first couple of minutes are excess material shot for the pool party/orgy scene while the rest of it is Jimmy and Gwen wandering around Times Square checking out different theaters and what not. All of it is awesome and even if there’s no live sound here (music from the feature’s soundtrack plays overtop), it’s worth watching just so you can geek out over all those awesome marquees in the background. Additionally we get an original theatrical trailer, a re-release theatrical trailer under the Massage Parlor Hookers alternate title, a radio spot, static menus and chapter selection. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, the keepcase also house a regular DVD version.
Also included inside the keepcase is a color booklet of liner notes that detail the sketchy history of the film written by Chris Poggiali. The essay talks about the backgrounds and known history of the producers and directors, offers up some information on the cast members that pop up in the movie, and details the strange release history of the picture. A replica of the film’s lab card is also included as an insert – a nice touch.
The Final Word:
A legitimately rare film, Massage Parlor Murders is given new life thanks to Vinegar Syndrome’s restorative efforts. The film looks about as good it’s probably going to and the transfer on this Blu-ray disc is, all things considered, pretty impressive. The movie itself is… fucking awesome. It’s grimy, scuzzy, sleazy and beautiful. It isn’t the most logical film ever made but it’s got crazy style, loads of seventies atmosphere and enough nudity and gore to please most exploitation film buffs. Awesome, awesome stuff – a mandatory purchase!
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!