• Sweet Sugar



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 27th, 2017.
    Director: Michel Levesque
    Cast: Phyllis Davis, Ellaraino, Timothy Brown, Pamela Collins, Cliff Osmond
    Year: 1972
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    The Movie:

    Phyllis Davis, who had previously starred as Aunt Susan in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, plays a stone cold fox of a woman named Sugar Bowman in this 1972 women in prison film directed by Michel Levesque, the same man who gave us Werewolves on Wheels. Once she’s setup by a corrupt politician and subsequently busted for hooking and dope, she winds up doing two years in a Central American prison. Here she and a few others are forced to serve out their sentences doing the grueling job of harvesting sugar cane from the nearby plantation fields. It’s dirty, sweaty work – the kind perfectly suited for buxom, scantily clad female inmates who always look unusually made up to exist in such a setting.

    While in prison, the women are often mistreated by the nefarious Dr. John (Angus Duncan), a sadistic man who uses the inmates as guinea pigs in all manner of bizarre experiments. Eventually Sugar and fellow equally foxy inmate Simone (Ella Edwards), the only other inmate she seems to get along with, have had enough. Of course, they come up with an escape plan, one that involves setting the sugar cane fields ablaze but when Simone winds up caged above the fire, Sugar has to act quick to rescue her friend. From there, well, it all leads up to the expected machine gun-tastic finale but along the way there’s the requisite shower scenes, plenty of sexy action (Sugar seems to be perpetually in need of carnal satisfaction, though to be fair at one point Dr. John injects her with an experimental aphrodisiac!) and other assorted bits and bobs of R-rated drive-in style exploitation mayhem. Oh, and there’s a voodoo priest guy named Mojo (former NFL player Timothy Brown, the star of Al Adamson’s Black Heat) here too! If that weren’t enough, there’s a scene here where Dr. John tortures the women by putting them in a large pen and having some of the guards…. throw cats at them. It’s pretty kooky, and yeah, it looks like real cats landing on those actresses.

    Levesque doesn’t reinvent the wheel here. Heavily influenced by the success Roger Corman’s women in prison drive-in hits like The Big Bird Cage, Sweet Sugar delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a movie of its ilk. There isn’t much in the way of character development and the plot is all over the place with plenty of massive gaps in it, but it offers up enough cheap thrills and sleazy sites to keep genre fans and exploitation buffs entertained.

    A big part of the appeal here is the casting. Ella Edwards of Detroit 9000 plays Sugar’s sexy soul sister accomplice quite nicely. She doesn’t show a ton of range here but the movie doesn’t ask her to. She needs to look good and deliver the tough talking dialogue with attitude – and she does that well. She’s never on the level of someone like Pam Grier, but she’s just fine in the part and lots of fun to look at too. Phyllis Davis, however, is a champ. She’s not only remarkably curvaceous and very attractive but she’s got spunk and spirit and energy. You can see it here and you can see it in Terminal Island as well, made a year later. Her career as a drive-in movie queen didn’t last too long, however. Once the seventies turned into the eighties she wound up doing a lot of TV work, though her last credit, oddly enough, was a supporting role in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory starring Steven Seagal! It’s also fun to see Angus Duncan (another prolific TV actor, though cult movie fans may remember him from Simon King Of The Witches) chew some scenery as the bad guy and none other than The Hills Have Eyes’ James 'Papa Jupiter' Whitworth playing one of the nasty prison guards.

    So yeah, this isn’t the world’s most unique picture, it follows the WIP formula basically to a T, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it? It’s quickly paced, it’s got some cool characters and some beautiful women in rather precocious positions and it’s got a sweaty, funky jungle setting.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Sweet Sugar to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that looks very nice indeed, framed at 1.85.1 and sourced from the picture’s 35mm interpositive. Some minor print damage can be spotted here and there but it’s small stuff, just the occasional white speck now and then. Skin tones look good, nice and lifelike, while color reproduction is quite nice. Black levels are solid and there are no noticeable compression artifacts. Additionally the transfer is quite film like, showing a natural amount of grain with good depth, detail and texture throughout.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track is a little on the flat side but otherwise just fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow while the levels are properly balanced. There are no major issues with hiss or distortion and the score and sound effects sound pretty decent. Optional English subtitles are provided but there are no alternate language options provided.

    The main extra on the disc is an interview with Don Spencer entitled It’s Love Girl! Spencer wrote the script for the film and in this thirteen minute piece he walks us through writing the movie, noting how he and his team came up with some concepts and how after taking notes he came up with the first draft, written with the goal of moving things along at a quick pace. He then talks about how he got into the business after going to film school, how he got into writing for the movies while working as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, writing The Big Doll House with Charles and Stephanie Rothman, and then of course the elements and lines that make Sweet Sugar as memorable as it is. This is a really fun interview, Spencer has a great sense of humor about what he did, but also clearly worked hard on his pictures and had a lot of fun doing it.

    Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, animated menus and chapter selection.

    As this is a combo pack release a DVD version of the movie that includes extras identical to those found on the Blu-ray disc is included inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase. Reversible cover art is also included, with the newly created image on one side and the original one sheet art on the flipside. The clear case in turn fits inside a really nice, sturdy cardboard slipcover with that aforementioned newly created art adorning the front panel. Stuff like this might seem minor, but it adds to the appeal of the overall package and should be called out!

    The Final Word:

    Sweet Sugar is pretty solid exploitation entertainment, a chicks in chains picture that, if not particularly original, hits all the right notes at all the right moments. A good cast helps here too. Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release is a good one, presenting the movie in great shape with a few solid extras and some really nice packaging.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!