“SUGAR COOKIES” (1971; Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray Review)
Hey, remember that time back in ’71 when Lloyd Kaufman wrote a twisty, topless lesbian-sex festooned re-imagining of VERTIGO starring Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES, SHIVERS, CAT PEOPLE) and Mary Woronov (DEATHRACE 2000, WARLOCK, NIGHT OF THE COMET) and brought Oliver Stone along to help produce it?
If not, you’re hardly alone: SUGAR COOKIES, according to Kaufman’s book PRODUCE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE, holds the dubious distinction of being the only X-rated film in history to lose money.
Alas, as the recent lush Vinegar Syndrome reissue demonstrates, this shunning was not the result of a complacent, stunted culture failing to recognize a visionary statement decades ahead of its time. SUGAR COOKIES has its moments, but the pedigree and origin story prove far more interesting than the film itself.
Which is sort of crazy because the conceit is basically everything you’d want from a seventies sexploitation flick: A scumbag soft porn film producer (George Shannon) kills his star actress Alta (Lowry) during a weird loaded revolver sex game, prompting the late sex kitten’s agent Camilla (Woronov) to recruit a lookalike starry-eyed aspiring actress Julie (also Lowry) to exact revenge. And how does she does she accomplish such a feat? Why, by seducing the cornpone girl with her big city ways and feminine wiles, naturally, quickly transforming her into a sub so sexually and emotionally dependent she’ll do anything to please her dom…even kill.
And yet the film is inexplicably flaccid. Or, as Kaufman puts it in PRODUCE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE, “Even with the boobs and the beavers and a whole lot of stuff that’s not so bad to look at, it ended up being a snore of a movie!”
Now, to be fair, on this edition’s extras, Kaufman has changed his tune a bit. “Perhaps if I had directed it, it would have been more entertaining,” he says, before quickly adding: “But! It’s an excellent, excellent film and I don’t mean to take anything away from the film. I’m very proud of it.”
That’s quite a turnaround in opinion for a man who once wrote, “[T]he only thing the lovely, talented Mary and Lynn Lowry were stirring within me was the desire to take a nap with my sock, which is never a good sign!”
Nevertheless, Kaufman is right: The problem with SUGAR COOKIES is one of execution, not conceptualization.
Sure, the film has (ahem) flashes of the sort of gutter slapstick Kaufman would later raise to a kind of perverse art form with Troma—a portly cross-dressing ne’er-do-well; softcore casting couch inanity; ridiculously straitlaced detectives—but largely fails to acknowledge or engage the pulpy absurdity of its premise. It is a movie that is languid when it should be over the top and seems to not “get” its own jokes.
Maybe Stone was right to suggest early on that they replace director Theodore Gershuny (KEMEK; SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT) with Kaufman. Who knows? That’s a hypothetical and Gershuny, who died in 2007, isn’t here to defend himself.
What is clear, however, is that the envisioned marriage of Hitchcockian suspense and sexploitation never finds the right balance. Unless, of course, all you’re looking for is beautiful women getting naked and simulating very vanilla lesbian sex. In which case…dude, you’ve found your jam.
That said, the supplemental materials here are amazing. The interviews with the very sweet, thoughtful Lowry and the wry, somewhat acerbic Woronov—more than willing to dish on her then-husband Gershuny—are both excellent. And the Kaufman bit—wherein, among many other things, the Troma legend recalls his close, sometimes tempestuous relationship from second grade on with Stone—is a revelation. It is tempting to quote Kaufman at length here. Suffice it to say, this incredible soliloquy will, whenever not amusing the shit out of you, blow your goddamn mind.