Director: Bud Lee
Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome brings us a double bill of Hyapatia Lee (two-time Miss Nude Galaxy) with the back-to-back hardcore due THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY and TASTY on special edition DVD.

Sexualized takes on classic literary sources is certainly not a new novelty in softcore or hardcore sex films, but anyone who has taken a college literature class is well aware that Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" was already bawdy to start with, and the material had already been well-exploited by Pier Paolo Pasolini as part of his "Trilogy of Life" (which also plumbed Boccaccio's "The Decameron" and "The Arabian Nights" for artier thrills). On the eve of their pilgrimage to Canterbury, the hostess (Hyapatia Lee, ONE WIFE TO GIVE) proposes a wager with the winnings going to whoever in the party – including a knight (Mike Horner, EVERY WHICH WAY SHE CAN), a carpenter (Jesse Eastern, FIRST TIME AT CHERRY HIGH), a miller (Dennis Duggan, SKY FOXES), a monk (Elmo Lavino , aka PRISONER OF PARADISE's "Heinz Mueler" and billed here as "Elmo Friar"), and the Lady of Bath (Colleen Brennan aka Sharon Kelly, ALICE GOODBODY) – tells the most entertaining story on their journey. The once destitute knight recalls how he offered his protection to a friar escorting a young abbot to see the pope only to discover beneath younger man's robes the nubile form of SUPERMODELS DO L.A.'s Debra Lynn.

The carpenter – already seen having his way with one of the pub wenches (Beverly Bliss, LITTLE OFTEN ANNIE) the night before – tells the story of an evil miller who tries to cheat a pair of students (PRETTY PEACHES 2's Peter North and ORIENTAL HAWAII's Jon Martin) only for his long-suffering wife (Stevie Taylor, SINFULLY YOURS) and horny daughter (Buffy Davis, WHORE OF THE WORLDS) to undo his trickery and receive just rewards in the sack (preceded by a hilarious scene in which the women flirt by suggestively eating chicken legs while North "eats out" the cavity of the chicken carcass). The Lady of Bath tells a tale of "musical beds" as she posed as a lady-in-waiting to obtain leverage on a lecherous lord (director Bud Lee, THE YOUNG LIKE IT HOT) and his wife (Cheri Janvier, BEAVERLY HILLS COP) – respectively carrying on with the Queen (Josephine Carrington, TAILHOUSE ROCK) and the stable boy (Field Marshall Bradley, HILL ST. BLACKS) – in order to recover the land stolen from her father. The hostess herself tells a story about a gypsy (Lee) who is in love with two men (DOWN & DIRTY IN BEVERLY HILLS' Tony Martino and CAMPFIRE GIRLS' Marc Wallice) and makes a deal with the devil (Howard Darkley, SEX WARS) to have them both (and pays the price when she fails to keep her side of the bargain). The winner is neither the knight nor the carpenter, but they are both rewarded by the winner and the runner up in two more sex scenes.

Adapted by Lee and directed by her husband Bud Lee, the tales of THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY are just shallow framing for sex scenes and bear little resemblance to specific stories, they do convey knowledge of the source. The carpenter's story can be seen as drawing only basic elements from Chaucer's "Miller's Tale" about a carpenter whose younger wife is bedded by two students. The original was offered up by the miller as a response to the knight's tale (which is entirely different from the version here), while the carpenter's tale is a jab at the impertinent miller character who is too drunk to get around to his story. Throughout, the monk attempts to divine morals to the stories, but the hostess insists that they are just stories not sermons (since the stories are so thinly-scripted and far removed from their sources, I'm guessing the moral would be "Do the right thing and you get laid"). The film starts off looking and sounding like one Harry Novak's Box Office International period sexploitation pics – more so than any of the Euro knockoffs which benefit from the availability of authentic locations – with a modicum of care invested in the sets and costumes, stilted performances (arising more so from attempts to act courtly rather than flat out bad acting), and anachronistic hairstyles but the music switches becomes very eighties during the sex scenes. Given its limitations, the film is quite well-made and the Lees' efforts are admirable; but one cannot help but wonder what audiences must have thought of the all of the pretense theatrically (and if it attracted much attention on the video store shelves amidst the glut of other films with more to-the-point titles).

Shot back-to-back for Bob Chinn's Caribbean Films with THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY was TASTY. When 96 KNUT's main advertiser Watermelons and Rinds – represented by director Bud Lee himself – threatens to pull all of their ads unless ratings go up by the end of the week, station manager Gary Connors (Jesse Eastern again) threatens as usual to fire his DJ; but this time he means it since the studio itself may be gone if they cannot improve the ratings. Since they are going to lose their jobs anyway, DJ Tasty Tastums (Hyapatia Lee) suggests they "go out with a bang" and switch from rock n' roll to sex. Tasty starts a sex advice call-in show and instructing a couple (FOR YOUR THIGHS ONLY's Patti Petite and HOUSE OF THE RISING MOON's Scott Irish) how to re-enact the butter scene from LAST TANGO IN PARIS, former traffic reporter Legman Mack (Steve Drake, NEW WAVE HOOKERS) switches to traffic in whorehouses (and "advice on where the vice cops aren't"), Dr. Fermento (Steve Powers, RAMBONE THE DESTROYER) gives his grand prize to the winners of Tasty's radio contests (including BABYLON NIGHTS' Karen Summer), Dodger Dee (an actual DJ acting under the name "Buster Cherry") starts marketing sex toys and erectile aides, and Dick Lark (Sasha Gabor, CAGNEY & STACEY) sets to work on a simulcast with Tasty's show to debut her music video with the Sextets. Connors is too stressed out to bother keeping track of their efforts until he notices that both his wife (Ashley Welles, JUNK YARD SUSIE) and mistress/advertising liaison (Stacey Donovan, DESPERATELY PLEASING DEBBIE) have taken matters into their own hands. Will KNUT make it to number one in the ratings before the FCC-fearing Connors shuts them down?

Considerably more conventional than THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY, TASTY would almost seem like something Hyapatia and Bud Lee made because they had leftover film stock from shooting the other film. Instead, it seems like it was built around the film's major highlight: Tasty and the Sextet's glitzy music video of "Hit Me With Your Wet Shot" (yes, it most definitely is a pornographic rip-off of the Pat Benatar song) which, of course, "climaxes" with a facial from RIBALD TALES' Mike Horner (Lee might not be able to lip sync well but she can certainly sing and dance). Lee gives a naturalistic performance, as do most of the cast with only Eastern standing out as truly awful when called upon to express any kind of emotion (his angry rants are simultaneously laughable and painful to watch). The Lees manage to stuff a few more sex scenes into the running time even though it is about fifteen minutes shorter than RIBALD TALES, and production values are respectable (rather than mocking up a real suite of offices to look like a radio station, it was shot on spacious sets in the same studio as CANTERBURY constructed while they were shooting the former film on location).

Mastered from the original 35mm camera negatives, THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY's progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen presentation looks spectacular with the only flaws inherent in the original photography (one or two out of focus shots, and generally over-bright lighting that makes some of the actors look pasty and the sets even more artificial). Grain is well-rendered but only prevalent in the underexposed areas of the frame. The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track has some hiss but it does not distract from the dialogue or the monotonous theme song. Also mastered from the original 35mm camera negatives, TASTY's progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is similarly crisp and colorful. The Dolby Digital 1.0 track is clean and capably represents the somewhat more complex sound design with its mix of moans, groans, and rock music (both as underscore and source music).

THE RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY can also be viewed accompanied by an audio commentary with director Bud Lee (moderated by Joe Rubin) who describes his directorial debut as "directing by committee" (and later that he was actually more of assistant director on the film) and is forthcoming in attributing the contributions of his crew. Lee recalls how he first met Hyapatia while covering the Miss Nude America contest for International Newsreel (and then again when a friend asked him to go with him to see his sister's strip act). The Lees got into film through Gail Palmer's boyfriend Harry Mohney who owned the strip club where Hyapatia was dancing (and learned that some porn stars were paid significantly more than her for performing even though their act was horrible). He describes their meetings with Bob Chinn and Palmer who had already had some projects in mind when the Lees got involved (including one that Lee proved himself on by expanding on an eleven-page hand-written script which would become THE YOUNG LIKE IT HOT, so named because it was released on the twentieth anniversary of SOME LIKE IT HOT).

By the time RIBALD TALES came along, the Lees had decided that they could best realize their scripts if they directed them. They discuss the film's budget, the set design, heavy rehearsal of the film's dialogue scenes, Lee's approach to directing sex scenes, and the promotion and release of the film (Rubin mentions that it must have been released after TASTY since there was a trailer for CANTERBURY at the tail end of that film's negative). Lee also dishes on some of the actors (North would not let them mess with his hair for fear of losing his erection), including the "straight" (as in non-sexual) actors like Duggan, and his opinions on acting in porn (his own performances onscreen as well as doubling in some sex scenes). Moderator Rubin provides some contextual information about Sharon Kelly's seventies softcore career and her eighties hardcore work as Colleen Brennan after a semi-retirement, while Bud Lee also discusses his subsequent TV work for Playboy and the introduction of video (during which many still preferred the look of analogue Beta SP over DV).

TASTY is accompanied by a video interview with Lee (10:39) that repeats some of the information from the commentary as context (including some discussion of RIBALD TALES OF CANTERBURY) before he makes some remarks about TASTY. Actor "Buster Cherry" was a real radio DJ who wanted to do an X-rated film (and Lee himself was apparently the "stunt double" for his sex scene). Lee also admits that he had hoped after his capable performances in their earlier films that he would have no trouble with Eastern playing the station manager, and was disappointed with the results (pointing out Eastern's repeated pronunciation of the world "ruined" as "runed"). It's not particularly in-depth about the film under discussion; but, if not for the RIBALD TALES commentary, the short interview would have been a sufficient extra on its own. The disc also features trailers for both films (3:37 and 4:02, respectively). In the interview, Lee expresses his hopes that Vinegar Syndrome might express interest at some point in THE YOUNG LIKE IT HOT; and I say: the more Hyapatia, the better. (Eric Cotenas)