Vinegar Syndrome's American Genre Film Archive brings the Floridian oddity SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS to DVD to weird out a whole new audience.
On the run after a jewel robbery in Baltimore, Paul (Abe Zwick) and Stanley (Wayne Crawford, HEADHUNTER) are laying low in suburban Miami with plans to flee to South America. While Stanley is constantly drawing attention to them with his girl-chasing and gaudy pink hippie van, Paul inexplicably convinces the neighborhood that he is Stanley's kindly Aunt Martha. The relationship is not too far from the truth since drug-addled Stanley likes to chase the girls but becomes a frightened child once he catches them, and Paul constantly has to remind him that the reason they are really on the run is because he brutally stabbed their robbery victim (Francelia Waterbury) to death during a blackout. It's Paul – or Aunt Martha – who gets stabby, however, when waitress Alma (Marty Cordova) tries to force her way into Stanley's bed and discovers Aunt Martha's secret. Having seen Stanley freak out on heroin herself, Alma's roommate Dolores (Maggie Wood) starts snooping around. Far more worrying, however, is the appearance of Stanley's astrology-loving junkie friend from Baltimore Hubert (Don Craig, VICE GIRLS LTD.) who claims to just be looking for a place to stay but gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When Stanley starts flirting with nurse trainee Vicki (Robin Hughes) and her nosy, pregnant, middle-aged mother (Yanka Mann) who decides to bake a cake for Stanley's upcoming 19th birthday, Aunt Martha starts sharpening her carving knife again.
Possibly the strangest 1970s exploitation film to come out of Florida – amidst such company as BLOOD FREAK, DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, and various Herschell Gordon Lewis oddities – SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS is not quite the late PSYCHO ripoff it seems or a cash-in on the sudden but short-lived mainstreaming of gay cinema with THE BOYS IN THE BAND and FORTUNE AND MEN'S EYES. The sexuality of its lead couple is maddeningly ambiguous. They share a bed, but only once Hubert has invited himself into their house. Paul claims not to like wearing a dress and a wig, but even Stanley questions his reasoning for it in the first place. Paul's griping about Stanley's girl-chasing seems less like jealousy and more concern about getting caught until the climax when a betrayal of a non-sexual nature has Paul calling Stanley a whore and writing "slut" on his forehead. There may not be anything to figure out and it may be odd for the sake of being odd since it was lensed in Florida that had yet to embrace hardcore and even the softcore sex films were more nudie (or nudist) than bump 'n grind. Although the film never reaches the heights of delirium it seeks – utilizing solarization and rapid shock cuts during the murders – it definitely lives up to its nutty reputation, moving from bitchy exchanges, pathetically-choreographed action, grisly mutilation and a laughable attempt at pathos to an "Expressionism on the cheap" climax set in a movie studio with inky shadows and probing spotlights. Directed by Thomas Casey – who had scripted and photographed the Veronica Lake late career horror pic FLESH FEAST – the film does have an odd Floridian exploitation pedigree with Crawford (who moved from producing and starring in films BARRACUDA and CHEERING SECTION to VALLEY GIRLA and NIGHT OF THE COMET), BLOOD FREAK director Brad Grinter in a bit part as a police detective, Lewis regular William Kerwin (BLOOD FEAST) as a police officer, his director brother Harry Kerwin (GOD'S BLOODY ACRE) serving as production manager, FLIPPER cameraman Edmund Gibson as cinematographer, and SCREAM BABY SCREAM's Chris Martell as assistant director.
Seemingly given only scant local release by McCleod Films – whose other pick-ups included the Florida-lensed American/Spanish co-production SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, THE FLORIDA CONNECTION, and William Grefe's WHISKEY MOUNTAIN – SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS gained most of its audience from a big box release by Active Home Video and Video Treasures' LP reissue. Of American Genre Film Archive prints supplied to Vinegar Syndrome for release so far – the other two being SUPERSOUL BROTHER and NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER – MARTHA seems to have been in the best condition; and their forty hours of restoration on the 2K scan produces fine results on their progressive, single-layer, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen presentation that is bright, sharp, and colorful with heavier grain in the shadows. The Dolby Digital 1.0 track has some hiss but is as fine as the video part of the encode.
The sole extra is an audio commentary by filmmaker David DeCoteau (THE BROTHERHOOD) and critic Nathanial Thompson that is less about what they've found out about the film than what little they've been able to discover about a Floridian grindhouse film that wasn't produced or made by Herschell Gordon Lewis, David Friedman, or William Grefé (Crawford did not return their phone call query) and has not been covered in NIGHTMARE U.S.A. They cover the familiar crew and cast members, the similar overbright look of the Florida films from this period (and the draw of the setting as a cheaper Southern California), how they became acquainted with the film, and soon run out of stuff to say. They take to discussing other exploitation films with transvestites, gay subtexts and gay horror films, and how exploitation films are orphaned and fall through the cracks (as well as the people who have been rescuing them like Vinegar Syndrome personnel and the late Mike Vraney) to the point where they can suddenly see a movie light in a shot they have never noticed before but fail to react in any way to Stanley's attempt to "save the baby." It's probably not the commentary track SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS diehard would have liked but it's not bad added value since whatever they were paid (if anything at all) cannot have had much of an effect on the price of the disc. (Eric Cotenas)
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