Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blu-ray Review: MASSAGE PARLOR MURDERS (1974)

Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack 

LABEL: Vinegar Syndrome
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 80 Minutes
VIDEO: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
DIRECTOR: Chester Fox, Alex Stevens
CAST: Sandra Peabody, George Spencer, John Moser, Chris Jordan, Brother Theodore, Anne Gaybis

In MASSAGE PARLOR MURDERS! two corrupt NYPD detectives Jimmy O'Mara (John Moser) and Danny Rizotti (George Spencer) are on the prowl for a sicko who frequents massage parlors and leaves corpses behind. It's become intensely  personal for Detective Rizotti when the murderer offs his regular rub n' tug cutie Rosie (Chris Jordan, DEEP THROAT 2), the murder shakes him up quite a bit. Every night he comes home and plops down in his TV chair where his wife hands him a frosty Budweiser, lucky fucker! Meanwhile he bitches about this psychopath stalking the streets killing massage whores, his wife must wonder why he's taking this one so personally, after all they're just whores, right?

During the investigation his partner Jimmy starts courting Rosie's trick-turning roommate Gwen (Sandra Peabody, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) and soon thereafter more massage parlor employees are found dead, putting the pressure on both detectives to capture the culprit. Okay, screwing the whore's is one thing but taking up a doomed relationship with one, hmm, seems like a pretty shit idea to me. 

Following a series of random leads the detectives end up on the trail of a sleazeball named Mr. Creepy (Georg Dzundza, THE DEER HUNTER) who they run down on the street and beat the snot out of, they also question a nutty spiritualist played by the infamous Brother Theodore (THE 'BURBS) who plays it completely unhinged, at one point uttering the phrase "It is my sincere wish that immediately after my death, my head be severed from my body and replaced by a bouquet of broccoli!". I don't know what the fuck he was talking about but the improvised scene is quite entertaining, Brother Theodore was a nut! Another scene puts Jimmy at an orgiastic pool party only to leave abruptly in pursuit of suspect, Jimmy runs into the street sporting only a bath towel, commandeering a taxi he pursues the could-be culprit through the streets of NYC like a low-rent FRENCH CONNECTION, it's fun stuff and ends without a collar.

While the increasingly desperate detectives continue to sleuth the crime the murders continue, each one more severe than the last, we have an array of strangling, smothering, blunt force trauma, throat slashing and even a dousing of corrosive acid - it's pretty gruesome stuff, but tame by current standards. There's a nice sleazy dichotomy of nude women and gruesome murders, it makes for some fun exploitation. The film is firmly entrenched in the tropes of a police procedural but is nicely punctuated by nudity, paint-red grue and some fun actioner sequences that are purely entertaining, if not arthouse cinema. 

The acting is spotty at best, completely awful at times, Last House on the Left's Sandra Peabody is quite awful. Her protracted relationship with Jimmy brought the film to a complete stop for me. Thankfully we get some great 42nd Street marquee shots during some extended montage sequences and there's just enough sleaze and low-rent action to keep things chugging along acceptably.

Now the ending, whew, that cane out of nowhere! Danny has a last minute epiphany about the identity of the killer and before you know it the film goes up in flames and credits are rolling.... and I loved it! For a scarce slice of 70's exploitation cinema it had pretty much everything it needed to succeed; sleaze, nudity, and violence in ample amounts plus a very strange peepshow! It's fun stuff, just not great. 

BLU-RAY: Vinegar Syndrome once again come at us with an obscure and sleazy slice of underground NYC Cinema presented on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time ever, love it! MASSAGE PARLOR MURDERS! is presented with an AVC MPEG-4 encode in 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) sourced from the original 35mm camera negative and restored in 2K, it looks quite nice in it's authentic grittiness, there's some minor print damage but it's certainly nothing that will detract from your enjoyment. Black levels are decent, some of the darker scenes are a bit noisy, but the funky 70's colors are quite strong and there's even some discernible fine detail, check out that awful wallpaper, it's a very nice transfer. The English language Dolby Digital Mono audio is serviceable but there are hiss and audio pops throughout the feature which I think is forgivable for such a low-rent obscurity, after awhile I barely noticed it (but it's there). Dialogue is never hard to discern but the quality of the audio recording does fluctuate from scene to scene, the soundtrack, which ranges from acid-rock to softer jazzier pieces sounds quite nice, and there are no subtitle options.

Vinegar Syndrome always manage to throw in a few insightful bonus features onto their Blu-rays and MASSAGE PARLOR MURDERS! is no exception. We get two versions of the film, the Original Cut 79 minute cut and the 73 minute Re-release Version . The only difference being a humorous six-minute pre-credit sequence that's worth a watch as a nervous John is sweet-talked outta his money by a pretty-faced whore, it's a good bit of fun before the murders begins. 

There's no commentary track but what we get are some great liner notes from Chris Poggiali of the Temple of Schlock who offers quite a few facts about this obscure NYC nugget. When he recollects reading the scandalous True Detective magazines in a grocery stores as a kid it brought me right back to my own smutty adventures, these depraved rags were definitely my entry into the world of lurid exploitation, and right under my mother's nose while she pushed her grocery cart around the supermarket! Also included are the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:43) , the alternate MASSAGE PARLOR HOOKERS Trailer (1:57), Outtakes (7:50) including some additional pool-party orgy scenes, Radio Spot (:28)  and a replica of the of the film lab card just like we saw with VS's THE LOST FILM'S OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS, it's a very sweet edition complete with a standard-def DVD of the film the same special features.

- Restored in 2K from original camera negative
- Original theatrical trailer (2:43) 

- Alternate MASSAGE PARLOR HOOKERS Trailer (1:57)
- Rare Outtakes (7:50)

- Radio Spot (:28)
- Special Edition Lab Card

- Standard Definition DVD of the Film
- 6 Pg. Collector's Booklet with Extensive Historical Liner Notes by Temple of Schlock's Chris Poggiali 

VERDICT: MASSAGE PARLOR MURDERS! makes it's Blu-ray/DVD debut from newcomer Vinegar Syndrome and if you love gritty, sleazy and violent exploitation from the 70's this gets a definite recommend. Now keep in mind it's not for everyone and your mileage may vary depending on your cinematic tastes but I found it quite entertaining. If your a cult and exploitation enthusiast you seriously need to be aware of what Vinegar Syndrome are up to, these depraved detectives of demented cinema are unearthing some awfully obscure exploitation titles, some of which have never been given a proper release until now! 3 Outta 5