Vinegar Syndrome’s first release of their recent, and very welcome, partnership with Troma was the wonderful treatment of the oft overlooked Lust for Freedom. Following in the footsteps of that release, VS have unearthed another Troma gem that has not always gotten the love from the studio that their more tent-pole (i.e. profitable) titles have. The film in question this time is 1971’s Sugar Cookies, a psycho-sexual ménage à trois of obsession and mind games that feels like an inspired amalgamation of Radley Metzger’s The Lickerish Quartet and Larry Cohen’s Special Effects. Only dirtier.
Sugar Cookies has sort of a weird distribution history. As most major Troma fans will notice, the 1971 release date predates the inception of the company in 1974 which makes it rather obvious that this was an acquisition rather than a production. However, unlike other Troma acquisitions, it was written and produced by Lloyd Kaufman himself so it does have more of the studio’s pedigree than acquired titles that earned more of a reputation on home video than this one did. Luckily, Troma have always released it in its uncut form as it was cut quite heavily to earn an R-rating following its initial X-rated theatrical run. The cut here is the same as the DVD that Troma released years ago, and that’s the way it should be.
What we have here isn’t typical Troma material, which should be a given at this point. In addition to Kaufman’s contributions, we also have the associate production of a very young Oliver Stone which pre-dates his feature film career for the most part. It is directed by Theodore Gershuny, who is primarily known for Silent Night, Bloody Night which also features Mary Woronov. Like that movie, Sugar Cookies is a borderline art-house avant-shock flick that puts atmosphere above spectacle. Gershuny could easily allow his films to fall into typical genre fodder traps but he doesn’t. He only directed two major features, but on the merit of these alone his work mimics that of more established art-trash crafters like Curtis Harrington or, dare I say, Andy Milligan.
Sugar Cookies plot wise deals, without spoiling too much, with an adult cinema actress who dies during a game of naughty Russian Roulette with a sleazy film producer. Her lesbian lover/casting agent, played rather nastily by Woronov, enacts on a sort of revenge plan which involves grooming an aspiring actress to mimic the dearly departed. The twists (and kinks) of this one keep it fun up until the end, so I won’t be going out of my way to ruin it, but the story of this one is a highlight and I can’t say that about most of Troma’s output.
There’s a reason that this was initially given an X-rating. It’s certainly not as graphic as other titles that Troma would distribute or that Vinegar Syndrome have put out lately, but it wears its sins with honor. The majority of the more sleazy material is bookended in the first and last acts with all sorts of naked gunplay going down. It’s actually pretty inspired and is as suspenseful as it is sensational. It never veers – or at least I never thought it did – into exploitation for the sake of exploitation territory with most, if not all, of its carnal content having something to do with the characters and/or plot at large. Make no mistake, this isn’t something to put on for party/date night, but few will find this any more offensive than an R-rated De Palma or Meyer flick from the 70s or 80s. And it’s really fucking good, so who cares anyway?
Vinegar Syndrome have gone all out and given us a 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative and it looks damned good. The only other time that I’ve seen Sugar Cookies was on Troma’s DVD and this is an obvious improvement. I can only speak for the blu-ray here but the vibrant color palette pops and the blacks are definitely black. Very minimal damage/wear is present from the source material and what is there is far from distracting. Sound gets the job done with no noticeable hissing or popping and the soundtrack is great!
Supplements are rather annoyingly spread out so if you do want to watch them all, be ready to switch discs. The Blu-ray has the theatrical trailer and an interview with Lynn Lowry who has dual roles in the film. The DVD has both of those plus the reissue trailer from Troma, an interview with Woronov also from the Troma DVD and a brand new interview with Kaufman which runs for a half hour and is surprisingly informative and low key for someone who is usually so zany.
This is an exceptional release for an unfairly overlooked flick that excels not only within its genre but in 70s American cinema in general. Its art/trash dichotomy is not only rare but rarely handled with such finesse. Vinegar Syndrome have given it its best presentation yet, and likely ever, and have added some essential supplements. One of the best releases of the year thus far. Just buy it already.