Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things
Brash, unpredictable regional filmmaking that both doesn't hide its trash origins while aspiring to be more.
Published on August 21, 2015 | Filed under Review
Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things

The recent partnership of AGFA and Vinegar Syndrome has already brought us two idiosyncratic treasures this year, Supersoul Brother and Night of the Strangler, but neither could really prepare me for their most recent offering, a bargain bin slice of Florida grown exploitation graced with the title Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things, and it is absolutely bonkers cinema of the most unclassifiable sort. This is the type of thing that doesn’t even feel covered by the sleazy seeming genre catch all of “exploitation,” it’s equal parts melodrama, slasher, comedy, crime flick all wrapped up in some sort of psychedelic, homoerotic bow. It’s truly something else.

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things concerns two criminal lowlifes, Paul (Abe Zwick) and Stanley (Wayne Crawford), trying to lay low from local law enforcement with Paul pretending to be Stanley’s Aunt Martha, in utterly unconvincing drag. Performing like a cross between Divine and Bette Davis, it’s a spectacle to behold. But, like the title lets you know right away, Aunt Martha – Stanley – does some dreadful shit including, but certainly not limited to, murder. Especially once Stanley starts getting involved with the nubile girl next door.

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things

The film is written and directed by Flesh Feast‘s Thomas Casey, a filmmaker with a very short career. Yet that’s somehow made up for by how completely insane this one is. It plays out sort of like Sirkian domestic melodrama as directed by Andy Milligan remaking DePalma’s Dressed to Kill. It has the sort of homegrown charm of the Kuchar films yet seems to have higher aspirations, taking on a sort of transgressive avant-garde bent that calls to mind Performance, with this being released only a year later, it’s the type of disaster cinema that could really only have been made by someone who knew exactly what he was doing, even if he had no idea who the fuck he was doing it for. At its surface, it could be mistaken for a simple slasher, but it’s much more than that and even reaches a point towards the climax that could legitimately be considered empathetic if not outright sad. This, like Runaway Nightmare before it, is a perfect example of why we need to preserve regional cinema and I’m happy that we have folks like AGFA and VS to get it out there. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Vinegar Syndrome have brought Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things to DVD only (for what I can tell is the first time) scanned in 2K from AGFA’s exhibition print. The results are what they are and I can’t imagine them getting much better than this. It’s clearly a bit faded and there’s noticeable damage at spots throughout, with the worst being confined to reel changes. I was never overly distracted by any of the damage though and this is a good approximation of what it’d look like if you were to see the print projected at this point.

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things

The sole extra here is a commentary by Full Moon staple David DeCoteau, who has given us such films as Creepozoids and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, joined by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson. If you’re looking for production information, it’s not really here, but this is a fun, casual track and the two of them are clearly enjoying the film for what it is. I’m happy with its inclusion here.

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things is one of my favorite discoveries of 2015. It’s brash, unpredictable regional filmmaking that both doesn’t hide its trash origins while at the same time aspiring to be more than that. This is the type of cinema that we desperately need rescued before it is lost and I’m happy to see two major forces in film preservation joining together to get it out there. Highly recommended.

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in film preservation from the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and film studies from Keene State College. He is the Creative Manager at Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you’ve got ’em.

Justin LaLiberty