Thursday, April 30, 2015

VINEGAR SYNDROME'S THE CUT-THROATS - DVD REVIEW


Although masquerading as a WWII picture, it becomes apparent rather quickly that John Hayes’ The CUT-THROATS (1970) has more in common with Lee Frost’s influential sexploitation effort, LOVE CAMP 7 (1968) than your typical action flick.  Opening with “The Ballad of Jimmy Johnson”, a rather lowly but sombre tune – accompanied by some crude artwork of a soldier harnessing a lasso – this uncharacteristic film follows a group of soldiers at the tail-end of WWII, led by the rather inscrutable Captain Kohler (E.J. Walsh?), who are assigned to infiltrate a German stronghold (which actually turns out to be a brothel) and steal some “detailed charts and battle plans”.  As in Robert Aldrich’s The DIRTY DOZEN (1965), Kohler’s men – it’s actually only a half-dozen this time around – get the job done without a hitch, but Captain Kohler’s true intentions are soon revealed: namely a million dollars’ worth of Nazi plunder.  As he tries to figure out how to get the riches out of the camp, he and his men decide to “enjoy a little entertainment”, but Sergeant Tackney (Jay Scott) begins to fall for one of the “beautiful Nazi women” (Inge Pinson).

Revisiting the setting of his earlier WWII picture, SHELL SHOCK (1964) – itself likely influenced by Anthony Mann’s riveting MEN IN WAR (1957) – Hayes uses the military scenario as mere backdrop to a film whose primary motivation is to show as much female nudity as possible; and on that level, the film succeeds admirably. Five minutes into the film, a lone German soldier (an uncredited Michael Pataki – future star of Hayes’ most well-known film, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE [1972]), encounters a young woman, whom he proceeds to rape in a prolonged and uncomfortable scene; it’s certainly a downbeat opening, and, like Meir Zarchi’s much later I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), is made all the more effective by the complete lack of music.  Thankfully, once at the brothel, while the men smoke cigars and sip cognac, the film becomes more playful in its attitude as the women perform an amateurish stage show, and then get the soldiers into bed.  In a particularly bizarre scene, one of the women’s bedrooms is virtually plastered with Nazi paraphernalia, including Swastika-adorned bed-sheets; set dressings which are so over-the-top as to be almost appear comical, despite all the negative connotations of the hated symbols involved.  Meanwhile, in another part of the country at German headquarters, soldiers are celebrating the recent declaration that the war is over; which results in an impromptu striptease by a female soldier (played by the decidedly top-heavy Uschi Digard) as John Hayes and his DP Paul Hipp zero-in on Uschi’s biggest assets.  Back at the brothel, further softcore sex takes up more of the film’s narrative, but, eventually, the women try and defend themselves, and this results in the expected “bloodbath”, with a few twists and turns along the way.

Our dirty half-dozen enjoying a little entertainment.

As a war picture, The CUT-THROATS isn’t very convincing or memorable.  Filmed in the hilly, desert-like outskirts of Los Angeles at some abandoned ranch, which is a poor stand-in for the German or European countryside – although forgivable, considering the film’s obviously low-budget – the few-and-far-between action scenes are actually rather effective despite their somewhat sparse execution.  Although not fully-developed, but far more interesting, are the characters’ desperate attempts at having themselves some sort of life following all the hardships and horrors of the war, no matter what the cost; whether it’s plundering some forbidden Nazi jewels or finding solace in a another’s woman’s arms, these men and women have been changed by the conflict, some for the better, some for the worse.  During the opening “Ballad of Jimmy Johnson” (“…our laughter brings back the joys of past days.”), Jimmy is killed in the opening few minutes, which provides the necessary incentive for Sergeant Tackney to escape this hell (“I kill because of orders!”).  Not looking too deeply into many of the character’s motivations – this is, after all, a cheap sexploitation flick – it would seem director Hayes had some intention to explore this facet with a little insight not afforded to him; he was probably obligated to provide the film with as much titillation as possible, sometimes at the cost of an entirely different fleshed-out narrative.

Inge Pinson and Jay Scott.

Like many directors who worked in the prolific world of low-budget filmmaking in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, John Hayes (1931-2000) never received the recognition he probably deserved, and not much was really written about him until the publication of Stephen Thrower’s indispensable book Nightmare USA (FAB Press, 2007).  As mentioned earlier, he is probably best remembered for GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE and its companion piece GARDEN OF THE DEAD (1972), a horror quickie produced as a second feature for said film, which only runs about an hour in length.  Later, before he embarked on END OF THE WORLD (1977), a mostly execrable horror/sci-fi pic with a noteworthy cast including Christopher Lee, he wrote and directed (under his Harold Perkins pseudonym) BABY ROSEMARY (1977 – also available from Vinegar Syndrome), which, despite being a hardcore porn film with horror overtones, is far more thought-provoking and challenging than most of his work.  As he continued to toil in the porno ghetto during the ’80s, he also directed an episode of the George A. Romero and Richard Rubenstein syndicated TV series Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988).

Produced as a Limited Edition DVD with a print run of 1,500 copies, Vinegar Syndrome’s print of The CUT-THROATS was “scanned and restored in 2K from 35mm vault materials”, and given that this is the film’s DVD debut, it has never looked better.  Extras are sparse, with just a brief stills gallery – consisting of original B&W stills courtesy of Bruce Holecheck from Cinema Arcana – and the original theatrical trailer (“They met their match when they met the women of the Third Reich!”).  This DVD will be available for free if you purchase Vinegar Syndrome’s May 2015 package (available on May 12th) or June 2015 package.  If any stock remains, they will sell them via DiabolikDVD in a couple of months for $12.00.  Like all the Vinegar Syndrome Limited Editions, grab a copy before it disappears for good.    

2 comments:

  1. Hopefully,the public demand for THE CUT-THROATS DVD will enable the folks at Vinegar Syndrome enough to make it into a larger(and more publically available) DVD/Blu Ray release,since there is a vast audience that carve the Naziploitation sub-genre(even if THE CUT-THROATS is one of the more milder entries).

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    1. I can't imagine Vinegar Syndrome releasing a Blu-ray of this title, but unlike their earlier, even more limited MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS DVD, this has a much larger print run (1,500 compared to 500), so I'm sure it will turn up at Diabolik DVD in the next couple of months, and yeah, it might not be a Blu-ray, but it still looks great. You won't be disappointed.

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