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Sugar Cookies (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Theodore Gershuny
Writer: Theodore Gershuny and Lloyd Kaufman
Cast: Lynn Lowry, Mary Woronov, and George Shannon
Year: 1973
Length:91 min
Rating: X
Region: A/1
Disks: 2
Label: Vinegar Syndrome
Release Date: June 3, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles: None

Extras
  • [Blu-Ray and DVD] Lynn Lowry Featurette
  • [Blu-Ray and DVD] Original Theatrical Trailer
  • [DVD Only] Interview with Lloyd Kaufman
  • [DVD Only] Interview with Mary Woronov
  • [DVD Only] Alternative Theatrical Trailer

SugarCookies_CoverOne year before making his directorial debut with the horror-thriller Seizure, Oliver Stone produced his first film—co-produced and co-written by future Troma President Lloyd Kaufman and directed and co-written by Theodore Gershuny (Silent Night, Bloody Night)—Sugar Cookies. Despite the recognizable names, Sugar Cookies has, however, remained a relatively obscure, little-seen feature from exploitation cinema’s past. Described by Vinegar Syndrome—who have granted the film its first Blu-Ray treatment—as a “blisteringly erotic Hitchcockian thriller,” the film is one of the more artistic and serious endeavors—albeit not without a slew of nudity—by Kaufman, who would ten years later become recognizable with the release of The Toxic Avenger. Presented, thanks to Vingear Syndrome, in 1080p High Definition from a 4k transfer of the original negative, the film has finally been salvaged from obscurity in this Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

Film

Despite its undeniable sexploitation genre identifier, the film is not without its merit and is even surprisingly artistic at times. In terms of its sexploitation elements, the film borrows more from arthouse cinema than grindhouse. The plot, which Kaufman verifies in the included interview, is a sort-of reworking of Vertigo, replacing James Stewart’s role with that of a woman. Equally, the film relies heavily on the Pygmalion plot, the molding of a woman to fit a specific society. Despite its lofty goals, the film does fail to completely deliver and seems to be stuck between the poles of sex, art, and comedy.

Lynn Lowery as Alta in Theodore Gershuny's Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Lynn Lowry as Alta in Theodore Gershuny’s Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

The film opens on Max Pavell, a porn producer, lamenting the apparent suicide of adult film star Alta Leigh (Lynn Lowry). His speech lacks authenticity, however, alerting the viewer immediately that all may not be as it appears. From here the film immediately cuts to a flashback of Max and Alta engaging in a dangerous sex game. Elevating quickly, the scene ends with the murder of Alta at the hands of Max. For the remainder of the film Alta’s obsessive agent Camilla—played by “cult queen” Mary Woronov—seeks out Alta’s replacement, who she finds in the innocent and young Julie (Lynn Lowry). A spitting image of Alta, Max and Mary begin to mold Julie as Alta’s replacement, but as Julie begins to learn, Mary has ulterior motives.

Narratively speaking, the weakest part of Sugar Cookies—and what seems to be branded by a strongest sense of Kaufman’s voice—is the addition of the character Gus. Gus is Max’s nephew and, despite operating as the film’s only source of comedic relief, his role serves little-to-no purpose. It can only be imagined—as the character embodies much of what will go on to shape the Troma brand—that Gus was an invention of Kaufman (who co-wrote the film) that he refused to part ways with. This is not to say that Gus’ inclusion hurts the film, but it does severely distract from the central narrative.

Gus in Theodore Gershuny's Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Gus in Theodore Gershuny’s Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Aside from Gus, overall, the film’s storyline is apt. Highly borrowing from a series of clear inspirations, there isn’t anything in Sugar Cookies that hasn’t been analyzed better by another film. That being said, there still exists something memorable about the film; Sugar Cookies has a hidden charm. It is perhaps in credit of the actors that this charm is achieved. Lowry’s dual performance, despite having a polarizing effect on audiences, is the highlight. There is a distinctive difference between Alta and Julie, and as the Pygmalion-transformation takes place, the subtle change in her attitude and style is recognizable.

Lynn Lowery as Julie in Theodore Gershuny's Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Lynn Lowry as Julie in Theodore Gershuny’s Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

While Kaufman has lamented that the film would have probably made more money had he, and not Gershuny, directed it, the film’s visual nature is one of its key elements. The cinematography is surprisingly refreshing, definitely borrowing cues from the European art movement. It is hard to imagine what the film would have looked like had Kaufman directed, but, as is, Sugar Cookies is a modest and adequate picture.

Video

In spite of the fact that, as Kaufman states, Sugar Cookies remains the only X-rated film to lose money and that it has remained nearly unknown, the print is surprisingly satisfactory. There are definitely visible signs of age-related wear and tear, but the damage is minimal and doesn’t distract from the viewing experience. Film grain is kept beautifully intact, and the colors remain vibrant and bold, really accenting the more artistic choices of Gershuny. Skin tones appear natural and shadows and highlights are kept at bay. Overall, the 1.78:1, 1080p HD transfer will be sure to please.

Theodore Gershuny's Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Theodore Gershuny’s Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Audio

As one would expect, the audio does suffer from many of the familiar difficulties that many 70s low-budget pictures are prone to. The audio is less than verbose and is even fairly empty at times. There are a few hisses and pops, but nothing too obtrusive. Overall, if you are a fan of low-budget sexploitation cinema there isn’t anything on the soundtrack that you aren’t probably familiar with, and certainty not anything that will impair the viewing experience.

Theodore Gershuny's Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Theodore Gershuny’s Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Extras

While the collection is not seething with features, the little bit offered is a nice touch. The minimalistic menus and the graphic design layout offer a pleasant low-budget, retro look for the package that attractively compliments the film. Inside, viewers are granted five extra features, including interviews with Lloyd Kaufman, Lynn Lowry, and Mary Woronov, as well as two original theatrical trailers. The Lowry interview and one of the theatrical trailer are, however, the only features available on the Blu-Ray disc, the others are exclusive to the DVD disc. The Kaufman interview is what you would probably expect. Kaufman is both charismatic and revealing, sharing a lot on his history with Oliver Stone and the production of the film. Overall, the Lowry interview is a highlight, as she comes off wholesome, funny, and humble.

Theodore Gershuny's Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Theodore Gershuny’s Sugar Cookies (1973) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

The final film directed by Theodore Gershuny, Sugar Cookies is a cerebral thriller that will surely entertain most. Sugar Cookies is a real treat for Kaufman and Stone fanatics alike, as it allows for view into their early career. At its core, Sugar Cookies is essentially a love story between Camilla and Julie, heightened with elements of the crime-thriller and comedy. Packed with a few great special features, combo Blu-Ray/DVD package, and a nice 4k transfer, Vinegar Syndrome has certainly provided the definitive edition available on the market.

One year before making his directorial debut with the horror-thriller Seizure, Oliver Stone produced his first…

Review Overview

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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