You want sleaze? I mean dragged out of the Times Square gutter kicking and screaming, grainy, grimy, grade-A sleaze so genuine you can smell the hobo piss? Yeah, well, Vinegar Syndrome’s got you covered with their latest release, Chester Fox and Alex Stevens’ softcore porn-meets-gritty cop drama epic, Massage Parlor Murders.
The film tells the tale of a pair of hard nose detectives working the Times Square beat’s myriad rub and tug operations, both literally and figuratively, as the grizzled vet, Danny (George Spencer), makes his inspections up close and personal, spending time with his favorite massage girl (played by 70s porn regular, Chris Jordan) while his swinging young partner, Jimmy (John Moser), sits in their car and covers for him. Once the dynamic duo go off duty, however, we see another customer enter the massage parlor, picking Danny’s favorite girl, and then making his way back into her room where she immediately doffs her clothing only to have her pretty face smashed into a mirror repeatedly.
Meanwhile, Danny’s swigging Budweiser and giving his wife the what-for, while Jimmy’s kicking back in his bachelor pad grooving shirtless to his tiny black and white TV. Jimmy receives a call about the murder, relays the info to the perpetually angry Danny, and the two head to the crime scene where Danny lets his personal feelings get the better of him, taking to the streets and violently beating down any suspect that crosses his path (including Law & Order vet, George Dzunda, in an early role).
Cool Jimmy, on the other hand, is decidedly more restrained in his investigation, hooking up with the dead massage parlor girl’s roommate, Gwen (Sandra Cassell), mercifully encapsulated by a montage of picnics, running in parks, and ham-fisted attempts at romance, set to what sounds like the era’s equivalent to Kenny G.
All the while, more girls fall victim to the massage parlor murderer, with the killer beginning to display a more sadistic side, leading to one of the funniest “Aha!” moments in crime cinema history, and a finale you have to see to believe. Oh, and the bit with The Nutcracker Suite…yeah…you need to see this.
Massage Parlor Murders plays out like the bastard child of The French Connection and Deep Throat, with a schizophrenic mix of cheap interior sets, a potpourri of the era’s adult film stars, and porno production values juxtaposed by gritty exterior shots, car chases, and bouts of fisticuffs that closely mimic the police procedurals of the day. It’s all done in an obviously guerilla cinema style, with cameras seemingly shooting through van windows or peeking out from behind bushes in a lot of the scenes (hey, permits are EXPENSIVE), which lends to the film’s low-budget charms. The scenes of violence, while tame when compared to many of the period’s offerings, offer up plenty by way of day-glo orange blood, and ample amounts of T&A is on display, filling all of the requirements of exploitation/grindhouse cinema.
Vinegar Syndrome, the new kings of resuscitating long-lost sleaze, bring Massage Parlor Murders to Blu-ray in impressive fashion, with a truly jaw-dropping 1080p transfer of the film that is vibrant, crisp, and teeming with fine detail. Be aware that I am, of course, grading on a curve, here. This isn’t going to knock the socks off of videophiles weaned on Transformers movies, but for those of us who live and breathe exploitation cinema, seeing such an obscure film from a bygone era restored with such care and obvious passion for the material, one cannot help but to be impressed! Yes, there’s an omnipresent grain, and, on occasion, a stubborn artifact or two, but this thing looks dynamite, especially when one considers its vintage (forty years!) and the manner in which films like this were used and abused throughout their “cinema” run.
Vinegar Syndrome also manages to wrangle up some extras to accompany this release, including a collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, an alternate version of the film (which was released as Massage Parlor Hookers) that’s missing the humorous opening cameo by co-director, Chester Fox, and trailers for both the original and re-release versions of the film. There’s also a lengthy booklet/essay and a reproduction of the color timing card for the film (similar to the ones included in Vinegar Syndrome’s excellent Lost Films of H.G. Lewis collection).
Massage Parlor Murders isn’t a great movie by any stretch, but it’s an entertaining and wonderfully sordid reminder of the glistening white underbelly of old New York, as well as a fun bit of exploitation cinema. Vinegar Syndrome’s presentation is excellent, with appropriately grimy packaging, a really impressive transfer, and a welcome collection of bonus materials. If you’re a fan of 70s sleaze, consider this a must buy!