Written by: George Pacheco on July 29th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1984 (Harlot), USA, 1972 (Tijuanna Blue)
Director: Howard Ziehm (Both Films)
Writers: Will Kelly (Harlot), Frank Cozart (Tijuanna Blue)
Cast: Fran Spector, Patty Alexon, John McGaughtery, Bill Pruner, Leroy Jones, Judy Angel (Harlot), Howard Alexander, Martin Victor, Dee Serano, Nina Martinez, Maria Gomez, Sue Pagan, Dorothy Clemente, Lidia Hernandez, Keith Erickson (Tijuanna Blue)
DVD Release Date: May 31st, 2016
Approximate Running Time: 64 minutes (Harlot), 92 minutes (Tijuanna Blue)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio (Both Films)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English (Both Films)
DVD Release: Vinegar Syndrome
Region Encoding: Region Free NTSC
Retail Price: $22.98
The name Howard Ziehm shouldn’t be too unfamiliar with those well versed in exploitation and B-movie history, as the director is probably most known for his 1974 softcore sci-fi spoof Flesh Gordon. Vinegar Syndrome has been unearthing a number of the man’s adult work he helmed for years under a variety of pseudonyms, two of which are presented here in a double feature.
The first is credited under his own name (albeit misspelled) and is by far the more interesting of the two, a bizarre and transgressive feature under the title of Harlot. Ziehm collaborated with the notorious producer Bill Osco-he of Alice in Wonderland and Copkillers fame-on the picture, which follows the teenaged Melody who follows in the promiscuous footsteps of her friend Mary…who just happens to be sleeping with friends, faculty and strangers alike in 1970s Hollywood, California.
What could’ve easily turned into a greasy grindhouse sex romp benefits from Ziehm’s unique choices in sound editing, as he cuts in unnerving sound effects and backing cues to much of the erotic content. The vibe on the whole is just uneasy, not only due to the content within, but also the execution of the film under Ziehm’s direction. There is a clear theme of anti-establishmentarianism going on here, particularly once Melody begins a relationship with a young biker chap and the tragic turns which face her in the aftermath of her sexual awakening.
Yes, this is dirty and downbeat stuff, triple X with a purpose, and not for those who desire the bright and sunny filmmaking associated with some stereotypes associated with West Coast adult cinema. The cynicism of the 70s is all over this one, which makes Harlot a successful and memorable film, which makes the most of its location and cast. There are even some scenes which were obviously shot guerrilla style, as the background people seem to have no idea what’s going on around them at the time. Add to this some solid cinematography and you have a keen example of early adult cinema very much representative of the gritty 1970s.
Tijuana Blue is more of an afterthought when compared to Harlot, unfortunately, although Ziehm’s work here is similarly dreary and realistic. The director chose to work under the name “Harry Hopper” for this production, perhaps implying that he himself wasn’t as pleased with the results, which would make sense, as Tijuana Blue tends to struggle a bit. The film follows a man who ventures off on a drug smuggling mission over the Mexico border once he finds his girlfriend to be pregnant, but quickly falls awry of the sex temptations on the road.
It’s only the Mexican location settings which make Tijuana Blue somewhat watchable, but even then these are too little explored when compared to the extended, depressing sex scenes which make up the bulk of the picture. The whole thing is shot rough ‘n ready on the fly, and-although possessing a similarly transgressive spirit as Harlot-the final results are far from the bar set on the disc’s first film. Not even the mysterious man in black or the film’s downbeat ending can save Tijuana Blue from being a forgettable entry in the Ziehm canon, making this one a flick to skip in the man’s filmography.
Vinegar Syndrome presents both of Howard Ziehm’s films scanned in 2k from the original 16mm negatives, and in 1.33:1 full screen format. Harlot and Tijuana Blue both have their fair share of print damage, and the colors haven’t survived all these years without a substantial amount of fading, but the overall restoration job is up to VinSyn’s commendable standards. The audio tracks for both films isn’t quite as decipherable as on previous discs in this “Peekarama” series, but again, the source materials have clearly degenerated over time. Indeed, the rarity of these films is undeniable, although it would’ve been nice to at least have Harlot presented with some stronger audio against the occasional background noise.
The real gem here is an audio commentary on Harlot with Ziehm, moderated by Joe Rubin and featuring guest William Margold. It starts out a bit matter of fact, but eventually delves deep into behind the scenes info of both a technical and thematic nature. It’s particularly interesting to hear first hand accounts of all the obscure performers who appear in the film, making this commentary track worth the price of purchase.