You know, we probably don’t need to sell Vinegar Syndrome to you, but let us sell Vinegar Syndrome to you, who rediscovered and re-released this early 90s direct to video hybrid of the slasher and giallo and the erotic thriller and made it look better than it had any right to be.
If you’re like us, you only need to know one thing: it was directed by Anson “Potsie” Williams*. which is more than enough strangeness to get this at least one watch. It was written by Barry Sandler, who has plenty of experience in writing detective-style movies, with two Agatha Christie adaptions (The Mirror Crack’d and Evil Under the Sun) and the neo-noir as well, with the Ken Russell film Crimes of Passion. Actually, that’s pretty much a giallo too, what with women changing their identities, a vibrator used as a murder weapon and a synth score by Rick Wakeman.
Charlie Schlatter doesn’t seem like a giallo hero, what with 18 Again! and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow on his resume. And at first in this movie, hiis character of Artie Logan is too much the jokester, a stranger in a strange land of a new college who has a reputation for going against authority; a rich man’s son out to rebel against anything you got. He meets cute with Tally Fuller (Josie Bissett, no stranger to the scumtastic world of the Italian thriller thanks to her appearing in Lenzi’s Hitcher in the Dark and equally scummy American direct to video slashers like Mikey), a cheerleader who has it all together and who seems like the kind of girl who can save him.
Here’s the rug pull. On the night that should be their first date, she’s murdered by a killer in a black trenchcoat armed with a blowtorch. And that killer is probably Artie, at least if the cops have anything to say.
And here’s the second time that the movie switches gears, as detective P.J. Decker (Christopher Walken) just saunters in and takes over the movie, owning every single scene he’s in, including one where he verbally harrangues a hostage taker until the man rushes out, only to be greeted by Decker’s bullets. He gives a world weary performance here, a man who can’t just sleep with an eighteen year old virgin who loves cops because he can’t stop thinking about how his wife is now married to a cheesemonger who sends him a big wheel of the stuff every holiday, a man who his kids now call daddy.
You really need to see this scene with the hostage in danger inside a convenience store and Walken just rattling off lines like “I never forget a face…especially, if I’ve sat on it!” and “I thought jaws only moved that fast in water!” before starting to sing “Feelings.” It’s the kind of madness that makes me fall in love with a film, kind of like the minor moment made large when Don Rickles shows up in Dirty Work except that this is a drama.
Decker is that most rare of a giallo cop: one who knows what he’s doing. And to do so, he gives Artie 24 hours to prove his innocence.
This is also a movie that knows to make things work, you need great actors even in the small parts, like Joanna Cassidy and Richard Kind. And to make this movie even more exciting, you get people killed by power drills to the head, via snakes and even by handgrenades, all broken up by reveals of illicit polaroids — of a teenager not under suspicion — and misdirection of who really is innocent, plus a scene of exposition told over laundry folding.
Also: a soundtrack that sounds like a combination of sitcom themes and the kind of weird funk that would play over a Dark Brothers scene. Sountrack songwriter Ted Mather wrote one of the songs in Berseker and Gary Griffin was in Gary and the Rippers on Full House and also wrote several pieces of music for that saccahrine show, which is very on brand for this very off brand movie.
Beyond getting this from Vinegar Syndrome, you can watch this on Tubi.
*Ken Russell was originally going to direct this. I mean, if you can’t get the visionary genius who made The Devils get the man who played a character whose nickname came from his love of clay. To be fair, Williams has had a pretty solid directing career.