Vinegar Syndrome Saves Grindhouse's Pigs from Troma

So, if this recent release from Vinegar Syndrome looks familiar, there's a good chance that's because of Grindhouse. They were originally going to release this as part of their collection, and even had the trailer up on their site, along with another title or two that didn't quite make it, like Death Game. Imagine if they could've restored Seymour Cassel's original vocal tracks? But never mind; we're here to talk about Pigs. Now, Troma who seems to have the rights locked down, did release it on DVD, but it was an essentially barebones, fullscreen, glitched out, censored version of an alternate cut of the film. So Grindhouse's version would've surely been great. Fortunately, thanks to their healthy relationship with Troma, we finally got to see the restored, uncensored special edition director's cut that Grindhouse almost brought us, by way of Vinegar Syndrome.
And the Academy Award for the most unrelenting use of the fish eye lens goes to...
To be clear, this is not a Troma movie in the sense that it's one of their original films like Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke 'Em High. This is a film they acquired, like The Children, My Dinner With Andre or Dario Argento's Stendhal Syndrome. In other words, don't worry, this isn't one of their juvenile messes with exploding boobs, flying diarrhea and "Sgt. Kabukiman" cameos. Pigs is actually a dark, weird twisted little film from the early 70s. It's sort of like Motel Hell meets the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and all the perverse dry desert nihilism that combination entails.

Having just escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane, Toni Lawrence takes an anonymous waitressing job at dusty old diner in a tiny, almost abandoned town. But she's not the only killer in town, because the old man who just hired her (Marc Lawrence) happens to believe the pigs he keeps out back will only eat human flesh, and he's not about to let them go hungry. What happens when you pair a couple like this? Will they kill each other or work together killing others? It sounds pretty campy, and sure it is; but they play this very straight, and it's smartly written and well acted enough that they get away with making this a strange little character study. There are one or two nice touches of humor, but it's never goofy.
Now, unfortunately, I no longer own the old Troma DVD for a full-on comparison, but I used to own it enough to tell you the important distinctions. Like I mentioned up top, one, it's a cut version with violence removed. And I mentioned it's glitched? Yeah, there's this weird problem with it where scenes repeat. Like, you'll see a close-up of a hand opening a door, the knob turns and the door starts to swing in and then cut back to the hand reaching for the doorknob again. It does that multiple times throughout the picture. And yeah, it's a different version of the film. The version Troma put out is the Daddy's Girl version, with a very different beginning and ending, where an unconvincing stand-in plays Toni Lawrence's part, showing her escape from the hospital and losing the clever ending of the original film. The original, director's cut we have hear from Vinegar Syndrome has never been released on home video before. And while, sure, the bulk of the body of the film is the same; the director's cut really is the clearly superior version.
Vinegar Syndrome's 2016 DVD on top and blu-ray on bottom.
Now, Vinegar Syndrome's release is a combo pack, so we do have a little comparison to look at, but there's no surprises. The DVD naturally looks a little softer and more compressed than the cleaner HD image on the blu-ray. But it's the same transfer on both. More crucial is to just the examine the transfer they came up with.
The above warning plays before the film, and parts of this film are clearly taken from one or more prints. There's sporadic damage and some very contrasty blacks which would probably un-crush had original elements been available for those scenes. But the biggest thing you'll notice is the flicker through a good portion of the film. If you've seen Scream Factory's blu-ray of The Final Terror, you know what to expect. But while pristine is always preferred, it's really not much of a problem. The flickering slowly dies down to the point where you don't notice it anymore, and it all just really serves to make it look like an old, 70s film print. And since this is such a funky, old 70s film with enough flaws baked in (some shots are soft, but I believe that's down to the original filming, not the transfer) that it all kind of fits. And compared to the old VHS-looking Troma DVD, Vinegar Syndrome's new 2k scan of the interpositive (and again, some print footage) in slightly matted 1.85 widescreen is eye-opening. It really looks like a movie, not the cheap piece of junk all the old transfers had us believing.

We get a strong DTS-HD track of the film's original mono, plus optional English HoH subs. You can bet the Troma DVD didn't include subtitles.
And oh boy, the extras are great! The Troma DVD had a bunch of stuff on it, but it was all Troma stuff and nothing to do with the film itself. Here, thankfully, it's the other way around. First up we have a great interview with the star, Toni Lawrence, who tells us the whole story of the film and the experience of working with her father. Then there's a fun interview with the composer - this film has a couple great songs in it - who talks about getting Toni to sing part of the soundtrack and how his only payment was a painting. Between the two of them, you get a real sense of what a self-made passion project this was for Marc, who was working totally off the grid.

Then there's a phone interview with the DP which plays as an audio commentary over the film. It's pretty good, but man I wish they edited it. This is the whole phone call from picking up the receiver to him pausing, not knowing what to say. And there's this recurrent technical glitch (the ghost of Troma's video glitch?) where the sound stutters and repeats for several seconds... they could've at least cut those out! But, still, with that said, it's a good interview with nice anecdotes and highlights from his earlier career, including the Ilsa film. But yeah, a tighter edit would've gone a long way.
And we haven't gotten to the best extras yet. They include the alternate openings (and one alternate ending) to the Daddy's Girl and Love Exorcism versions of the film. Now, these aren't just alternate title cards or something. These are whole, substantial sequences that Marc Lawrence made that totally change the picture. The Daddy's Girl stuff is what we saw on the old Troma DVD, with the stand-in escaping from the hospital and all. And the other one? Just what it sounds like! There's a huge exorcism scene where a doctor leads a priest to Toni Lawrence who's possessed by a demon pig! And he tries to exorcise her as stuff flies in through the window and she leaps at the men, screaming "fuck me" a la Linda Blair. It's a little on the cheap side (it's clearly black construction paper outside the window, not a night sky) totally bonkers, nothing like the rest of the picture.

We also get trailers for the film both as Pigs and the crazy Love Exorcism version. There's also a great photo gallery with vintage newspaper articles and VHS covers with all kinds of additional alternate titles, and the case has reversible artwork.
So don't mourn for Grindhouse's release, Vinegar Syndrome has delivered exactly the kind of special edition restoration those guys would've want. VS has really been blasting through the secret, respectable side of Troma's catalog with unexpectedly terrific releases, one after the other, from Christmas Evil to Luther the Geek. Well, maybe calling Luther "respectable" is a stretch, but you get what I mean. I keep hoping each month will bring an announcement of The Children, and dare we hope one day for... Rabid Grannies?

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