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3 From Arrow Player: Sweet Sugar, Girls Nite Out and Manhattan Baby
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3 From Arrow Player: Sweet Sugar, Girls Nite Out and Manhattan Baby

  There's such a variety on offer on Arrow Player that it may be difficult to know where to start. As well as new films, there are vintage ones too, so here are three deep dives that may well satisfy you should you subscribe to their extensive service.

First up, how about a trip to the nineteen-seventies and one of the most notorious of the women in prison genre, Sweet Sugar (1972)? This was a style that had mostly been inspired by the success of Jack Hill directed flicks like The Big Bird Cage and The Big Doll House, often featuring cult star Pam Grier in some capacity, but there were no such big stars here. Phyllis Davis was the most prominent celebrity in this, taking the title character and giving her a real bite, her anger in her performance no doubt a result of her contempt for the production which was paying her as little as it could get away with but expecting her to get up to all sorts of degradation, including going full frontal.

She didn't do that, though she did go topless as many of her fellow cast members did, but this did not prevent Sweet Sugar from gaining a reputation as one of the sleaziest movies in its category. As the screenwriter, Don Spencer seemingly had a checklist of elements he had to work through, some a lot more sensible than others. It was those not sensible elements that brought the film its fans, from Davis hooked up to a sex machine by the resident mad scientist which she promptly breaks (that's correct, just like Jane Fonda in Barbarella), to the ladies being punished by suffering cats on drugs thrown at them, just like in... well, that's unique to this ridiculousness, really.

There was a plot after a fashion, but frankly disjointed at best as the shenanigans mounted up. Basically, Sugar was set up by her crooked politician boyfriend to be sent to the sugar cane plantation, and as she had no choice in the matter, she sees it as her mission now is to escape from said plantation. At least, that's what she seems to be doing, but as she in turns seduces and rejects a bunch of guards and male prisoners there, it’s tricky to work out her masterplan. She may be an enigma, but Davis makes her memorable, playing it all straight faced and with commendable gusto (not everyone is as effective) as the tone lurches from comic relief to torture and toxicity galore.



Speaking of which, there was more of the same in Girls Nite Out (1982), suggesting that while trends may change there was a similar approach being implemented for much of the nineteen-seventies and eighties when it came to the exploitation movie business. There was more than a whiff of misogyny about this one, though it was used as a plot point in that we were directed to believe the killer had a real grudge against women, the most obvious of the suspects being the guy who announces to the girls at a college frat party "You're all whores!" Maybe too obvious? Although that doesn't change the fact the whinger really needed some counselling to get over his girlfriend.

Girls Nite Out was more like what William Castle would have made of the slasher genre, you could regard this as the next step on the road from Strait-Jacket or Homicidal back in the sixties, except with a lot more padding in the screenplay (written by four people!). For the first half hour or so, there's scene after scene of the frat boys and sorority sisters messing around, making dodgy jokes, putting on voices, and generally being obnoxious, though you could observe that once the woman-hating rears its head, the tone alters, and it gets a lot more hard-edged. Though that said, it still wasn't hugely gory, so they didn't entertain a large makeup effects budget for the kills.

Indeed, most of the makeup budget seems to have gone on the bear costume for the college basketball team mascot, a shonky affair that for British viewers of a certain age may remind them of Bungle from children’s television series Rainbow. Only this time Bungle has turned murderous, improvising a set of steel claws for the costume and after dispatching the actual mascot wearer, disguising themselves as this thereafter. It was kind of ridiculous, but for some that's the appeal, and the presence of Hal Holbrook in the cast (blatantly filmed at some other time to everyone else) had some believing this was classier than it was. Not really, it was a scrungy college murderthon.



And if anyone knows about cinematic murderthons, that would be Lucio Fulci. The Italian maestro of nightmare logic in his horror movies wrapped things up for his most fertile era in the genre with Manhattan Baby (1982), a typically dreamlike and nonsensical tale of an Ancient Egyptian curse that effectively put paid to his most celebrated shocker cycle as after this he switched producers from Fabrizio De Angelis, who really seemed to "get" where Fulci's strengths lay. In the gory horror stakes, at least, but that was a problem with Manhattan Baby for the fans, it was relatively light on the bloodshed and more emphasising on the fanciful curse material, lasting the whole film.

Another issue with it was that it was most widely seen in a pan and scan, VHS print which rendered it even more hard to follow than it would have been otherwise. The Arrow print is thankfully the restored one, and if Manhattan Baby may not be anyone's favourite Fulci effort, it is revealed as something worthy of more respect than it did previously. Christopher Connelly was the star, playing an archaeologist in Egypt trying to get to the bottom of a riddle from the Ancients that has troubled the likes of him for so many decades - but there is a curse attached. As Connelly discovers when he investigates a pyramid and finds booby traps and a set of laser beams that blind him temporarily.

His wife and daughter are present too, and the little girl makes her own discovery when a mystery figure appears to her and gifts her an amulet with an Eye of Horus on it. Who this was is never explained, but then, more or less all of this is unexplained as the family return to Manhattan (Baby) for Connelly to recuperate. Fans of The House by the Cemetery will be delighted to know Bob is back, the little boy who proved such an impediment to their enjoyment, though here he is dubbed with a more normal voice and playing the bratty brother. Various experts and victims drift through this, and there's a curious lack of urgency; the special effects are ambitious but often absurd, yet if you attune yourself to Manhattan Baby and get on its wavelength there is much to appreciate in its strange stylings.

[All three titles available on Arrow Player. Click here to join the Arrow Player website - there's a free trial available.]
Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018