Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sweet Sugar (1972)

          The catfight scene is a staple of women-in-prison pictures, but Sweet Sugar takes this trope to a whole new level. The movie is set in a jungle plantation/prison where psychotic overlord Dr. John (Angus Duncan) performs weird experiments on inmates, most of whom are sexy young women. At one point, Dr. John gathers several incarcerated babes in a giant cage, then reveals a gaggle of housecats that he’s injected with a serum designed to reduce animals to violent primitivism. As the housecats claw and screech, ready for blood, Dr. John’s underlings toss the housecats over the wall of the cage so they land on the women and start scratching. Not only is the image of cats flying through the air beyond silly, the scene is so literal that it’s surreal—it’s a catfight scene with actual cats fighting. And so it goes throughout Sweet Sugar, which falls squarely within the so-bad-it’s-good category. The picture is confusing, disjointed, erratic, repetitive, stupid, and tacky, which means that every scene is worth a laugh at the expense of the incompetent filmmakers and unfortunate actors.
          Leading lady Phyllis Davis, who has an appealing world-weary quality (and an outrageously sexy body), plays Sugar, a swinger who gets busted on a dope charge. Once in jail, she bonds with fellow put-upon prisoners Dolores (Pamela Collins), the requisite virgin whom all the male guards want to deflower, and Simone (Ella Edwards), the requisite badass African-American who’s eager for armed insurrection. Per the standard women-in-prison formula, the ladies endure backbreaking work (cutting sugar cane in the humid jungle) and monstrous torture, mostly at the hands of Dr. John and head guard Burgos (Cliff Osmond). The ladies also find allies in such characters as male prisoner Mojo (Timothy Brown), who moonlights as a voodoo priest (!).
          Tonally, Sweet Sugar is all over the place—the filmmakers attempt everything from light comedy to playful titillation to vile horror. Running through the whole picture, of course, is the sure knowledge that every 10 minutes or so, one of the buxom starlets will lose her shirt. The acting in Sweet Sugar is generally quite weak, with main bad guy Duncan giving an especially goofy performance, but Collins and Davis both evince toughness despite spending large amounts of their time naked or screaming (if not naked and screaming). Plus, thanks to scenes like the catfight, Sweet Sugar occasionally drifts into the realm of full-on camp. And since women-in-prison pictures are so distasteful, generally speaking, it’s probably wiser to watch Sweet Sugar as an (unintentional) send-up of the genre, rather than simply another iteration.

Sweet Sugar: FUNKY

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