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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Poison Sweethearts
Poison Sweethearts
Tempe Entertainment // Unrated // July 15, 2008
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted July 4, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Product:
One of the best things about the exploitation genre - aside from all the gratuitous flesh and slobbering psycho violence - is the imagination of the men behind the sleaze. Since they recognized right off that they could milk a singular premise over and over again to earn a buck, there was an initial dearth of cinematic invention in what they had to offer. But as time went buy and the raincoat crowd wised up, producers found more and more peculiar ways to peddle their wanton wares. From ersatz scientific studies to mock documentaries, the T&A contingent tried to cover every filmmaking facet of the wild and weird waterfront. It is within this "anything for a dollar" dynamic that the latest from those lovable filmmaking fellows the Campbells (Luke and Andy) arrives. And the best thing about Poison Sweethearts - among a wealth of motion picture positives - is how knowledgeable it is about the old school sexual shill. It's one of the best attempted throwbacks ever.

The Plot:
Cleveland, Ohio is a dirty, dirty city - and rampant urban decay isn't its only problem. Here in this seedy Lake Erie locale, women are treated like dirt by the men who believe it's their biological right to use and abuse them. One young secretary must teach her leering employer that 'No' means "NO!" A lonely girl with limited self-esteem must defend herself against the busted moves of a cocky street dancer. A harried housewife can no longer take her husband's domestic harangues and a faithful daughter draws the line at being financial fodder for her father's ongoing drug habit. In a world of pimps, perverts, and paternalistic scum, these babes can't catch a break. But do not feel sorry for them. These aren't damsels in distress. They aren't women in trouble. No, these gals are Poison Sweethearts, and anyone who touches them is bound to feel their toxic tug.

The DVD:
With its exploitation derived framework and silly chauvinistic sheen, Poison Sweethearts marks the moment when brothers Andy and Luke Campbell completely shed their homemade horror mantle and become real directors. This is not to say that their previous efforts - the hilarious Midnight Skater, the nostalgic Demon Summer, or the gang gorefest Red Skulls represent lesser behind the lens mannerisms. But the truth is that movie macabre has a certain set of specs - cinematic formulas and prerequisites that keep vision hemmed in and innovation stifled. But with Sweethearts, the boys branch out into good old fashioned grindhouse territory, and inside such a conceit they find a wonderfully wicked, homage heavy masterpiece. Not every vignette works perfectly, and before we know it, the faux flesh peddler fun is over and done. But while it lasts, the boys deliver enough recognizable references to the forgotten genre that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino should be ashamed.

It all begins with the brilliant man on the street reporting that paints Cleveland, Ohio as a den of vice - and a real toilet bowl of a town. Now remember: this is not supposed to be realistic, so residents of LeBron's house need to control their ire. Besides, this is the way the Midwestern metropolis was painted for many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum-less years. Another brilliant addition is the so-called 'scientific' research material, offering up a questionable quack M.D. who laments the 'smaller brains' and hyper-emotional irrationality of women. Again, another case of creative caveat emptor, so don't complain. As a device, it reminds one of Barry Mahon, Harry Novak, and David F. Friedman. As a comic aside, it provides more than enough laughs for our post-PC social morays. The use of visual imagery is strong here, the Campbells relying on old, grainy camerawork, expertly realized backdrops and locations, and enough hambone acting to season a stadium full of dried beans.

But it's the individual sequences that certify and seal the deal. In each one, the Campbells provide a pristine girl power format to let their actresses bubble and bedevil. The initial salvo, starring Tempe regular James L. "Lonnie" Edwards, has that ridiculous premise that male bosses can't resist macking on their female underlings, even if they represent a rather 'doughy' masculine dynamic. Similarly, the skate-punk break-dancing follow-up is sensationally schlocky, a great bit of babe revenge draped in some of the scariest poppin' ever captured on film. By the time we get to all that pimp juiciness Poison Sweethearts threatens to lose its way. The man-oriented material is fine, but it tends to overpower - era-wise - the "girls getting busy" ideal. Of course, once our wised up streetwalkers play their final card, we see what the Campbells are creating. For all their outsider allure and brazen blood burlesque, it's exciting to see talent transcending its origins with style and substance. Poison Sweethearts is the brothers' commercial calling card. They no longer need to look back.

The Video:
Using what appears to be a number of optical formats - film, altered video, straight digital - and washing them all through an amazing post-production ideal, Poison Sweethearts looks just like a Bethel Buckalew joint from forty years ago. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image dazzles with jarring jump cuts, faked emulsion scratches, lots of lovely grain, and just enough pseudo-psychedelic color to charm the savage breast. The fake as Hell blood shines a brilliant, bold red, and the cityscapes stink of urban rot and factory soot. Even if they hadn't made an entertaining effort out of the footage, the visual aspect of Poison Sweethearts would still be a stunner.

The Audio:
It's Dolby Digital Stereo all the way, baby, and aside from the many musical moments offered, there's not much else for the mix to champion. The various voiceover narrations are presented in crystal clarity, and the dialogue is always discernible. While there are a few bows to the bad tech headaches of the past (distortion, poor overdubbing), the vast majority of this aural offering is excellent.

The Extras:
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this film, aside from the finished product, is that the Campbells actually wanted it to be their follow-up to Midnight Skater. While that was a mere six years ago in terms of time, it was eons before the guys were artistically capable of making such a leap. So we are privy to some of their test footage, material offered as part of the DVD package that shows us just how far the boys had to go to realize their vision. The scenes presented are static and rather uninspired. There is also a collection of music videos that follow the sense of style perpetrated by the film. But the most important bonus feature is the full length audio commentary featuring the brothers. As they have aged, they have moved away from naughty narrative joke-fests, and instead, really get into the meat and potatoes of filmmaking. There are some wonderful insights here, and more than a few mea culpas. Overall, Tempe does its typical stellar job in bringing heretofore unknown cinematic statements to the masses.

Final Thoughts:
For a long standing lover of exploitation like yours truly, Poison Sweethearts stands as a carefully crafted miracle. Lots of films claim to be following the Pussycat Theater ideal, drawing on the vaguely defined notion of the grindhouse to earn them some questionable cult respect. But this is the real ass deal, a Highly Recommended romp that, if given a Something Weird Video tag (or better yet, a Box Office International intro), you'd swear was a recently recovered, long forgotten genre gem. As the Campbells continue to explore the realms of motion picture potential, as they look to expand instead of exhaust their aesthetic frame of reference, here's hoping that Hollywood is paying attention. Among their undaunted DIY brethren, these astounding filmmakers just keep getting better and better. Poison Sweethearts is a landmark in their already milestone-laden career path. It truly is a sleazoid sensation.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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