The Film (1.5/5):
As the era of theatrically released adult movies was winding down in the mid-1980s, prolific porn director Carlos Tobalina (under the pseudonym “Efrain” Tobalina) made an R-rated thriller where the sex is only suggested. A reimagining of Strangers on a Train, Flesh and Bullets resides in a grey area between porn and mainstream filmmaking. While the production values are somewhat better than his adult work and the supporting cast has as many semi-celebrities as porn stars, Flesh and Bullets feels as sleazy as any of his adult work.
The movie’s answer to Robert Walker and Farley Granger are Mic Morrow and Glenn McKay as Jeff and Roy, two guys who meet in a bar soon after Roy has pulled off a bank heist. While making small talk, Jeff and Roy realize that they both have ex-wives who’ve left them with steep alimony and child support payments, and Roy proposes that they help each other out by seducing and murdering each others’ wives. They clearly didn’t really understand Strangers on a Train, where the whole point is that the respective killers would have no obvious connection to their victims, which sleeping with each others’ wives negates, but never mind. As Jeff starts to fall for Roy’s ex, Gail (Susan Silvers), and Roy does the same with Jeff’s ex, Dolores (Cydney Hill), the two men both realize they can’t go through with it and begin contemplating murdering each other instead.
The filmmaking here is a notch more competent than Tobalina’s adult work - at the very least, he gave the star filters a rest for his stab at respectability. The sex is also quite restrained, with abrupt cuts suggesting Tobalina decided to tone it down further in editing (most of the time, it doesn’t get more graphic than close-ups of the couples’ bare, intertwined legs). But his attempts at building suspense mostly consist of scenes of Roy and Jeff walking around while we hear their internal monologues in voiceover, each wondering what the other is doing. As Tobalina can’t generate much tension, he goes for shock value instead, but he doesn’t do that much better - at one point, Dolores tells Jeff about having been sexually assaulted by an ex played by Maniac Cop’s Robert Z’dar. This is the actual exchange that precedes the flashback:
“He had his way with you.”
“He raped you?”
“Yep, that’s what they call it.”
That should give you an idea of what you’re in for with Flesh and Bullets, which would be offensive if it wasn’t so stupid. At least the anticlimactic conclusion reveals that Tobalina’s foray into the (relative) mainstream is thematically of piece with his adult work, reflecting his apparently sincere conviction that sex can fix anything. And no, that doesn’t mean Roy and Jeff have sex with each other - if that had happened, I’d add at least another star to the above rating.
Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD of Flesh and Bullets is a new 2K remaster of the original 35mm negative. The elements used here look to be a little stronger than most of Tobalina’s adult work the company has released - colors and detail are strong throughout, with minimal scratches or other visible damage. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack isn’t quite as strong, as the dialogue is sometimes thin and/or muffled, but this is clearly a flaw in the original elements.
In addition to the theatrical trailer, Vinegar Syndrome also included an alternate cut of the movie, titled The Wife Contract. Sourced from a VHS, it was rightly included as an extra, but it runs a few minutes longer and includes extended and slightly alternate scenes, for people who want the full Tobalina experience.
Flesh and Bullets is an interesting curiosity because of the nature of its production, but it’s unfortunately not much more entertaining than the average Tobalina adult feature. For people interested in checking it out, though, Vinegar Syndrome has given it a characteristically fine presentation.