The Film (4/5)
Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Blu-ray of 1978’s Pretty Peaches gives Alex De Renzy’s adult classic the sort of classy presentation that Twilight Time’s limited editions give to mainstream classics and cult films. As it turns out, Pretty Peaches is more than deserving of such special treatment - it’s clear throughout that De Renzy cares as much about telling an engaging story as he does about the movie’s many hardcore scenes. While the sex here alternates between erotic and cheerfully extreme, the movie is consistently funny, well made and surprisingly entertaining. Probably the highest compliment I can give it is that it’s the rare porno that one might want to rewatch for non-masturbatory reasons.
The film introduces us to the young, innocent and endearingly dim-witted Peaches (Desiree Cousteau) as she arrives at her dad Hugh’s (John Leslie) wedding to Lilly (the mononymous Flower). Slightly drunk and upset that her dad isn’t paying more attention to her, Peaches flees in her Jeep, soon getting in an accident that knocks her unconscious. She’s found by two creeps, one of whom, played by Joey Silvera, rapes her while she’s unconscious. She wakes up with a case of amnesia, and the two guys offer to “help” her, leading to a series of sexual escapades, some of which are very rough by today’s standards. In addition to the rape scene, there’s a strange scene where Peaches is given an enema by a crazed “doctor,” and another where her audition at a strip club quickly escalates into a bizarre sort of gang bang where she’s tied up and attacked by delirious, dildo-wielding lesbians. This should all register as very offensive, but it’s perversely entertaining - the movie reminds a lot of early John Waters in its go-for-broke approach to tasteless showmanship, and it helps that Cousteau is quite obviously acting in those scenes and is clearly not in any distress.
There are more straightforward sex scenes throughout that benefit from De Renzy’s eye for composition and lighting. That may sound like a weird thing to say when the compositions involve sweaty, hairy people rolling in the hay, but De Renzy knows where to put the camera to emphasize the chemistry between performers instead of just artlessly capturing gynecological detail. That extends to the rest of the movie - it’s clear that De Renzy wanted the non-porn scenes to work on their own, and he does a pretty good job of staging comic moments and getting better-than-average performances out of most of his stars. There are a few flubbed lines and awkward edits, but for the most part, Pretty Peaches feels as professionally made as most independent mainstream movies from the same period. Sure, the target audience for Pretty Peaches might not be concerned with things like story structure or spatial continuity, but the fact that De Renzy cared enough to get those things right for their own sake makes me admire the guy.
Best of all, Pretty Peaches actually works pretty well as a comedy. It’s been frequently compared to Terry Southern’s Candy, and it does have a similar, cheerfully puerile sense of humor. It’s aided a great deal by Cousteau - in addition to being very cute and sexy, her wide-eyed, squeaky-voiced performance (for which she won the Adult Film Association of America award for Best Actress) is funny and endearing. As exploitative as some of her character’s experiences are, Cousteau’s cheerfully smutty performance dominates every scene she’s in. She’s as much of a pleasure to watch in the scenes where she keeps her clothes on as she is otherwise, and when the movie arrives at its ultimate, incredibly tasteless punchline, her reaction is so hilarious that I cracked up against my better judgment.
As Vinegar Syndrome has shown admirable commitment to presenting even no-budget adult movies with very poor source elements in the best condition possible, it’s a treat to see what they can do with a movie that was obviously made with care. The 2K restoration from 35mm elements looks terrific throughout, with strong colors and impressive detail. As the movie tends towards a somewhat overlit look, it’s a bit difficult to judge contrast or black levels, but the movie looks great, certainly on par with the best transfers of indie genre movies from the same period by Blue Underground or Synapse. As for the DTS-HD 1.0 audio track, there are a few moments where limitations in the original sound recording is obvious, but it’s a faithful reproduction, with both dialogue and the honkey tonk piano score is clear throughout.
Excerpts from an archival interview with De Renzy, shot shortly before he passed away in 2001, are included; it’s an insightful look at his approach to filmmaking, peppered with his amusingly salty behind-the-scenes stories. An interview with film historian Ted Mcilvenna, who knew De Renzy and talks about his experiences witnessing the beginnings of the adult film industry in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Both interviews are included on the DVD of Pretty Peaches included with the Blu-Ray, and both discs include trailers for De Renzy’s Pretty Peaches 2, Femmes de Sade and Baby Face 2.
Vinegar Syndrome’s very limited edition (only 1,500 available) of Pretty Peaches is, for ‘70s adult cinema aficionados, definitely worth picking up before they’re all gone. The movie is one of the funniest, strangest and most purely entertaining movies of its kind, and VS’s terrific presentation of the film is a gift for fans of De Renzy or Cousteau.