Color, 1984, 84 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Paul Bartel
Starring Tab Hunter, Divine, Lainie Kazan, Geoffrey Lewis, Henry Silva, Cesar Romero, Gina Gallego
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1 / 2.35:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Taking its title from a gag nickname for the torrid western Duel in the Sun, this goofball spoof released in the mid-'80s by New World marked a reunion for Tab Hunter and Divine, the dream team from John Waters' classic Polyester. This time directorial reins were handed over to Paul Bartel, who had scored a big midnight hit with Eating Raoul and seemed like a good fit when Waters wasn't interested in signing up. Lensed in Sante Fe, New Mexico, the film sends up the conventions of westerns, Italian ones in particular, with a campier attitude than comparable films like Blazing Saddles and Rustlers' Rhapsody. Thanks to a long life on TV and a ubiquitous VHS release, the film went on to amass a small but inevitable fan following and still delivers plenty of cheap, silly laughs.
Stranded out in the desert with an uncooperative burro, aspiring saloon performer Rosie Velez (Divine) is saved by a passing taciturn cowboy, Abel Wood (Hunter), who takes her to the nearby town of Chile Verde. Upon arrival they tangle with a colorful cast of characters including saloon proprietor Marguerita Ventura (Kazan), a silly black-clad outlaw named Bernardo (Silva), mysterious priest Father Garcia (Romero), and a band of outlaws led by Hard Case Williams (Lewis) who have a recent traumatic past with Rosie. As it turns out, everyone is connected to or searching for a valuable stash of gold nearby... which can only be found via one of the most unorthodox maps in movie history.
Not to be taken seriously for a second, Lust in the Dust operates on the level of a spoofy comedy TV sketch for its entire running time but manages to pull it off thanks to the chemistry of its leads, with Divine and Kazan in particular going for high camp from the outset and keeping it all the way to the end. It's a bit of an odd choice for Bartel in retrospect given the tendency to go more twisted or kinky in his films like Private Parts, Death Race 2000, or Hollywood Blvd., but the intention was apparently to go for a wider audience than the usual drive-in crowd. Obviously knowing their audience, the filmmakers even toss in a couple of musical numbers for Divine and Kazan, the former faring best with "These Lips Were Made for Kissin'" delivered in his usual growl.
Anchor Bay debuted the film on Blu-ray in 2001 featuring an interesting transfer that reframed the 1.85:1 film to 2.35:1 to mimic more of an expansive spaghetti western look, which has its pluses and minuses. Rather than slapping a uniform matte across the film, each shot was individually reframed and works well enough for the most part, even if some close ups look awfully claustrophobic. Extras include the trailer, talent bios, and a featurette, "More Lust, Less Dust" (15m17s) with Hunter, Kazan, and producer Allan Glaser chatting about the project's development from an intended vehicle for Divine and Chita Rivera, the intended casting of Edith Massey, the health challenges of the location, and the lengthy daily process of getting Divine ready for the camera.
That disc went out of circulation fairly quickly and started commanding insane sums of money online, so it's a relief to have the film back again courtesy of the 2019 Vinegar Syndrome dual-format edition bowed as part of its Halfway to Black Friday sale. In a wise move, the new transfer (which looks great and retains the sometimes dark, gritty nature of the original lensing) is offered in both the theatrical 1.85:1 and home video 2.35:1 aspect ratios so viewers can pick whichever option they prefer. The 1.85:1 version is definitely more spacious and comfortable in those close ups, but there's fun to be had in the panoramic, faux epic reframing as well. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio (with optional English SDH subtitles) sounds immaculate but isn't exactly the most dynamic aural showcase on the planet. The trailer and "More Lust, Less Dust" featurette are both carried over here, and you also get an archive of newspaper coverage and reviews and a new "Return to Chile Verde" (20m11s) featurette with Hunter and Glaser recapping some of the film's background and going into more detail about their memories of Divine. Finally, David Gregory's "The Importance of Being Paul" (16m12s) is a particularly affectionate look back at the late actor-director with participants like Mary Woronov, Roger Corman, and John Landis recalling the brilliant satirist who scored one of the biggest drive-in hits of all time and won critical respect with his darkly hilarious and perceptive explorations of human nature.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray) (1.85:1)
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray) (2.35:1)
ANCHOR BAY (DVD)
Reviewed on May 24, 2019