Color, 1975, 89 mins. 27 secs..
Directed by Gus Trikonis
Starring Bruce Watson, Laura Hippe, Katie Saylor, Dyanne Thorne, Renie Radich, William Smith, Zitto Kazann, John Alderman Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1)
Probably most infamous to a certain generation as one of the very first films ever reviewed in print by Joe Bob Briggs during its reissue as Eager Beavers, this jaw-dropping '70s shocker surely ranks up there with Super Swinging Playmates (more appropriately circulated as Swingers Massacre) as one of the most misleading marketing campaigns in sexploitation history. The poster art promises a sexy saga about scantily-clad barmaids who ensure "their customers always come first," but in fact it's a serial killer thriller from director Gus Trikonis, a former actor who cranked this out in a busy spate during the mid-'70s along with Supercock, The Evil, Nashville Girl, and Moonshine County Express.
The beautiful employees of the Swing A Ling club make a living providing beautiful entertainment for the clientele as they're wrangled by a sassy drag queen emcee, but things take a dark turn when blond, bearded Tom Brady (Watson) develops a grudge against buxom barmaid Boo-Boo Johnson (Thorne, Ilsa herself) for calling him "sonny." Tom decides to follow her home and engage in a home invasion that ends with him stabbing her to death with a switchblade and taking posed photos of the aftermath. Three of her coworkers stumble in just in time to catch a glimpse of the perpetrator's face, and so it's up to Jenny (Hippe), Susie (Saylor), and Marie (Radich) to help investigating officer Lt. White (drive-in legend Smith) to track down the homicidal shutterbug. Undeterred, Tom decides to disguise himself by shaving off his beard, dying and perming his hair, and getting a job as a dish washer and potential bouncer at the club so he can keep tabs on the investigation while deciding which lady will end up next on his kill list.
So very 1975 you can practically smell the fondue and feel the ferns hanging behind you, The Swinging Barmaids is plenty sleazy but with a much stronger focus on its gritty crime and horror aspects than anything sexy. The fact that the topless nudity is mostly confined to the murder scenes probably left a lot of confused patrons wondering what they'd stumbled into, but it's all pulled off with plenty of panache and ridiculous thrills (not the least being Watson's absurd fake beard and wig in the opening minutes). The story itself is a fairly standard stalking tale with Watson elevating it thanks to his odd performance (coupled with some dialogue that would never, ever fly in today's climate), though Smith manages to step in and more than earn his paycheck for a lively, sadistic finale.
Despite its regular theatrical play well into the '80s, this film remained inexplicably unavailable on legit home video for decades. (Alpha Blue Archives issued a very poor bootleg DVD double feature with The Manhandlers that's best avoided entirely.) Fortunately that oversight is corrected with Code Red's 2018 Blu-ray release, which looks far more stunning than anyone could have anticipated. It's a real beauty of a transfer with excellent color and detail, while the original grain structure has been left intact and no element damage in evidence. Top marks all around for this one. The DTS-HD MA English audio is less impressive due to the nature of the original source, which sports a fine but unspectacular sound mix and moments that verge on shrill thanks to what sounds like some so-so sound engineering. It's accurate though going by repertory screenings and likely as good as it can possibly sound. Also included are trailers for Warlock Moon, The Curious Female, The Dark, and Sole Survivor.