The Film (3/5)
There’s a moment near the beginning of Pigs where Lynn (Toni Lawrence), the movie’s troubled heroine, pulls up to a backroad motel straight out of Psycho. As she gets out of her car, she hears the sound of pigs squealing in a nearby pen; the movie cuts to closeups of the hungry-looking hogs as their sounds become louder and more threatening. This would have been the moment when I (and any reasonable person) would say “Welp, BYE!” and get back in the car to look another motel. This being a horror movie, Lynn decides to stay. However, this is pretty much the last predictable moment in Pigs. I’d assumed that the film, released in 1972, was one of the decade’s “nature run amok” movies (Dogs, Frogs, etc.), but the pigs aren’t the main attraction in what proves to be a surreal psychodrama.
Lynn has arrived at the motel after escaping from a nearby mental institution for reasons the movie reveals gradually. She soon makes the acquaintance of the owner, Zambrini (Marc Lawrence), who also runs a pig farm and cafe on the property. I spent much of the movie waiting for a Motel Hell-type payoff with the cafe that, surprisingly, never came. Not that the movie lacks for all kind of weirdness: Zambrini’s a former circus clown who, we learn early on, feeds his pigs with the human meat they’ve developed a taste for. Lynn has her own murderous tendencies, and Zambrini helps her dispose of the evidence, though his protectiveness towards the much younger woman is as squirm-inducing as the pigs themselves (especially since Lawrence, who also wrote and directed, cast his real daughter in the role).
While we get glimpses of the pigs devouring Lynn and Zambrini’s victims, Pigs is much less gory than I expected. Its most unsettling moments are almost accidental - the movie’s disjointed narrative and jarring editing, while probably the result of a low budget and a quick schedule, give the movie the fragmented quality of a nightmare, and its resolution is one of the great “Wait, what happened??” endings. It’s hard to know what was intentional on Lawrence’s part, and it’d be a stretch to insist that all of the movie’s memorable “WTF” moments are deliberate, but Lawrence (who only directed one other feature) does approach both the movie and his performance with a straight-faced weirdness that works despite the movie’s shortcomings. Imagine The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with a head injury and you’re close to what Pigs feels like.
Vinegar Syndrome’s combo DVD/Blu-ray release of Pigs presents the movie in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The company’s 2K restoration of Pigs is a marvel, as the film was repeatedly recut, retitled (this print carries the title The Thirteenth Pig) and even reshot after its initial release. Here, Vinegar Syndrome has gone to great lengths to present Lawrence’s director’s cut for the first time on home video, and their restoration work on the film is excellent. Previously released in a fullscreen DVD by Troma, Pigs is both remarkably detailed and accurate the movie’s original grainy 16mm aesthetic. There’s a disclaimer at the front about shifts in visual quality, as the company had to recreate Lawrence’s cut from multiple prints, but while those shifts are noticeable, they only serve to highlight how good the movie looks overall. The DTS-HD Mono track is clear throughout; dialogue can be a little thin as a result of the limitations of the source, but Charles Bernstein’s score and the at times surreal sound design are highlights.
The highlights of this loaded special edition are the alternate openings from several different versions of the film. My personal favorite is the alternate Love Exorcism opening - can you guess which then-recent horror hit this one borrows from? Also well worth checking out is the interview with cinematographer, Glenn Roland, a sort-of commentary that plays over the movie, in which Roland talks about Pigs and his other film work (including Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and Massacre Mafia Style). Also included are video interviews with Toni Lawrence and Charles Bernstein, a promotional artwork gallery that highlights the movie’s re-releases under various titles, and two theatrical trailers.
Once again, Vinegar Syndrome has given Criterion-level treatment to an obscure exploitation title, and between the impressive restoration work and the plethora of extras, Pigs is one of their most impressive releases yet.