The Films (2/5)
The latest of Vinegar Syndrome’s double feature DVDs chronicling the seemingly bottomless filmography of Carlos Tobalina features two of the director’s later efforts. The first, 1981’s Come Under My Spell, is the weaker of the two. The protagonist, Fernando (Fernando Fortes), is a nerdy foreign exchange student who is painfully awkward with women. His luck changes when his friend Dave (Blair Harris) gives him a book entitled Sex Through Hypnotism. Fernando is soon able to use his new hypnotism skills to seduce women and make them forget it happened.
It’s a rape-y premise by today’s standards, and the whole thing might be offensive if the movie wasn’t so tepid. While Tobalina isn’t a great visual stylist at his best, the sex scenes here are especially perfunctory – nobody has any chemistry with their partners, and the scenes are lazily shot and edited. The non-sex scenes are unfunny, the leads are unlikable, and while Tobalina’s best movies still have their share of technical gaffes, this one is particularly sloppy. The movie’s conclusion, featuring a cameo from Tobalina as a doctor, is mildly amusing, but the rest is forgettable.
The second of the two, Lady Dynamite, is somewhat better, thanks to a likable lead performance by Colleen Brennan as a woman who learns from her doctor (Tobalina again) that her husband has given her the clap. As is usually the case with Tobalina’s protagonists, the solution is for her to have sex with as many partners at a possible (often several at a time). Lady Dynamite at least feels like a Tobalina movie – there’s the conviction that sex is the key to happiness, the many metaphorically heavy shots of the heroine driving around the San Francisco Bay area, and the strangely sleepy orgy sequences. The movie’s high point is easily the moment when one all-female orgy is suddenly interrupted by four male strippers doing a sort of X-rated, poor man’s Chippendales routine – the scene alone is almost enough to recommend Lady Dynamite.
Both of the movies have a distinctly early-‘80s feel, and not just because of the stars’ big hair. There’s a distinct sense of everyone involved going through the motions, and while none of the Tobalina movies I’ve seen have been particularly erotic, the best ones have a loose comic energy and a sincerity about their sex-positive messages that these two are missing. There aren’t even any of Tobalina’s trademark star filters on display. While the VHS market hadn’t supplanted theatrical by the time these films were made, there’s a palpable sense of fatigue in both that anticipates the mass-produced approach to adult filmmaking that came with the video boom. All of the elements of a porn movie are present in both movies, but the sense of cheerful transgression present that makes Tobalina’s earlier movies so charming is gone. It’s enough to make you pine for Jamie Gillis.
Both Come Under My Spell and Lady Dynamite were restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives. I appreciate Vinegar Syndrome’s clear commitment to using the best possible elements for each film - color, contrast and skin tones are all strong, and any noticeable damage is clearly a part of the original elements. Come Under My Skin, in particular, features multiple scenes where the camera is clearly out of focus, but that’s what’s great about Vinegar Syndrome – even when one of the movie’s they’re releasing is technically inept, they make it look as good as it ever has. The 1.0 mono audio is also a case of the company working with less-than-perfect elements, but both sound clear throughout.
Trailers for both films are included.
This double feature represents a low point in the filmography of Carlos Tobalina and represent the beginning of the end of adult cinema’s Golden Age. However, I can’t fault Vinegar Syndrome’s reliably strong presentation of both movies. Tobalina completists (if such a thing exists) will be pleased.