Sugar Cookies

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Sugar Cookies (1973) is a surprisingly intelligent sexploitation film that subverts its own formal trappings with a reflexive narrative. It’s an early effort by writer and producer Lloyd Kaufman who is best known today for founding Troma Entertainment. Sugar Cookies bears his mark most clearly in the peculiar sub plot revolving around Monique van Vooren and her character’s crossdressing son that is clearly intended to be comic relief. This is but a small portion of Sugar Cookies and its weakest link. It isn’t funny nor is it compelling, it simply is uncomfortable.

The great strength of Sugar Cookies is the aptly named Camilla played by Mary Woronov with an intimidating intensity. Camilla is grooming Julie Kent (Lynn Lowry in her debut role) as the replacement for Alta Leigh (also played by Lowry), a porn star who was murdered in a dangerous sex game with director Max Pavell (George Shannon). The twist is that Camilla intends for Julie to kill Max in revenge for murdering Alta, Camilla’s lover. Mary Woronov looks awesome in her pant suits and can shift from maternal to domineering in her scenes with Lowry easily.

Max Pavell could have been ripped from the pages of Legs McNeil’s The Other Hollywood; he feels as a character at once authentic and highly stylized. The lore and legends from the early days of the porn industry are the obvious inspiration for the film which treats sex and sexual identity as commodities. The characters don’t so much engage in intercourse as rehearse their sex for when they must perform for others. Sex as performance becomes commodification and the character of Camilla is its manufacturer.

Within the narrative complex themes of controlling identity and sexuality as a means of staking ownership begin to recall Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). The difference is that the images in Sugar Cookies also sexualize the character of Camilla whereas James Stewart is immune to Hitchcock’s overtures. Therefore the power Camilla wields against Julie is not absolute, it has clearly been earned or torn from the character of Max and the patriarchy that he represents. Sugar Cookies is by no means a feminist text, it’s merely a sophisticated work of genre deconstruction.

Sugar Cookies looks incredible on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome. This essential document of the sexploitation genre not only played a pivotal role in the careers of Lowry and Kaufman, but was one of the first films that Oliver Stone worked on. Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol fans will also be delighted to spot Ondine in a small role as Camilla’s assistant. This one is worth seeing.