Writer/Producer Lloyd Kaufman often claims Sugar Cookes was the only X-rated movie to lose money. “It’s just very slow and parts of it are pretentious,” Kaufman told scifi.radio. Kaufman also says he intended it to be a lesbian Vertigo. You can see that if you squint a lot, but it more closely resembles the Italian giallo films of that time.
Adult filmmaker Max shoots star model Alta early in the movie. Apparently, Max has a gun fetish. Max’s casting director Camilla helps him cover this up. She then recruits and molds a replacement for Alta out of look-alike Julie. But is Julie going to be Max’s next big star? Or is she Camilla’s revenge?
Giallo movies are often about rich people doing terrible things to each other in an atmosphere of upper-class sleaze. Sugar Cookies apes this style with elaborate sets, fashionable furniture, and narrowed eyes. None of our characters are likeable. Max claims shooting Alta was an accident, but was it really? Camilla is nakedly manipulative. And Julie is frustratingly gormless. There is also a subplot involving Max’s nephew Gus — an awkward, obese young adult Max is determined to turn into a man. He does this by arranging a sexual encounter with a much more mature prostitute. These scenes serve as the film’s comedy relief, but are much different in tone from the rest of the movie and, by modern standards, inappropriate. In Diabolique, Joe Yanik suggests Gus is Kaufman’s contribution to the script.
Much of the film feels like an acting-school exercise between Lowry and Woronov. Woronov is, by turns, both charming and brutal, but always with a cool reserve. Lowry says she was drawn to the dual role of Alita/Julie despite being in her birthday suit most of the time because it had a lot of range. Lowry sometimes overreaches, and director Theodore Gershuny gives her plenty of room. Despite the occasional rough take (Woronov can be especially flat), the interaction between these two actors is one of the best reasons to watch the movie.
Fans of mod interior design get a special thrill. The movie has a lot of extremely stylized sets. Max’s love nest is a wall-to-wall carpet playroom only Barbarella could find restrained. Eero Aarnio’s globe chair shows up so much it deserves its own credit. This, too, is reminiscent of giallo.
Kaufman said making this film helped crystalize what Troma should not be. Woronov would continue to work in many experimental and independent films. Lowry says she thought this movie would make her a star. It did not, but Lowry worked with George Romero (The Crazies), David Cronenberg (Shivers), and Radley Metzger (Score) in quick succession.
Vinegar Syndrome restored and released my copy in 2014.