*** Out of 5
Tagline- For the Right Price They Never Rub You the Wrong Way
Release Date- September, 1974
Running Time- 79-Minutes
Director- Chester Fox & Alex Stevens
Starring- George Spencer, John Moser, Sandra Peabody, George Dzundza
Released in 1974 Massage Parlor Murders, which also went under the title Massage Parlor Hookers was a rare and seldom seen film as after its run in drive-ins, which lasted a few years, but it was never released on home video on any format until Vinegar Syndrome released it in a blu-ray/DVD combo pack in April of 2013. It’s hard to believe this film never found its way onto VHS, but Massage Parlor Murders was a long forgotten film and I must say for a film that even the most hardcore of exploitation fans most likely never saw or even heard of Vinegar Syndrome gives the film a 5-star treatment (which I’ll get into more detail later). The film itself by those who have seen have compared it to the HG Lewis cult shocker the Gore-Gore Girls and while Massage Parlor Murders and Gore-Gore Girls are different in style they do share a few things in common and would make for an entertaining double bill. The casting for the film actually has a couple of notable faces such as George Dzundza who is also credited as an assistant director would later have quite a career as a character actor in film and TV. Another notable face would be Sandra Peabody who also used the name Sandra Cassel and is best known for playing Mari Collingwood in Wes Craven’s epic debut the Last House on the Left. Also appearing are Beverly Bonner and Anne Gaybis who appeared briefly as a cashier in Friday the 13th Part 3.
What I find most interesting about the film actually is the marketing. The trailer for the film under the Massage Parlor Murders plays up to the death scenes a bit more and to some degree has a slasher like feel and downplays any sexuality. The trailer for the film under the Massage Parlor Hookers makes the film look like a sexploitation film and ignores the horror aspect of the film and based off the trailer you’d never know the film was about a killer murdering women at a massage parlor. Truthfully neither trailer is a fair indication for the film, but the Massage Parlor Hookers trailer is one of the most mis-leading I’ve ever seen. The Vinegar Syndrome release also comes with a radio spot (there’s a glitch some have encountered myself included where it won’t play, but works perfectly fine on the DVD). The radio spot is for Massage Parlor Hookers and features dialogue not even in the actual film. For me again this was the most fascinating how each trailer is so vastly different from each other and how showing scenes from the film can make it look like two totally different films. This was actually quite common for a film to not only have multiple titles, but how two different trailers are cut making look like a totally different film as such examples are Dr. Butcher, MD and the alternate title Zombie Holocaust and the Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) and its other alternate title Don’t Open the Window.
There’s a killer running around New York killing women at massage parlors with one of the victims being a girl often seen by Detective Rizotti (Spencer) and along with his partner O’Mara (Moser) the two are on the hunt for the killer.
There are no writers listed for the film so I have no idea who wrote it, but I’d assume it was one of if not both of the directors. Regardless, Massage Parlor Murders is made up of mostly filler scenes as the plot is very padded and there’s only like 20% plot and while the film has no real focus, but yet it actually works to some degree. There really isn’t much of a script as there are stretches with no dialogue and just music and my guess is a lot was improvised. As mentioned the script does in someways feel like the Gore-Gore Girls and perhaps a little influence from the Italian Giallo. While Massage Parlor Murders may not be noted for its screenplay, but it is fairly entertaining and I actually liked the three main characters. I think there was a good idea here somewhere, but there isn’t really any narrative flow to the script, but yet again despite that it actually works to some degree.
Directors Chester Fox & Alex Stevens deliver a fun film and despite having no real direction, Massage Parlor Murders actually moves at a solid pace as despite no narrative flow, Fox & Stevens always keep it fun. This is a film that will only really appeal to fans of exploitation cinema, but it is a bit tame when compared to others from the era. The death scenes are fairly well staged, but aren’t very graphic and despite the nudity the film isn’t very sleazy. A large bulk of the middle is developing the relationship between O’Mara and Gwen (Peabody) and surprisingly these scenes actually work fairly well and don’t drag down the film. The film was shot in New York and Fox and Stevens both do a nice job at capturing City life and in my opinion outside of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, low budget filmmakers always seem to really capture the essence of New York. Massage Parlor Murders is a much better film than perhaps it should be. The budget is quite low and as stated there isn’t really any narrative flow, but Fox and Stevens work well within their limitations and deliver a fairly well made film. Perhaps if this film were to have been made a few years later maybe it would have turned out better with more of a story, but the film is what it is and while it may be a bit tame for exploitation standards and even more so if you see either of the trailers, but I enjoyed this one.
For a low budget exploitation film the acting is actually fairly decent at least from the main cast. Both George Spencer and John Moser are enjoyable to watch and Sandra Peabody has a very natural screen presence. The film was composed by Chuck Mynit and while looking up information on him I haven’t found anything. But the score while it may not always fit the film is quite catchy, which is a good thing since as stated there are stretches with no dialogue and only music.
Overall Massage Parlor Murders turns out to be more fun than perhaps it should have. For the most part the film is mostly padded with only a little bit of story, but while sure I would have preferred a narrative flow, but in someways the lack of any real story also works in the films favor. Despite the film never being released on home video on any format until April of 2013, Vinegar Syndrome gives the film a 5-start treatment with a truly amazing HD transfer. Had Vinegar Syndrome only put it a little work I don’t think anyone would have complained and just assumed it was the best that could be done. But Vinegar Syndrome goes all out and delivers a stunning transfer and other companies that release cult films should take notice. As for the DVD its also quite strong, but the blu-ray is the way to go, but if you’re still on DVD no need to worry as extras are the same and you’ll get a very good transfer. There are two ways to watch the film. One is the original release or the re-release cut. The original release has a rather pointless scenes and a weird way to start the film and if you go with the re-release (which is what I did upon my 2nd viewing) the disc stats off at chapter 2. Massage Parlor Murders is just an entertaining film even if there’s no real point behind it and the Vinegar Syndrome release is outstanding.