There’s Always Vanilla

Theres Always Vanilla
There’s Always Vanilla

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray), part of ‘George Romero Between Night and Dawn’ limited edition box-set
Release date: 23 October 2017
Distributor: Arrow Video
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: Rudolph J. Ricci
Cast: Raymond Laine, Judith Ridley, Johanna Lawrence
USA 1971
93 mins

This review of George A. Romero’s atypical counterculture drama is an excerpt from horror luminary Kim Newman’s new book Video Dungeon (Titan), which explores the B-movie basement and digs out unexpected gems.

George A. Romero’s second film, made with many of the creatives who worked on Night of the Living Dead, is the odd man out in his CV: a vaguely counterculture-ish, diffident look at the relationship between smart, directionless, no-longer-a-kid Chris (Raymond Laine) and smart, vulnerable model-actress Lynn (Judith Streiner).

Originally conceived as a short acting showreel for Laine, it mushroomed into a feature George A. Romero claims wasn’t really finished because writer Rudy Ricci left the project before finishing a script. Romero, always a skilled editor, imposed some shape in post-production, adding Chris talking to camera about his life and times and significant vox pops about a contraption-like piece of Pittsburgh public art (the Ultimate Machine). Some scenes are credibly uncomfortable and catch the restless, fractious vibe of the times, as when Chris runs into his estranged but amiable father (Roger McGovern) in a go-go bar and sets him up with a hippie chick… some stretches feel autobiographical on the part of Romero and his ad industry colleagues, as when Lynn appears in a commercial for Bold beer produced by sinister-looking ad guru Michael Dorian (Richard Ricci)… and a few moments go for outright satire, as when Chris lands a gig at an ad agency with caricature execs and is given the trial job of selling an army recruitment campaign to a draft-resisting generation.

A radical mood change comes in a sequence where pregnant Lynn visits a back-street abortionist – but doesn’t go through with the operation; suddenly, Romero uses the tilted angles, dark shadows and jagged cutting of his 1970s horror films. Streiner appeared (under the name Judith Ridley) in Night of the Living Dead and Laine showed up again in a Chris-like role as the feckless lover of the witch protagonist in Jack’s Wife (aka Season of the Witch). It’d make an interesting hippie-phase-of-horror-auteur triple bill with Brian De Palma’s Greetings and Tobe Hooper’s Eggshells.

Kim Newman