I already wrote about this movie back in 2009, but Vinegar Syndrome has just released a fantastic Blu Ray restoration of "Pigs", and the new release returns the film to its director's original cut, minus the alternate footage that was shot later for various re-edits. It's now easier to see how the reshoots cheapened the overall effect, and how well it stands on its own without all the bullshit, so it's worth taking another look.
Directed by veteran character actor Marc Lawrence, "Pigs" was a strange choice for him; although Lawrence admitted he made the film in hopes of turning a quick profit, he set out to cast his daughter Toni in the lead role and wrote a script where she plays a schizophrenic murderess named Lynn who was sexually abused by her father when she was a little girl. The only cut of the film that I had seen up to this point was the one available via home video. Derived from a re-edit of the movie from 1977 called "Daddy's Girl", that version gives a haphazard overview of Lynn's early life before the opening credits. A weird montage shows her father leaving a hospital with baby Lynn in his arms, interacting with her at various times during her childhood and, most disturbingly, touching her inappropriately. A neighbor lady overhears Lynn screaming and witnesses her stabbing her father to death with a very large knife, after which Lynn is committed to an institution. She then escapes when a young nurse sneaks off to have sex with a doctor and leaves her white uniform behind along with her car keys. Lawrence's original cut of the film did not contain any of this, although it's not hard to tell that Toni Lawrence doesn't even appear in these reshoots--she is portrayed by various females wearing wigs, even the baby that stands in for young Lynn has a wig on, and in the scene where she peers out of her cell window waiting to escape, it seems to be a man's eyes. "Daddy's Girl" has been released a few times to home media, with various replacement title cards cut in--Troma released a DVD some years ago that changed the title back to "Pigs", and there have been VHS releases under the names "Daddy's Deadly Darling", "Horror Farm" and "The Killer".
Stranger still was a different re-edit of the movie that was known under the titles "Love Exorcist" and "Blood Pen"; it was Lawrence's original cut of the movie, but with a bizarre three-minute scene tacked onto the beginning featuring two men attempting to perform an exorcism on Lynn, who is possessed by a pig demon. She briefly follows the business model laid out by "The Exorcist" by screaming "Fuck me! Fuck me!", opening her mouth while dubbed pig squeals emerge, and then attacking one guy's crotch while muttering "I want your prick! I want your cock! Prick! Cock! Prick!" If this scene did not include Jim Antonio, it would have no connection to the rest of the film at all, since the actress playing Lynn here is not Toni Lawrence...at least it doesn't seem to be...and the priest character doesn't appear again. These were all superfluous scenes that Lawrence didn't conceive for his original project; both fake intros are too shrill and sensational to fit comfortably with the brooding stillness of Lawrence's creepy movie.
|Is this Toni Lawrence?? It doesn't look like her to me.|
The film introduces Miss Macy and Annette, two spinster siblings who live nearby, in a series of dreamlike sequences; upon Lynn's first arrival, we see the two women inside their house with no previous introduction and no dialogue, reacting fearfully to the squealing of the pigs. Later, we learn they've got a history of complaining about Zambrini and his pigs to the local Sheriff, Dan Cole (Jesse Vint), claiming they hear the pigs grunting and snuffling right outside their windows, as if the pigs are coming right up to the house. They tell the sheriff that they believe the old man feeds people to the pigs, after which the victim becomes a new pig for the pen, which is then eaten by Zambrini. After Dan confronts Zambrini about the latest complaint, a weird incident occurs where we see Zambrini in his bizarre circus attire barging right into the house of the sisters and threatening them while they cower helplessly together in fright. The scene is a fragment and we're not entirely sure whether it is real or fantasy, as it leads immediately into a separate dream sequence where Lynn imagines Zambrini murdering her. Before we recognize Lynn as an insane killer, "Pigs" plays her as if she might be a damsel in distress. Early in the game, it seems like Zambrini himself will be the main heavy, and Lynn learns not to approach the hog pen after he grabs her violently and tells her over and over again "There's nothing back here."
Lynn's daddy issues come to the forefront in a series of scenes where she makes one-sided phone calls to her unseen (and unheard) father, begging him to understand why she disappeared and promising to come see him once she gets it together. The day after Ben's murder, Lynn awakens and finds her bedroom now neat and tidy as if nothing really happened, but she hears his disembodied screams and cries for help in her head; after running down a road to a payphone to call her father again, there's a weird scene where she is haunted by Ben's screams and the squeals of pigs, which seem to be coming from nowhere as she tries to outrun them.
This scene really highlights what is great about Toni Lawrence's performance as Lynn. Her father wrote the script with her in mind, but her part still doesn't feature a whole lot of back story or extensive dialogue. Fortunately for the film, Toni is very good at communicating Lynn's confusion and desperation in nonverbal ways. A woman running down the road screaming and swinging her arms at nothing is absurd, but it's also not too hard to imagine her character doing this, and the rapid fire editing is disorienting. She does get a few scenes where she really gets to shine, and one in particular is disturbing in its sadness: a man comes to the diner who already knows Lynn's name; this is where the film reveals that Lynn is an escaped mental patient. Considering that she hears voices and stabs people, it's not shocking to learn that she ran away from an institution, but the revelation provides an important emotional moment for the character. The man, Jess Winter (Jim Antonio), tells her that she's missed by the people from the hospital, and she suddenly warms and actually becomes happy for the first time in the movie. Smiling broadly, she asks about a male doctor she left behind when she "left", obviously the last father figure she was attached to, and she seems overjoyed to know that she can return to the hospital.
Zambrini interferes though, when he tells Lynn he will miss her and wants her to stay. Perhaps feeling loyalty toward this father figure who nurtured her even after she committed murder, Lynn's stability shifts yet again and she stabs Winter to death, setting into motion the film's restrained but bizarre climax: when the hospital calls the sheriff asking about their missing investigator, they tell him that Lynn is an escaped mental patient. Dan calls Zambrini to warn him and tells him not to say anything to Lynn until he arrives to take her into custody. Instead, Zambrini immediately tells Lynn and tries to take her away to hide, but she panics and starts to become confused again. When Zambrini tells her that her father is dead, she reacts violently and stabs him to death. Before Dan can arrive, Lynn makes one last phone call to her "father"--this time we hear the operator's voice saying "The number you have dialed is not in service, this is a recording"--when suddenly the diner is invaded by the squealing pigs, presumably to consume Lynn. Although we never see the aftermath, from Dan's reaction we assume that he went into the diner and found Lynn's pig-eaten body along with Zambrini's. But in the movie's final scene, Dan is surprised to learn that there are now 13 pigs instead of only 12. The farmer who takes them away also gives Dan the Egyptian ankh necklace that Lynn used to wear, saying he fished it out of the pen.
"Pigs" is cut from the same cloth as many other independent low budget films of the era, filmed in rural locations and populated with strange characters. It reminds me a lot of the movies directed by Texan filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg, with two main characters who have found a refuge to carry out their antisocial compulsions. The isolated atmosphere that's so important for a movie like this is here in spades, with some fantastic locations for Lawrence to work with. Desert landscapes with mountains in the background, wide open fields, and meandering dirt roads all create a feeling of smallness and exposure, while the dark clusters of trees and the dimness of the diner itself suggest a secret place Lynn has found where she can hide from the world.
Cute, but not worthy of sacrificing the otherworldly uncertainty of Lawrence's movie. Fortunately this original cut of "Pigs" is now available from Vinegar Syndrome, and the transfer is phenomenal. A disclaimer before the movie explains that the cut was pieced together from different prints, but it's hard to spot any significant problems with the image at any point during the film, and anybody who is familiar with "Pigs" because of the previous home video incarnations will be stunned at the difference.
Oh, and just try and get away from watching this movie without having the Charles Bernstein theme song "Keep On Driving" stuck in your head for days. In one of my favorite 70s traditions, Lynn has a catchy theme song that follows her on her odyssey to self-actualization, which in her case is achieved by murdering a few people and then turning into a pig.
|The above two images are parts of a painting appearing in the film that was painted by Marc Lawrence's son Michael as a gift for Fellini. Instead, it ended up going to Charles Bernstein as payment for composing the film's music.|