DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)1971 (March 13, 2018)
Studio(s)The Latent Image/Cambist Films (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C
After the passing of George A. Romero, I had the distinct feeling that many of us would be going back and reevaluating his work – specifically his less popular work. Post-Night of the Living Dead, he went through, what I consider to be, a “wandering” artistic phase. If he was able to get the backing and the support to do so, he would dip his toes into foreign creative waters and try to make whatever he wanted. At the same time, he wasn’t interested in repeating himself or being typecast as nothing more than a horror director. Eventually, that did come to pass, but only because he had decided to make a sequel to Night of the Living Dead of his own free will. But before Dawn of the Dead changed the course of his career forever, he attempted a few things that wound up not working critically or commercially.
This pre-Dawn phase began with There’s Always Vanilla, which was initially released as The Affair. Once considered a lost film before making its way to DVD many years ago, it was put together immediately after the success of Night. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for anybody involved with it. In the story, we follow Chris (Ray Laine), a freewheeling hippie-type who is a bit off course in life with no direction or any clear idea of what he wants to do. Returning to his hometown after a short stint away from it, he finds possible parental responsibility waiting for him when he gets there. Making things even more complicated, he runs into a local actress named Lynn (Judith Ridley), who he falls for immediately. Unfortunately, his selfishness and unwillingness to better himself will put a strain on their relationship and, ultimately, threaten to undo it.
Despite most of the previous and current negative feelings felt towards There’s Always Vanilla (and I don’t say this to be an outright contrarian), I find the film to be kind of fascinating and undervalued. It tends to receive an unfair bashing, including from its own director who couldn’t see past its shortcomings (although I have it on good authority that his opinion of it had changed not long before he passed). It’s no lost masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a more interesting film than its follow-up, Season of the Witch. You can certainly see stylistic touches reminiscent of his later work, particularly the sequence in which Lynn’s failed attempt at getting an abortion ends in a suspenseful foot chase. One also can’t help but be reminded of Barbara running from the cemetery zombie. For a film that’s been shunned for most of its existence, it has some surprisingly creative flair and holds up much better than I expected. I may be going out on a very lonely limb on this one, but I firmly believe that There’s Always Vanilla has been vastly overlooked and underappreciated amongst George’s body of work.
For Arrow Video’s presentation of the film, a new 2K restoration from a 35mm internegative element was utilized. Unfortunately, a good quality element no longer exists, mainly due to the Kodak dupe stock that was used that didn’t hold up over time, which included a loss of its color properties and image detail. What could be done with the material to improve it has been done. It’s naturally filmic with obvious grain levels, but irreparable damage. Depth can be observed, but fine detail sometimes struggles to make itself known. The color palette is obviously faded, more in a few specific places than others, while black levels are inherently crushed. However, overall brightness and contrast levels are excellent and the frame is quite stable. Tempering expectations about this transfer is likely to yield you with more satisfactory results. It’s really not bad to watch at all and is obviously much better in motion. The audio is presented via an English 1.0 LPCM track with optional subtitles in English SDH. Like its video counterpart, it’s presented in the best possible way, but with obvious deficiencies that couldn’t be fixed. Hiss, pops, and crackle are all present, although likely attenuated as much as possible. Dialogue is perfectly audible, while score and sound effects are predictably flat. It’s also fairly narrow for the most part without any dynamics to speak of.
As for the supplemental features, this release comes equipped with a new audio commentary with film journalist Travis Crawford; Affair of the Heart: The Making of There’s Always Vanilla, a retrospective featurette which includes interviews with many of the film’s cast and crew; the vintage featurette Digging Up the Dead: The Lost Films of George A. Romero, which is an older interview with the filmmaker himself about his early career; two separate image galleries (filming locations and collectible scans); and the film’s theatrical trailer. All of this is the same material that can be found in the previously released George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn Blu-ray boxed set, which we also reviewed.
For anyone interested in George’s career outside of straight horror movies, There’s Always Vanilla is a fascinating eye-opener. It isn’t perfect, but it does manage to demonstrate a filmmaker who is learning both how to make films and how to navigate the business of them. For that reason alone, it’s a wonderful lesson in low budget filmmaking against adversity, regardless of your opinion of the film itself. And with a quality high definition transfer and entertaining extras, this release is a must for fans.
- Tim Salmons