Transmissions to Earth Presents:
SWEET SUGAR (1972)
Review by LL Soares
Phyllis Davis was born in Texas and was most active as an actress in the 1970s, appearing in tons of episodes of various TV shows, until she got the gig as Beatrice Travis in the show VEGA$ (1978-1981), the assistant to star Robert Urich as Dan Tanna. She was also in some movies, including the notorious Russ Meyer epic BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970). In the early 70s, she also was in two prison/exploitation flicks, TERMINAL ISLAND (1973), where she starred along such people as Don Marshall (who also played Dan Erickson on the Irwin Allen TV show, LAND OF THE GIANTS, 1968-1970), Marta Kristen (most famous as Judy Robinson on LOST IN SPACE, another Irwin Allen production, from 1965 – 1968), and Tom Selleck (Davis would later go on to play Cleo Mitchell and “Tiffy, Magnum’s Secretary” in MAGNUM, P.I., starring Selleck, from 1985 to 1988). TERMINAL ISLAND is about an island where convicts are sent, where there are no rules and they have to fight to survive. And then there’s SWEET SUGAR (1972), the movie we’re talking about today, which was a rare instance where Phyllis Davis was the star.
Sugar (Davis) is a hard-partying woman in an unnamed South American country, who is set up by a crooked politician (he gives her a joint, then sicks the cops on her) and thrown in jail. She is given a sentence of two years of forced labor on a sugar plantation, where she has to cut sugar cane with a machete. Based on the other girls who work alongside her, these trumped up prison sentences are how the plantation owners get all of their workers—for free!
Despite its location, SWEET SUGAR is just another entry in the “Women in Prison” subgenre, but with a more exotic locale than most. Sexy Sugar’s fellow prisoners include a black hooker named Simone (Ella Edwards, aka Ellaraino, also in BAD DREAMS, 1988 and HOUSE PARTY, 1990), a young girl named Delores (Pamela Collins, also in Russ Meyer’s FINDERS KEEPERS, LOVERS WEEPERS!, 1968), and a rich girl who is brought to prison in a limousine named Fara (Jacqueline “Jackie” Giroux).
There’s also a men’s prison nearby, so some male convicts are brought in to help cut sugar cane, including Mojo (Timothy Brown), who was a voodoo priest on the outside, and who takes a liking to Simone.
The guards include Max (Albert Cole, also in THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT and DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, both 1971, as well as the previously mentioned TERMINAL ISLAND) and Rick (James Houghton, also on TV shows like KNOTS LANDING, 1979-1983, and THE COLBYS, 1986-1987), who are sort of the comic relief characters here, always trying to make some extra cash, and play pranks on each other; Carlos (Darl Severns), who gets into trouble thanks to Sugar; and brutal leader of the guards, Burgos (Cliff Osmond, the most recognizable face here aside from Davis, since he was in almost 100 movies and TV shows, including the movies IRMA LA DOUCE, 1963, KISS ME, STUPID, 1964, and INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS, 1973, as well being on TV shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and GUNSMOKE).
The guy in charge is the plantation’s physician, Dr. John (Angus Duncan, also in Bert I. Gordon’s THE MAGIC SWORD and William Castle’s ZOTZ!, both 1962, and SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES, 1971). Dr. John rides around on a horse and subjects the girls to lots of weird “medical experiments.” He seems to be the man in charge, but in a few scenes, Burgos bullies him.
Dr. John makes it clear that some of the girls can get “special treatment” if they do “favors” for him. After a hard day’s work, Sugar is brought to Dr. John’s house (which even has a gate and a butler), so that the doctor can try to seduce her, but she turns him down. Not long after, the doctor subjects the prisoners to weird injections.
In another scene, he injects cats with an herb that is supposed to regress them to a more savage state. You think he’s going to give that shot to the girls, too, but instead he has the guards hurl the now-vicious cats over a wall onto the girls. The actresses run around, pretending to be terrified as cats attack and claw them. It’s actually pretty laughable, like a scene out of THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971).
When prisoners get out of line, Dr. John also likes to put them in cages and burn them at the stake!
After weeks of hard work and abuse, Sugar decides she’s had enough and plans to escape, along with Simone, Delores and Fara, and Mojo. The guards almost ruin everything until Sugar takes Dr. John captive and threatens to kill him. They set fire to the sugar fields and get a jeep when Sugar seduces dim-witted guard Rick.
In a particularly ludicrous scene, when the girls appear to be on the verge of losing their fight, Dr. John starts laughing and ranting that he is immortal and cannot be killed (he gets proven wrong).
It’s directed by Michael Levesque who also gave us the low-budget drive-in staple WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS (1971). Levesque was also the art director for movies such as Russ Meyer’s later films SUPERVIXENS (1975), UP! (1976), and BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS (1979), as well as such grindhouse classics as ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976) and THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977). The script is by Don Spencer (who also wrote THE STUDENT NURSES, 1970, and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, 1971), from a story by R.Z. Samuel.
SWEET SUGAR is a pretty awful movie, but I liked Phyllis Davis a lot, and was just happy to see her get top billing for once. Fans of B movies and exploitation fare might get a kick out of it.
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares