A determination not to be pigeonholed as a horror director, coupled with the success of low-budget fare such as Hi, Mom!, prompted George A. Romero to follow up Night of the Living Dead with this almighty blot on his otherwise impressive cv.
There’s Always Vanilla started life as a half hour promotional vehicle to highlight the 'talents' of Ray Laine; a would-be actor who stars here as an irritating boy-in-a-man’s-body. Rudolph J. Ricci wrote and directed the short film, and fell out with Romero over the latter’s plan to expand the script to feature length.
In this 94 minute version, Laine and Judith Ridley fill out the roles of Chris and Lynn, who meet when Lynn is on the way to a tv commercial shoot for toilet bowl cleaner. Following an exchange of views regarding her suitability for such exposure, the pair become an item for a season but drift apart when Lynn discovers she’s pregnant.
Previously glimpsed as a 15 minute clip on the Night of the Living Dead laserdisc and DVD releases, There’s Always Vanilla is now one half of a Romero DVD double-bill with Season of the Witch. Anchor Bay's Region 1 disc includes a featurette – Digging Up The Dead: The "Lost" Films of George A. Romero – where the great man admits he doesn’t really care for this film and declares it worked better as a short. I’m sure he’s right because this extended version of what was, after all, a promotional short is a long haul, full of dire acting, though not without its moments.
The opening resembles a Sunset Boulevard-like narration where a dead man tells his story, just as a member of the living dead might do. There’s a clever scene which jumps between Chris and Lynn making love and a tv commercial shoot, anticipating Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now; a hilarious job interview where Chris includes pimping on his short cv, and a tense chase sequence during which Lynn flees from the advances of a backstreet abortionist. There’s Always Vanilla points the way ahead for future Romero projects where the world in focus is heavy on consumerism and light on self-awareness but it’s a distance from being the 'lost' gem that many of us were hoping for.
Prior to the main feature, Anchor Bay state the transfer is below their usual high standards due to the quality of existing elements. I’ll concur with that, although the film looks way better than it deserves. At any rate, you should see it if only for the fact that the better half of this double-bill really is a must-see.
American writer/director and one of the most influential figures in modern horror cinema, whose ability to write strong scripts and characters match his penchant for gory chills. The Pittsburgh native began his career directing adverts before making Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This bleak, scary classic ushered in a new era of horror film-making, but Romero struggled initially to follow it up - There's Always Vanilla is a little-seen romantic drama, and Jack's Wife was butchered by its distributor. The Crazies was a flop but still an exciting slice of sci-fi horror, and while the dark vampire drama Martin again made little money but got Romero some of the best reviews of his career and remains the director's personal favourite.