Release Date(s)1984 (April 26, 2022)
- Film/Program Grade: N/A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: Possibly NSFW—This is an X-rated film and the text in this review will most definitely reflect that, though I’ll keep the tawdry descriptions to a minimum. Also note that despite there being a listing up on Amazon for this title, the best chances of procuring it might be by purchasing it through the Vinegar Syndrome web site or DiabolikDVD.]
One of the classics of early 1980s erotica, Stiff Competition (known overseas as Superstars) features a veritable who’s who of the pornographic industry in this ribald tale that’s equal parts Rocky and all parts... well, parts. Before sex on film became almost exclusively about the sex itself and little else, there were still a few gasps left of creativity. Stiff Competition is by no means an art film, but it’s fully cognizant of what it is and what it wants to achieve, which is a thin but humorous plot surrounded by gorgeous men and women having various trysts with each other. Featuring newcomer Gina Carrera, as well as noted performers Bridgette Monet, Kitten Natividad, Cyndee Summers, John Leslie, Ron Jeremy, Cynthia Brooks, Tom Byron, and Peter North, the result is a hilarious slice of story-driven hardcore pornography that’s set firmly within the era that it was made. And stick around for the excellent blooper reel during the end credits.
The new girl in town, Tammy (Gina Carrera), is escorted to an underground competition between two women determined to find out who can please a man first. When one of them storms out in frustration, Tammy happily steps in and shows everybody what she’s got. Her new manager, Jeff (Kevin James... not THAT Kevin James), decides to give her a shot at the title, training her for the 4th annual “Suck Off” competition in Las Vegas, with a grand prize of $50,000. The promoter of the event, Don Head (Ron Jeremy), is getting static from the reigning champion Cynthia Silkthroat (Cyndee Summers) and her manager Jake the Snake (John Leslie). Although Cynthia has retired, she’s decided that Tammy (now known by everyone as Tammy the Tongue) isn’t going to win the competition, going head to head with her in the nationally-televised, squared circle extravaganza.
Stiff Competition was shot by director of photography Ted Gorley (as Frisby Fulton) and Paul Vatelli on 35 mm film using Arriflex cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Vinegar Syndrome’s Peekarama line of titles presents the full X-rated version of the film from a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative, which was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 is the only option). There are a couple of minor scratches and lower resolution transitions and titles with minor instability (likely taken from interpositive or print elements), but this presentation is top notch. It has the honest appearance of film with thick but natural grain and high levels of detail. Every last hair, drop of sweat, and beauty mark on the performers can be seen in full 2160p scrutiny. The color palette has a fine range of hues, including strong primaries, and occasional uses of neon. The HDR10 grade doesn’t widen the gamut too much in comparison to the accompanying Blu-ray, but it certainly improves upon contrast and shadow detail, allowing for richer blacks. The Blu-ray is a tad flatter in that regard. Otherwise, both presentations offer similar qualities, with the obvious edge given to the Ultra HD for the added clarity and higher bit rate.
Audio is included on the Ultra HD disc in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. The film was allegedly released in stereo (at least on home video), but perhaps the elements for that track are missing. It’s clean and free of any obvious damage with good support for dialogue and music, though lacking in terms of dynamics as it’s single-channel driven. The Blu-ray offers two additional tracks: French 2.0 mono and German 2.0 Dolby Digital (both ported from a previous French Blu-ray release). The French track is on par with the English track in terms of quality, but the German track offers something entirely different. It’s a patch job since the track starts with the English mono audio slightly out of sync, switches to the German stereo audio at the 6:23 mark, and switches back occasionally for scenes and moments that were likely not included in the German version. Digital static occurs for two seconds at the 6:32 mark, but the track is otherwise a much wider experience. Dialogue and score are spread out with some surprising bass in the score. Rights issues or possibly their quality not being up to Vinegar Syndrome’s high standards is likely why they weren’t included on the Ultra HD disc as well.
Stiff Competition is presented on 4K Ultra HD in a black amaray case alongside a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p, the latter of which contains the majority of the bonus materials. Everything is housed in a limited edition slipcover that’s available exclusively through Vinegar Syndrome’s web site. The following extras are included:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Interview with Gina Carrera by Casey Scott
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Interview with Gina Carrera by Casey Scott
- Interview with Francesca Kitten Natividad (13:48)
Film historian Casey Scott interviews Gina Carrera (Julia Chester) for an audio-only session, which runs the length of the film and acts as an audio commentary. It’s a lively chat as he and Gina have a pretty open conversation about her and her career. He asks what her life was like then, what her first day as a porn actress was like, being cast in Stiff Competition after Little Oral Annie dropped out, being a young star on the rise, mentions that another one of her films (Lust on the Orient Express) is also coming from Vinegar Syndrome, her feelings about Kevin James and his untimely death, and her personal experiences with Ron Jeremy. They have an avid discussion, detailing how she worked heavily for two years, and the various people that she worked with. It’s surprisingly insightful and enjoyable.
In the interview with Francesca Kitten Natividad, she talks about working in burlesque, working with and leaving her husband for Russ Meyer, working in television, getting the job on Stiff Competition, her thoughts on the other actors and the crew, crossing over into porn, appearing in Airplane II: The Sequel, what it was like working in porn in the 1970s, providing some off-camera “inspiration” for the male actors, the difficulties in filming sex scenes, traveling and doing magazine shoots, the porn industry dying down, going to movie premieres, and wanting to actually see Stiff Competition since she’s never seen it. At one point, her cat adorably sharpens its claws on her chair and interrupts the interview.
To be succinct, Stiff Competition is a hoot. Vinegar Syndrome’s Peekarama release of the film offers excellent visual quality and wonderfully entertaining bonus material, brief that it is. If you’re into that kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed by this release.
- Tim Salmons