Stigma (1972)

David Durston must have a thing for disease.  His most notable flick is the orgy of hippie violence fueled by rabies laced meat pies in I DRINK YOUR BLOOD.  He followed it up two years later with the venereal thriller STIGMA.  This flick has a little bit of everything…blaxploitation, sexploitation. hicksploitation, vetsploitation…you name it and it exploits it.  Its as seedy as hell and it’s also  Miami Vice’s Philip Michael Thomas’s first starring role and second appearance on screen, the first being COME BACK, CHARLESTON BLUE, the sequel to COTTON COMES TO HARLEM.

Rico Dr. Calvin Crosse has just been paroled after serving time for an illegal abortion that went south and left his patient dead on the table.  He is on his way to the isolated community of Stilford Island in Maine at the behest of his friend and mentor Dr. Thorne (voiced by David Durston).  In a handful of hitchhiking scenes, Thomas plays the bit in a comedic manner, it is horribly uncomfortable because the viewer should realize that situations actually spawn from racism.  Though well-dressed, Dr. Crosse can’t get a ride until homebound vet Bill Waco (Harlan Poe from THE TOY BOX and YUM YUM GIRLS) helps him by lending Calvin one of his dress uniforms.  Calvin finds Stilford to be a backward fishing outpost full of hicks, whores, racists and trouble.  Sheriff Whitehead (Peter Clune) immediately dislikes Crosse as many of the other residents also view him with suspicion-partially because he is new in town but mostly because he is black.  Unfortunately the death of Dr. Thorne leaves him without many allies on the island save Sgt. Waco and the fact that he discovered the body and is a highly educated black man has put him on the outs with the hick sheriff.

Dr. Crosse finds himself in a town that doesn’t want him but is in need of a physician.  He also has to find out what kind of epidemic Dr. Thorne had drafted him to help out with.  He takes up residence and practice in the deceased doc’s home and a cockamamie stunt by Waco helps earn him some respect in the white bread town.  When the old dementia stricken lighthouse keeper stumbles into the good doctor’s house late one night, Crosse finds himself in the middle of a dire medical mystery.  It seems a penicillin resistant strain of syphilis may be the epidemic that Thorne was trying to cure and he needed Crosse’s help to do it.  Now working alone Crosse has to find not only the vector of this disease but the source as well.  The whorehouse in the woods is clean could it be the secretive daily bacchanal like gatherings on lighthouse island?  Who is patient zero and why does the Sheriff’s hate for him seem personal?  Will Calvin survive D.D’s(Josie Johnson)accusations of rape? Check out this tight knit exploitation thriller that opens like a horror flick and then takes a few unusual twists and turns running the gamut of exploitation subgenres.

The acting is pretty solid.  The main exception being the sheriff’s daughter D.D. Whitehead.  The comic relief is oddly placed and at times a bit over the top.  The scenes with the young whore, Rhoda, spring to mind as being a bit much.  The story is tightly wound and keeps the tension strong as Rico Calvin races to find the source of the town’s problems.  The restoration is crisp and clean, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.

There are plenty of special features on Code Red’s release of STIGMA.  Audio commentary with David Durston, an interview with David Durston, theatrical trailer, 60 second trailer, TV Spot and Code Red trailers.  The trailers are: SLITHIS, HORROR HIGH, THE BLACK KLANSMAN, RIVALS, BRUTE CORPS, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL, CHANGES, THE STATUE, MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS, FAMILY HONOR, DEATH JOURNEY, DERBY, and CRY YOUR PURPLE HEART OUT aka HOW TO SCORE WITH GIRLS.  STIGMA is available directly from Code Red’s Big Cartel webshop.

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