Made immediately before Jack’s Wife, the youth-oriented There’s Always Vanilla was a troubled, angry production that tipped off the self-destruction of Night of the Living Dead‘s Latent Image production company. Romero himself has disowned, denigrated, and flat-out ignored the film, and it’s not entirely difficult to see why (outside of the forgivable bad blood). Vanilla is something of a trend-jumping anomaly in Romero’s canon, and not only just because the central storyline—a quick and torrid love bout shared between two twentysomething scenesters, a pretty but discontent TV commercial model (Judith Streiner, the girl who is tragically unable to unfasten her seatbelt in Night) and a cultural drifter half-trying to come to a conclusion about which of the myriad high-minded vocations he’s unequivocally qualified for he should pursue (Ray Laine, who balled Jack’s Wife)—is not a horror movie. Excepting, perhaps, for Romero’s nightmarish portrayal of insidious commercial shoots. (He was undoubtedly drawing from his own apparently frustrated utilitarian career filming commercials for beer and laundry detergent.)
Instead of taking an indirect sociological tack, Vanilla opts for fairly transparent post-Graduate countercultural hot-button topics. There’s the generation gap, exemplified by Laine’s father, who insists he can still “cut the mustard” but doesn’t know enough about free love to realize that the go-go chick Laine sets him up with isn’t a whore. There’s an unforgiving slant on antiestablishment overtures, characterized by Romero as nothing more than a petulant mask for kids who refuse to grow up. Alternately, there’s the first rumblings of Romero’s anti-capitalism that would reach its peak with Dawn of the Dead. In recent interview footage included on the film’s DVD, Romero clarifies that he considers his own salient contribution to the film not in his direction but in his editing. Unfortunately, the haphazard, showy cross-cutting between Laine’s to-the-camera narration and the flashbacks (sometimes to scenes he couldn’t possibly recollect) do little to hide the fact that Romero, like his aimless protagonist, seemingly couldn’t care less.