In an earlier appreciation of psychotronic auteur Joseph Sarno, I suggested that had his work (during the first part of the 1960s) been imported from Italy, under the moniker Giuseppe Sarno, it probably would have been heralded as an Art House sensation, rather than the flesh-peddling rep “respectable” critics (the ones who even bothered with Joe) christened him. Seeing a new collection, a stunning widescreen Blu-Ray triple feature restoration, encompassing THE JOSEPH W. SARNO RETROSEPCT SERIES 4 (available through Film Movement, in collaboration with FILMedia/Something Weird) has done nothing to change my opinion.
The three movies presented here offer a varying menu of Sarno carnal fare. The two most interesting hail from 1964, striking in black and white; the third, a Sarno color spectacular, is an entry from a decade later; it’s appeal, while still worth viewing, is less “shocking,” due mostly to the period from which it was released (more on that later). Anyways, start burning the incense.
SIN IN THE SUBURBS is the gem in the triad. Filmed “on-location” (New Jersey) in stark monochrome (by James J. Markos), this Sarno opus tackles a very volatile “hot topic” at the time: wife-swapping and upper-middle-class private swing clubs. Magazines like Playboy fully explored this phenomenon; some mainstream movies even dared to go there (I’m talking about the remarkable 1961 noir Mantrap, a Paramount picture/Blu-Ray that I will discuss at a future date). An appropriate score by Sam Fiedel compliments the double-take shenanigans.
SIN‘s initial premise is simple; depraved/lonely/curious housewives are looking for an outlet to vent their passion. Ditto, their spouses, whose fantasies degenerate into the encounters with neighbors’ teen daughters. As scripted by Sarno, the narrative doesn’t take long to unfold (at 90 minutes, it’s one of his lengthier pics), and soon gets kinky. Yvette and Lou are a brother and sister team, originators of a cult that suggests a satanic karma sutra coven similar to that in Sergio Martino’s horror-giallo All the Colors of the Dark; the edge SIN has is that it went there nearly ten years earlier (early-mid 1960s vs. 1970s permissive cinema is like a century in dog years). When one matches the narrative elements to Stanley Kubrick’s final work, it carves that path thirty-five years earlier (as well as the missed op for an exploitative 1999 re-issue title Thighs Wide Slut). Further titillation is provided by the suggestion that the brother and sister are apparently involved in the art of incestuous coupling themselves (a secret about them is revealed later in the proceedings). Their actual intent, however, is, like in so many other illegal and amoral sects/clubs/organizations, to make a buck. High fees are charged to these white, suburban up-and-comers to swing with their neighbors (they wear masks to hide their identities). The club flourishes, as it validates adultery; of course, the caveat is that brother and sister now additionally have blackmail material should their cash cow be slaughtered. Another perk concerns Kathy, a prudish, nubile teen, who discovers her mom’s (Audrey Campbell) adulterous (albeit duly founded) degeneration, and then rebels by giving herself to the club as a “hostess” and lover to Yvette.
The cast of SIN is extremely fascinating. As usual, Sarno’s men are fairly boorish or innocuous while the women are incredibly sensual (Judy Young as Kathy matches any teen nymphette in a Lifetime Movie). The slight nudity was certainly meant as the impetus to get the raincoat crowd into tiny Times Square theaters, but, as one can discern from the brief description of the scenario, there’s a lot more going on here than merely bodacious babes flopping around topless. Of particular note in the thesp lineup is the actress playing Yvette, the demented sister-leader. Billed as “Lahna Monroe,” it is nonetheless, cult/psychotronic goddess Dyanne Thorne, better known as Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (although here, as a brunette, she is totally unrecognizable from what would become her notoriously beloved signature role). This creeper’s a keeper.
By contrast, WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES, lensed the same year, is almost tame (the most shocking bit for me being the disclosure of 1964 above-average New York City apartments going for $200 a month). It covers what would become a standard hardcore/softcore porno plotline: hot showbiz-oriented roomies looking to make big money to maintain a living large lifestyle. This trio can easily be tagged as Bad Girl, VERY Bad Girl and Total Skank. Almost before you can say, “Where’s the rent?” at least one has committed to nude layouts in men’s magazines. The swarms of panting admirers include noted actor Joe Santos (best known as one of the stars of The Rockford Files and tons of other TV shows/movies), here in his salad days. The females, naturally, are way more compelling and comprise Marla Ellis, Eve Harris and Sheila Barnett. The pic, like SIN, was shot by Markos, and has a decent score by Thomas Valentine.
The final entry, CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is misleading. While indeed the title’s lead Carol (Rebecca Brooke) does have some confessing to do, she isn’t the prime “wow factor” source of this Seventies epic. The beauteous actress, Jennifer Welles, plays her widowed mom (also named Jennifer), a drop-dead gorgeous parent, strictly moral and religious (her claim to fame being the winner of the American Hausfrau of 1963 beauty contest), whose inner, private passions are unleashed by her daughter’s promiscuous lifestyle with her husband and their friends (often to Carol’s annoyance/jealousy: “Can we get off the subject of my mother’s tits?!!!”she scolds her partners, male and female ). Mom’s “turning,” giving way to encounters with not only her daughter’s inner circle of players, but with a grocery delivery boy (to say nothing of pleasuring herself furiously) is what gives this title its mojo. Truth be told, by 1974, this kind of stuff (even with the abundance of nudity) wasn’t a rarity. I mean, everyone in “new permissive” Hollywood flicks was shagging on-screen, even cartoons (Fritz the Cat); and, as for what was happening in French, Italian and German imports…we won’t even begin to go there. Thus, CONFESSIONS, filmed in the period’s typical peachy color scheme by Stephen Colwell, often plays like an R-rated episode of Love, American Style. Nevertheless with dialog (by Sarno) like “I think she likes your vibrations,” and bubblegum pop music by composer Jack Justis, CONFESSIONS remains a twee, entertaining Seventies celluloid time capsule of pre-Aids sexual mischief, where Sarno’s technical expertise increases with his budget (this one cost a whopping $25K). Long story short, what once defined Joseph Sarno as “controversial” now melds into the more conventional. Or, the Industry just caught up with him. Your choice,
All three Sarno pics (on a single Blu-Ray disc) look great in 1080p High Definition (with CONFESSIONS displaying some slight surface wear; all are in remixed stereo). There are also some enticing extras, including deleted scenes, new commentary by Tim Lucas and vintage audio from Sarno himself, his wife Peggy, and director Frank Henenlotter. Cheap thrills were never so rewarding.
THE JOSEPH W. SARNO RETROSPECT SERIES 4: Sin in the Suburbs/Warm Nights Hot Pleasures/Confessions of a Young American Housewife. Black and white [Sin/Pleasures], Color [Confessions]; Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Film Movement Classics/FILMedia/Something Weird. CAT# N/A. SRP: $39.95.