The late Joe Sarno was a pioneer in the "art" of producing, writing and directing New York sexploitation films. What set Sarno apart from many of his peers is that he attempted to bring a degree of integrity to his work by providing reasonably compelling story lines. This was especially true in the 1960s when the mainstreaming of adult films was becoming the norm in big cities, even as rural America was seemingly in a frenzy to do battle with the people who made them. Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD of one of Sarno's most ambitious projects, "Red Roses of Passion". Filmed in New York in late 1966, the film had a checkered theatrical release over the next couple of years. The B&W film is unusual for adult fare of the era because it delves into a plot that centers on the supernatural. Carla (Patricia McNair) is a rebellious young woman who is living with her cousin and aunt. She is bored to death by her aunt's conservative lifestyle and her cousin's plain vanilla boyfriend, who is always held up as the epitome of the responsible man to have in your life. Carla certainly wants a man in her life...seemingly any man but each time she sneaks a potential lover back to her room, her aunt thwarts her plans for an erotic evening. Carla's friend Enid convinces her to visit a fortune teller she has been frequenting, Martha. Carla complies and is suitably impressed when Martha is able to divulge personal information about Carla she could not possibly have known otherwise. Still, Martha is a strange one: humorless, dominating and demanding. Carla realizes that Martha is the mistress of the Cult of Pan, an erotic secret society that meets to engage in sex rites. A group of young women don see-through lingerie and indulge in all sorts of exotic rituals culminating in sipping "The Wine of Pan" and rubbing roses on each other. The combination of the two rituals brings the women to orgasmic pleasure before they offer themselves to "Pan"- who is, in reality, Martha's creepy brother who hides behind a curtain until it's time to preside over an orgy in which he is the only male. When no other women are around, Pan considers his own sister to be fair game.
In a scenario worthy of a "Twilight Zone" episode, Carla asks Martha if she can do anything to mitigate her aunt and cousin's prudish behavior. Martha instructs her to put some drops of Pan's Wine into their tea, which she does. Soon, a mysterious messenger arrives delivering a single rose to her aunt, who immediately begins rubbing it all over her body in a sex-crazed frenzy. Her daughter is appalled- until she gets the urge to do the same. Before long, the women are bonafide nymphomaniacs. Worse, they compete with each other to seduce the delivery man, who is, in fact, Pan. At one point mom and daughter engage in a rolling cat fight, clad only in their bras and panties. Before long they are having threesomes with men and trawling the back alleys to have sex with any available male. The action spills over back into their home where orgies become regular occurrences in their living room, giving an all new meaning to what a shag rug really means. Carla, meanwhile, is suffering pangs of guilt. She tells Martha she never meant to ruin the women's lives and pleads to have the spell broken. Martha said she can do so- but only if Carla agrees to be one of Pan's sex slaves forever.
After falling under Pan's spell, mother and daughter are compelled to compete with each other for lovers.
"Red Roses of Passion" isn't a hardcore sex film but it's content was pretty edgy for 1966- especially with scenes of mom and daughter both seducing the same lover (even "The Graduate"'s Benjamin didn't manage that with Mrs Robinson and her daughter at the same time.) The Satanic aspect of the script makes for a genuinely entertaining experience, thanks in no small part to the crisp cinematography of Anthony Lover (that's his real name. Honest.) One must view a film like this in context. Sarno had virtually no money, no professional actors and had to confine most of the shooting to interiors because the complications of filming on the streets of New York were too fraught with difficulties. Some of the performances are predictably amateurish but others are surprisingly effective. Sarno kills plenty of time by lingering too long on some of the rituals of the scantily clad women flaying each other with single stem roses but in the aggregate the movie is an impressive achievement. I should also mention that the music (not credited) also adds to the atmosphere with a strain that sounds similar to "The Third Man Theme" used sporadically to good effect.
The only bonus feature is a video interview with Sarno biographer and friend Michael Bowen, who provides plenty of interesting detail about Sarno's prolific career and the early days of shooting adult films in New York.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent and it's too bad Sarno isn't around to enjoy seeing a first class presentation of his impressive "B" movie.
This is a limited edition of only 2,000 units. Click here to order from Amazon.