Judge Bill Gibron is as happy as a farm girl with a rag doll...
The story of strippers, dice shooters, and sex fiends…gone wild!
Beverly and Joan are two gal pals working at Dop's dive bar, hustling customers for highballs as drone-like ladies undress and amble about for the raincoat crowd. While Joan is a pro, Bev is none too natural at the come-on and brush-off routine. Time and time again, Joanie must stand up for her roommate, as Bev seems really uncomfortable with men. Turns out the reason for this rejection is quite simple: Beverly's a nymphomaniac, and she knows that the minute she starts smooching on anything with a pulse, she'll peel like a grape and start sexifying herself.
Into the life of these loose lasses comes Rook, a God-awful gambler who skips town so frequently he has a standing reservation at the Greyhound terminal. He used to belong to Joan, but he basically beds anyone who'll "lay" him two-to-one odds. After Joan finds Bev frenching her pathetic "pawn," she beats up and boots out the brazen broad. Poor little Beverly ends up in the arms of sincere super sucker Julian, who has the unusual double occupation of toy store merchant / underworld loan shark. Julian also has a heart of gold and a secret stash of cash in his office. When Rook needs scratch to secure his further existence, he targets Bev and her new beau. But tragedy can only come with a combination of guns and greed, or Flesh and Lace.
Norma Sue is the kind of haughty harlot that seemed to thrive in the 1960s and '70s. So hopped up she hires a horny hippie he-man for 24-hour-a-day doodling, she won't be satisfied until she humiliates—and has sex with—her sister Jean. Norma Sue's sibling is a repressed mess, best known for marrying a miserly old man and "abusing" her "soft spots" in the barn with a rag doll (huh?). Anyway, Jean now owns a hotel in their hometown, and Norma ignores Thomas Wolfe's advice and returns to the scene of her yearning yesteryears. Immediately she takes up with a young waitress at the Inn, an open invitation to vice named Linda Lou. Linda and her lunkheaded husband Billy Joe have an "understanding": she can screw whomever she wants and treat him like dirt; he can remain unemployed and con the local lonely immigrant wife (whose husband is in that other booby hatch) into becoming a whore.
As everyone sleeps with everyone else in parameters requiring a degree in biological engineering to figure out, Norma gets closer to her ultimate goal. When for-sale male Parker puts the rape on the room-renter Jean, the sisters start doing it for themselves and everyone unlocks links in their own twisted sobrieties. Such is life in a small, backwater burg, where anyone can find Passion in Hot Hollows.
Moving from the suburbs to the saloon, Joe Sarno's 1964 Flesh and Lace follows the exploits of two b-girls—drink-hustling floozies flaunting their flesh for patrons at the mopiest tavern in lower Manhattan (at least it seems like New York). At this strip club for the living dead, disinterested dancers shuffle like Bub into one of Dr. Logan's training sessions, as customers stare off into space. Set against this blitzed-out background, Sarno paints a passionate portrait of desperate people living on the edge of social reality, trapped in their own world of wanton sleaze and realizing that survival, not escape, is their only way through. We instantly become enchanted with the characters and relish each simmering shift in the narrative. Sarno's stronghold is his writing, and the script for Flesh and Lace is loaded with miscreant moments of immoral monkeyshines.
All the actors are exceptional here. Even with a head of split-ended straw and a mouth full of nicotine-stained teeth, Alice Linville is a damn fine performer—she makes Joan's love/hate relationship with Rook believable and painful. John Aristedes, as the gruff gambler with the chiseled features, is a tougher sell as a swarthy Lothario. Oh, he has the repulsive reject factors down cold, and can really turn on the smarm, but visually he looks like a drag version of Frankenstein's monster. Jaw jutting to emphasize his immense chin butt, and head flowing with over-oiled, jet-black hair, Aristedes has eyebrows so immense that Groucho's greasepaint is green-eyed with arched envy. While Heather Hall makes Beverly a little too horny to be real, Joe Santos (of The Rockford Files) makes Julius' juxtaposition of mild-mannered merchant / mobster work wonderfully. Between the seedy story and the dishonorable denizens of this bleak, bleary world, Flesh and Lace is a lewd, crude treat.
Sadly, Sarno scuttles his previous potboiler parameters to turn the sin—and the skin—up 180 degrees with the wall-to-wall balling of Passion in Hot Hollows. Now, for the real sexploitation fans out there, saying this will sound like surreal sacrilege, but there are just too many soiled-sheets shenanigans in this movie, especially after the softcore soap seriousness of Sin in the Suburbs and The Swap and How They Make It. True, Sarno still has his head in the taboo tumbler, grabbing at those forbidden fixtures like adultery, incest, and homosexuality to stoke his overripe stories. But this time, instead of talking and hinting, skillfully suggesting and all-out avoiding, Joe goes for bodkin broke and gets everyone undressed and porking. The story here can be summed up in one sentence: Perverted sister returns home to mess with her sexually repressed sibling, while the rest of the small town scores with each other.
Unlike previous narratives where character is emphasized and exposition explored in brief, brilliant couplets, Sarno's saga of the sexually unfulfilled starts off shaky and falls apart quickly afterward. Too much is inferred or outright avoided here, making most of the characters' motivations seem shallow at best, non-existent at worst. There is no real explanation for either Norma's gigolo—except her "stud bull" comment (lady just must love beef…)—or the weird "open" marriage that Billy Joe and Linda Lou share. When Sarno seems stuck for an explanation, the strange sex scenes come crawling out of the carnality. Yet these too are rather routine (except for the forced insertion of a foreign object—off screen, thankfully—into an unwilling participant), merely taking up time, where Joe previously had sizzle, steam, and scandal. Even with a final frig in the rig that soars on the sensuality meter, the peek-a-boo lighting scheme and the irritating bongo bullspit score make Passion in Hot Hollows too sordid and not solid enough.
With many of Sarno's original negatives MIA, Something Weird had to rely on less than stellar prints to prepare these films for DVD. Of the two, Flesh and Lace looks great, its monochrome magic intact in a nearly defect free 1.33:1 full screen transfer. Passion, however, looks dreadful, a super-saturated mess of muddled blacks and foggy whites. Sarno's decision to film several scenes with only small patches of light exposing the actors (or the onscreen acts) means that the image is overworked with darkness. The lack of controlled contrasts really undermines the detail. The sound also has problems. On Flesh and Lace, the dialogue is mixed so far down in the track that in order to hear it, you have to crank your volume control. But then, when the blues bump-and-grind of the score is featured, the woofers go wonkers and you have to readjust your levels again. Passions' Dolby Digital Mono is just fine, but be warned of Flesh's decibel dilemma.
Thankfully, the brilliant bonus material more than makes up for the visual and audio misfires. SWV's collection of Sarno trailers makes one ache for the release of such shameful pleasures as The Love Merchant, My Body Hungers, Red Roses of Passion, and Ride the Wild Pink Horse. A couple of Sarno shorts offer a glimpse at stag films of the past. A Sneak Peek at Strip Poker (the same glimpse found on the Sin in the Suburbs set) is a harmless hoot, and A-Peeling We Go-Go! features dancers of differing levels of fetchingness making like burlesque queens. But the big extra is the full-length audio commentary on Passion in Hot Hollows by Joe Sarno, his wife Peggy, and SWV's Mike Vraney, Frank Henenlotter, and David F. Friedman. While not scene-specific by any stretch of the imagination, it's still an interesting walk through the history of exploitation. Other famous filmmakers—such as Roberta Finley and Barry Mahon—are the subjects for lengthy discussion, while Sarno is shaky on most of his own movie's details. But Peggy can comment on the actors and locations, and everyone pitches in to make the narrative exciting and informational. Like many of Friedman's solo shots, this commentary track offers engaging insights into the process of promiscuous moviemaking, and the participants are animated and fun. Almost the exact opposite of Sarno's bleak back-street cinema.
When he sticks to the swingers and the lowlifes, Sarno sells smut and scandal better than most provocateurs of pulchritude. But after the fantastic fatalism of Flesh and Lace, the over-reliance on the ribald makes Passion in Hot Hollows seem as stifling and empty as its name.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Audio Commentary on Passion in Hot Hollows with Filmmakers Joseph W. and Peggy Sarno, and Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney, Frank Henenlotter, and David F. Friedman
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