Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sarno's RED ROSES OF PASSION An Overlooked Gem

Patricia McNair is up to some suburban witchcraft in Joe Sarno's RED ROSES OF PASSION.

You may have had the same feeling, but sometimes I see a film that so impresses me I'm reluctant to go back and watch it again. I once put Eric Rohmer's PERCIVAL in my Top Ten on the basis of a single viewing, and - even as a long-standing Rohmer champion - was nowhere near so impressed on the second pass. Such has also been the case since my first viewing of Joe Sarno's RED ROSES OF PASSION (1966) about 15 years ago, which I reviewed with great favor back in VIDEO WATCHDOG #85. I love Sarno's work - I'm even writing a book about it now - but could this really be the knock-out I remembered?

I hate to say it (because I would have much preferred it to come out as part of Film Movement's Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series, and had the chance to do a proper commentary for it), but I was - if anything - even more impressed by my second viewing of RED ROSES OF PASSION last night. Vinegar Syndrome has now released it in a DVD/BD dual pack and the camera neg-sourced transfer is gorgeous. Not really about sex so much as sensuality, it's one of Sarno's best realized pictures, and possibly his most strikingly original story; it's a kind of horror fable (in that regard, rather like Jess Franco's LORNA THE EXORCIST) that looks at erotic inhibition and licentiousness through an occult lens. If you can imagine what Herk Harvey, for example, might have done with a remake of Romero's HUNGRY WIVES - that'll point you somewhere near the right direction. It's astonishing to me that a film this potent and original could still be so little-known.

The VS set is a limited edition of 2000 copies and apparently prone to the odd bad pressing; I had to return mine to Amazon today because the soundtrack on the Blu-ray disc was badly distorted. (Knowing how cheaply Sarno was sometimes obliged to work, it took me about 15 minutes to question the sound quality by putting on the other disc.) The DVD looked almost as sharp as the BD and sounded fine.

The only extra is a 20m monologue by Sarno authority Michael Bowen. He's a genial talker and knows his stuff. I smiled a lot because I've been covering much of the same tricky ground and coming up against the same questions in my own research.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.


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