Vinegar Syndrome's fourth "Peekarama Big 2 Unit Show" double feature DVD brings us a pair of X-rated outings from Roberta Findlay.
"Help me, Doctor! I'm a lesbian," pleads Viveca Hansen (Erotica Lantern, voiced by Roberta Findlay), the young Scandinavian protagonist of THE ALTAR OF LUST, to her psychiatrist Dr. Rogers (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT's Fred J. Lincoln, voiced by Michael Findlay). Having lost her virginity brutally to her stepfather (Doris Wishman's regular cinematographer C. Davis Smith), Viveca flees to the states where she quickly falls in love with handsome young Don (a moustache-less Harry Reems billed as "Stan Freemont") and gets over her inhibitions about physical intimacy. She moves in with him and things go swimmingly until she discovers that he has other lovers, including Marie (Suzy Mann, THE FEMALE RESPONSE) who draws her into her first sexual experience with another woman. Unlike most men in a porno film, Don is disgusted seeing two women together; but the experience for Viveca is the antithesis of her traumatic deflowering. Viveca maintains that she is in love with Don but in lust with Marie. When Don takes her to a party, she can't resist the overtures of Linda (Laura Cannon, THE ORAL GENERATION). Despite the happiness and pleasure she experiences and gives others, Viveca wants only to be freed from temptation. Although Dr. Rogers will not make any moral judgments, he does devise a way to "shock" her out of her lesbian tendencies (and it's exactly what you think).
Shot entirely without live sound with a mix of narration and off-screen dialogue delivered solely by Dr. Rogers and Viveca – aka Mr. and Mrs. Findlay – with the exception of some comically dubbed-in grunts and groans, THE ALTAR OF LUST is almost non-stop sex: some of it stimulated, some of it real but not as graphically covered by the camera as porn films just a year or so later would be (no onscreen genital penetration or money shots). The so-called "Erotica Lantern" looks quite board and preoccupied throughout as she in her angsty scenes while Lincoln seems to glance over his shoulder every once in a while for direction even though we never see his face when he (or rather Michael Findlay) is speaking; but the drama is hardly the reason to watch this, although some may find it disagreeable to that Viveca compares her feelings when she is having sex with other women to memories of being taken care of by her mother (as if homosexuality were a regression). The library track scoring features Rodrigo's "Concerto d'Aranjuez" prominently featured in Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL. BLOODUCKING FREAKS' Arlana Blue appears as a belly dancer who gets it on with Don during the party (which only seems to have four guests).
Previously released on VHS and DVD-R by Something Weird Video in its X-rated version (77:57) from a typically scratchy and soft 16mm print, Vinegar Syndrome's anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is sourced from a 2K scan of the almost spotless 35mm original negative (losing a little at the bottom but adding a little bit to the sides compared to SWV transfer). It also represents a pre-release version running 81 minutes and 18 seconds with additional hardcore shots bluntly snipped from the SWV version (as far as I know, SWV themselves only edited explicit shots out of the titles distributed on DVD by Image Entertainment). The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is fairly clean, and I'm guessing the distortion in the high end of the source music tracks is the fault of the recording levels during the film mixing rather than anything that might have happened during Vinegar Syndrome's transferring and remastering. The Something Weird Video release followed up the feature with a trailer for the film, but that has not been included here.
The titular ANGEL ON FIRE is ostensibly Stephen (Alan Marlow, ABDUCTION OF AN AMERICAN PLAYGIRL), a Casanova-esque cad who Angel #1 designates for divine punishment when he throws out his pregnant lover (Judy Craven, BRIDAL INTRIGUE). Stephen is hit by a VW Bus – driven by Marc Stevens (SYLVIA) while on the receiving end of a blowjob – and is met in heaven by Angel #9 (Jennifer Jordan, ABIGAIL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN) who determines that Stephen must be punished before he can earn his wings. She sends him back to Earth as Stephanie (Darby Lloyd Rains, NAKED CAME THE STRANGER) to experience the "pain of a woman". The punishment will end when Stephanie falls in love with a man like Stephen, and she'll get to stay on Earth if she can get him to love her back. Not the least disturbed by her new body, Stephanie sets about trying it out: first with Marc "10 ½ inch" Stevens, then some intense self-love in the shower, and then in a lesbian scene with one of Stephen's other lovers (Day Jason, the receptionist in THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN's recurring masturbation joke). Wanting to be as feminine as possible, Stephanie decides to become a model, only to meet and fall in love with caddish photographer Jeff (Jamie Gillis, WINTER HEAT) who wastes no time promising her eternal love. When Jeff tires of her, Stephanie clings to him until she has no pride left.
Compared to THE ALTAR OF LUST (which almost seems stylistically and technically like a Doris Wishman film), ANGEL ON FIRE is more technically polished with slicker photography (by Findlay herself), live sound, and more conventional its coverage of the hardcore sex scenes. The cast is a who's who of Radley Metzger and Joseph Sarno regulars giving good performances in addition to their "physical" performances (Rains is a particular delight, although it might have been even funnier had Marlow been kept around for Stephanie's voice-overs but maybe not as arousing). The tone is mostly light until Gillis' character shows his true colors, and Rains is quite capable an actress for more dramatic turn of the plot. Eric Edwards (LAURA'S TOYS) shows up as Angel #10 for a sex scene with Angel #9 in between watching Stephanie's travails.
Unlike THE ALTAR OF LUST, Vinegar Syndrome's anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of ANGEL ON FIRE is sourced from a 2K scan of 35mm theatrical print. Colors are vivid, and there's a beautiful image beneath the scratches, dings, dents, and spots (heaviest during the reel changes but generally not too distracting the rest of the time). The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is also a bit crackly but that does not interfere with the dialogue or music (Rodrigo's "Concerto d'Aranjuez appears again here during Gillis' and Rains' romantic supper and fireside sex scene). There are no credits or even a title card on the print (although I'm told by someone more familiar with the film that the credits are supposed to appear on the scene intercutting Stephen walking down the street with Marc Stevens and his partner in the van). There are no extras, but this double feature provides the best technical presentation with which to assess some of Findlay's oddball hardcore efforts. (Eric Cotenas)
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