In the world of 1960s exploitation, director Joe Sarno is a standout, usually delivering movies that are far more stylish and emotionally complex than the usual grindhouse fare. I became a fan the moment I saw "Sin in the Suburbs" and I'm so happy Something Weird Video is finally releasing some of Sarno's movies on DVD. The first movie in this double feature, "Flesh and Lace," has all the Sarno trademarks: a jazzy soundtrack, arty lighting and an intelligent script. Another Sarno trademark is above-average performances, but not everyone in "Flesh and Lace" delivers. Heather Hall is supposed to be a repressed nymphomaniac who, once her desires are unleashed, sets off a chain of events that lead to tragic ends. But there's really no difference between a repressed Hall and a lusty Hall, and given the delay that precedes each of her dull recitations of dialog it's a good bet someone's feeding her her lines off camera. Like '70s exploitation star Chesty Morgan, Hall's acting style seems to consist of just trying to stay awake. Thankfully, Alice Linville (of "Sin in the Suburbs" and "Olga's House of Shame") and Joe Santos do Sarno's movie justice. Linville even sings a blues song (or lip synchs very well). "Flesh and Lace" also has to be the first sexploitation film to use a toy store as one of its settings.
The performances in "Passion in Hot Hollows" are much stronger. In this psychosexual drama, trampy Norma Sue and her sleazy, nose-picking boyfriend cause all manner of hell to break loose in a small upstate New York town when they visit Norma Sue's sister Jean. Again, this Sarno movie has an intelligent script and artistic lighting. While Sarno's movies are in the realm of sexploitation, it should be noted that only a minimal amount of skin is shown and he seldom, if ever, lets his camera stray below the waist during sex scenes. Instead he emphasizes facial expressions and sounds, often making his sex scenes seem dirtier than they really are. Hardcore fans of '60s trash will recognize the actress who plays Jean (billed as Uta Erickson): She was in Michael and Roberta Findlay's "The Kiss of Her Flesh" as well as Doris Wishman's "Love Toy." And she's actually pretty good here.
Extras include trailers to other Sarno movies, such as "Bed of Violence," "The Sex Cycle," "The Swap and How they Make It" and "Ride the Wild Pink Horse" (love that title!), and a couple unremarkable nudie shorts. There's a commentary track for "Passion in Hot Hollows" with Sarno himself, as well as his wife, Peggy (who acted under the name Cleo Nova) and exploitationeer extraordinaire David Friedman. Though Friedman didn't produce or distribute Sarno's work, his appearance always livens things up, and given that Sarno is not terribly chatty, it's a good thing he's included here. Peggy Sarno also offers some interesting insights, like why producing softcore movies is preferable to hardcore. Giddily moderating the commentary, as well as defending scratches on film, are Something Weird founder Mike Vraney and Frank ("Basket Case") Henenlotter.