Director: Joseph W. Sarno
Vinegar Syndrome

Joseph Sarno's RED ROSES OF PASSION are far more effective than "Love Potion No. 9" in the first volume of Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo "Sexploitation Signature Series".

Tired of her boyfriends being chased off by her repressed Aunt Julie (Liz Love, MINI-SKIRT LOVE) who wants her to find a nice guy like her cousin Tracey's (Laura London) fiancé Jay (Judson Todd, THE LOVE MERCHANT), shop girl Carla (Patricia McNair, THE FAT BLACK PUSSYCAT) agrees to accompany her friend Enid (Carol Holleck, NAKED FOG) to see mystic Martha Keg (Helena Clayton, THE REBEL ROUSERS) who is the priestess of "The Daughters of Delphi" who hold sensual conversations with the god Pan and derive the sweetest torment not from a mate but from the wine of Delphi and special rose blooms grown by Martha. Wanting to take her aunt and cousin down a peg, Carla is provided by Martha with a potion that will expose their true nature. Starting with her aunt, Carla drugs her tea which seems to have no effect until a mysterious delivery man ("Grandmaster" Johnny Kuhl, MOONLIGHTING WIVES) shows up with a single rose which drives her aunt into a frenzy of sexual abandon that shocks her daughter when she discovers her in bed with a man. When Tracey ingests that potion and the delivery man appears with another rose, mother and daughter fight over the rose and the man, not caring when they are discovered by Jay who breaks off his engagement with Tracey. Unfulfilled sexually herself and witnessing the destructive effects of the drug and the roses on her aunt and cousin who have sacrificed all else for pleasure, waiting for the roses like a fix and venturing out into the night in search of any willing man, Carla begs Martha to stop the delivery of the roses. Martha tells her that such a request that can only be made by a member of the cult, requiring Carla to become an initiate, partaking of the sweet torment of the roses and venturing behind the curtain to meet Pan in his bestial human form.

One of sexploitation auteur Joseph W. Sarno's first truly masterful psychological sex films, RED ROSES OF PASSION is actually quite tame in terms of onscreen sexuality but its supernaturally-tinged premise works because it is played with utter conviction by the sometimes stiff but earnest performers in front of the camera and Sarno behind the camera with his expressionistic staging and the chiaroscuro lighting of future music video director Anthony Lover (FLESH AND LACE). The Daughters of Delphi sacrifice happiness in conventional forms for "the sweetest torment" with the knowledge that they are addicted unlike victims Julie and Tracey who Martha tells Carla will suffer psychological side effects but assures her that they will find new lives. At the first of the meetings Carla attends as an observer, she witnesses the return of a member (Jean James) who took a mate but was unable to find the same fulfillment in spite of love. In spite of her cool demeanor, Martha herself is hardly free from torment, facilitating encounters between the cult members and Pan who is actually her seemingly non-verbal, sex-addicted younger brother who forcers himself on her at one point. To save her aunt and cousin, Carla herself must sacrifice a healthy relationship with a mate, but even change seemingly for the worst is growth in a Sarno film, and she may indeed have found some kind of fulfillment however artificial in the arms of a purely physical lover.

Previously released on VHS and DVD-R by Something Weird Video, RED ROSES OF PASSION comes to Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray/DVD combo as the inaugural volume in their "Sexploitation Signature Series" in a 2K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer from the 35mm original camera negative. The results are gorgeous with deep blacks, bold highlights, the textures of curtains and clothing giving a tactile feel in contrast to the bare flesh, while the dark wooden surfaces reveal reflections not so discernable in the open-matte video transfer which was more light gray and dark gray than black and white.

The sole extra is an interview with Sarno biographer Michael Bowen (20:49) who discusses the film as a turning point in Sarno's career in terms of the changing cast and crew and the introduction of the occult as an ongoing theme. The film was the fourth of Sarno's short collaboration with producer Gabriel Cicale that also included FLESH AND LACE, NAKED FOG, and MY BODY HUNGERS, and the initial edit of the film was performed by I DRINK YOUR BLOOD's David Durston. Bowen has researched the production and its spotty release history, revealing that it was reedited before release but is unable to provide information on the changes since the participants he interviewed could not recall them. Gaffer Bruce Sparks would go on to shoot a number of his late sixties productions including INGA before Sarno's brother-in-law Steve Silverman would take over in the seventies. He also discusses the cast members, including some background figures who would have larger roles in later Sarno productions or the works of other sexploitation figures, as well as Kuhl who introduced Combat Karate and was a figure of note in the 1970s martial arts scene. This title is limited to 2,000 copies exclusively available through Vinegar Syndrome (the title may or may not be lined up for a future Filmedia/Film Movement Sarno Blu-ray like ALL THE SINS OF SODOM but this has not been confirmed and the Bowen featurette is presumably exclusive to the current edition). (Eric Cotenas)