08th Sep2017

‘Red Roses of Passion’ Ltd. Edition Blu-ray Review (Vinegar Syndrome)

by Mondo Squallido

Stars: Laurene Clair, Judson Todd, Carol Holleck, Helena Clayton, Frank Spencer, Johnny Kuhl, Bella Donna, Laura London, Patricia McNair, June Roberts | Written and Directed by Joe Sarno


Carla (Laurene Clair) is an attractive thirty-something who lives with her overbearing and sexually repressed aunt Julie (Bella Donna) and her cousin Tracey (Laura London). Julie is single and Tracey is in a relationship with a square of a boyfriend. Carla likes to have fun and wants to meet the right man, but Julie always seems to be in the way and constantly scares off the flavour of the month. On the recommendation from saucy coworker Enid (Carol Holleck), Carla turns to the cold, yet beautiful fortune teller Martha (Helena Clayton) for help. For lack of a better word, Martha leads an all-female cult. Utilising Tarot cards and performing ceremonies with wine and roses – the group worship Pan and hold regular meetings. Although initially unconvinced by what Martha promises, Carla eventually witnesses the power of the wine and roses and not only wanting to her improve her own life – uses the same powers to get revenge on her prudish family. Messing around with Pan is never a good thing so of course, things get pretty darn messy. Pretty darn hot messy.

OK, first of all – I AM IN LOVE WITH HELENA CLAYTON! I hate to be so superficial and pig-headed, but she is the reason you should watch this film. From her cold and slightly evil demeanour to those curves and that seemingly faux British accent. What a vixen! To look at her, you would think butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but damn! I needed to get that out of my system so let me check my privilege and get on with the review.

Red Roses of Passion is your classic 60’s melodrama with a nice supernatural twist. It is a bit cookie cutter at times, but it is done so well. Considering some of the plot points and the overall subject, this is done straight-faced and very rarely falls in to camp. That’s what I usually dislike about most of these early examples of sexploitation that would unfortunately litter Something Weird Video’s back catalog – they are usually just pants. Historically significant and laying down the foundations of what was to come, but still pants. This however, has great tone and atmosphere and the supernatural element ultimately helps that. Writing is solid and even though you have more interest in the characters surrounding her than Carla herself – it’s still a good time.

In terms of acting – it’s a 60’s sexploitation film revolving around an all-female cult. What are you expecting? 20 different facial expressions depicting shock in the same close-up shot? Yeah, that’s the sort of acting we have. The good old fashioned after school theatre club style. It does work within the historical context of the film and again – doesn’t become overly camp. One thing Sarno did well was casting women who are pleasing on the eye. Watching some of these nubile girls donned in see-through nighties getting stroked with roses by other nubile girls in see-through nighties was a joy – especially with the likes of Carol Holleck and my now beloved Laurene Clair. There is a genuine sensual side to this film which can be very rare. It’s no erotic thriller or psychological masterpiece, but it is there.

Another wonderful aspect of Red Roses of Passion is the black and white photography courtesy of Anthony Lover. It does have that slightly cheap look to it overall, but the hues are deep and bold. It’s one of those films trash snobs can have a field day getting screen grabs with to share on their Tumblr or Facebook pages. The wonderful job Vinegar Syndrome have done in the restoration and presentation just cement that and the film has and probably never will look or sound better. Unfortunately, although the release is housed in gorgeous poster artwork – the release itself is very light on features. All we have is an interview with the always engaging and insightful Michael Bowen. I recently reviewed Vinegar Syndrome’s release of My Chauffeur which got a wonderful release full of extras. How can a bland 80’s low-budget romantic comedy get that treatment and a somewhat unseen Joe Sarno classic only gets an interview – a great interview I must say, but just an interview nonetheless.

That aside, I would still highly recommend Red Roses of Passion to both Sarno fans and those new to his work. I should just be thankful that one of cinema’s finest and well-liked auteur’s is getting his films presented as beautifully as they are in the first place. Vinegar Syndrome still lead the way in terms of breathing new life in to lost gems and classics alike.

Red Roses of Passion is available now in a limited edition Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.


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