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Less than one minute into Expectations, and you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.  Despite being hyped as a “forgotten B-picture”, this is really nothing of the sort – what we have here is what used to be known as straight up porn.

Hailing from the halcyon days of mainstream nigh-acceptance and “porno chic”, where discussions of Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and John Holmes were, if not dinner table talk, then certainly considered a fairly standard topic for couples to debate over drinks, with or without extended company, Expectations is a prime example of the best the genre had to offer – effectively, relationship based films that had the extra frisson of going all the way with their premise, without the necessity of fading to black or playing coy when it came to the interesting parts.

These were the days of story driven porn, so far removed from the sort of slam bang gonzo crap with crudely blunt titles, plasticene stripper types and scummy guys that dominate the industry these days that you’d think they were from a different planet.  So taken in that light, why not market them as long lost grindhouse classics for a mature and freethinking audience?

While not astonishingly attractive, Delania Raffino comes out as the true star and focus of the picture, her dark tresses and stylish hairstyles complemented by an all natural body, in the days before tattoos*, piercings, plastic surgery enhancements and (perhaps most bizarre of all) the fad for Barbie dollesque shave jobs.  She’s the real deal, folks, and unashamed to show off what appears to be a genuinely passionate nature (watch her later scenes with Silvera if you want proof – on the whole, those are real reactions, folks).

*Raffino displays her spiritual side with a small but noticeable baphomet on her right hip, raising the horns and holding up the longstanding link between porn and satanism.

Opening on a lengthy sequence where she gets masturbated by somebody who looks an awful lot like John Leslie (but who the credits seem to indicate is somebody named “Blair Harris” (?) before reciprocating with some head, a mordant, semi-stoned voiceover kicks in, linking the film stylistically to an earlier strain of X rated film: the grim, moody chiarascuro of 60’s New York sexploitation: Sarno, the Findlays, Joseph P. Mawra, Stan Borden.

Raffino, who can barely speak proper English from the sound of it, drones on dreamily and depressedly about how she’s tired of her life, and her sex life in particular.  So she gets the brilliant idea to (get this) swap personae with a stranger she met through the classifieds in “one of those underground magazines”.  Whether she’s referring to one of those hippie drug periodicals of the late 60’s or something a bit more contemporaneous and to the point like Screw is never actually specified…

After some vintage shots of 70’s San Francisco, she meets up in the park with the girl in question, one “Montana” who apparently has “some pretty strange friends” (which Raffino rather idiotically reinterprets as “connections in high places”), allowing her to arrange the identity swap. Literally.  This goes so far as “the change in drivers license, social security card, and all the legal things that needed to be done” (!), which just hammers home the utter naivete or suicidal stupidity of this woman in her search for kicks…

Heading to her/”Montana’s” apartment, she no sooner changes into the available wardrobe (which consists of nothing but jeans and t-shirts) than somebody appears at the door.  It’s longtime porn standby Joey Silvera (“Civera” on the credits), who informs her that she (“Montana”) “set up this appointment over the phone weeks ago to come over and talk“.  Amazingly, after this alternate universe explanation and logical leap of brobdingnagian proportions, Raffino lets him in, setting herself up for a deluge of dirty talk, a little rough action and (emotional) domination and the closest this film gets to hot sex, as this is where she actually gets her motor running.

Unfortunately, the film now switches gears to see how the life swap is going for the former “Montana”, the frighteningly masculine Chris Cassidy (“Suzette Holland” on the credits), whose huge, deeply lined forehead and prominent chin bears an unfortunate resemblance to Linda Eastman McCartney (but making the late Wings keyboard noodler/background warbler look like a goddess in juxtaposition).  At least she’s all natural – while she has a nasty unkempt nether region and displays too many ribs for my liking, it’s nice to see a bit of pit hair for a change.

Unappealing in any real aesthetic respect, Cassidy also has the unique distinction of turning Raffino into an Oscar winning actress by comparison.  Spending an interminable 5 minutes (which feels like 30) picking up and putting down the same few pieces of jewelery and mumbling to herself incoherently, her big acting denoument comes when Raffino’s brother arrives – a goofy looking yuppie type with a pirate eyepatch (one Jack Wright):

“We switched identities…you don’t have to worry about her, she’s VERY safe.  I’m sure she’s having a WONderful time.  I’m having a WON-derful time here TOO.  She’s VERY safe, I have a WONderful apartment, but you needn’t WOrry about it at ALL (this last sentence delivered rapidfire, the entire sequence delivered in a smarmy moan).

Finally she takes off the ridiculous old lady style if open fronted nightie she’d donned and curls up on top of him, wrapping up her big monologue with this choice bon mot: “will this be the first time you ever…fucked your sister?”.  “You know, I oughtta punch you out for asking me that question”, he replies, echoing the viewer’s sentiments.

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With a huge sigh of relief, the proceedings return to Raffino and Silvera, still in mid-session…eventually it all comes to an end with a hallucinatory and somewhat Bergmanesque lesbian scene between Margo and “Montana”.

Ultimately coming off like a cross between Joe Sarno’s often insightful and (particularly as he got into the 70’s and started employing folks like Rebecca “Mary Mendum” Brooke and Eric Edwards) very sexy psychodramas and the gritty New York style realism of Bill Lustig, Spinelli’s writing style, not to mention his cinematography and sense of mise en scene, is positively stunning for porno – even the much lauded and relatively “artistic” 70’s strain thereof.

It’s easy to see how Spinelli could be compared to a Joe D’Amato, another top notch (if unfairly maligned) cinematographer and porn director who spent a fair portion of his career in the more “upscale” and “respectable” arenas of horror and hard-R softcore.  Like D’Amato, much of Spinelli’s sex is actually reasonably erotic (not something you can normally attribute to the genre), and his framing and aesthetic sense really pops, particularly in the more vivid decor of “Montana’s” flat.

While I’ve found most similarly lauded “names” in porn to fall far short of their reputation, Spinelli may be one of the few exceptions to the rule: a director who could and should have broken into the mainstream, if not for his
not unwelcome tendency to (again like D’Amato) carry scenes through to their logical conclusion rather than stopping short for the sake of decorum.

Filled with ring modulated organ and groovy period music, with really nice interior lighting and camera focus, this is nothing to sneeze at – I for one would be glad to see Vinegar Syndrome put out more of Spinelli’s work.  Aside from being a bit dark lit and sporting a few minor splices to the print, Expectations is in fantastic shape for an obscure porno from the mid to late 70’s.  While delivered on DVD rather than Blu-Ray this time, colors and blacks are strong throughout, and skin tones are practically hi-def – you can see every pore and blemish (often more than you care to, as in the case of Raffino’s angry red insides).

Overall a highly recommended view for those who don’t wave the puritan flag of conservative leaning red state America.

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“We’re going down a one way street, and (if) I’ve got bad vibes, it’s all your way.”

Confessions kicks off with a positively awful Partridge Family style ditty – “GIVE!  Your love to me, in return I’ll give mine to YOU!”, before opening on porn standby John Leslie (yes, folks, this time it really is him) and the cute if unspectacular and somewhat double chinned Kristine Heller (Cindy Johnson on the credits) belieing the boring marital sleepwear they’re unfortunately given to wear (why am I hearing Frank Zappa’s “Po-jama People”?) with a frisky and energetic morning blowjob before John runs off to work.

Strangely surprised to be frustrated therafter and moaning to herself about how now she’s not going to get any for herself this morning (well, duh…), Heller heads out on the prowl, running the first hippie biker she sees (the Chuck Norris-meets-Sonny Bono type Peter Johns) down with her crappy 1976 Honda Civic CVCC as a sort of bizarre pickup line.  Johns then has the balls to tell her she gives lousy head (could’ve fooled me, from the opening scene!) and delivers some of the most embarrassingly ridiculous dirty talk ever heard onscreen (for how to do it right, see Joey Silvera’s scenes with Delania Raffino in Expectations).  Strangely, if somewhat appealingly, Heller never bothers to remove her ascot throughout the sequence, which ends with a strange digital double stutter at the scene change.

Standing pop-art style between giant framed portraits of what looks to be Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando (both in biker gear), Heller gets a last thrill from one of the strangest looking vibrators I’ve ever seen (it kind of looks like Toronto’s CN Tower!), before we move to a party scene.  Populated by some rather homely women, a trannie and some of the goofiest sons of bitches you’re ever likely to see, the party bears the distinction of being what is probably the only time you’ll ever see both Leslie and a returning Joey Silvera (as Leslie’s boss Tom) in glasses and a business suit.

In an aesthete’s dream bathroom, in front of a stunning Romanesque lithograph (and brilliant red bathtub!), Heller shows Silvera her best talent (which makes me think she was aiming for marketing herself as another Little Oral Annie) while Leslie chats up ugly girls who eat bananas, roll eyes, and apparently snort a few lines off the dinner table after asking in a stoned voice, “are you married?”.  Yep, this one’s a bit surreal.

A very sexy touch leaves Heller’s face totally covered in Silvera’s juices as he proceeds to return the favor (see, he’s not such a bad guy after all, despite screwing his employee’s wives at their own parties!), before leaving her in deep thought over this Fabio-worthy line of romance novel dialogue: “tell me something…how did you know I wouldn’t kick you out?”  “Your eyes…they said fuck me and I did!”

She calls up some woman who put an ad in the paper, though we’re not let in on any real details as to what this is all about or why.  Visiting another absolutely gorgeous pad, positively filled with plants and seated in front of a stylized brick fireplace, the stranger informs her with comically exaggerated and ever increasing excitement that her husband digs being dominated – “you see…the only time he’s entirely satisfied is if he can be controlled…he likes to be ordered around, badgered…I want you to be a bitch with him!  I want you to order him around!  Make him beg, squirm!”

Surprise, it’s that Jack Wright guy again, this time sans the goofy eyepatch, but still every bit the yuppie dork (90’s analogue Jonathan Morgan has nothing on this loser).  The only real domination we get, unfortunately, is both comical and pathetic – poorly dressed and unsuited to play the role of mistress, the best you can say for Heller in this sequence is the brilliant shade of lipstick she dons and her sexy Jaclyn Smith hairstyle – the woman can’t even pull off fishnets, and clearly has no clue how to adjust her garters.  It’s pathetic…

A gross scene with some dumpy guy with a pompadour and graying goatee (one Sonny Lustig…any relation to fellow porn director and future Anchor Bay/Blue Underground mastermind Bill?) informs us that she’s degenerated into part time prostitution (though she stupidly returns him the money, after deciding that HE wasn’t worth the money (!).  One last comedy sequence which features Leslie in a shocking pink polo shirt with a Knights of Columbus logo and Heller looking directly into the camera closes out the affair with a well deserved groan of disbelief.

While a pretty girl, and hardly the worst actress in porn of the period, Heller appears somewhat uncomfortable delivering any length of dialogue, and really isn’t all that great in the sack, beyond her obvious talents in the area of oral pleasurings.

With its crummy soundtrack, heavy comedy leanings and (bar Heller, Leslie and Silvera) butt ugly cast, Confessions is quite a letdown after the Sarnoesque tone poem of Expectations.  Trading in the moody jazz-rock stylings of the former film for some perfectly hideous bubblegum rock, its pensive and melancholic mise en scene for a bubbly bright daylight comic feel and the genuine reactions of Delania Raffino for the bored “lay there and take it” style of Kristine Heller, Confessions cannot help but fall flat by comparison.  But Spinelli’s flair for scene composition and obvious taste for the aesthetic does lend a veneer of class to what is ultimately something of a polished turd – you can pretty much just hit the fast forward button between rounds of Heller’s oral specialty without missing a thing.

Once again, colors pop, blacks are prominent, and the overall picture is surprisingly strong for a grindhouse porn of the era.  While hardly recommended on its own merits, Confessions makes a fitting double feature with the far superior Expectations, and this particular volume of Vinegar Syndrome’s Drive In Collection comes highly recommended to both porn historians and the more open minded grindhouse devotees alike.