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Vinegar Syndrome unearths a trio of (very) early works from adult film stylist extraordinaire Anthony Spinelli.

Now, let’s be honest right up front.  Even for folks who know and appreciate the work of Anthony Spinelli (or for that matter, ubiquitous 70’s exploitation cutie Rene Bond) the only real reason anyone’s picking this disc up is for the “bonus feature”.  So let’s tackle that one first.

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“Throughout the ages the holy church has been threatened, maligned and satirized. Yet, for 2000 years it has prevailed. Our efforts here have not been to condemn or castigate, but only to portray the very human side of those in conflict regarding their commitment to a life of reverence,” Spinelli offers rather disingenuously, before embarking on a film so blasphemous to Catholic believers as to invite comparison to the work of Bill Zebub.

Predating most if not all of the European, Mexican and Japanese nunsploitation genre that flowered in the wake of Ken Russell’s The Devils, An Act of Confession centers on horny habit wearer Sister Beatrice (Kim Durey), who informs us of her teenage daydreams about her fellow classmates.

“I was always naked. And the others would play with my body. Rubbing me and putting things into me. And I liked it. And that’s why I felt guilty. Liking it, I mean.”

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Durey, possessed of Sister Wendy’s teeth and a rather over-rouged, blatantly made up face (like they’d allow that at the convent…) makes out with a fellow novitiate at the altar (they finish by kneeling together in reverent prayer before Christ in the altogether, excepting their habits). Then two monks show up (one remaining more or less shrouded in hood throughout like one of Ghost’s “nameless ghouls”) and offer their wieners in place of the host.

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Our fish lipped, toothy heroin(e) then goes all girl boarding school gay on fellow sister Cyndee Summers before returning to fully consummate the earlier bit with the monks, confessing to the head monk/priest (which means a bit of imagined missionary with the father confessor and his playing with a limp noodle on the other end of the confessional) and winding up in a small orgy where she gets double teamed by two monks while our father confessor gets serviced by Summers.

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Finally she gets tied down to a reclining cross and serviced somewhat awkwardly by the same two monks before matters wind down with a vision of Christ so blatantly blasphemous even Zebub might have hesitated before filming it.

“Somehow the last dream convinced me that I was truly the bride of Christ. I knew then I could never be happy outside the church.”

Uh…yeah.

Whew.

Shot entirely in hazy, vaseline lensed soft focus, An Act of Confession is suffused with oneiric feel, lending the entire production an air of fantasy and interpretation as little more than a kinky dream on the part of the sexually frustrated lead character.

Considering the general aesthetic and approach Spinelli took here and the fact that the film runs a (for porn) respectable 59 minutes, it seems unlikely that we’ve lost a hell of a lot of running time to excised hardcore footage.  While it is somewhat of a letdown to miss out on the more prurient sequences (which after all are all the film has to offer in differentiating itself from a far more accomplished and often quite entertaining genre peopled by such exploitation notables as Jesus Franco, Joe D’Amato, Juan Lopez Moctezuma and Norifumi Suzuki), the odd, claustrophobic atmosphere and omnipresent soundtrack of monkish Gregorian chant leave the film quite watchable for all it’s brevity and inherently parochial school boys’ locker room inanity.

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The other worthwhile offering on this two disc set features a host of early 70’s soft- and hardcore notables and knocks on the then-quite popular trend of encounter groups.

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Spanning everything from Janovian primal scream, EST and APA-approved group therapy to quasi-religious variants such as Marriage Encounter, for an entire decade the American bourgeoise regularly vacated their suburban domiciles and pink flamingoed, perfectly coiffed lawns to spout off, make personal discoveries and generally get all touchy-feely with random groups of strangers under guided moderation.

While seeming a bit odd to today’s more self-absorbed yet oddly wholly non-introspective and far less enlightened culture, all that “Me Decade” nonsense at least kept folks interacting with each other face to face and in a very intimate fashion (hey, now, keep your minds out of the gutter…) and spurred some measure of sociological interconnectedness and metacognition, both of which we are in dire need of nowadays…

In any case, Spinelli takes on the zeitgeist of the era with the same irreverently juvenile fantasy mindset he applied to the Catholic church, turning post-hippie era attempts at group psychology into little more than a cheap excuse to show orgies.

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With cute Rene Bond (The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio), doofy Suzanne Fields (both ladies late of A Clockwork Blue) and thickly-browed Sandy Dempsey (of The Suckers and Widow Blue) joined by Please Don’t Eat My Mother and Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama fave George “Buck” Flower and Bond boyfriend/manager/regular costar Ric Lutze, we’re treated to what amounts to an all-star exploitation bonanza.

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When you boil Touch Me down to the bare essentials, this is what you get: the guys are fairly obnoxious, the girls veer from frigid to downright and very deliberately emasculating, and Lutze is permitted to forcibly and aggressively have his way with Dempsey right in front of everyone.

“I think you ought to realize that you have an enormous and deep seated hostility. Now, where it came from or how you’re going to handle it, I really can’t say.  But it requires more therapy than we can use in encounter techniques.  I’m going to suggest that you see a psychoanalyst.”

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Set in a rather nice spread (which seems to hold the exact same black ceramic Buddha our own family possessed for a few decades), the film is little more than one weekend long encounter session hosted by “Dr. Lloyd Davis” (Tom Stevens). With a very period television feel and aesthetic, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled across a very strange episode of Mission Impossible or something.  It’s pointless, but fun and quite watchable.

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Finally (and bizarrely, both listed and ordered first on the set), we get Cry for Cindy, which gives special thanks to Larry Flynt for hooking the production up with “Hustler honey” Amber Hunt.

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Hunt, who despite a really nice spread and often impeccable fashion sense, is a real weird looker with a big mouth who hooks for her keep.  After getting roughed up by her sleazy pimp Ben (Jack Wright), she then proceeds to get it on with him, silly music plays and all is forgiven.  Uh…

Goofy Thurston Moore lookalike and ex Dennis (Spender Travis) shows up only to get roundly trounced and threatened away by Ben, who just won’t let her out of The Life.  So she jumps out the window and dies, all of 25 minutes in.

Wha…???

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The remainder of the running time is padded out by flashbacks showing how the abrasive, bizarrely featured Cindy fell into prostituting herself.  Dick Cavett meets Bernie Kopell lookalike John Seeman (Baby Rosemary) pops up as one of the johns, and a blink and you’ll miss him John Leslie appears for about a minute and a half’s screentime in a similar role.  It’s really not worth your time.

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In the end, there’s little more to hold viewer interest than some lovingly filmed, visually sumptuous locations and Cindy’s stylish wardrobe.  While Spinelli’s trademark cinematography and grim worldview are omnipresent, the fact is that the girls are ugly, the guys are pretty scruggly and such plot as there is remains hackneyed and predictable.

As the bonus feature on a three film set, it’s more than acceptable, but as the ostensible lead?  Don’t make me laugh.

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