Sarno discovery and brief-careered Swedish cult starlet Marie Forsa (Justine and Juliette, Butterfly, Immoral Tales) heads a cast of Teutonic dolly birds and more or less unknowns in a much needed, greatly improved upgrade of Joe Sarno’s atmospheric softcore horror opus Vampire Ecstasy.
A trio of seemingly unrelated girls is summoned to their shared ancestral castle (this far fetched bit of narrative illogic is quickly explained and then conveniently ignored for the remainder of the running time), where a darker fate awaits at the hand of a sinister occultist and her cult of lesbian hippie cum witches and, towards the end of the film (almost tossed in as an afterthought), their vampire queen. In time honored old dark house tradition, an additional pair of travelers is forced to seek shelter at the castle, and many taboo-raising shenanigans ensue.
An especially young looking Forsa, in arguably her first cinematic role, is supported (and in the case of head baddie Nadia Henkowa, dominated by) a cast of German softcore and sex comedy starlets such as Ulrike Butz (Swinging Co-Eds, Schoolgirl Reports 4 and 5), Anke Syring (Bibi, Schoolgirl Report 10, De Sade) and Claudia Fielers (Secrets of Sweet Sixteen, Schoolgirl Report 4, Swedish Playgirls).
Even Henkowa would follow Sarno through his next few productions (Bibi, Butterfly), as would several of the female cast members featured herein, though not one of them save Forsa would exactly qualify as a household name for even the most dedicated of cult film aficionados.
Even so, a few of them do have a quirky charm and off kilter sort of prurient appeal, and none of them appear to have any compunctions about baring all (or most) for the camera and getting a bit raunchy – though few are wiling to go so far as Forsa – ’nuff said.
Male lead (and for all intents and purposes, sole non-distaff cast member) Nico Wolfersetter would also stick to the softcore arena for the remainder of his career, working with the infamous Lasse Braun and wrapping up on an arguable high note with the Laura Gemser vehicle (Divine Emanuelle’s) Love Camp.
Retro-Seduction Cinema had previously given this one a release back in 2005, in its edited “Devil’s Plaything” cut, sold through big box retailers such as Best Buy, Borders, Sam Goody and Coconuts/FYE.
However, if your utter revulsion towards self-loathing puritanical censorship was anything like that of yours truly, you could use a convenient coupon within the liner notes booklet to exchange the DVD for the uncensored cut, now titled…Vampire Ecstasy.
While I can no longer comment on the quality of the original retail version, I remember wondering whether I’d made the right decision, as the Vampire Ecstasy DVD was rather dark – and not in the usual chiarascuro lighting sense you get from Sarno’s 60’s black and white efforts. In fact, and this I can confirm, having popped that disc in for comparison purposes, the film was downright muddy.
That version further came with the same on camera interviews of Sarno and producer Chris Nebe (whose idea, according to Sarno, this film was) and commentary track from Nebe as extras, which have been ported over here. The current Blu-ray further adds a brief chat with Sarno about his pair of forays into horror, swapping the earlier liner notes for a new set from none other than Tim Lucas.
But most importantly? Film Media has given a full on hi-def restoration to the film, making this one look pretty damn vibrant…especially for a Sarno film, set on location in an old German castle and suffused with shadows in every sense of the phrase. Outdoor scenes look stunning, and even the muddiest of dungeon-set sequences are marked by a dramatically improved contrast and clarity. A truly primo upgrade, in every way.
Adding to the appeal of this release is the inclusion of another semi-horror themed offering (sorta), from back in his generally more celebrated New York black and white era:* Sin, You Sinners!
* personally, I prefer his later Swedish and American works of the later 60’s through the mid 70’s, but hey…
Previously relegated to public domain dollar disc purgatory, this one wasn’t even given the Something Weird triple feature treatment till now.
And hey, it’s no classic for the ages, either as a film of in terms of the print – this predates the Cleo Nova (Peggy Stefans-Sarno) era, and represents what in fact is one of the very first films in Sarno’s own career (preceded only by the presumably lost Lash of Lust and, if certain sources are to be believed, a true obscurity entitled “Nude in Charcoal” (your call on whether this one even exists or involved Sarno in the first place).
With a cast mostly populated with unknowns (several of whom this represents the sole feature film credit for!) and a few bit players (Beverly Nazarow would go on to small parts in Del Tenney’s Violent Midnight and The Fat Black Pussycat, Charles Clement would join her in the latter and return to Sarno’s lens for Sin in the Suburbs, and Derek Murcott would become a walk on part television character actor…and those were the “big” names involved here), Sin You Sinners comes with another ridiculous premise: a scary old gyp joint stripper keeps her “youth” and “beauty” (obviously she’s never seen a mirror…) by means of voodoo.
More precisely, by a huge, tacky (but voodoo-blessed!) locket that drives the remainder of the plot, as everyone buys the blowsy old (emphasize the “old”) boozehound’s self-delusion about some magic locket making her look so “hot” (as if their attendance at a few arm waving Martin Denny-esque “striptease dances” peppered throughout the running time wouldn’t have disabused them of any such ideas…). Rather than laughing it off and throwing snark at the old bat, a few of ’em actually hatch a plot to steal the damn thing, with the prime architects actually getting killed along the way.
Sheesh, I used to get my grandmother tacky brooches like that for $3 or less at Marshall’s (or a very similar chain) back in the day – she loved the damn things, the more hideous and comical, the better (I distinctly remember getting her a beetle that looked like a four year old crafted it – she wore it with pride for years). But as wonderful as grandma was, I can tell you that nobody sat there saying, “damn, she’s so hot! Let me off somebody to steal that thing!”…
While this one does display Sarno’s trademark nigh-Sven Nykvist lensing and noiresque play with lighting and plenty of soapy melodrama, it’s missing the most notable aspect of this era of Sarno film: sex. Unless you have a thing for washed up barflies well past their sell-by date, there’s just nothing here, kids…
The print is pretty tattered at points, with running lines and worse at reel changes, but the color…er, black and white and contrast are certainly beefed up to hi-def levels. It’s more than watchable, particularly for veterans of Something Weird‘s epic rarities – in fact, it actually adds to the film’s seedy ambience.
If only there was anyone worth looking at in it!
We’d spoken with EI Entertainment / Camp Motion Pictures / Retro Seduction Cinema and now Film Media impresario Mike Raso at the very dawn of the podcast, and one of the biggest topics of discussion was in fact his status as one of the primary champions of Sarno (alongside Something Weird’s Mike Vraney and Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas, the latter of whom plays a part in this very release).
To see that the Sarno archives are being further plumbed (more on that soon…stay tuned) and that existing releases are being given upgrades of this quality is some very good news, indeed.