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“You will soon gain entrance to a new and exciting world. A world of exciting new faces – a world of stimulating new people.”

An odd film in the oeuvre of Joe Sarno, Red Roses of Passion is often cited as one of his few “supernatural” films.

A “young”…well, young-ish, if you consider attractive over 30 as still young…blonde with an unmussable permanent wave visits a psychic on a lark. Well, it’s not really a random encounter, as the “friend” who brought her there is part of the same lesbi-oriented “cult” as the would-be mystic…and recruiting nubile new members is what this scam is all about.

Claiming to worship Pan (and only slightly sublimating their obvious group orientation by making use of a huge bodybuilder type related to the head hoo-hah…who’s also the card reading fairground palm reader we opened the film on), their actual deal is to use drugs (again slightly covered up by the use of “special” roses that send those who touch them into paroxysms of horniness) to loosen inhibitions and get members into their multi-member swinging sessions.

Much of the film concerns our heroine’s attempts to return to a “normal” life (and her dissatisfaction with same), while the cult sends the big lunk out on florist delivery duty.  Even more sacrosanct taboos are broken, when the drug…er, flower’s evil influence comes into play…

Sarno regulars Patricia McNair and Joanna Mills (The Love Merchant, The Swap and How they Make It) and repeat offenders Pat Daverese (Flesh and Lace) and Carol Holleck (The Swap and How they Make It) are joined by scene regulars like Helena Clayton (Suburbia Confidential, Agony of Love, Schalcken the Painter) and pseudonymous exploitation ingenue “Bella Donna” (Mini-Skirt Love, My Body Hungers, the Joe Marzano Venus in Furs).

Most visibly recognizable to sexploitation fans is the unstoppable June Roberts (a real cutie you’ll remember from films like Mike & Roberta Findlay’s Sin Syndicate and Take Me Naked, Doris Wishman’s My Brother’s Wife, Barry Mahon’s Confessions of a Bad Girl, Beast that Killed Women and Sin in the City and Sarno films The Love Merchant, Flesh and Lace and Moonlighting Wives, not to mention David Durston’s Love Statue and other notable one offs like The Sexploiters, Heat of Madness and Kitten in a Cage (most of which have been released under the auspices of Something Weird.)

Even the guys may seem familiar – Johnny Kuhl, Frank Spencer and Judson Todd have all appeared in various of the aforementioned (and a few more to boot).  All in all, there’s an intense feeling of deja vu the seasoned sexploitation veteran (and particularly those familiar with the New York scene) should take away from this film.

Shot during Sarno’s early New York chiarascuro period, the film bears all the sordid grimness and Catholic moralistic underpinnings that mark his work, particularly of this era.  You may get to break boundaries and have all sorts of fun and frolics…but you’ll always have to wake up and face the music the morning after.  You know, just like real life.

There’s one extra, a 20 minute interview with a Sarno aficionado who seems to hold to the validity of the “supernatural” designation. Personally, I think it’s a lot of hooey – Sarno doesn’t buy into or focus on that stuff one bit, save as a McGuffin to introduce and dwell on all these lovely ladies in diaphonous black lingerie gettin’ weird with each other and rubbing doped roses all over themselves ecstatically.

Even the trappings are barely there, hanging only as the slightest of dialogue tidbits; a see-through wrapping paper behind which some basic human frailties and obsessions lurk in plain view to all.

Or to sum it up in three words: “supernatural”, my ass.

Another welcome restoration and reissue, this time of a Something Weird DVD-R only release, this marks the second in what will hopefully become a line of Sarno films upgraded and brought to Blu betwixt and between Film Media and Vinegar Syndrome.

And all I can say is, keep ’em coming, guys.

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