• Passions Of Carol, The (Platinum Elite Collection)


    Released by: Video-X-Pix
    Released on: 12/22/2010
    Director: Shaun Costello
    Cast: Jamie Gillis, Mark Stevens, Mary Stuart, Kim Pope, Sonny Landham
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Shaun Costello, 1975’s The Passions Of Carol was (and still is) a bit of an oddity in the world of XXX filmmaking. A fairly literal adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the film stars Mary Stuart as a woman named Carol Scrooge, the owner and publisher of a low rent men’s magazine called Biva Magazine (say it out loud with a New England accent and you’ll get the joke!). She’s not t he kindliest women you’ve ever met – in fact, to be blunt, she’s actually quite a bitch and even goes so far as to insist that all of her already overworked employees put in some over time on Christmas Eve.

    Affected more than the others by this is an employee named Bob Cratchet (the late, great Jamie Gillis), who is being forced to burn the midnight oil in order to get the layout for a Playgirl knock off finished before the deadline. Carol, however, goes home and hoping to get herself a good night’s rest is soon visited by her late former business partner, Lance Marley (Marc Stevens), who warns her that she’ll be soon called upon by three spirits!

    Those accustomed to Costello’s darker films, like Waterpower and Forced Entry, might be taken aback by the playful and comedic tone employed in this production but he makes it work. Having made lighter hearted fare while churning out his various ‘One Day Wonders’ this wasn’t unfamiliar territory for him and he does well with the material and shows a good knack for pacing. Opting to credit the directorial efforts to his female pseudonym, Amanda Barton, Costello keeps things moving and fairly coherent, which lends credence to the fact that the actors and actresses here were working off some semblance of a script (a fact confirmed by Costello in the extra features). Some nice camera work compliments the performances well and Costello manages to coax some pretty impressive work out of his cast. Gillis stands out as one of the best actors of all time in the adult industry but let’s be honest here, seventies porno movies aren’t generally renowned for the quality of their acting. If no one here was in any danger of getting an Oscar nomination, so be it, but the acting is certainly quite a bit better than the norm, a testament to the director and his performers. It’s also quite interesting to see Gillis playing a softer, sweeter type than we’re normally accustomed to seeing him play – and he does quite well with the material, making it all the more obvious why he was one of the most used and respected performers of his time.

    This is, however, a porno movie after all, right? Right! So how does the sex stack up? It’s not bad, actually, and this movie is one of those rare occasions where the fucking, sucking, penetration and ejaculation doesn’t really get in the way of the storyline. The sex scenes here are worked into the storyline fairly well and as such, they don’t seem out of place or forced. The first scene finds our lead, Mary Stuart, getting down and dirty with Sonny Landham and Day Jason in a reasonably steamy three way. The second scene shows what happens when Mary Stuart and Marc Stevens hook up (does this count as necrophilia?). The third scene gets Mary involved again, this time with Alan Marlow and the lovely Susan Sloane. The fourth scene features Kim Pope and Jamie Gillis. The fifth and final scene brings the movie to a close with a scene involving Ashley Moore and a wigged out Mary Stuart, now of course a changed woman thanks to her experiences. Much of the sex is set to odd seasonal music, but again, it fits and just sort of adds to the humor behind all of this.

    Costello may not have been working with a huge budget on this picture but he gets the most out of what he has. Some interesting stories in the extras will allow you to develop a further appreciation for just how much he got for his money, and really, every penny is up there on the screen. He’d make better and more interesting films before retiring, going into hiding for a few decades and then thankfully resurfacing to fill us all in on his interesting body of work, but few of them are as much fun as this one.

    Audio/Video/Extras:

    The Passions Of Carol is presented here in its original 1.37.1 fullframe aspect ratio in a restored high definition transfer take from the only known film elements (a 35mm answer print) that have managed to survive over the years. The picture quality is quite good, all things considered, but expect a healthy coat of grain and some minor print damage here and there. Colors, however, generally look very nice and if black levels aren’t reference quality, they’re still pretty solid. Fans should be quite pleased with the efforts on display here – the image is a strong one.

    The audio quality is also pretty decent. A disclaimer in the liner note booklet alerts us to the fact that severe damage to the audio track on reel two of the elements used for this release suffer from some audible buzz – and it is there – but it’s not particularly distracting and it’s over before you really even realize it. That one issue aside, a minor pop might be heard here and there but otherwise the audio is fine. The dialogue is clean, clear and audible from start to finish and the levels are consistently well balanced.

    The big extra here is the inclusion of the first ever commentary track from the film’s writer and director, Shaun Costello, moderated by film historian Joe Rubin. Costello has a sharp memory and a good technical knowledge of what equipment he used and how he used it, so Rubin is wise to pick his brain into how and why certain shots were done they way they were but he’s also wise to let Costello talk as much as he can. Shaun’s got some great stories here, in relation to who he worked with on this picture and why and what they were like to work with as he waxes nostalgic about the likes of Mary Stuart, Mark Stevens, Jamie Gillis and others. There isn’t any dead air here at all, the pair strikes up a good, casual but respectful banter, and Costello’s inclination for storytelling really comes to the forefront. All in all, this commentary is excellent and it’s great to finally hear the director’s story in his own words.

    Aside from the commentary track, there’s also a quick bonus featurette called The Deuce which features some interesting archival photos of the 42nd Street area during its sleazy heydays, contrasted with some pictures of certain locations as they are today. Menus and chapter selections are also included. If that weren’t enough, inside the keepcase you’ll find yourself a nice full color insert booklet containing twenty pages of liner notes from Costello himself. Sure he repeats some of what he covers in the commentary track but it’s nice to have them here in written format, especially since the liners are accompanied by some nice archival photographs and poster images.

    The Final Word:

    Say what you will but you’ve got to give Costello points for trying something different with this film. Is it his best? No, but the curiosity factor is high enough that you won’t care, as this is definitely one of a kind. Making great use of a strong cast and giving us a decidedly different spin on Dickens’ classic tale, it’s a bizarre, humorous, and periodically even sexy take on a story most of us know all too well. Video-X-Pix’s Platinum Elite Collection release offers up the film in the best possible quality and with a winning commentary, making this one a no-brainer for fans of vintage smut and cult film oddities alike.