Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Following the enormous success of director Gerard Damiano’s dark and brooding porno-chic hit THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973), he decided to return to similar, even darker territory with his horror-infused psychosexual shocker MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE (1974). Based on an original story by Ron Wertheim, Damiano’s film more or less mimics the general concept of Nunnally Johnson’s THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957) while simultaneously incorporating key elements from Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960). It’s a memorably bleak little film, which for decades was difficult to see outside of crummy bootlegs, so like most of their adult titles, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray / DVD combo is yet another stellar restoration, which will certainly please adult film devotees and, quite possibly, fans of regionally-shot horror cinema as well. 

Aggie (Deborah Ashira), an aging woman living in a desolate country farmhouse, muses over her past sexual experiences (“Somethin’s comin’ over me…”) while Richard (Patrick L. Farrelly), who is presumably her husband, calmly sits in front of the fire in his wheelchair. But as she recalls each encounter, trying to determine how she ended-up with Richard, in flashback scenes that are rather cleverly recreated using different actresses (Kim Pope, Mary Stuart and Darby Lloyd Rains), it becomes more than clear to us that poor Aggie has lost her grip on reality, and that (to quote she herself) “Somethin’s hidden, about to come out.”

Unfolding in a cold, wintery landscape, MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE is quite a departure from the usual hardcore fare, with a well-developed if simplistic plot that actually plays better as a horror film. Unlike Damiano’s weirdly anemic LEGACY OF SATAN (1974), his attempt to deliver a ‘straight’ non-sex film, MWMA is more attuned to his erotic sensibilities as he explores far darker territory without the all-neat-and-tidy resolution that mars the otherwise exceptional Joanne Woodward headliner THE THREE FACES OF EVE. Derived from a script by Wertheim (who also co-penned Jonas Middleton’s equally dark and grim horror-sex opus THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS [1976]), MWMA has far more on its mind than merely mindless sex, but coming as it does from such a connoisseur of the medium, sex scenes do nevertheless remain an integral part of the action, and are used to underline the heroine’s confused state of mind. Envisioning herself as either a princess (“Sparklin’ eyes…”), a lustful farmgirl or a sexually voracious prostitute – porn stereotypes all – the sex scenes provide the necessary licentious behaviour, but also evoke our empathy when it becomes readily apparent to we the viewer that these perceived flashbacks may not actually be ‘memories’ after all, but merely wishful fantasies conjured-up by the imagination of a lonely, sex-starved spinster. 

Languorously-paced, MWMA’s almost dreamlike state is well-anchored by the convincing portrayal by Deborah Ashira (who doesn’t appear in any of the explicit stuff) of an emotionally lost and sexually-repressed woman well past her prime, while the isolated, snowy countryside provides the ideal melancholic backdrop. In spite of this film’s humble origins, it is handsomely lensed by Damiano’s regular DP João Fernandes (once again using his amusing “Harry Flecks” pseudonym), who also adds immensely to the film’s gloomy scenario with his nicely-nuanced, moodily-lit cinematography, bringing-out the appropriate ambiance necessary to each vignette and also giving a realistic, warm-and-homey glow to Aggie’s farmhouse where, shut away within, she feels safe and secure from the anxieties of the outside world. 

Village Voice newspaper ad (July '74).
Judging from the film’s VHS-sourced trailer (3m11s) which accompanies this disc, Vinegar Syndrome’s new 2K scan from (quote) “16mm archival negative elements” is quite remarkable. Presented in its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio, everything looks well-balanced compositionally, which only adds greater resonance to the film’s bleak and barren surroundings. In spite of the inherent grainy appearance, colours and detail appear spot-on and, as expected, this also leaves little to the imagination during the sex scenes’ mandatory ‘close-ups’. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio is also free of any issues, and although it’s generally a relatively quiet film, none of the dialogue is inaudible and Rupert Holmes’ minimalist score sounds terrific. As usual, VS have also provided SDH subtitles. Aside from the aforementioned trailer, the only other extra is a stills gallery (2m34s), which also includes a number of newspaper articles highlighting some of the film’s various issues with local censors (e.g., “Witnesses say movie obscene”) and legal battles. As is the norm now, Vinegar Syndrome have also included newly-created artwork highlighting the movie narrative’s puzzle-like structure, as well as MWMA’s rather striking French promotional art. Vinegar Syndrome’s initial 1000-copy print run also included a nicely-designed slipcover, which is now out-of-print. Highly recommended! Order the standard edition from Vinegar Syndrome or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

No comments:

Post a Comment