Friday, September 6, 2013

Voices of Desire (1972)

Directed by:
Chuck Vincent

For many years it was reported that Sandra Cassell (nee Peabody), star of the Wes Craven's notorious, controversial shocker THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), was a "one hit wonder." Ditto for her Last House co-star Lucy Grantham (nee Grunther). As it turns out, both actresses had been involved in the New York area sex film industry prior to the film that would make them famous. In Grantham's case it was appearing anonymously in hardcore porn loops, reportedly to get back at her wealthy parents for something or other. Though Grantham herself hasn't discussed her participation in these films, director Shaun Costello confirmed that she (along with fellow Last House star Fred J. Lincoln) appeared in a hardcore pseudo-documentary he made called Loops, which has disappeared since its brief theatrical run in 1973. Later, an actual porn loop starring Grantham, Harry Reems and another guy surfaced to lend credence to Costello's claims. Cassell, on the other hand, has stated in numerous interviews that Last House was the only film she ever appeared in. She must have forgotten about her starring role in this X rated soft-core flick... and her starring role in Massage Parlor Hookers (1974) ... and her starring role in Teenage Hitch-Hiker (1975) ... Sure, she was always equipped with some other name to hide behind, but that doesn't change the fact that Voices of Desire has been available for mass consumption from Something Weird Video for a number of years and it does indeed star her (using the alias "Liyda Cassell"). Voices was also an early effort for director Chuck Vincent (opting for an alias - "Mark Ubell" - himself), who'd later become a big name in porn films.

In New York City, Detective Holland calls in young, meek Anna Reed (guess who?) to recount her claims that she was involved in a weird sex cult whose members were either murdered or committed suicide. Anna then narrates a series of flashbacks. She goes into a phone booth and hears deep breathing coming out of the phone, then hears voices calling out "Anna!" and "Anna, wait for us!" as she walks down the street. Back at her apartment, more strange things occur. She sees flashes of a woman being strangled, a man hanging himself and people having sex. Doors open, close and lock on their own, the voices continue and Anna seems to become (temporarily) possessed. Next thing she knows, she's stripping off all her clothes and rubbing grapes and apples on her nude body as she writhes around suggestively sucking on a banana. The strange voice lures her outside, down the street and into a building; coaxing her into one of the apartments. She enters a candle lit room where a woman (hardcore actress Marlene Willoughby) and three men (including hardcore actor Roger Caine) offer her wine, which turns out to be drugged. They carry her upstairs, strip her naked and two of the guys begin getting busy with her after one sucks on her toes and another licks her armpits while the woman watches and the third guy ("the director") pretends like he's conducting an orchestra (!) And it's at this moment I think I realize why Cassell / Peabody - who supposedly now works as an acting coach who specializes in teaching children - might not want to acknowledge this film.

Anna awakens lying in bed in a locked room, hears a female voice through the wall, picks the lock on the door and tries to escape but is chased around by a leather-clad Willoughby before the obligatory lesbian scene (which takes place in front of a fireplace where the cult leader plays piano). She's tied up and forced to watch one of the guys have sex with another captive there (played by yet another hardcore actress; Darby Lloyd Rains under the name "Lynn Ann Carver"). There's more sex, more confessions to the police detective and scenes of the cultists chasing Anna around with huge knives before the (poorly telegraphed) twist ending is revealed. There's full nudity from both genders and very little dialogue, the music is classical and dramatic and some of the camerawork is actually quite good and surprisingly elaborate for one of these things. There are lots of tracking shots, frenzied POV shots, shots on rooftops looking down, out of focus and wavering shots and 360 degrees camera spins. Posters for Fritz Lang's M (1931) and Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954) adorn the walls in Anna's apartment; which solidify the arty cred this somewhat interesting though padded and tedious 70-minute sex flick was striving for.

Cassell, whom Last House co-star David Hess described as being a "repressed Protestant" in interviews (riiiiight), doesn't give the impression she is the least bit uncomfortable with the nudity and sex here. In fact, quite the opposite as she performs in her full frontal simulated sex scenes with a smile plastered on her face the entire time. She's either a better actress than usually given credit for or she didn't mind at all doing sex-and-violence films while she was doing them.

"The Director" is played by "Guy Thomas;" who usually used the name "Gus Thomas" appearing in hard porn films such as Bedroom Bedlam (1973) and Deep Throat Part II (1974). Years later it was discovered that "Thomas" was actually Mark Suben, who taught at Syracuse University Law School and eventually became DA of Cortland County in upstate New York. Suben, who'd lied about his past in adult films when it was brought up during campaign time, got in hot water in 2012 when his past was exposed. He finally came clean about it but refused to resign.


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