Monday, June 1, 2009

Through the Looking Glass (1976)

Directed by:
Jonas Middleton

Back in the early-mid '70s when legit X-rated movies first burst onto the scene in this country, there was a trend in film-going referred to as "porno chic." This was a time when adult films were show in respectable theaters, "normal" people actually showed up to watch them without shame and the films being produced were actually films; you know, with dialogue, plots, production values and performances. I know it's hard to imagine, especially nowadays with a return to "traditional values" and "morals," someone like your neighbor Lou coming up to you and telling you he and his wife just got back from an afternoon showing of DEEP THROAT, but people were actually going to see X flicks on a regular basis, were enjoying them and were recommending them to their friends. The downhill slide began sometime in the 1980s with VCR's and video cameras made affordable to any consumer with a thousand or so bucks to throw away. Movies which were shot on film stock a decade earlier started being shot with camcorders. Thousands of tapes flooded the market and an entire genre became a cheap and easy way to conduct business. What can you say, "Sex sells." Of course this took a little time and some quality films still emerged in this decade, but with the internet in the mid 90s things took an even cheaper and more anonymous turn. Tapes stopped selling, adult film "stars" started to grow increasingly less significant and anyone with a camera and a few adventurous friends could become a porn peddler or porn star. So now porn is porn. And porn as film is basically no more. While these older adult films certainly didn't shy away from showing graphic sex, they also didn't completely rely on it. That's precisely why many of these movies are still being sought out to this day and are starting to develop cult followings.

And that brings us to this 1976 effort, which is one of the most respected of all the adult films made in the 70s. It's basically a dark, depressing horror tale with disturbing, unerotic hardcore sex scenes. I've seen far better Gothic ghost/demon/possession movies, but I've certainly seen worse, and that's when you don't even factor the sex into the equation. Former Vogue model Catharine Burgess stars as Catherine, a wealthy, attractive socialite suffering from childhood trauma and failing to connect with anyone around her. She lives in a large, gloomy mansion (where she grew up) with her successful contractor husband Richard (Douglas Wood), teen daughter Jennifer (Laura Nicholson), maid Lisa (Terri Hall) and chauffeur Abel ("Michael Jefferson"/Roger Caine). Instead of spending time trying to connect with any of them, she spends her nights up in the attic gazing into a large antique mirror. Yep, Catherine's a little detached from reality. She starts becoming a little obsessive about stripping off her clothes, admiring her body and pleasuring herself before the mirror, and before long she's able to actually enter inside the mirror to view the sexual encounters of others... or have them herself.

Catherine's late father (Jamie Gillis), whose dignified pictures adorn the mansion walls, seems to be a spirit occupying the mirror... and he's not ready to give up on his precious daughter quite yet. You see, the two of them shared a special "bond" back in the day and have a much "closer" relationship than most father-daughter's do. Is dear old dead dad coming back to warn her or is his materialization in the mirror actually a demon in disguise trying to tempt Catherine over to the dark side? The horror aspects of the films, from the ghost encounters to a red light shining from the attic window a la AMITYVILLE HORROR to a hot, sandy vision of hell, are done fairly well. As far as the sex scenes go, you get a little variety, I guess - some solo stuff, some group stuff, some water stuff, some lesbian stuff, some more fetish-y stuff. In my opinion, little of it is really gold by conventional standards of erotica/porn. It also focuses on the darker aspects of sex, such as incest and rape. The camera shots/lighting aren't always flattering either. One of the most startling shots in this movie is a camera closing in on Catherine's vagina as some green hands zero in on it. Not only do we get a nice gynecological close-up, but the camera literally plunges inside and travels through it in a well lit shot. Have no idea how they pulled it off, but it's one of the most memorable (and least erotic) shots I've seen in a porn.

As far as the acting goes, it's a mixed bag. The leading lady's one-note performance is something of a debit. She's definitely a looker and no worse than usual for adult films, but she acts far too regal, breathless and poised throughout and one wonders what some of the more talented adult actresses, such as Georgina Spelvin (DEVIL IN MISS JONES) or Veronica Hart, could have done with this role. Gillis, however, is very effective in his role and gives a standout performance. Future director Joel Bender (THE RETURNING, THE IMMORTALIZER) was the assistant to the producer and some of the music was obviously done by Harry (FRIDAY THE 13TH) Manfredini because it sounds just like all of his other scores (not bad here, though).


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