Jan 21, 2014

Illusions of a Lady

While best known today for his truly depraved and audaciously anti-erotic cult horror arthouse porn masterpiece Through the Looking Glass (1976), Georgia-born auteur and all-around gentleman Jonas Middleton had previously directed two adult films which long ago fell into obscurity. Luckily, I was recently able to track down a rather scratched print of the once-mysterious filmmaker’s second film Illusions of a Lady (1974), which is a virtual prototype for Through the Looking Glass and features the sort of hallucinatory hardcore ‘horror’ that Middleton is revered for, albeit in a more rudimentary, minimalistic, archaic, and gritty form. The sadistically salacious and unwaveringly cynical celluloid story of a malicious yet cultivated megalomaniac lady psychiatrist with serious daddy issues who gets off to fucking with her patients' minds by coercing them into fucking other patients in rather bizarre and even hateful ways under the false pretense of providing them with 'therapy' in an exceedingly loose plot that vaguely resembles Jacques Scandelari's Beyond Love and Evil (1971), Illusions of a Lady is a patently perverse psychodrama of the brutal blue movie sort that reminds one how genuinely cruel and artfully grating pornography can be in the ‘right’ hands. Indeed, as auteur Middleton recently revealed in a podcast interview, he originally wanted to be a serious filmmaker and never had any interest in becoming a pornographer, but was offered the money by some young hotshot investor types at his church who wanted to make a pretty profit, so naturally the popularity of porn chic was the answer. Indeed, somewhat unbelievably funded by capitalist-minded Christian friends at the director's elite Christian church, Illusions of a Lady would prove to be the second yet ultimately penultimate avant-garde porn work by Middleton as the auteur did some soul-searching after being charged with five felony charges of obscenity and realized he was taking an unrighteous path and quit though he had much monetary and artistic success, especially with his magnum opus Through the Looking Glass. Purportedly co-written with Middleton’s then-girlfriend Christa Helm (Legacy of Satan, Let's Go for Broke), who was mysteriously murdered in 1977 under dubious (and unsolved) circumstances (some have speculated that she was killed by the same person warped pizza delivery guy that killed Sal Mineo), as an R-rated script that would eventually (de)evolve into an aesthetically ferocious fuck flick that would set the stage for Through the Looking Glass, Illusions of a Lady is nothing short of a lost classic that reminds the viewer that there was actually a time when pornography pushed more than just sexual boundaries as a vicious and venomous aberrant-garde work that has the opposite effect of Viagra. 

 Degenerate Dr. Miranda Woolf (Andrea True) has invited a number of her sexually perverted patients for a two-day orgy at her beachside mini-mansion (which was apparently owned in real-life by French prostitutes who ‘retired’ at the home) in the Hamptons in Long Island.  Despite being a professional psychiatrist, Miranda seems to have a screw or two loose as she records sexually sadistic rants on a tape recorder for her father and she owns more cute and cuddly girly toy stuffed animals than a toy store. While Miranda describes the debasing get together as a form of “therapy to break inhibitions,” she has much more odious objectives like, as she states herself, “I’m going to make Howard fuck Lorie in the ass,” among various other perverse plots she has nonsensically recorded in a tape-recorder. The first thing Dr. Woolf does when her patients arrive is force them to all strip totally naked, which all the guests rather reluctantly do. From there, a patient named Howard (Roger Caine) describes his dismay about losing a race with a girl at age 11, so Miranda orders him to relive the experience with another patient named Lucy (Helen Madigan); indeed, to the dismay of his partner, he proves ‘fast finisher’ in the bedroom. Meanwhile, Howard’s wife Trala (Michelle Magazine) is forced to get involved in a carpet-munching session with an aggressive lesbo. While everyone else is involved in a twosome, an infantile Jewish mamma’s boy named Stuart (Jamie Gillis) goes drag by putting on a bra and a pair of panties and begins masturbating while licking a pair of high heels.  Of course, Dr. Woolf is not too happy when she walks in on Stuart urinating in her panties. In the kitchen, Dr. Woolf prepares dinner by shoving a carrot up her cunt, while an impotent twink named Robin (Davey Jones) prepares the ‘special sauce’ by masturbating. Possibly inspired by the ‘Cake of Light’—the bittersweeet eucharistic host of Aleister Crowley’s religion Thelema—wimp Robin squirts out a small batch of baby-batter into a spoon as the secret ingredient for dinner. For whatever reason, Miranda eventually gets pissed off that her patients are starting to have passionate orgies in her living room, so she tries to kill all said patients in her house of sexual horrors and whores, but they rebel and take revenge against the debauched doctor. Ultimately, all of the patients collectively rape and torture Miranda and eventually she seems to begin to enjoy it.  Indeed, after being beaten bloody with a whip and raped by a lesbo with a strap-on dildo, Miranda is the one who will need a psychiatrist by the climatic conclusion of the daunting two day orgy.  Of course, as the title of the film hints at, the whole entire weekend, including the rape, is merely the perverse product of the psychiatrist’s damaged mind. While Miranda did indeed invite her patients over for a two day getaway, the party has yet to begin and everything that happened, including her brutal gang rape, was merely the result of schizophrenia. When Miranda’s patients finally arrive to the party, Miranda makes her escape out of the backdoor of her house and heads to the beach while wearing nothing but a loosely fastened robe. In the end, having lost control of her mind, body, and authority, Dr. Miranda Woolf drowns herself in the bay. 

 In terms of pornography, Illusions of a Lady—with its limp dick porn stars who cannot completely ‘rise to the occasion,’ lesbian ‘cunning linguist’ scenes where the women do not go beyond licking the pubes of their partners, and all around monotonous and seemingly narcotic-fueled sex scenes—is nothing short of marvelously mediocre, but in terms of aberrant celluloid art, the film is most certainly a minor masterpiece of sorts. Rather unfortunately, as auteur Jonas Middleton revealed in a fairly recent interview on the Rialto Report, he has no interest in re-releasing Illusions of a Lady, stating of his second porn flick that “It’s a marginal film” and adding “it’s not the kind of message I would want to get across to people so much so yeah its not something I’m particularly proud of.” Personally, I have to respectfully disagree with Middleton as while Illusions of a Lady is not up to par with the almost demonic majesty of Through the Looking Glass, it is certainly one of the most foreboding, strangely atmospheric, spiritually sick, and uniquely uncompromising fuck flicks that I have ever seen. Featuring an excellent soundtrack by Arlon Ober (Through the Looking Glass, Eating Raoul) that ranges from eerie and discordant proto-industrial/power electronics noise to spiritually sinister Gregorian chants, as well as mostly pathetic forms of sexual dysfunctional and fetishism, Illusions of a Lady is ultimately a uniquely anti-erotic piece of celluloid perversion that could only arouse the most lost and damned of sexual degenerates. As director Middleton stated in the Rialto Report regarding his artistic agenda while creating Through the Looking Glass, “I think there was a part of me that wrote that movie where I was in a way kind of laughing at the people who went to see these kind of movies because you know in a way it was kind of sad,” and, indeed, despite their pulchritude and sensuality, the characters of Illusions of a Lady are ultimately rather depressing fuck-ups who cannot fuck properly and who no semi-normal person would think of respecting or glorifying. Somewhat surprisingly, Middleton was charged with five felony accounts of distributing obscene material across state lines in Louisiana in regard to his porn flicks, yet a group of old women deemed the films “socially redeeming” and he was cleared of all charges. Indeed, I have to concur with those old Southern gals as Illusions of a Lady is one of the few films that damningly depicts the dark undercurrent of both the porn industry and sex in post-counter-culture America in general, thus making Jonas Middleton a sort of dead serious Paul Morrissey of pornography, albeit with a more cultivated aesthetic with a talent for iconic tableaux. More sophisticated and socially conscious than the films of Radley Metzger (The Image, The Opening of Misty Beethoven) and more tenebrous and anti-titillating than most of the films of Fred Halsted (LA Plays Itself, Sextool), Illusions of a Lady may be a small and largely forgotten film, but it is also one of only a handful of porn flicks that curdles one soul. 

-Ty E

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