Sunday, October 26, 2008

Abigail Leslie is back in Town (1975)

Well, well, the nearly 4 years that I've been attending Weird Wednesday, there have been 3 directors that have punctuated my weekly cinema exploration: Al Adamson, Andy Milligan, & Joe Sarno. Adamson was sort of an everyman's director, who took whatever material he could get his hands on and did what he could with it, with varying degrees of success. Regardless of the subject matter though, an Adamson movie was always an "Adamson" movie. Milligan on the other hand was a shoestring budget auteur whose productions were mostly period pieces complete with hand-sewn costumes, reused sets, and loads of dialogue, mostly of the bickering and bitching variety. He was also a huge asshole apparently; whose real-life final act mirrored the best possible twist in any of his productions.

That brings us to Joe Sarno, a psychology major, whose Sex films, especially in the 60's, were more concerned with the character's motives than with their sexual actions. Known in some circles these days as "the Ingmar Bergman of sex films," his movies combined starkly-photographed, envelope-pushing scenes of titillation with suburban settings, and complex, yet compelling Soap Opera-esque performances. He's especially known for providing strong female characters in a genre where the opposite was usually the case. Most of his films that I have seen, with the exception of "Swedish Wildcats," were black & white Dramas that carried the ambiance of Film Noir into the world of Skin Flicks, and along the way mixed in occult themes, corruption, and paranoia.

This screening of "Abigail Leslie" was part of a Weird Wednesday double feature along with "All the Sins of Sodom," and was presented with Joe Sarno (now 87 years old) Live and in Person. If I had to guess, I would venture to say that this film was made either shortly before or shortly after his transition from Soft-core to Hardcore, due mostly to the excess of full frontal nudity, which was definitely more than any other Sarno film I've seen at the Alamo.

The only reason I note that is because I had invited two of my younger friends to the show, one of them 18 and the other 19 year olds, and neither one had any idea what they were in for. I imagine they were shocked and quite confused by the thought-provoking Q & A and mature analysis that followed the screening. One of them quite perfectly described the movie as "a housewife porno, but with 'real' housewives."

The story centers on Priscilla (Rebecca Brooke, giving an uncommonly strong performance in a Sex film), content yet bored housewife whose marriage was thrown into peril some years earlier by her friend and town jezebel, Abigail Leslie (Jennifer Jordan). After Abigail's betrayal, her own marriage fell apart and she left the town of Baypoint.

The film begins with the news of "that hot-pants-bitch," Abigail Leslie being back in town. Upon hearing the news, Priscilla attempts to play it cool, but retreats as fast as she can to the beach. There, she reflects back on the events that fill her with such dread. In a flashback we see Priscilla and her friend, Tracy (played by Susan Sloan), catching Abigail in bed with Priscilla's husband, Gordon. The line delivery by Tracy is the perfect contrast to Priscilla's horrified expression; "They say 'a kettle of hot water helps in times like these.'" It's at this point that the audience is introduced to Abigail's dead eyes and smoky detached voice.

Every Monday and Wednesday Priscilla goes to the beach where she meets up with Chester, a nice-guy handyman who has the eyes for Priscilla, but the two of them are too shy to take their rendezvous one step further. Meanwhile Abigail returns to the local boat yard (where most of the film takes place) and meets up with some of the other local housewives. It's not very long before Priscilla's husband hears the news and sets up a secret meeting of his own with Abigail.

Priscilla suspects as much of her husband, and feels sorrow, frustration, and confusion about her crumbling marriage, even though everyone around her, including her naughty aunt Drucilla and her beau, Bo (played by Sonny Landham of "Predator" and "48 Hours" fame), urge her to enjoy the freedom that comes with an open marriage.

Meanwhile, Abigail begins the seduction not only of every man in town, but of every woman too. I remember during the first 45 minutes of the film thinking that it was all so scandalous. The enjoyment derived from it was on par with the kind you get from hearing juicy gossip. Abigail's line delivery and philosophies in particular made me chuckle and gasp throughout. When asked why cheerleaders look more pretty today, Abigail responds "Oh, they eat better and fuck more." When she seduces one of the ladies, she says "give me your tongue damn it, give it to me!"

So much of the first half of the film is filled with seedy conversations and sleazy seductions, and all the while I felt that Abigail was concocting a plot for revenge. As the film progressed it became more and more clear that her plot was not so much vengeance as was forgiveness, well, forgiveness through a LOT of sex. Virtually the entire second half of the film is filled with sex scenes. As a result, it felt like the plot and characters eventually were crushed under the weight of all that sex screen time. Of course, I'm the kind of guy that gets bored with sex scenes after a while.

At any rate, this movie was pretty awesome, even if the first half was better than the second.

"Abigail Leslie is back in Town" was screened on 10/1/08 at 9:30 and was presented by Weird Wednesday.

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