A door-to-door salesman (Marc Stevens, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES) pulls up outside a house and knocks on the door. Dowdy, bespectacled Sylvia (Joanna Bell) answers the door and sheepishly lets him in.

The salesman wastes no time in giving the timid spinster a demonstration of his vacuum cleaner, littering her brown carpet then allowing his hoover to suck the mess up. This triggers something inside Sylvia, and takes on a different persona (different hair and make-up, she loses the glasses). This new persona seduces the salesman on the kitchen floor.

Cue Sylvia's cousin Toby (Pamela Serpe, THREE THE HARD WAY), who has driven to visit Sylvia and brought her college roommate Sheila (Helen Madigan, DEEP THROAT 2) along for the ride. As they pull up outside Sylvia's place, Toby tells Sheila how much she worries about her cousin, who has become withdrawn and strange since the death of her parents. The girls get an eyeful when they walk in on Sylvia with the salesman - much to Toby's chagrin and much to Sheila's amusement - and retire back to their car while the lovers finish their business.

Watching the salesman leave, Toby and Sheila re-enter the house and are greeted by Sylvia who is now back to being pious and mousy. She gives them a room each for the night and offers to prepare a meal for them.

But when Sylvia spies Sheila's naked form upon leaving the shower, once more a repressed urge is triggered within her and that night she seduces the guest with an electric toothbrush.

In the morning, Sheila wakes Toby up from a dream/flashback of the time when she first witnessed Sylvia's schizophrenic sexual nature, and boasts to her that she and Sylvia "got it on last night". Toby is appalled, and demands that Sheila leave the house.

Worrying that her cousin is slipping steadily into a state of sexual psychosis, Toby visits a local priest for advice - even asking if he would be prepared to attempt an exorcism. The priest suggests other routes should be tried first (electro-shock therapy: psycho-analysis) and then regales Toby with a story of how Sylvia seduced one of his aides a short while ago (which we see in graphic flashback).

Undeterred, Toby drops by on Sylvia's doctor, Balaban (the film's director Peter Savage [HYPNOROTICA], appearing under the pseudonym of Armand Peters). But can anyone help save Sylvia from her various split personalities and her penchant for licking hairy bum-cracks?

SYLVIA is an odd, beguiling little film. It's rumoured that Bell never acted again and was thrown into a mental hospital not longer after SYLVIA's theatrical release in 1977. This is not hard to imagine - her performance is imbued with a manic, barely restrained energy. There's a fire in her eyes, even when she's playing the God-fearing shrew who worships at the feet of a Virgin Mary statue in her home. There's something crazed in her expression and body language - almost like an unspoken anger. But it makes for some undeniably hot lovemaking scenes (albeit with the unusual addition of some very enthusiastic arse licking!).

The rest of the cast cope well with an uncommon amount of dialogue, in what is a surprisingly articulate and well-considered porno - not just interested in the money shots but genuinely intent on probing into psychosexual dramatics as well.

Savage's script is definitely a cut above standard 70's porno fare, and is delivered with verve by the largely youthful cast. Also, the film is well-paced, with Toby's misgivings over her cousin's erratic behaviour building steadily in the first hour, then giving way to surprisingly violent moments during the final third.

Production values are low, as is to be expected, but there is good lighting and some interesting camera angles which help combat this. Also, the jarring score helps make this feel more like a "legit" film, as do the cheapo FX (superimposing different images on Bell's face as she "changes" character).

As for the sex, it's all good - less boring and repetitive than your average wankfest.

After Hours Cinema's disc presents the film uncut in a 1.78:1 transfer, which has been enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. Images are reasonably bright and grain-free, although there's a fair bit of speckling and vertical lines darting across the screen throughout. Visually, the presentation is on a par with After Hours' release of FORCED ENTRY.

The English mono audio is problem-free.

Although there is no scene-selection menu, the film can be navigated by way of your remote handset, via 19 chapters.

The best extra on offer is an engaging commentary track by Bill Lustig (MANIAC) and film historian Michael J Bowen. Lustig is energetic and filled with great anecdotes regarding the film's shoot (he acted as assistant director, on account of being the nephew of Jake La Motta - Savage's good friend). He positively creams himself when stating that no porno actors made it in mainstream films, then remembers Sonny Landham's success in 48 HRS. It's a fun listen, most recommended.

Elsewhere we get a trailer for SYLVIA under it's alternative title of A WOMAN A SAINT A DEVIL as well as 17 trailers for other titles, including FORCED ENTRY, A TOUCH OF GENIE and an alternate trailer for the main feature bearing the title SYLVIA.

Finally there's an excellent 8-page booklet with colour photographs and well-researched liner notes from Bowen.

The DVD comes in a regular keepcase, with an additional card slipcase for added attraction.

SYLVIA is an above average porno film with some interesting plot devices, sincere performances and tight direction from Savage. If Lustig's claim on the commentary track is true - Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese attended it's theatrical premiere - then let that act as a further seal of approval. A good film, bolstered by an insane performance from Bell.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by After Hours Cinema
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review