Sylvia (1977)

DVD Cover (After Hours Cinema)
Drama, Hardcore Sex Film, Psychological Drama
Peter Savage Peter Savage
Joanna Bell Joanna Bell
Marc Stevens Marc Stevens
Sonny Landham Sonny Landham
Helen Madigan Helen Madigan
Pamela Serpe Pamela Serpe

5.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Sylvia is seemingly a quiet, reserved, saintly person living on a quiet, reserved well-manicured street in upper-middle class suburbia. However, Sylvia is hiding a secret - she has a multiple promiscuous personality disorder. However, one of her other persona's is about to cross the line. --IMDb
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Review by Chad
Added: July 03, 2008
It's time for a little more hardcore action on the site, because really, can we ever have enough of that? I thought not. What sets this particular film apart from the countless other hardcore offerings to come out of the seventies is not so much the things that were taking place in front of the camera, but instead, the things and the people behind the camera. Take, for example, writer and director Peter Savage (credited here as Armand Peters). Just another peddler of hardcore smut? Not quite: he's the guy who helped write the book that Raging Bull was based on, and he also had a hand in both producing and acting in the film adaptation. As if that wasn't enough, he also had a minor role in Taxi Driver.

Alright, there's one name down - who else was behind that camera? Why, it's none other than William Lustig of Maniac and Maniac Cop fame taking on the roles of both assistant director and production manager at the tender age of just seventeen. Finally, we come to the star of the film, a young lady by the name of Joanna Bell who plays a woman with some severe mental issues. Wait, Joanna who? It's no surprise that you probably haven't heard of this woman, as this was both her debut and final appearance in a film before being committed to an insane asylum, escaping, and then being committed to another asylum. A true case of life imitating art if there ever was one.

So, with all of that out of the way, let's take a look at the actual film, shall we? Basically a hardcore remake of Sybil, Sylvia tells the tale of a young lady named - you guessed it - Sylvia (Joanna Bell), a religious zealot who wants nothing more than to live a normal, quiet life while serving the Lord, but as fate would have it, she has a touch of multiple personality disorder. Actually, "a touch" would be understating it, as she has seven different personalities that spring forth at the slightest provocation, and these personalities range from sexually promiscuous to downright slutty. A door-to-door salesman shows up attempting to sell her a vacuum cleaner? Something gets sucked, but it sure as hell isn't the dirt off the floor. A lay-brother attempts to console her? It doesn't take long before the cross on the wall isn't the only "hard wood" in the room.

Although they don't know exactly what is going on, Sylvia's actions have prompted her cousin Toby (Pamela Serpe) and Toby's friend Sheila (Helen Madigan) to intervene and attempt to help. Sheila is a swinger who loves the open lifestyle, and as such, she finds Sylvia's actions to be perfectly normal and she even encourages her behavior; Toby, however, realizes that there is a problem here, and as such, she attempts to get her cousin the help that she needs by seeking assistance from both religious and medical professionals. Director Peter Savage plays the doctor, and we have ourselves a film.

As you can probably guess, this is a porn film from the good old days, back before the whole "gonzo" revolution. Remember when porn came with a storyline and honest-to-goodness acting? That's what we get here, and although the stories from behind the camera are more exciting, I have to admit that the storyline actually wasn't half bad. It's nothing terribly groundbreaking, mind you, but for a porn film, it had more depth than a lot of its competitors. Of course, the storyline leads to a lot of sex scenes which are actually less interesting than the actual storyline - bizarre, I know, but that's how it worked out. Speaking of bizarre, I found it a bit odd that the director's personal tastes seemed to creep into these scenes. Anilingus ("rimjobs" for the savages reading this) plays a part in damned near every sex scene of the movie, and it really seemed a bit out of place given that this was otherwise a "straight" porno flick.

Joanna Bell is the real attraction of the film, both figuratively and literally. She is by no means a great actress or even a particularly good one, but there's just something about her that makes you unable to turn away when she's on the screen. She genuinely seems to be a bit disturbed while performing some of these scenes, and as a result, I really wasn't all that shocked when I read about what happened to her after filming wrapped. You can tell that there's something a little off about this lady, and this leads to some interesting viewing to say the very least.

Overall, Sylvia is an interesting little film, made much more so by the stories from behind the camera. It's average enough as a standalone film, but much like Plan 9 from Outer Space, this is not a film that you pick up for the storyline or the artistic merits: it's a film that you pick up just so that you can say you've seen it, and Joanna Bell makes damned sure that you get your money's worth in that regard. 7.5/10.
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