Illusions of a Lady (1974)

In order to raise funds for his ambitious Through the Looking Glass, as idiosyncratic a genre film as can be imagined, Jonas Middleton bastardized an R-rated script he allegedly wrote with then girlfriend Christa Helm, the tragic starlet who appeared in Gerard Damiano's offbeat horror flick Legacy of Satan and whose 1977 murder has never been fully solved. Cutting out huge chunks of expository dialogue to accommodate the adult industry's required "commercial scenes" made for something of a bewildering curiosity yet, like Looking Glass, it remains utterly beguiling as much or even more for what it leaves out as for what's properly explained away.

Proving her commanding performance in Sam Weston's subsequent Seduction of Lyn Carter was no fluke, disco diva Andrea True chews up the scenery along with much of the supporting cast as Dr. Miranda Woolf, a renowned psychologist who has invited a number of sexually dysfunctional patients at her beach-side retreat for the weekend. Opening flashback footage hints at parental abuse suffered by the good lady doctor, suggesting that not all may be well inside her possibly delusional mind at present. Aided by assistant Davey Jones, who was featured in such early classics as Joe Sarno's Sleepy Head and Toby Ross's extremely elusive Not Just Another Woman (the movie our very own Benson Hurst has dedicated his life to tracking down and which I almost accidentally caught at my local fleapit over a quarter of a century ago), Woolf kick-starts the mind games by ordering her guests to remove their underwear prior to urging them to experiment, naturally leading to the movie's many surprisingly well-done sexual scenarios.

Al Levitsky a/k/a "Roger Caine" of Shaun Costello's Dan McCord fame plays half of an unhappily married couple with lovely Michelle Magazine who was in Al Gordon's Fringe Benefits as well as Roberta Findlay's patchwork New York City Woman. Apparent one shot wonder Martine Gay portrays Trala, the predatory lesbian back when they were all perceived as such, and reminds me of a more curvaceous version of Jessie St. James. Helen (sometimes Mary) Madigan appears as yet another happy go lucky hippie chick, undoubtedly because that's what she always looked like, making her performance as the female rapist in Claude Goddard's shocking Winter Heat all the more unnerving, on a par with Jeramie Rain's indelible turn in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. Even occasional carnal classic watchers can't miss Jamie Gillis as cross-dressing mama's boy Stuart though.

This motley bunch steadily careens out of control, culminating with group therapy gone quite mad as Miranda's mauled by one patient after the other, imagining gory mutilation in the process, following in the wake of an utterly deranged kitchen sequence that highlights True's impressive acting chops as she delivers a fevered monologue whilst abusing herself with garden greens ! Final frozen image of the dazed doctor stumbling into the surf as her guests arrive, suggesting that all has taken place within the confines of her sick psyche, provides a hauntingly beautiful capper to this unsung little gem, still awaiting a decent DVD release as we speak (hint !), photographed in out of the blue lyrical style by the normally underwhelming C.O. Slavens whose main claim to fame was working on Carter Stevens' characteristically undemanding The Collegiates.

Directed and Produced by Jonas Middleton.  Written by Middleton, Anthony Fall and Christa Helm (uncredited).  Photographed by C.O. Slavens (as C.O. Slavenovitch).  Music by Arlon Ober.  Edited by Maurizio Zaubmann.  Starring Andrea True (Dr. Miranda Woolf), Jamie Gillis (Stuart), Helen Madigan (Lorie), Roger Caine (Howard), Davey Jones (Robin), Michelle Magazine (Leslie) and Martine Gay (Trala).  Running time : 70 minutes.

Jamie Gillis as a cross-dressing mama's boy ? Mmm...reeks of typecasting to me !


Illusions of a future release.....

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