Pleasure Palace (1979)

 If not the best (his considerably more erotic 1977 Jail Bait takes the cake in that department) then at least by far the best-plotted of Carter Stevens's not quite A-list efforts, Pleasure Palace benefits tremendously from a solid script by the director and "Al Hazrad" (actually Al Goldstein's assistant editor Richard Jaccoma, going some way to explaining the odd alias) and a cast more than capable of handling its diverse requirements. Too often taken for granted, Eric Edwards proves as dependable as always portraying Jimmy Stone, a former vice cop fired from the squad for being too lenient on a lowlife pimp. Out of gratitude, the latter has sold him his Connecticut cathouse for peanuts, an investment he has agreed to share with his shyster lawyer buddy Mike Green, memorably played by the equally easy to underestimate Bob Bolla. Both actors prove utterly believable as friends and their effortless banter not only brings their characters to life but also helps to sustain audience interest for its surprisingly long stretches between sex scenes. For some reason, Edwards doesn't even have a sex scene here...

While any adult film fan of some longevity expects stellar turns from these two actors, superstar Serena's the real revelation here, shaping up as Bolla's girl Friday Carol in a performance of great warmth and sympathy. As big an industry icon as she was, it often seemed like she couldn't be bothered to act, Gary Graver's Ecstasy Girls, Bill Milling's Blonde in Black Silk and (of all people) the generally maligned Leonard Kirtman's Seka showcase Princess ranking as notable exceptions to the rule. She steadfastly delivered the goods sexually however, sufficiently accounting for those throngs of devoted admirers, and this flick more than fits the bill. Satisfying though her encounters with Bob definitely are, it's her appropriately nasty trade-off (as was their trademark) with then boyfriend Jamie Gillis most will remember. The recently deceased Gillis further ups the ante as mobster Joe "Goodson" Buonfiglio, exuding credible menace as was his forte, eager to home in on our heroes' cottage industry once they got business up and running and the reason why the original owner sold the place off for a pithance in the first place.

Speaking of which, Carter Stevens endeared himself to not always entirely on the level investors by rigorously remaining within time and budgetary constraints, leaving little room for stylistic flourishes, so that eye-punishingly scarlet interior, where unfortunately a lot of the action takes place, is just something you will have to live with. Look at the bright side, it's a great way to tune the color control on your TV set ! Carnal comedians Roger Caine and Bobby Astyr are cleverly cast as a double act playing Goodson's bumbling henchmen turning unexpectedly nasty for the final brutally mood-shifting reel. Caine gets to keep it in his pants as well, he was notoriously iffy in that department anyway, but the late Astyr does a solid number on veteran performer Erica Havens whose career extends all the way back to the early '70s and Damiano's Devil in Miss Jones. Lisa Heyman's the short-haired blonde in the bathtub with old coot Jake Teague and Joey Silvera as judge and sheriff respectively, also seen in Shaun Costello's minor league Psycho knock-off More Than Sisters. One of the industry's more shall we say idiosyncratic performers, Veri Knotty got her porn name from her party trick specialty, there's just no nice way of putting this, tying her lower labia in knots ! As a credit to the unsung talents of Stevens's regular and also recently passed on DoP Bruce Sparks (aka "Prudence Prevails"), I don't think she has ever looked prettier and thankfully keeps her special ability to herself on this occasion.

Directed & produced by Carter Stevens. Written by Stevens & Richard Jaccoma (as Al Hazrad). Photographed by Bruce G. Sparks (as Prudence Prevails). Edited by Olivia Rivas. Starring Serena (Carol Holstrom), Robert Bolla (Mike Green), Eric Edwards (Jimmy Stone), Jamie Gillis (Joe "Goodson" Buonfiglio), Robin Byrd (Suzy), Bobby Astyr (Pete), Roger Caine (Al), Heather Young (Nancy), Veri Knotty (Jeannie), Lisa Heyman (Mary), Jake Teague (Judge Brennan), Joey Silvera (Sheriff Taylor), Lisa Marks (Hooker), Erica Havens (Pete's Prostitute) & David Pierce (Mayor). Running time : 80 minutes.

Always the sexual dynamo, Serena (pictured with Arcadia Lake in Bill Milling's Blonde in Black Silk) shows credible acting chops as well for the occasion