Monday, 6 October 2014

Voices of Desire (1972)

I should probably clear up straight away that Voices of Desire is in no way a 'Nasty', and is just barely a horror film. My review of it has ended up on Video Nasty for the same reason I was led to track down this barely-known softcore skinflick in the first place: The Sandra Cassell Mystery. Probably the most puzzling figure to be part of Wes Craven's Last House On The Left crew, was beautiful young Sandra Cassell (or Peabody), who played Mari Collingwood. She was glorious to look at, and a very good actress. But her post-Last House career is shrouded by different sources giving very different stories. In David Szulkin's book about the movie, which contains her only known interview, she stated that she only made one other movie after Last House (though its production year is unknown) entitled The Seven Deadly Sins, with the untraceable Horse Killer, and Filthiest Show In Town preceding in 1971. This apparently concludes the acting career of Cassell, except for two soap operas and a handful of commercials, before she went on to television production and acting coaching.

However, the world wide wonder of the Internet, offered a few alternatives. Her IMDb page became somewhat plagued by a poster who claimed to be a member of Cassell's family, and vehemently insisted that she only ever made Last House on the Left. They also passionately decried that she didn't make 'porn', and that that was a different Sandra Cassell. This dispute apparently forced Wikipedia to recognise the difference of the two women, one being a porn actress, the other being just an actress. However, her current Wiki page spells her name Cassel, yet the movies in which she used this pseudonym credit her as Cassell. Well, there is no record of a porn actress named Sandra Cassell, spelt with one or two Ls, and yet there are a couple of titles now credited to the one and only Ms Cassell, which could be the key to the confusion.

From 1970 to 1976, Sandra is accredited to: The Model Hunters, Love-In '72, The Last House On The Left, Voices of Desire, Filthiest Show in Town, Legacy of Satan, Teenage Hitch-Hikers, and Massage Parlor Hookers. It's true, these titles do have a certain undercurrent of sex and horror to them. Despite my copious reading, I have only actually seen two of these movies. However, research suggests that Cassell's career consisted mainly of softcore sex films. That is, plenty of sex scenes, but no actual penetration is shown. So for all we know, it's all just faked. But then, given the nature of the industry - and certainly it seemed plausible with Voices of Desire - it could be that the movies were acted and filmed pornographically, and then penetration shots edited out or reframed for a 'regular' audience.

So, on to Voices of Desire itself, which is by no means porn. If it is, then so is Basic Instinct, Last Tango in Paris, etc. Not to really compare Voices of Desire to either of these titles in terms of quality. It quite magically captures a tiny little window in a funky era, and the picture quality and sound are rather minimal. You can only begin to guess the kind of budget and equipment they had for this shoestring flick as you watch, but there is something so delightfully reminiscent about those sorts of elements. We are introduced to Anna (Cassell), who sheepishly makes her way into a detective's office, to tell of an ordeal she has experienced, which is told in flashbacks:

See? That's most definitely Mari Collingwood!
She receives a call at a telephone booth in the city one day, and hears eery voices calling her name. This seems to set off some kind of weird possession. Later, at home, she is suddenly overcome by a nymphomaniacal force, which first manipulates her hands (in a sort of pre-Evil Dead haunted hand thing), and then her whole body, at which point she gives herself over to absolute pleasure...a fruit bowl. This scene is somewhat hilarious, and quite lengthy, but credit to her: Cassell comes up with far more imaginative things to do sexually with fruit than I could ever think of!

 The possession leads her to a creepy mansion, where she is repeatedly seduced by a gang of ghoulish looking hosts. Not to say there's only men - there are women also eager to get it on with their mesmerized captive. There are several sex scenes involving Cassell, who appears totally nude and not in the least bit hesitant. She looks like she's genuinely enjoying herself as she frolics between two men. There is also a scene or two between another girl being held in the mansion and a guy. This is the scene which looks totally pornographic, except for any explicit penetration. Perhaps these two actors were regular hardcore performers, where Cassell stuck to the softcore stuff. Anyway, that's the basic plot of Voices of Desire. A couple of escape attempts are made, but Anna is ultimately overcome by her possessed hands, and the range of pale gaunt lovers on offer.
There's another guy underneath her, by the way.

At the end, we flash back to the present, where Anna is regaling her romps to the detective. His explanation is far from helpful. It's to the effect of "Oh yeah, there was a massive muder/suicide thing up in that very house some twenty years ago. You obviously heard about that and just imagined the rest", just without the sarcasm. Defeated, Anna wanders back out into the city, where she is deafened by the voices once again. The final shot is of the door to the house being thrown open, with all her lovers there waiting for her. Literally the last shot, there aren't even any closing credits. Perhaps there were once, but they got lost on the way between a handful of drive-in theatres, and the attic some guy must have eventually pulled the movie from when it was converted to a DVD format (which, by the way, is one of those homemade style DVD releases. Don't bother searching in HMV.)

Sandra Cassell is cute and very appealing as a leading lady, and here is credited as Liyda Cassell. Voices of Desire was directed by the late legend of soft- and hardcore Chuck Vincent, whose work I am yet to familiarise myself with, but this movie most definitely has style, to the point where you may even refer to it as 'arty' in a very guerrilla way. By today's vomit-inducing standards, Voices of Desire is most certainly not porn, and it probably takes more of a sentimental person like myself to enjoy it. It is far more appealing to see lovers enjoying and embracing each other's bodies than abusing and objectifying them. This is a fun, relatively sexy, delight from the long lost annals of psychedelia.

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