Thursday, 11 September 2008

Sin in the Suburbs (1964)

Sin in the Suburbs is a terrifically odd and entertaining early sexploitation flick from Joe Sarno, released by Something Weird Video. It was made in 1964, it features nothing even approaching graphic sex, and virtually no nudity, and in fact it’s a surprisingly serious look at suburban hypocrisy.

In a perfect little small town somewhere in Middle America, life seems to be about as respectable as could possibly be imagined. But behind the doors of those perfect little suburban houses, there’s sin and debauchery aplenty! In fact the favoured social activity in
this town is wife-swapping. But not just wife-swapping, but wife-swapping on a commercial basis, and organised as something that bears a remarkable resemblance to a satanic cult!

In fact the wife-swapping circle is extraordinarily similar to the mysterious cult in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. So similar, that one can’t help suspecting that Kubrick must have seen this movie!

Sin in the Suburbs deals with sexual hypocrisy, but it also deals with emptiness and alienation. The lives of these denizens of small town USA are so lonely and empty, so emotionally dead, that they are simply desperate for any kind of sensation. And it’s made as a serious movie, it has a coherent plot, and reasonably competent acting. It also manages to be surprisingly sleazy. Not so much sleazy in a cheap exploitative way, but in a rather confronting sort of way.

Joe Sarno’s career roughly parallels that of Russ Meyer, but what’s fascinating is that their styles make them almost polar opposites. Where Meyer’s movies are over-the-top and cartoonish and wildly extravagant, Sin in the Suburbs is dark and brooding and subtle. There are no sudden outbursts of violence, just a slow unravelling of people’s lives. The sex club/cult scenes, with the respectable townsfolk in their masks getting up to sexual naughtiness, are very effectively done.

It’s a fascinating social document, made even more interesting by the revelation that it’s based on actual events in a perfect little small town. It’s a much better movie than I was expecting, so it looks like I’ll be seeking out more Joe Sarno films.

The transfer on the Something Weird DVD isn’t pristine by any means, but many of Sarno’s movies don’t survive at all, and the source material used was apparently the last surviving print of this particular movie so we should be grateful for the opportunity of seeing it at all. I recommend this one. It’s also worth mentioning that the cast includes Dyanne Thorne (star of the notorious Ilsa movies) and Audrey Campbell (star of the equally notorious Olga films).

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