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A Saint…A Woman…A Devil…

Review by: 
Sinferno
AKA: 
Sylvia
Release Date: 
1976
Studio: 
Vinegar Syndrome
Genre: 
Cult/Oddity
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
1 NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 
1.85:1
Directed by: 
Peter Savage
Cast: 
Joanna Bell
Marc Stevens
Sonny Landham
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
2
Bottom Line: 
4
Video: 
Click to Play

Long before Psychiatrists everywhere largely debunked the glamour (and authenticity) of Dissociative Identity Disorder, it became a popular film topic of some note. Between the made for TV film SYBIL (1976) and THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1954) audiences from decades ago delighted in the onscreen bewilderment of central female characters that possessed several distinct identities (most of whom were somehow incompatible with one another). Continuing this trend, (as well as corrupting it forever as old flesh films must) this ancient adult film sought to show the sexier side of mental illness by introducing us to Sylvia, a girl who wears many nametags and somehow very little clothing...  Let us take a look at A Saint…A Woman…A Devil…and see if this film has got any “personality”.

As we are introduced to Sylvia we she is a devout woman in traditional dress who lets a vacuum salesman into her house.   Borrowing a strange frame by frame transformation trick from old black and white monster movies from the thirties, her makeup changes immediately (yet somehow frame by frame) until she becomes a crazy looking slut named Mona who shows the young man what “proper suction” is all about in ways that would invalidate most household products warranties. Later Sylvia is visited by her cousin and her female friend and she barely has enough time to compose herself and hide her true nature.  Of course this is all for naught for when she spies her female houseguest coming out of the shower, it awakens something awful and wondrous within her and she becomes “Toni” a strange afro headed lesbian who drugs her own cousin’s drink so she falls asleep and will not be disturbed by the sounds of loud lesbian sex coming from the next room as she and her new “friend” diddle each other aggressively with a homemade vibrator that could have only been made from an electric toothbrush. Finally we meet Mary, a prudish girl who dresses conservatively and really wants to fall in love with the right gentleman, yet who can become a ravenous sexual monster at a seconds notice.  Much of the film is based on Sylvia’s bizarre and sexual experimentation with various characters that the viewer will never suspect she will end up having sex with by the end of a scene based on her current “persona”, but then her mind changes (literally) and there (you have/she has) it.  While Joanna Bell (Sylvia) is not what I would call a traditionally beautiful woman who you wish to see naked/having sex onscreen, the mere fact that she can actually pull off several different characters convincingly (even while completely naked and devoid of clothing or props) is a testament to her “skill” as a performer, elevating the filth to at least some level of dramatic storytelling.

Though it often aspires for poignancy, and some semblance of elaborate plot integrity, this film is nuttycrackle insane and it contains the type of onscreen actions that you will never see in a modern adult film anymore in this age of enlightenment.  For example, not only is there a child in this movie (who plays young Sylvia in a non sex scene) but there are lengthy scenes of her being brutally slapped by her mother as an explanation for why Sylvia is so crowded in her thoughts as an adult.  In addition, drinks are drugged, a priest is seduced and there is an attempted rape that went further than even I thought it would. At least it fulfilled on its most base expected, adult film level. Sylvia (and her various identities) are the epitome of crazy fucking/fucking craziness that created a strange cinematic mash-up that could have only come from the 70’s, an era when the American Psychiatric Association had far fewer answers and the adult film industry had far less rules. This resulting film is aptly; authentically schizophrenic in tone.

Extras Include the R rated Cut of the film.  Though I can’t imagine why anyone would actually watch such a version when they had the x rated version two remote clicks away, the completest in me welcomes this nuance and wishes more studios would include it just for the sake of doing so. Additionally, the X rated version is 108 minutes, the longest cut of this film ever to be released to home video in any form.

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