The Passions of Carol (1975)

What do you mean, it’s the beginning of spring? In a corner of our hearts, it is always Christmas – or, at least, it had better be. Otherwise there’s a triptych of night terrors just waiting in the darkness, to show what will become of us if we don’t celebrate the season, all year round.
Or so said Charles Dickens, and so says Shaun Costello, director of what remains, thirty-seven years after it was made, the greatest XXX Christmas movie of them all, an adaptation of the old scribe’s A Christmas Carol that is as faithful as it ought to be, and as hot as you would hope.
Mary Stuart is Carol Scrooge, the hardbitten publisher of a low rent flesh mag called Biva. Hardbitten and hopelessly unsentimental as well. When her lay-out guy Bob Hatchet (an adorable Jamie Gillis), protests that he should not have to work late on Christmas Eve, she threatens to dismiss him. When her house cleaner makes the same request, she too finds the axe hanging over her. Even the Elvis impersonator who stops by the office to drop off some photographs finds himself forced to perform for his rapacious would-be employer, although a lengthy threesome with Scrooge and her receptionist probably wasn’t too demanding for him, even on this most hallowed of days.
Ah, but then Scrooge goes to bed that night, and things take a turn for the terrifying. A former partner, Lance Marley (Marc Stevens), rises from his grave to warn Carol of her upcoming visitors, and oh my God, the make-up department excelled themselves here. Cobwebbed and off color, bedecked in chains and rolling his eyes, Marley cares for just one thing – the redemption of Scrooge’s soul. Oh, and getting a decent blowjob. Apparently nobody in Heaven knows how to do them properly.
And who are these visitors who will shatter Scrooge’s sleep? The Ghost of Christmas Past, who transports Scrooge back to a childhood holiday, as she coerced two of her friends into having sex with her. The Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows her a scene of red hot tender passion between Bob Hatchet and his wife Tiny Kim (Kim Pope). And the Ghost of Christmas Future, who reveals the horrors that await an unrepentant Scrooge – turning cheap tricks in a shoddy motel room for whichever lowlife has the necessary bucks.
With dialogue lifted wholesale from the original story, and a soundtrack that may or may not have asked permission to excerpt great swathes of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (but does so anyway), exquisite sets and some genuinely strong performances from its cast, The Passions of Carol emerged into the world exactly thirty-seven years ago this month – an odd time for a Christmas movie to open, and one that was rewarded with no reward at all. Director Costello, writing in the booklet that accompanies the movie’s most recent DVD release, recalls opening at two theaters. One, a traditional porn venue, returned a “disappointing” box office; the other, a mainstream venue, was “downright disastrous.”
And that was it. The Passions of Carol slipped back beneath the waves, a favorite of a handful of cult movie enthusiasts (Cinema Sewer raves about it, and I’ve watched it most Christmases since I discovered it about five years ago), but forgotten until…
Until Distribpix took the tired old tapes and brought them back to life with a stunning restoration, a part of their newly launched Platinum Elite Series (Blonde Ambition and Maraschino Cherry have similar editions), complete with an often hilarious audio commentary from Costello, and a bonus featurette, The Deuce, looking back on how Times Square used to be before fast food, megastores and trendy parking lots slung the area’s traditional clientele out on their asses. (Although there is a certain wry amusement to be had from knowing you can now buy your hot creamy coffee from the same place where hot cream of a very different sort once flowed so copiously.)
So no, it’s not Christmas and many of you reading this might not celebrate it anyway. It doesn’t matter.  The Passions of Carol might not slot effortlessly into the pantheon of true festive traditions, the Grinch and Heatmiser, Santa Claus the Movie and It’s A Wonderful Life.
But when I want to be warmed by something more than chestnuts, and the yule log has blurred through too much eggnog… I don’t even have to reach into my stocking. The Passions of Carol are already in the DVD player.
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