The best of Shaun Costello’s comparatively big budget period (HOT DREAMS being the competition), PANDORA’S MIRROR also stands as the finest TWILIGHT ZONE type adult film ever made, achieving a sustained eeriness right from its opening frames through deliberate pacing, exceptionally beautiful cinematography (credited to “Paolo Coeli”) and Costello’s by now exceedingly familiar record collection (Bernard Herrmann’s VERTIGO theme, a couple of Mike Oldfield tunes in addition to newer selections like Pino Donaggio’s music from De Palma’s CARRIE and the traditional “Woman of Ireland” made popular by Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON) plundered for soundtrack purposes.
To escape her nagging friend Liz (Sandra Hillman, also in Cecil Howard’s FOXTROT), pretty and apparently well to do Pandora (Veronica Hart a/k/a Jane Hamilton, a genre legend who should need no further introduction) rushes into an antiques shop where she stumbles across a gorgeous standing mirror that immediately captures her interest. Though the shop owner (character actor Frederick Foster, who had a bit part in Costello’s BEAUTY and whose slightly hammy style perfectly suits the material) tells her the looking glass is quite worthless and not even for sale, Pandora feels compelled to return on her own and gaze into the mirror as it magically reveals its history. A present by an elderly Civil War era nobleman (Foster plays small parts in each of the movie’s erotic episodes) to his neglected young wife Lydia (Tiffany Clark, whose tan lines seem somewhat out of place for the period), with a frame carved from an oak struck by lightning (explaining its enchanted nature), the mirror inspires lustful intentions in all who look into it. For Clark that means a trio of drunk and horny soldiers (Roy Stuart, Rod Pierce and Marc Valentine) who give the wench the mauling she’s been pining for.
1930′s Hollywood is up next, with pampered screen diva Veronica Barrett (camp queen Marlene Willoughby in a riotously funny turn) initiating the new make-up girl (Lacey Smith) with the aid of her most recent fiancé (underrated Dave Ruby, so memorable in Ron Sullivan’s unjustly overlooked NASTY GIRLS), Cuban butler (Jack Houston) and chauffeur (Bill McKean, the weaselly little guy who was elbow deep into Tiffany Clark in Gerard Damiano’s SATISFIERS OF ALPHA BLUE). Broadway in the ’70s provides the setting for naive Grand Rapids, Michigan resident Bonnie Lemay’s (Hillary Summers, billed as “Heather Gordon”, from Sullivan’s BUDDING OF BRIE) “I’ll do anything” audition for predatory producer Barbara Mellon (Celeste Bon) who tears into her lesbian lover (Kandi Barbour, the girl with the strangest looking breasts ever in porn) while Bonnie gets to strut her stuff on stage with matinée idol Bob Randall (Ron Hudd).
Finally, Foster takes his innocent wife Alice (ethereal Merle Michaels, looking the part), wearing white gloves and shoes, down to a very different kind of Wonderland, the notorious Hellfire Club. Michaels is fed to the wolves as an impromptu orgy gets underway, instigated by Queen Annie Sprinkle (who has never looked more stunning) and performed by the likes of Robin Sane (sporting a bizarre two-tone hairdo), Ron Jeremy, rotund filmmaker Carter Stevens and an appealing submissive credited as “Diane May”, who played Bobby Astyr’s dental assistant in Costello’s AFTERNOON DELIGHTS. While Pandora’s all caught up in the mirror’s sexual history, her boyfriend Peter (Jamie Gillis) seeks solace with the conniving Liz for a scene that has her practically devouring him, one of the most astounding displays of pure animal lust this reviewer has ever witnessed. Pandora gets to fulfill her own fantasy with the bodybuilders (George Payne and Jerry Butler) she’s been ogling on the rooftop across from her apartment while the looking glass does what its name implies, gazing back, waiting to pounce…
Not without its rough spots, like occasionally weak acting (Clark is particularly wooden), this haunting adult film remains one of the best to come out of the genre’s Golden Age. Costello has taken the utmost care with every aspect of production. Film scholars should pay close attention to his exquisitely composed imagery, especially in the Hollywood and Hellfire Club sequences, enhancing the movie’s downbeat mood with lighting and camera placement. His formal training as a filmmaker finally paid off and this sophisticated masterpiece is the culmination of a fine career. As if he realized this, he would call it quits after just a few more flicks, ending on a distinctly minor note with 1983′s tired HEAVEN’S TOUCH.