Real world recognition was withheld from Shaun Costello as few but the staunchest of sex fiends even realized that his body of work sprang forth from the same fertile, deliciously depraved mind. Active in adult in some capacity or other since the dawn of theatrically screened hardcore, he almost miraculously managed to maintain a low professional profile while wholeheartedly doing the dirty on camera by juggling an array of aliases, most frequently "Russ Carlson", uncrowned King of the one day wonder. Affording him the opportunity to pursue an unimpeded public life, this schizophrenia simultaneously guarded Costello from spreading himself too thin throughout the decade.
Representing something of a transitional phase between the grimy one day wonders and the glossy big budget extravaganzas from his latter-day "Warren Evans" stage, the three movies he made circa 1975 as "Amanda Barton" were perhaps his first real opportunity to flex his filmmaking muscles since his astonishing 1971 baptism by fire FORCED ENTRY, a Vietnam vet on the rampage flick predominantly shot at his mother's apartment in Forest Hills ! Experimenting with a more evenhanded approach to the erotic, the Barton trio featured female protagonists who were intentional intimate instigators rather than victims. Sandwiched in-between THE PASSIONS OF CAROL and THAT LADY FROM RIO came MIDNIGHT DESIRES, a slyly sophisticated portmanteau porno the self-deprecating director considers his overall best.
Applying his usual grab bag approach to scoring, pilfering then recent mainstream soundtracks, Costello dubs the image of an immaculate white stretch Limo with Richard Rodney Bennett's evocative overture from Sidney Lumet's 1974 Agatha Christie adaptation MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Marking his maiden collaboration with DoP extraordinaire Bill Markle, who was to become his right hand man for the remainder of the decade, as well as his first foray on 35mm,movie points the direction Costello's career would take. Said stretch contains stock market whiz kid vying for vice-presidency John (Eric Edwards) and his upwardly mobile spouse Amy (Jenny Baxter) on their way for an evening of dinner and drinks with business tycoon Martin Van Nostrand (Jamie Gillis), trophy wife Elaine (C.J. Laing) on the side. No sooner have they entered the mansion when the Van Nostrands' loyal butler brings in the evening newspaper carrying the distressing headline that Hitler has just invaded Poland ! Distressing since this is a contemporary rather than costume flick so Martin's clearly off his rocker and Elaine appears all too keen to feed his delusion. To take his mind off the dire situation in Europe, she devises a party game where each of the participants will detail their deepest, darkest sex fantasy.
Grande Dame of whipping girls, C.J.'s up first. Craving punishment, Elaine imagines herself shackled in a blindingly white cell until "liberated" by three faceless hooded monks straight out of the Marquis de Sade. Urged on by her increasingly explicit demands, they proceed to take advantage of her in ever more demeaning ways, a surface notion rightfully turned on its head by her captive audience correctly surmising that Elaine was indeed running the show, ordering the anonymous stud meat to do her bidding.
Suppressed same sex longings are subsequently read into Eric's fantasy about taking pretty Hope Stockton to an accommodating lady of the night (Bree Anthony) for "a homosexual experience without the presence of another man" as Martin so eloquently describes. The spectacle of both lovers eagerly sucking the strap-on protruding from the prostitute's male drag provides a transgressive tableau even for the anything goes '70s, taken one step further when Bree introduces "her" sizable schlong up Eric's (presumably substituted) rectum while he continues to plow his girlfriend who's similarly turned on by the outrageous situation !
Contrary to his jaded seen it all demeanor, Martin turns out to be something of a little boy lost, nursing regret at his inability to fulfill his greatest dream of becoming a prize fighter. Unsurprisingly then, the assembly suspect deep filial resentment mixed with conflicting incestuous desire when "Kid Kelly" takes out his frustration on the moll of his crooked manager asking him to take a fall because he has bet against him. The ominously nicknamed "Kid" furiously drags her into the locker room, hellbent on retaliation. Kudos to Costello for casting maternally bountiful Vanessa Del Rio as the gum-chewing, dead-eyed Lola whose larger than life sexuality both heals and galvanizes those who seek to victimize her. Aggression melts into passionate pleasure through Lola's blank screen acceptance of the assault, an unnerving reflection of intolerable enforced intimacy glossed over by a mother's loving forgiveness. Resorting to Freudian alibi while simultaneously taking the mickey, spoofing adult's early days quest for "socially redeeming value", Shaun cheerfully shatters any and all subtly set up psychological intricacies by having Martin laughingly dubbed a "motherf**ker" by his rapt audience, both letting off steam as involuntary witnesses and a benign response that lets Martin - ringleader in terms of power and pecking order - off the hook for another albeit imagined transgression.
Flaunting the "ugly" hang-ups discoloring her companions' musings, Amy counters their to some degree disturbing obsessions with a lighthearted Mills & Boon wrap-up, its triumph among the quartet because she's simply having fun while the others were too preoccupied processing deep-seated demons of the mind. This sweet little scene sees the ever enthusiastic Jenny portraying a proper English maiden (with matching hysterically overwrought accent) in an unspecified yet "romantic" past, first frightened then tempted by a trio of highwaymen. Amorously aided by nearby inn's pliant serving wench Linda Lovemore, Amy loosens her corset along with her morals for the lascivious likes of Roger Caine, Linda's real life husband Leo and the director himself, casually breaching Baxter's back-door, a witty sub-textual wink, breaking down the "fourth wall" between film and audience, a weirdly appropriate coda given the narrative's confessional nature.