Sanatorium, Zero Tolerance's big fall release from director Gary Orona, gets points for at least trying something a little different and a little more interesting than your typical porno with a plot. There's a whole lot of bizarre surrealism going on here and the story isn't necessarily told in a typically linear fashion. Tabitha Stevens narrates the story from the perspective of her character which follows a United States Senator (played by Nick Manning) out to do away with pornography and to make it all illegal. The film exposes him as a hypocrite, however, showing the senator's own perversions and showing in unflinching detail the torrid sex life that he shares with Ms. Stevens. There's more to it than that, and quite a few twists and turns as the plot unravels and the characters evolve, but going into a whole lot of detail about what happens and why would take away from the film, much of which is left open to a fair bit of interpretation.
What we will cover, without a whole lot of detail given to the set up (no spoilers here!), are the sex scenes. So without further ado...
Scene 1 - Ashley Roberts And Tabitha Stevens: Set in a swanky hotel room, this scene lets Manning watch as Roberts and Stevens get down for him. Stevens takes control in this scene, taking her bra off and watching Manning quite intently as she goes to work on Ashley, sucking her big fake tits and then leaning over to let her playmate reciprocate. The girls go down, with Stevens eating first, and there's some nice fingering and tongue play here. The scene is well shot, nicely lit and the girls seem into it, though it's on the softer side or hardcore and it's a bit on the short side.
Scene 2 - Sarah Vandella And Mark Wood: Pretty Sarah Vandella looks great all dolled up in some fine lingerie as Mark Wood busts out his magnifying glass to inspect her. She spreads her legs and looks nervous as he fingers her but soon gets into it and encourages him. She gets on all fours as he drops his pants and gives him a nice, languid blowjob, taking him with the right amount of aggression to make it hot. She rides him cowgirl style and then she gets on her back so he can fuck her missionary style while she takes her nipples into her mouth. He pulls out and jerks off onto her face and into her mouth.
Scene 3 - Tabitha Stevens And A Guy I can't Identify: This scene is shot POV style and we see it through a camcorder viewfinder. Basically, Tabitha's got a dick inside her when it starts, she's getting fucked missionary style. She bends over and once she's down on all fours she takes it up the ass, doggy style. There's a bit of spoon fucking and then she pulls off to suck the mystery dick to a finish, swallowing a healthy load to end the scene.
Scene 4 - Tabitha Stevens And Kris Slater: We see Tabitha out in the desert when Kris comes up to her. She drops to her knees and sucks his cock. They head inside where Tabitha comes out of the bathroom and into the living room where Kris and a pal are having a beer. She sucks his cock and then he fucks her missionary style on the bed. They don't change positions at all, and after a few minutes of that he pulls out and shoots his load all the way up her chest and across her tits.
Scene 5 -Francesca Le, Raylene, Mark Wood And Ethan Hawk : Francesca is all decked out in a fancy evening gown when she decides to give Mark and Ethan a good time. She lies on her back and they strip her and play with her tits. She spreads her legs and Raylene eats her pussy. The girls go down on one another and then they give the guys blows jobs. The guys switch it up a bit, fucking the girls' mouths and then their pussies as Tabitha watches. They switch partners about half way through the scene and then go at it a bit more until each guy finishes on his girl.
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Scene 6 - Tabitha Stevens And Tyler Knight: Tabitha is laying in bed on her back when Tyler comes up to her, hard dick in hand. She gives him a hand job and then sucks his cock very slowly. After a good bit of that he flips her over onto her back and fucks her missionary style, taking his time with her and then flipping her over and fucking her doggy style after briefly licking her from behind. She rides him cowgirl style and then strokes him off until he blows his load.
Scene 7 - Kagney Linn Carter And James Deen: Tabitha watches as James eats Kagney out, her legs up and spread wide in anticipation. He goes down on her for longer than average, which is nice to see, then fingers her a bit before she returns the oral favors. He spoon fucks this cute busty blonde and then gets her on her back for some missionary style action. He pulls out and strokes off across her cleavage and onto the tongue that she's wagging out of her mouth, ending a simple but steamy scene made all the more impressive by Ms. Carter's amazing boobs.
Scene 8 - Tabitha Stevens: Another scene in which Tabitha works over a mystery cock. We see her going down on a guy from his point of view, sucking him deep down into her throat and working him over with her hands until he's done.
Scene 9 - Tabitha Stevens And Nick Manning: You knew this one was coming. Bringing the movie full circle, we see Tabitha go down on Nick and give him a pretty professional looking blowjob. He fucks her missionary style and plays with her tits before she climbs on top of him and rides him cowgirl style. Tabitha arches her back and gets really into it, stretching back to let him in as deep as he can get, then gets back on top to ride him hard, pulling off just in time to jerk him to a finish.
So how does Sanatorium shape up? It's pretty good if you're into the artsy side of porno. Those who just want straight up gonzo and hardcore fucking will probably be put off by the bizarre dreamlike atmosphere that this film plays off of, but you've got to admire the art direction and excellent camerawork. The soundtrack, which features contributions from Teddy Andreanadis (who worked with Guns N Roses), Kochi Fukada (of Static-X) and Steve Stevens (probably best known for his work with Billy Idol) is evocative and interesting and fits the mood of the storyline well, and on a visual level, Sanatorium is at least always interesting. The storyline has problems, and it doesn't always makes sense, but yes, interesting is the right word to describe the picture and Orona does succeed in terms of atmosphere and tension.
The acting isn't going to floor you - there are scenes where Manning doesn't quite convince and a few more scenes where Stevens overdoes it a bit - but it's sufficient enough and better than most feature pornos. There's a fair bit of sexual chemistry here and while the film might not be hard enough for some, this does make for a good couples feature, which was obviously the market that it was going for (and which isn't surprising given Orona's background a Cinemax and HBO).
Sanatorium looks very good in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Detail levels are pretty strong throughout though there are some times where the skin tones look a little bit on the pinkish side - this could be a result of the lighting and might have been an intentional choice on the part of the filmmakers (in fact, it's almost a certainty as it works very well in the context of the story being told), however, as there are certainly a few scenes that have been lit to give them a certain look. There aren't any issues at all with compression artifacts or edge enhancement anywhere to be seen. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot just a hint of shimmer here and there but you do have to be looking for it to notice it and generally the movie looks very good.
The sole audio track on this DVD release is a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in English. This sound mix gets the job done nicely. There isn't much rear channel activity except for the score but the music does sound nice and crisp. Levels are well balanced throughout the production and the dialogue is always easy enough to follow and understand.
The first disc, aside from animated menus and scene selection, features a commentary track from director Gary Orona. Orona does spend a fair bit of time simply relaying what we see happening on screen in front of us, but he does discuss the picture's core message, that being the hypocrisy of many of those who would do away with porno in the real world. He talks about the film's sense of voyeurism, points out some of the various guest stars (Ron Jeremy being one), makes some notes on the adult film industry's business models and practices, and discusses many of the 'nothing is what it seems' aspects of the production. Orona has a tendency to clam up and stop talking for periods of time and might have been better off working with a moderator or having a cast member help him out here. When he's got something to say he's interesting, but he does sometimes run out of things to talk about.
The rest of the extras are on the second disc in this set, starting with a ten minute behind the scenes documentary showing off what it was like on set and showing off some fairly intense suspension footage involving Tabitha. In fact, almost all of this footage is of Tabitha, the rest of the cast don't factor into this featurette all that much. The suspension footage is interesting if you're into that particular kink, but most of this is fairly fluffy and doesn't offer a whole lot of insight into the film's storyline or production details. Tabitha shows up again in a six minute interview in which she talks about her favorite sex scenes in the film, talking about doing her first interracial scene with Tyler Knight, how as a producer she hoped to make something a bit more meaningful than your average adult film, and how they all tried to bring out the skeletons in the closets of various politicians and religious leaders with this subject matter.
From there, check out the four bonus scenes that are included here. The first stars Sara Salone, a pretty blonde with a nice rack, who here gets her tits sucked before giving her male co-star an enthusiastic blowjob. They sixty nine and then go at it cowgirl style, reverse, doggy and missionary before ending with a facial. Sarah shows up in the second bonus scene as well, and here she takes on a lucky guy in his office, sucking him and fucking him from all the usual angles and ending with a facial that she describes as 'so warm' which is somehow both endearing and arousing. Sarah's got it going on, with a nice natural body and a very pretty face - too bad she wasn't in the feature. The third and fourth bonus scenes star pretty Kagney Linn Carter, who was in the movie. In the first one she takes on two guys, getting fucked in the face and the pussy at the same time in a nightclub. In the second one she blows a nerdy in the library, getting really into it and slobbering all over his cock before letting him fuck her missionary style, doggy style, reverse cowgirl and more as she tells him how much she loves his nerdy cock. They spoon fuck, she blows him again, and then she makes him jerk off all over a book before cleaning him off with her mouth and ending the scene.
Rounding out the extras is a cum shot recap, two deleted scenes (about eight minutes worth in total, almost all more surrealism footage), trailers for a bunch of unrelated Zero Tolerance productions, a still gallery and some animated menus.
Sanatorium isn't going to be for everyone. Those looking for something quick and easy to get off to might be put off by some of the more disturbing aspects of the production and the unusual pacing of the whole production. Some could also complain that the film isn't 'hard enough' for their liking. That said, it's an interesting picture that makes good use of a lot of different and unusual locations and which does feature an interesting storyline. The acting isn't always perfect but here's enough here that works that couples looking for something different just might appreciate this and Zero Tolerance's DVD is a good one. Recommended.