“Sanatorium”: In the desert, you can remember you’re Tabitha Stevens

Five years in the making and self-financed by the production team of director and star Gary Orona and Tabitha Stevens, “Sanatorium” is a slickly-produced and beautifully shot piece of erotic couples’ fare with dark (Grimm) overtones, desert vision quests, suspension, off-camera snuff, and the ultimate pro-porn payback.

Studio: Zero Tolerance
Director: Gary Orona
Starring: Tabitha Stevens, Kagney Linn Karter, Sara Sloane, Tyler Knight, Nick Manning, Ashley Roberts, Lux Kassidy, James Deen, Raylene, Francesca Le, Teddy Zigzag, Kris Slater, Mark Wood, Ethan Hawk, Steve Joyner, Ron Jeremy, Dennis Hof, High Pitch Eric, Matt Bianco

Senator Harold Grimm (Nick Manning, R-Utah) is conflicted. He has introduced legislation that will curtail or eliminate federal aid to states that support pornography. Yet he is the biggest whoremongering dog you ever laid your eyes on. Talk about high concept porn!

And it is at least semi-autobiographical. Stevens plays a sex worker named Tabitha who, as she tells Senator Grimm in a nude monologue and flashback that extends the entire movie, must step outside her circle of protection in order for her life to begin.

Stevens explains to Grimm that the guilt and pressures of her porn career were dragging her down. She considered suicide. But then she went on a vision quest that, among other things, enabled her to realize that “the irony is that those who condemn us are often the ones with the darkest secrets.”

Stevens tells the Senator that she got into porn because she loved sex, but it was only then that she realized the forces of religious and political hypocrisy were arrayed against her, as evidenced by the anti-porn Senator moonlighting as a john in her hotel room.

“I have many pressures,” the Senator says.

“Hell has a special place for people who preach false beliefs,” she says.

At times, “Sanatorium” has thick and overwrought couples’ film written all over it, with its relentless need to say that what we’re doing is really OK. And in a sequence in which we’re made to hate her controlling, blackmailing manager, Marcellus (Teddy ZigZag), who may actually be torturing and holding her sister hostage, Stevens’ monologue pivots to condemn politico-religious zealots like the Senator for hating pornography when, considering her shady, bad-ELP-organ playing manager, they might just have a point.

But the sex is both beautiful and professional, catered for the voyeur in both the Senator and in us. There is a reason Stevens gets paid $5k for a blowjob, though she should be paid more. And interludes with distributor Zero Tolerance contract girls Sara Sloane and Kagney Linn Karter are gorgeous and, in Karter’s case, poignant.

Because one area where “Sanatorium” is on-message is that yes, the market can be cruel. Marcellus tells Stevens that consumers only want the young girls (like Karter) and that people like Stevens need to do wilder and wilder things in order to keep their appeal. So we watch Stevens watching Karter have sex with James Deen, a Flip camera capturing everything, and we can imagine Stevens waxing nostalgic for that late golden porn age of 1995, when cameras were bigger, things were more expensive, and there was a lot less competition.

In fact, Stevens’ scene with Manning, who has also been in the business since the 1990s, is a tribute to those pageants of voyeuristic ritual —complete with business suit and tumbler of scotch—that characterized so many 80’s and 90’s porn films.

One further cruelty is that this tremendously ambitious movie, which director Orona said cost $200,000, all told, and that had been begun as a non-porn movie when Stevens was on a hiatus from the business, might disappear in the content pile. To avoid this, “Sanatorium” is enjoying a marketing push that actually included rented hotel rooms and a Hollywood press junket, including pastries.

“Sanatorium” refers, we think, to the self-imposed guilty exile our nation’s porn stars subject themselves to before they, like icn like Nina Hartley and Belladonna —and Tabitha Stevens—come out the other end and refuse to apologize for what they do.

But I never judged you, Tabitha Stevens. Even in “Sanatorium,” when you’d smeared yourself in blood and sand and desert muck, your teeth were still brilliantly white and your breasts were amazing.

Buy “Sanatorium” here

Previously on Porn Valley Observed:
See also: Zero Tolerance, Tabitha Stevens

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Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist

1 Comment

  1. Every time I see this title, I think it reads “Santorum,” as in the “frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex,” as named after homophobic former Senator Rick Santorum by sex columnist Dan Savage.

    In fact, is that’s what’s going on in photo #20 ?!?…

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