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From the Sex and Black Magic poster (1980)

The Lickerish Quartet

Director: Radley Metzger
Cast: Silvana Venturelli

(US DVD: 2011)

The Image

Director: Radley Metzger
Cast: Mary Mendum

(US DVD: 11 Jun 2011)


Director: Radley Metzger
Cast: Lynn Lowry, Calvin Culver

(US DVD: 12 Oct 2010)


Director: Fabrizio Rampelli
Cast: George Ardisson

(US DVD: 8 Mar 2011)

Everything old is definitely new again when, in the age of internet porn and Blu-Ray, what you might assume are outdated relics of softcore erotica from the ‘70s and ‘80s become resuscitated for new generations.

America’s classiest softcore purveyor was Radley Metzger, whose films have previously been released on disc by First Run Features. His masterpiece is the French lesbian drama Therese and Isabelle (1968), while Little Mother (1973) is a brilliant political biopic that takes off from Eva Peron.

Now Cult Epics is issuing a Blu-Ray of The Lickerish Quartet (1970), a postmodern lark shot in Italy. In a variation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, a mysterious beauty (Silvano Venturelli) invades an aristocratic family and has sex with everybody after they first glimpse her in a stag film. The whole thing embodies teasing, sophisticated Euro-chic with a decadent aristocratic air. While some softcore titles include bonus hardcore footage shot for other territories, this one includes “cooler” versions for countries where the soft scenes were still too explicit.

Cult Epics recently released the rare hardcore version of the Yugoslavian-shot Score (1974), which is unusual for being truly bisexual in its tale of a jaded couple who seduce innocent newlyweds played by soap star Lynn Lowry and gay porn icon Calvin Culver (aka Casey Donovan). The hardcore version throws in graphic all-male sex, not hetero-sex, surely frustrating the mainstream market. Unfairly, softcore items like these have always freely indulged in lesbianism. Both releases feature commentary by Metzger.

Meanwhile, Synapse Films is releasing the uncut version of Metzger’s Paris-filmed The Image (1975), a notably classy and decadent (or pretentious, or let’s just say “French”) film of the alleged-classic novel by Jean de Berg (a pseudonym of Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of Alain Robbe-Grillet). This technically has some hardcore minutes (I’d say less than five, though there’s lots of sex); however, it avoids “money shots” and ends up less explicit than arty projects like In the Realm of the Senses, Nine Songs and The Shortbus.

Though some scenes have an erotic charge, this movie is mostly about atmosphere and furniture and high fashion and various kinks rather than vanilla sex. It’s a sado-masochistic story of power and who’s-controlling-whom, most famous for a long, excruciating torture sequence at the climax. You’d have to be special, indeed, not to fast forward, and I’m not that special. Whether the ending is happy depends upon how you interpret what’s going on.

The heroine is played with subtle poise by Mary Mendum (aka Rebecca Brooke), the star of several movies by the other softcore auteur of the mid-‘70s, Joseph Sarno. She demonstrates her range in the impressive double feature of Sarno’s Abigail Lesley Is Back in Town and Laura’s Toys on the Retro-Seduction label.

Then there’s a bunch of soft ‘80s Italian pictures resurrected by One 7 Movies in their original Italian with English subtitles. Joe D’Amato’s Sex and Black Magic (1980) is a pretty-postcard movie about a white couple (Richard Harrison, Susan Scott) who form a menage with a black Caribbean woman (Lucia Ramirez) on their vacation. This is in the Emmanuelle mold, though it builds to a shock ending.

The same director’s Sexy Pirates (1998) is misleadingly packaged, since it’s not a sex movie (unless you count a few fleeting glimpses of T & A) but a heavily plotted pirate adventure with good production values (ships, costumes, forts, extras), professional acting, and a sense of pace. The original title is more accurate: I predatori delle Antille. The story features two strong women who make things happen. Despite all this professionalism and sincerity, it’s not necessarily worth watching. It looks shot on video, which accounts for the air of cheapness.

The most wildly mislabeled movie is Fabrizio Rampelli’s Transgression (1988). The package calls it “a late ‘80s entry into the category of the Italian sex comedies” and promises “all the laughs and jokes common to the genre but even more sex.” In fact, there’s very little sex and no comedy (except existentially) in this disturbing tale of a student who shoots cocaine while writing a thesis on human evil and fantasizes going on a killing spree. Incidents are chosen to comment more widely on violence in society, and the last third shifts direction several times for the student’s downward spiral. Accurately titled, its transgressions are cheap and sensational, yet with an integrity and intelligence that make it more memorable than one might wish.

Michael Barrett is a San Antonio-based freelance writer who tries not to leave the house. He has degrees from Trinity University in San Antonio and University of California at Davis. He watches one film a day. In addition to his features and reviews on PopMatters, see also his PopMatters column, Canon Fodder. Since the early '90s he has written a monthly video column for the San Antonio Express-News, and his national publications include Library Journal and the Chicago-based Nostalgia Digest.

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