Tag Archives: Erotica

CAPSULE: CALIGULA (1979)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione

FEATURING: , , , Teresa Ann Savoy,

PLOT: Caligula becomes the Emperor of Rome and lots of depravity happens; any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is entirely accidental.

Still from Caligula (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: On paper, Caligula sounds like a sure bet. There are many bad movies that get honored here, and we even have a tag called “.” Caligula could theoretically qualify for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made by that standard. Except that “bad” doesn’t describe Caligula so much as stupid. Nothing more need be said about this movie but “stupid.” Rocks are too smart to watch Caligula.

COMMENTS: There is at least a hefty essay and maybe a book to be written about the story of how Caligula got made, although perhaps it would be more correct to say it got “executed.” The drama involved in the production is a thousand times more entertaining than anything that ended up on film. Pretty much everybody involved locked horns and stormed off the set to sue each other. Various creative forces within the production struggled to make it a historic Shakespearian opera, a cheap exploitation flick, a softcore porn epic, and a hardcore snuff porn transgression; the result was best summed up when one reviewer called it “a boondoggle of landmark proportions.”

Some cultural context is helpful: the 1970s were an era when movies like Deep Throat had brought big-screen porn into a relatively acceptable light, and filmmakers were getting more daring in testing the boundaries of taste. Caligula pisses on the very idea of taste, and if you dare to abuse your intellect by watching it, you will encounter several scenes where it literally does just that. Welcome to the Horny Roman Empire, with Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) romping with Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), which seems to be harmless enough erotica until you learn they’re brother and sister. His uncle Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), summons him to discuss politics and witness his depraved orgies. Caligula assassinates Tiberius and assumes the throne, breaking all hell loose as he sinks into depravity. Caligula promotes Drusilla as his equal, convicts Marco (Guido Mannari) of treason in a kangaroo court and offs him, and marries Caesonia (Helen Mirren) because he can’t legally marry his sister. Drusilla dies, Caesonia gets pregnant, Caligula wars with the Roman senate and declares himself a god, Caligula shows off his horse, the new senator Chaerea plots to assassinate Caligula and succeeds, and the movie ends, merciful heavens be praised.

In the midst, background, foreground, and everyground of these shenanigans, naked people cavort in every depiction of hedonistic excess possible. It kind of plays out like a film with a bigger budget but fewer ideas and not a trace of a sense of humor. In fact, Malcolm McDowell’s presence in this film invites you to compare it to a signature scene of A Clockwork Orange; it’s exactly the kind of “ultraviolence” film the character Alex would be forced to watch during his brainwashing sessions. There’s rape, torture, bestiality, necrophilia, mutant people with four legs and butts on their bellies, silly over-the-top executions and mutilations, urination, defecation, and basically every perversion you could search for on the Internet. Most of this just flies by with no context or reason to exist. Sometimes the camera just gets bored and focuses on somebody’s crotch, while irrelevant actors screech their dialog in hopes of getting it’s attention. Nobody in this movie even gave a thin damn about historical accuracy. The sets are festooned with anachronisms such as a styrofoam hat shaped like a penis, worn by an extra just casually passing through the set while apparently waiting for a taxi.

When it comes to erotic arthouse films, Caligula fails by every definition. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover does a superior job of being a weird epic with erotic scenes, for just one example. There’s a dozen or so artsploitation films already in line on this site ahead of Caligula, and there’s only so many we need. In terms of history, just take into account that even the writings we have of the real life of Caligula (mostly Suetonius, writing 80 years after the emperor’s death) are suspected of fudging the facts in the interest of political propaganda. In terms of pure kinky titillation, go watch The Story of O or Secretary or Belle De Jour instead. Don’t look for steamy thrills in Caligula, because nobody, not even serial killers apprehended with a freezer full of body parts, is this depraved.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… as with a lot of bad would-be art, this cinematic oddity holds a truly bizarre fascination…”–Michale Dequina, The Movie Report (1999 revival)

CAPSULE: MEAT (2010)

Vlees

DIRECTED BY:  Victor Nieuwenhuijs, Maartje Seyferth

FEATURING: Titus Muizelaar, Nellie Benner

PLOT: An emotionally neutered detective investigates a murder at a butcher shop where all the employees have high libidos.

Still from Meat (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is no question that this is a weird one. But Meat never really matches its mystery to the grand theme or emotional resonance it’s searching for. Its main virtue is that it’s short and sexy, making for a relatively easy watch despite its challenging narrative format.

COMMENTS: Here are some things that happen in Meat: a butcher has sex with a co-worker in a meat locker while another employee secretly videotapes it. A woman plummets to her death. The butcher is found murdered. Here are some things that may or may not happen in Meat: The woman who lives in the room above the shop is a prostitute who meets tricks there during business hours. The prime suspect is raped by a man wearing a skull mask the night of the murder. The murder investigation is conducted by the victim’s doppelganger. Here are some things that don’t happen in Meat, despite the fact that we see them: Three middle-aged customers approach the meat display case, totally nude. The detective watches man being led away from a slaughterhouse, one of them dressed like a chicken, while blood drips down his windshield. Cows, lambs and pigs find their way into the butcher shop at night and urinate on the floor.

It’s that kind of movie. After a set-up that is only marginally odd, focused more on eroticism than surrealism, the last third of the movie surrenders entirely to dream logic. Cryptic shots of a butterfly and a woman submerged in a bathtub, plus elliptical monologues about sheep-slaughtering, are spread through the early sections as harbingers of the all-out weirdness to come. Our dumpy middle-aged butcher has some sort of sexual arrangement with a woman who lives at the shop and whose main duty seems to be to sleep with all the male employees; yet, he naturally fancies the slim blond college-aged part-time worker whose short skirt is half-hidden under her floor-length butcher’s apron. He comes up to her from behind and whispers his dirty old man fantasies into her nubile ears. In the real world, his come-ons would be actionable sexual harassment; here, because they occur while the girl is breathlessly videotaping a dish full of animal organs, it’s mere sexual absurdism.

Later, the phraseology of this scene will be mirrored in the investigator’s language as he interviews the girl, now a suspect: seduction has become interrogation; desire, guilt. Meat‘s strategy is to vacillate between opposites: the body as a sexual canvas, and as a collection of organs to be hacked apart and sold; genitals as organs of pleasure, and portals for the release of bodily waste. Desire goes to war with disgust, as rationality yields to irrationality. Meat explores issues of sex, carnality and guilt—maybe with a side of vegetarianism.

After screening at a handful of European film festivals, Meat spent six years in a post-presentation, pre-distribution netherworld before Artsploitation Films picked it up for belated September 2016 DVD release. With no clear audience besides arthouse curiosity seekers, Meat is an orphan that needs your love.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…bizarre, chilling little character drama …”–Matthew Lee, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

246. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

Kanashimi no Beradonna

“With all of this splendid weirdness—Michelet’s occult/feminist novel, Fukai’s ravishingly beautiful, X-rated illustrations, and Satoh’s brain-shredding score—what could possibly go wrong? Everything, according to director Yamomoto.”–Dennis Bartok, explaining Belladonna of Sadness‘s commercial failure at the time of its release in the liner notes to the Cinelicious Blu-ray release.

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Eiichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Voices of Chinatsu Nakayama, Aiko Nagayama, , Katsuyuki Itô, Masaya Takahashi

PLOT: In medieval Europe, peasants Jean and Jeanne go to their local Lord to bless their unconsummated marriage, but the royals gang-rape the bride instead because Jean cannot afford the outrageous matrimonial tax. Later, Jeanne is visited by a demon who promises to give her power to oppose the Lord’s might and get revenge. At first she resists, but as the Lord’s outrages mount, she finally gives herself to Satan fully and becomes a powerful witch.

Still from Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • This film was the third part of a trilogy of adult animation features on Western themes commissioned by legendary anime pioneer Osama Tezuka (famous for the television manga adaptations “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”) and his Mushi studio. The first in the series was 1969’s erotic version of “The Arabian Tales,” A Thousand & One Nights (also directed by Yamamoto). Nights was a commercial hit (although it remains unavailable on home video), so the studio went ahead with Cleopatra in 1970 (which Yamamoto co-directed with Tezuka). Cleopatra was a commercial and artistic flop, but the studio went ahead with Belladonna of Sadness anyway. Tezuka left Mushi before the final film was completed, and Belladonna bombed even harder than Cleopatra. Mushi went bankrupt soon after. Belladonna was exhibited in only a handful of lower echelon theaters in Japan and only lightly released outside of that country until 2015’s rediscovery and reappraisal.
  • The unlikely source material for Belladonna of Sadness was Jules Michelet’s 1862 non-fiction book “Le sorciere” (AKA “Satanism and Witchcraft“), a sympathetic treatment which cast the practice of witchcraft as a protest against the feudal system and the power of the Church.
  • “Belladonna” literally means “beautiful woman” in Italian, but it is also the name of a toxic hallucinogenic plant thought to have been used in ancient witchcraft rituals.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without a doubt, the initial rape scene. Although the movie contains shocking, unforgettable, wild and weird imagery throughout, the expressionistic violation of Jeanne, showing her being split in twain like a wishbone as her crotch emits a bloody geyser that morphs into crimson bats who fly away, was the only one that made me mutter out loud “wow”!

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Bloody rape bats; Satan is a dick; surrealist daisy chain orgy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Belladonna of Sadness is like watching Saturday morning cartoons mixed with high art mixed with hentai, laced with acid. It’s some damned thing that you’ve never seen before.


U.S. release trailer for Belladonna of Sadness

COMMENTS: We a huge debt of gratitude to whoever’s idea it was Continue reading 246. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

LIST CANDIDATE: SOME CALL IT LOVING (1973)

AKA: Sleeping Beauty; Dream Castle

DIRECTOR: James B. Harris

FEATURING: , Tisa Farrow, Carol White, Richard Pryor, Veronica Anderson, Logan Ramsey, Pat Priest, Brandy Herrod

PLOT: Based on the John Collier short story “Sleeping Beauty.” A hedonistic millionaire, entranced by a carnival act involving a girl who has been asleep for years, purchases her and brings her home.

Still from Some Call It Loving (1973)WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Far stranger than the synopsis would suggest, Some Call it Loving is a surreal, dreamlike take on relationship dramas. A precursor to the modern erotic thriller, it would make for an interesting double feature paired with Boxing Helena, or even Singapore Sling.

COMMENTSThe entire genre of the “erotic thriller”—from such highlights as 9 1/2 Weeks, the steamy cable series “Red Shoe Diaries,” and Eyes Wide Shut all the way down to the low-level late night chum on Cinemax (or Skinemax, as it was nicknamed due to its reliance on such fare)—shares primary DNA with the not-as-well-known early precursor Some Call It Loving. Lead actor Zalman King would make it a cottage industry in the 80s and 90s, co-writing and producing 9 1/2 Weeks and directing Wild Orchid, Two Moon Junction and episodes of “Red Shoe Diaries” (the series he created), among others.

King’s character here, Robert, lives in a mansion with two women, Scarlett (White) and Angelica (Anderson). The three pass the time by indulging in role-playing “games” (seducing a widow, disciplining the maid, dancing nuns) that always lead to sexual situations. The only times Robert ventures into the “real world” is when he gigs as a session player with a jazz group at a bar and has conversations with his friend Jeff (Pryor), a musician who’s fallen into hardcore junkiedom.

During one of these excursions he goes to a carnival and discovers the “Sleeping Beauty,” Jennifer (Farrow), as a sideshow attraction, drugged to remain asleep. Patrons pay for one kiss to wake the Beauty—and more, it’s strongly implied. Robert decides to purchase her to take her back with him. Robert returns with Jennifer, who is accepted into the household; when she awakens, she’s also incorporated into the game-playing. But does this lead to a Happy Ending for all?

Although is provides the seed for later erotic thrillers, Loving can’t actually be classed as one. Instead, it’s a dark, fractured fairy tale in line with its source material (John Collier’s treatment of the “Sleeping Beauty” legend). In the story, the emphasis is on the man who purchases the Beauty. That holds true in Harris’ adaptation as well, but he goes further and deeper than Collier.

At the outset, Robert appears to be a “kept” man. Scarlett seems to be the wealthy benefactor, with Angelica being a recent addition to the family, and it appears that this setup has been in effect for some time. But while some may find this to be a fantasy come true, Robert is dissatisfied. His conversations with Jeff provide him with some distraction, but Jeff’s descent insures that he won’t be around for long.  Robert’s malaise is relieved by Jennifer’s arrival, but only for a short time. At first she enjoys the company and the game-playing, but it ends up in further dissatisfaction.PryorEtiquette Pictures, the uptown division sub-label of Vinegar Syndrome, made Loving their debut release in a Blu-Ray/DVD package in Summer 2015.  Done in a 2K restoration from the original negative, this is the best Loving has looked in any of its prior home video releases. Numerous extras are included, such as a commentary with writer/director Harris, a featurette on the making of the film, one on cinematographer Mario Tosi (Carrie, The Stunt Man), and outtakes featuring actress Millie Perkins, whose role was cut from the finished film.

Writer/director James B. Harris was ‘s producing partner for his early films The Killing, Paths of Glory and Lolita.

RUSS MEYER’S BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA VIXENS (1979)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979) is the last authentic Russ Meyer film (he returned only to produce 2001‘s rarely-seen Pandora Peaks, which is, as to be expected, an idiosyncratic interpretation of the documentary genre). Co-written by (under his “R. Hyde” pseudonym), Meyer’s swan song is film as one additional cup size enhancement. It has charmed moments of Meyerisms, including his trademark spry editing, but adds erratic eroticism. Meyer once claimed it was the favorite of his own works (although he said the same of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). This may be an echo of Paul Gauguin’s claim that the artistic process was more satisfying than the finished work. Coloring Meyer’s sense of nostalgia for the film was his admission that he constantly engaged in sex with star between takes. According to Meyer, the actress introduced him to multifarious taboos and was even more oversexed than he was.

As in Up! (1976), the plot is emaciated Surrealism. The relationship (so to speak) between Surrealism and pornography has been complex since the movement’s inception (works by Georges Bataille, Susan Sontag, and Theodor Adorno are among essential writings on the subject). Meyer’s brand of Surrealism is strictly visceral, which renders him closer to authentic Surrealism than to soft-core porn. For the Surrealists, porn’s lack of social acceptability amounted to an endorsement. However, its totalitarian simple-mindedness prevented a complete embrace, or mimicry. Rather, elements of pornography proved influential to the aesthetics and tenets of Surrealism.

Of course, Meyer did not associate himself with any –ism, and it’s doubtful that he gave much thought to categorizing his work. He simply stayed true to his sense of craftsmanship, making films that he would want to see. He voluntarily returned to the limits of independent budgets as opposed to compromising with Twentieth Century Fox, who any other indie filmmaker would have killed to work for. That anti-bourgeoisie, stubbornly rebellious streak invites a comparison to Surrealist bad boys such as Andre Breton, , or George Antheil. However, as much as Meyer was obsessed with breasts, he was equally preoccupied with cartoonish slapstick; another surrealist plane of identification. His films, especially his last two, are akin to a visualization of a Carl Stalling collage.

Still from Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-vixens (1979)The gossamer narrative revolves around Lavonia (Natividad) who is sexually unsatisfied with hubby Lamar (Ken Kerr). As the “Small Town USA Narrator” (Stuart Lancaster in a pickup truck) informs us, “Lamar, with a 37 IQ, is strictly a rear window man[1].” Lamar’s fetish gets him fired from his job (no perverts allowed here), and drives Lavonia into the sheets with her vibrator. She follows this by having affairs with Mr. Peterbuilt (Pat Wright), teen meat Rhett (Steve Tracy) and lingerie salesman Semper Fidelis (Michael Finn). Oddly, wifey’s bonding with the battery powered machine drives Lamar into a far greater frenzy than her extramarital rendezvous.

With a slinky dress and gaudy wig from Semper, Lavonia hits the strip clubs under the stage name of Lola. Borrowing a plot from countless opera librettos, the husband comes across his disguised wife and does not recognize her. Lavonia’s ruse to trick her husband into good old fashioned vaginal intercourse utterly fails, driving Lamar to seek gay counselor Asa Lavender (Robert Pearson) and female Benny Hinn type-Eufaula Roop (Anne Marie) for conversion therapy.

Meyer’s camera work and editing is at it most -like, fixating on inanimate objects, most of which are utilized as phallic and vaginal symbols (such as a record player). He also employs extreme close-ups of Natividad’s sex parts paralleled, per the norm, with vivacious sound effects.

While much of Meyer’s work intersects sex and violence, there is virtually none of the latter here and, with no real antagonist, Beneath deliriously celebrates the joy of sex. Meyer had once planned a film titled The Bra Of God, which for various reasons did not come to fruition. However, in that planned title and this film we locate the pulse of Meyer’s inseparable art and life. Existential questions are banished. Like the birds, bees, ants, and fish, the relevance of life pertains primarily to pleasure found in sexual union. We share that with the beasts and primitives. The sole difference is we do not, or should not, divorce love (and appreciation of beauty) from sex. For Meyer, pursuit of power, acquisition of dyed green paper, and the quest to find an invisible deity are pursuits for the unenlightened.

  1. One might speculate as well how much of this plotline was semi-autobiographical. Meyer claimed that Natividad introduced him to anal sex, which she was apparently preoccupied with []

CAPSULE: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE (1981)

Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes; Doctor Jekyll and His Women; The Bloodbath of Doctor Jekyll

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Marina Pierro, , Gérard Zalcberg

PLOT: Dr. Jekyll throws an engagement party in his mansion, and the guests soon find themselves dying to leave.

Still from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne (1981)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it has its deliciously decadent moments and is probably the strangest version of the Jekyll and Hyde story, it’s more of a second tier weird movie. It is recommended only for fans of Eurotrashy artsploitation features.

COMMENTS: Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne starts off slowly, with seemingly endless dinner conversation and a long (if fetishistic) dance by a teenage ballerina, so that you may feel you’ve been cheated and that maybe this isn’t the perverted Freudian freakshow the ad copy promised. Flash-forwards to snippets from the coming night’s brutal debaucheries keep hope alive. Fortunately, about a third of the way through Patrick Magee starts blindly firing his pistol, virgins are despoiled, a father is tied up while Hyde (and his oversize prosthetic member) violates his daughter before his very eyes, and Jekyll is writhing in a bathtub full of filthy, rusty water (no director outside the porn world requires as much writing of his actors as does Borowczyk). Soon enough, Jekyll’s maiden fiancee, Miss Osborne, catches onto the fact that her hubby is able to transform into the well-hung Hyde several times a night, and finds herself intrigued by the idea.

Jekyll/Osborne continues Borowczyk’s obsession with the notion that human beings are just a few flimsy bourgeois notions away from bloody rutting animals, although this movie does not exploit that idea as explicitly and audaciously as in his Certified Weird atrocity, The Beast. Despite the explicit nature of the film, the relocation of the action to a single night in a single house, and the crucial infusion of female sexual energy in the person of Jekyll’s fiancee, this adaptation does legitimately capture the sense of Victorian rot and the dualist tensions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story, while at the same time being a revolutionary erotic expansion of it. Fanny Osborne was the name of Stevenson’s real-life fiancee (and later wife), who, according to Stevenson, encouraged the author to burn the first draft of “Dr. Jekyll” for being too sensationalist and not allegorical enough. Borowczyk originally marketed the film as being an adaptation of that lost first draft which he claimed to have uncovered, but later admitted the story was made up.

With this film Udo Kier became, to my knowledge, the only actor to portray Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll.

In 2015 Arrow Video released a shockingly lavish DVD/Blu-ray combination version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne. This virtually unknown movie gets its own Criterion-style booklet of essays and a host of extras. The DVD architecture even resembles a Criterion edition, right down to the style of the short prose introductions before the special features. The most substantial extra features are Borowczyk’s slyly naughty 1979 short “Happy Toy” and the experimental tribute film “Himorogi.”There is also a commentary track fashioned from interview segments with various people who worked on the film, as well as over an hours worth of interviews and analysis with stars Kier and Pierro and others. Fans of the director will consider this a must-buy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“….a film of strange and outrageous beauty that seems to emanate from that place where our fears are also desires.”–Chris Preachment, Time Out (contemporaneous)

RUSS MEYER’S CHERRY, HARRY & RAQUEL! (1970)

s Cherry, Harry, And Raquel (1970) is a film that achieves a sense of hyper-surrealism through kinetic editing alone. Actually, it may be one of the most bizarrely edited films in the whole of cinema. It opens with scrolling text: a strange preamble about the First Amendment and how constipated religious right wackos are a threat to Freedom of Speech, juxtaposed against images of nudie cuties bouncing up and down on a bed. Naturally, the imagery is intentionally provocative, and there is no doubt that some 1970 evangelical heads exploded when this played the drive-in circuit. Of course, it doesn’t take much to bring out the Pat Robertsons or Donald Trumps, be it boobs or red coffee cups, but Meyer was not about to risk being inoffensive. He not only filled the screen with bouncing udders, but also threw in a “pickle shot” courtesy of actor Charles Napier (in his first Meyer film; from here until 1975 the two collaborated in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes, and Supervixens). Although Napier’s full frontal nudity in Cherry, Harry, and Raquel was brief, it was enough to to earn the movie an “X” certification.

Beyond the hyperbole is an authentically eccentric film that moves like quicksilver. Cherry, Harry & Raquel officially opens with an even more bizarre narration, warning about the evils of potheads and marijuana coming up from Mexico (cue shots of the border patrol and of , as the goddess Soul, tanning on a yacht). The buxom blonde prostitute Raquel (Larissa Ely) is in the desert, cavorting with a dark-haired man. In case we don’t get it, there are numerous shots of a phallic shaped rock. As she is atop her lover, he grabs her breasts, which sharply cuts to an extreme close-up of Harry (Napier) shuffling a deck of cards in a poker game. The gamblers are interrupted by a knock coming from the door. The messenger informs Harry that “the old man” wants him. However, old man Franklin (Frank Bolger) is busy being orally serviced by Raquel (a strategically placed chalice blocks the view, inviting us to imagine what she is doing between the geezer’s legs). The intercuts are switchblade-like, potentially inducing viewer whiplash. Franklin fares worse because his orgasm is interrupted by Harry come-a-knockin’.

Still from Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1970)Harry’s ex-biz partner Apache (John Milo) is muscling in on their monopoly drug racket. Franklin gives Harry the order to waste Apache. Harry takes Raquel with him, which of course leads to sex in the desert, and nobody films makin’ whoopee like Meyers: close-ups of white boots tappin’ the pedal to the metal, phallic rocks, naked girls atop a police car, Soul, wearing only an Indian feather bonnet, embracing more phallic rocks, spinning red sirens, and even a sliver of lezbo action. Don’t expect it to make narrative sense. Just kick back and revel as Meyer’s scissors sculpt his softcore ode to Tex Avery. The only thing missing is a lecherous howlin’ wolf (or, perhaps not).

Harry drops off Raquel, picks up deputy Enrique (Bert Santos) and together the two of them head back to the desert after Apache. After a shoot-out, Harry hooks up with buxom nurse babe Cherry (Linda Ashton), has sex with her, drives her out into the desert and transforms her into a sand castle! As Harry digs out Cherry’s vital parts, the two go at it again. Cue quick cuts of Soul: see Soul exercise in the buff. See Soul shower. See Soul run on a train naked. See Soul mate with a rock penis. See Soul eat celery in her birthday suit. See Soul in the desert, sitting naked atop her car as Harry changes her flat tire. See Soul as a nude telephone operator in the middle of nowhere. The desert lovemaking is one of the most authentically strange vignettes this side of or .

Recovering from that montage, the story proceeds to Cherry giving Franklin a sponge bath, but once again the poor old fella just can’t find completion. He calls Harry: “Send Raquel over for a session. Oh, and kill Enrique too. He knows too much.” Meanwhile, Enrique has sex with Raquel and decides to keep the dope for himself. Raquel snuggles up to Franklin, only to find someone has murdered him in his hospital bed.

As luck would have it, Apache is still alive and kills Enrique, saving Harry the effort. Raquel and Cherry finally consummate their affair while Apache and Harry blow each other apart. Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls.

The narrator returns, assuring there is a lesson in all of this and it has something to do with Soul (and the evils of pot). Of course, no one is going to give a damn about the lesson. If ever a movie was tailor made to go with an entire bag of pizza rolls, Cherry, Harry and Raquel would be it.

221. THE BEAST (1975)

La Bête

“There was nothing in his previous output—a respectable career that stretched back to the late 1940s—to prepare the viewer for this terrible outrage. Or perhaps, if you looked hard enough, there was. For the exotic and the erotic—and the downright weird—had always been part of Borowczyk’s cinematic universe.”–Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs, “Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies, 1956-1984

DIRECTED BY: Walerian Borowczyk

FEATURING: Guy Tréjan, Lisbeth Hummel, Pierre Benedetti, Sirpa Lane

PLOT: Lucy, an impressionable young heiress, comes to France for an arranged marriage with Mathurin de l’Esperance, the socially awkward scion of an aristocratic family. The de l’Esperance family harbors many secrets, including the story of an ancestor from centuries ago who went missing and whose corset was discovered covered in claw marks. The first night she stays in the de l’Esperance chateau, Lucy has a erotic dream about a Victorian lady ravished in the forest by a beast.

Still from The Beast [La bete] (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • Walerian Borowczyk began his career making highly regarded surreal animated short films. He moved on to live action art house features like Goto, Island of Love (1969) and Blanche (1972), which  were respectable and well-received.
  • After 1972 Borowczyk’s career took a turn towards the explicitly erotic/pornographic when he began work on Immoral Tales, a portmanteau of erotic shorts based on literary sources or historical personages (Erzsebet Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia).
  • The Beast was originally intended as a segment of Immoral Tales, but Borowczyk decided to expand it to feature length. The “original” Beast is the segment that now appears as Lucy’s dream. Screened as an 18-minute short entitled “La Véritable Histoire de la bête du Gévaudan,” it understandably caused quite a scandal at the 1973 London Film Festival.
  • The Beast in Space (1980) was a totally unauthorized Italian “sequel” that also starred sex siren Sirpa Lane.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Beast‘s indelible image is too obscene to be mentioned in polite company. Being as circumspect and polite as possible, we’ll simply say that it has to do with the titular creature’s, ahem, “equipment.” Scrub your eyes though you may, you can’t unsee these things, so beware. If you can make it through the equine porn scene that opens the film, you should be fine. (Not surprisingly, most of The Beast‘s promotional material has focused on Sirpa Lane’s stunned face, framed by a powdered wig, as she gazes in shock at the same images that will be indelibly stained in your memory).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Horse porn cold open; eternally spurting beast; clerical bestiality lecture

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Some movies are designed to be weird. Some movies become weird because of certain confluences of incompetencies. And then there are movies like The Beast—a nugget of explicit (if simulated) bestiality porn wrapped in a nuptial drawing room drama, made by a director on the cusp of art house stardom who seems intent on throwing it all away as dramatically as possible—that are weird simply because, if not for the evidence of your own eyes, you could not believe that they exist.


Re-release trailer for The Beast

COMMENTS: No one can accuse Walerian Borowcyzk of sandbagging. After a quote from Voltaire (“worried dreams are but a passing Continue reading 221. THE BEAST (1975)

CAPSULE: EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Todd Field

PLOT: An upscale married couple struggles with the temptations of infidelity in modern Greenwich Village, leading the husband to become enmeshed in a secret sex cult.

Still from Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from the creepy centerpiece involving an orgy of masked figures in cloaks, nothing weird happens. Eyes Wide Shut is a serious, deliberate psychological study with some interesting political undertones about power.

COMMENTS: Everyone loves a good sex party, especially when there are masks involved. You can role play, burn incense, and even participate in pagan rituals without worrying about being ratted out. In Eyes Wide Shut, Nicole Kidman, playing the melancholic wife Alice Harford, kicks everything off, posing to show off her pump-raised buttocks, and what follows is an odyssey about power and lust. The tragedy is that this film, Kubrick’s final—starring everyone’s favorite Scientologist and his then real life spouse—has been repeatedly reduced to some kind of vague warning about the dangers of an unchecked elite society (Illuminati, etc.), especially since the juiciest segments of the movie come from interpersonal struggle and subsequent identity distortion. These characters terminally deceive themselves and others. Cruise completely owns his role as the terribly charming but ultimately insecure professional Bill Harford, reminding us why we tolerate his wacky off-screen cult endeavors. Offering a multilayered performance with incredible range, restraint and subtlety, he provokes inquisition into his on-screen psyche. Kubrick is the master auteur he’s always been, while Kidman makes everyone horny, forming a powerful trifecta.

Judicious attention is given to high society, people with power and influence, to how they stew in immorality and the instability of their relationships. Kidman displays aggressive coquetry by teasing a suave ballroom gigolo, while at the opposite end of the party Cruise has two women swooning over him. This is a muddy affair hiding behind a façade of elegance and sophistication. We imagine all of the private lives of the patrons here have the same debased, amoral existence, rooted in treachery and egocentrism. Detachment is prevalent, indicative of wealthy people so confident in their endless supply of bailouts that there’s literally nothing they can’t get away with, nothing that can’t be covered up.

Like any good doctor, Bill Harford enjoys playing God. He’s a man with pride and confidence in his professional demeanor, infinite charm spiraling outwards from an desire to dominate others with his own compassion and experience. “Doctors are so…knowledgeable,” says a flirty party gal to Bill. When the camera closes in on Alice’s beautiful behind once again, the question remains: is it good enough Continue reading CAPSULE: EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

CAPSULE: THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Strickland

FEATURING: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna, Fatma Mohamed, Eugenia Caruso

PLOT: An entomology professor and her student are very much in love, but their romance is threatened by the latter’s preference for BDSM practices in the bedroom.

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WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though the subject matter might seem strange or unusual to some viewers, the film itself is simply an examination of two women who are going through a trial in their relationship. There is some bizarre dream imagery and a choppy narrative style, but nothing truly Weird.

COMMENTS: The Duke of Burgundy opens with a drawn-out sexual role play as the wide-eyed Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) enters the house of domineering mistress Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) to act as housekeeper. Evelyn scrubs and shines and soaks as Cynthia thinks of more demeaning tasks for her to do, ending the day with punishment for unsatisfactory work in the form of urination into Evelyn’s mouth. This scene returns in multiple forms later, as we see different perspectives and points in time, serving as an anchor for our understanding of their relationship. The film unfolds over a semester at the isolated women’s school where Cynthia lectures and Evelyn studies, but most of the focus is on their private moments at home. As the persistent Evelyn comes up with new ways to be dominated, she believes she’s found the perfect partner in Cynthia, who is willing to act the dominatrix if it makes her lover happy. However, it soon becomes clear that the older woman is uncomfortable with the parts Evelyn creates for her, struggling to emotionally and physically abuse her lover even in the context of role playing, and then growing to resent her for her increasing demands.

Strickland made waves two years ago with his stunning, unnerving ode to giallo, Berberian Sound Studio, in which a British sound technician sinks into a paranoid fever dream while shooting a gory horror in Italy. Here, the director again treats the eyes to a sultry palette, ornate settings, and thoughtful camerawork, matched by an effective soundtrack that pairs fuzzy synths with the hum of insects. The opening credits use freeze-frame and oversaturation to reference vintage softcore film, but thanks to the soundtrack and visceral color choices, other moments are more reminiscent of a slasher. The retro vibe is heightened by the somewhat ambiguous setting and time period. Fashions and hairstyles suggest the 1950s or 60s, the aesthetic is more 70s, the landscape and architecture is classical, evoking rural Italy (though filmed in Hungary), and everyone speaks English with different European accents. He clearly devotes much of his time to mixing and matching different film references, from art house to grindhouse, but ultimately the focus is on the characters. Even the weirder touches, including frequent close-ups of insects and stark shots of architecture, are meant to communicate the sense of dread that is hanging over Cynthia and Evelyn’s relationship as they move into darker sexual territory. There is a palpable feeling of intimacy in Strickland’s approach, utilizing close-ups and lingering shots to effect a kind of quietude over most of the proceedings. It is easily to believe in this relationship, though the world around them is often hazy.

On paper The Duke of Burgundy sounds like it should be a sleazy straight male fantasy about lesbian kink, and yet Strickland forgoes all sensationalism—there isn’t that much (explicit) sex or even nudity shown. Evelyn’s mental stimulation is highlighted, as she derives pleasure from being locked in a chest, verbally berated, and sat on by Cynthia. The BDSM scenes are often treated with humor, not to make fun of those practices but to reveal the kind of goofy accidents or strange conversations that might come with it, and to break the tension for an unfamiliar audience. At other times they are presented in a cold, almost sterile manner, with Cynthia eventually injecting a form of revenge into their role play. What is both wonderful and striking about this film is its undertone of normalcy, its relatable and honestly touching portrayal of a romantic struggle, despite its apparently sexploitative premise. The basic story could easily be rewritten with different conflicts, with different genders, with different settings; the BDSM elements are both central to the narrative and secondary to the overarching theme. The film asks if sexual preferences can damage an otherwise strong relationship, and if personal contentment can exist without complete sexual fulfillment. It allows us to peek into something extremely personal, but universal, intermingling with our own insights and experiences, with a dreamlike style so lush and distinctive we still walk away feeling like we’ve left behind a world of fantasy. It might not be List-worthy, but it is certainly worth seeing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the question of who’s really in charge of these scenarios is complicated. Exactly the same deceptive quality can be found in the dreamlike artifice of Strickland’s film itself, set in a lush and aristocratic European fantasyland that’s entirely nonspecific as to geography and chronology… But while Strickland’s films already aren’t like anyone else’s, his real secret is that even in this strange constructed world, his characters feel like real people struggling with issues that aren’t exotic at all.”–Andrew O’Hehir, “Salon” (contemporaneous)