Sure, it’s Halloween and I should be writing about the latest spooky small-screen offerings or haunted home-video releases, but it just gets so … tiresome this time of year, and I say that as a horror fan. I watch enough of it during the other 11 months that, when it’s in my face 24/7, I kind of need a break.
Instead of blood and gore, violence and murder, how about some sensuality and simmering sin, sexual situations and suggestiveness? Cinematic fare of a more erotic variety, if you will. There are plenty of recent releases that drop the PG-13 mainstream pretensions and instead focus on a mature, artistic view of total filth that, for the more adventurous cinephile, can offer more meditations on carnal knowledge than just the basics of getting it on.
A great example of this is Roman Polanski’s latest, Venus in Fur (Sundance Selects). Based on the play by David Yves that itself took themes from the works of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus is a mesmerizing treatise on the balance of power, sexual and otherwise. A bedraggled theater director (Mathieu Amalric) reluctantly agrees to allow a mysterious actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) to audition, something that quickly begins to resemble the structure of the play inside the play inside the book. It’s meta-sexual, but also bitingly funny and characteristically rich, showing how even in his golden years, Polanski has just a sharp an eye — if you want to call it that — as ever.
Italy’s Tinto Brass could’ve been the next Polanski, but, after the Penthouse-funded dalliance that was the mainstream mega-bomb Roman-orgy epic Caligula, he instead mutated into the spaghetti Russ Meyer, creating sexually themed morality plays that held true to his country’s emphasis on lush and lavish filmmaking, but adopting Meyer’s fetish for certain parts of the anatomy, most namely, the derrière.
This cinematic obsession is in full bloom in the five-disc Blu-ray collection Tinto Brass: Maestro of Erotic Cinema (Cult Epics). This seminal set captures Cheeky! (a goofy manifesto about infidelity and the merits thereof), Black Angel (a Night Porter-esque deluge of WWII depravity), Private (a farcical anthology that’s like an uncensored episode of Benny Hill) and Monamour (an adulterous love story that is as heartbreaking as it is titillating), as well as a documentary about Brass’ life and work. It’s a great primer to the director’s more accessible works.
Also coming from Italy — but nowhere near as classy — is the trashy schlock of Top Model (One7Movies). A sexually charged game of cat and mouse between the titular top model and a creepy playboy ramps up throughout the night, treading the line between erotic thriller and bedroom comedy. It's made all the more unlikable due to the unappealing leads and their wholly uninspired performances, in what is the epitome of Italy’s late ’80s “paycheck, please!” cinema boom. Leave Top Model on the bottom of the viewing pile.
Finally, here’s 1969’s The Slave (Mondo Macabro). Also from Italy (seriously, guys?), this scandalous Euro-trash selection is actually more in line with the aforementioned Venus in Fur, a total study in sexual decadence directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile, which manages to explore the spaces between power, control and gratification. Silvia has it all — beauty, youth and money — but apparently two things she can’t get are bondage and humiliation. Enter movie star Margaret who, for the right stack of cash, gleefully helps Silvia fulfill all of her fantasies that, while tame by today’s standards — as most of these films truly are — is still more erotic and arousing than any on-screen sex scene in recent memory. The Slave is a time-capsuled walk on the wide side that is as sumptuous as it is shocking.