Color, 1983, 95m. / Directed by Claude Mulot / Starring Josephine J. Jones, José Antonio Ceinos, Florence Guérin Karin Schubert, Emiliano Redondo / Private Screening

Color, 1983, 90m. / Directed by Gérard Kikoine / Starring Jennifer Inch, Sophie Favier, Christopher Pearson / Private Screening

Color, 1985, 93m. / Directed by Gérard Kikoine / Starring Marie France, Josephine Jacqueline Jones, Sophie Berger / Private Screening

During the early 1980s with the rise of cable television, erotic cinema experienced a shift from grindhouses and occasional arty imports like Emmanuelle to late night premium channel showings, most notoriously with Cinemax's "Friday After Dark" line-up. Containing a roster of "tastefully" sexy films primarily from America, Britain, France, and Australia, this fertile period for the softcore fanatic was helped along by Playboy Enterprises, who co-funded a string of European productions often in collaboration with infamous producer Harry Alan Towers.

One of the most widely-shown titles from this golden age was 1983's Black Venus, whose effective mixture of elegant period decor, full frontal nudity, and oddball plotting managed to draw in both TV viewers and, believe it or not, video renters courtesy of its release from MGM! Perfectly in line with the usual Victorian erotica, the plot follows the difficult passion which erupts between 19th-century sculptor Armand (Ceinos) and exotic beauty Venus (Miss Bahamas Jones) after they're brought together by an aging art bigwig, Jacques (Redondo). Unfortunately, the frequent demands on Venus' time as she supports her lover and ignites the lust in everyone around her eventually tear them apart, and Armand's ultimate masterpiece, a replica of his true love, only provides temporary solace. Will they get together again, or will Venus be consumed in a lifestyle of freewheeling, wanton sex? Beautifully shot by hardcore director Claude Mulot (Pussy Talk), this top-drawer slice of erotica still holds up quite well today and features a few memorable set pieces including that reliable standby, the "let's walk through a whorehouse and watch the kinky customers" routine already established in such films as Taste the Blood of Dracula and Emanuelle in America. Jones is hot stuff and has no problem showing off her body (aided by luscious Eurostarlets Florence Guerin and on-the-cusp-of-porn Karin Schubert), while the love story carries just enough weight to keep the viewer engaged all the way to the satisfying end. Private Screenings' release is certainly an improvement over the hopelessly blurry old MGM vesion, but don't expect a knockout transfer; it still looks like an average, somewhat dated broadcast master, albeit with better sharpness and color than you'd expect. The compositions crop off quite well to 1.78:1 framing on widescreen TVs, indicating this could have been shown theatrically with no problems.

Considerably more obscure and kinky is another Playboy outing, Lady Libertine (originally entitled Frank and I), which is basically a fancy-dress sex version of Victor/Victoria. A young orphan boy named "Frank" (Inch), really a girl on the run dressed up in an unconvincing Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, is picked up on a desolate road by a wealthy British man, Charles (Pearson). Failed to see the true gender of his newest acquisition but aroused nonetheless, he takes Frank home and decides to bring him up properly. During a bare-bottom caning, he discovers the deception but keeps it to himself while continuing an affair with his sexy mistress (Favier). Charles and Frank (really Frances) fool around on the side, but the explanation for the youth's oddball disguise leads them both to a seedy underworld of prostitution that threatens to split them up forever. Horrendously dubbed and certainly weird, Lady Libertine will be something of a tough sell for the average softcore crowd; the odd mix of cross-dressing, S&M, and flat performances make for odd bedfellows, though the minor but often-naked role for French TV presenter Favier gives it a certain curiosity value. Production values are decent enough, and director Kikoine (who went from hardcore to the wacko Edge of Sanity) keeps things slick and glossy even when the film teeters on the brink of sheer stupidity. Transfer quality isn't up to par with Black Venus thanks to a much rougher, grittier look and some obvious element damage, but considering its relative rarity, the disc is still watchable enough.

Then Kikoine strikes again with the more traditional Love Circles, yet another version of that old standby, La Ronde (also filmed under its original title by Max Ophuls and Roger Vadim), in which sex forms a chain between a group of people in various locales as someone sleeps with someone else who moves on another person who then jumps off to... well, you get the idea. This time the action moves around the globe from France and Italy to Hong Kong and then both American coasts, including Black Venus star Jones chasing a blond lunk around an apartment before bedding him and stranding him naked in a department store(!). Then there's a sauna orgy, lots of disco dancing, sex on a plane, and so on and so on, with no real plot in sight apart from the same cigarette pack that passes from one hand to the next. The look of the film is far more in line with Kikoine's '80s output thanks to its gaudy primary colors, with vivid reds often used for accents in the many night scenes. Basically there's lots of dodgy dubbing, tons of sex (including a few shots that verge really, really close to hardcore), and no real characterization, which makes it either worthless cinema or the perfect party DVD, depending on your mood. The DVD looks exactly the same as the version shown on cable, and as usual the full frame presentation looks quite workable (better, if fact) matted off on a widescreen set. For another film in the series, see also Christina.

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