Color, 1983, 96m.
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Starring Marina Pierro, Michele Placido, Massimo Girotti, Laura Betti, Milena Vukotic, Philippe Taccini
Severin (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

In ancient Rome, poet and philosopher Ovid (Girotti) lectures to a colorful gallery of students whose lives intertwine with the local military. One of these is Clauda (Pierro), a beautiful woman who enjoys rolling around naked in a glass tub while her officer husband, Macarius (Placido), is often away. Ovid's teachings about the "art of love," from initial courtship to seduction regardless of the social boundaries of marriage, encourage handsome young student Cornelius (Taccini) to make advances towards Claudia to which she proves receptive. Meanwhile Claudia's guardian in her husband's absence, her mother-in-law Clio (Betti), has carnal issues of her own which prove to be her downfall. In between hallucinatory erotic fantasies (including a bizarre sequence involving Pierro inside a hollow cow mounted by a man in a bull outfit and naughty orgy footage pilfered from Caligula: The Untold Story), the love triangle builds to a violent resolution and a hugely destructive finale before a surprising, time-tripping twist ending.

Probably shuffled into production after the international attention given to Caligula and its successors, this peculiar sexual fantasy was Borowczyk's follow-up to the considerably more savage and explicit Dr. Jekyll and His Women, though there's still a hefty amount of skin and mayhem once you get past the relatively listless opening half hour. Pierro is magnetic and stunningly beautiful as always, while the Italian financing means a surprisingly prestigious cast including pros like Girotti (Last Tango in Paris), Betti (Teorema), and Placido (Plot of Fear) along with the usual cast of undraped Borowczyk extras. This certainly isn't the best place for newcomers to start, but his admirers will find plenty to enjoy in the director's idiosyncratic portrayal of Roman sexual manners.

As this is an Italian production, dialogue tracks were assembled in post-production and don't really synch up in any existing version; you can forget the more subtle and witty French tracks found in Borowczyk's other major films. The English dub here is often awkward and unconvincing, but anyone familiar with '80s cult films from Italy will recognize a lot of the voices heard here. Severin's disc is anamorphic and uncut but was probably taken straight from the master the licensor provided, which means it's a bit soft and dated looking (with the director's penchant for hazy lighting not helping things much). The 1.66:1 compositions are also slightly trimmed at the top and bottom, though this only proves destructive in a handful of shots. The only extra is an Italian theatrical trailer which naturally focuses on Pierro's memorable opening credits bathing sequence as its central visual motif.

Color, 1979, 93m.
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Starring Marina Pierro, Gaelle Legrand, Pascale Christophe, François Guétary, Jean-Claude Dreyfuss, Jean Martinelli
Severin (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Following the success of Immoral Tales in the mid-1970s, director Walerian Borowczyk made a belated return to the erotic anthology concept in 1979 with Les Héroïnes du Mal ("Heroines of Evil"), which was titled Three Immoral Women for its few English-language appearances and then (wisely) shortened to simply Immoral Women for its DVD release. Once again the theme of sex, deception and profit through the ages is prominent here, but this time women gain the upper hand each time through their crafty application of physical attractiveness and emotional manipulation.

The always ravishing Marina Pierro (a Borowczyk regular who had just appeared in his Behind Convent Walls) stars in the first segment, "Margherita," as a young woman whose passionate relationship with her poor tradesman boyfriend is hampered by their lack of funds. She seizes an opportunity to become the muse and model for a handsome young painter (Guétary), seducing both him and his unscrupulous patron, Bini (Dreyfus, best known as the crazed cannibal butcher from Delicatessen). How her bed-hopping profits her is, of course, a secret not revealed under the cheeky finale.

The second and most notorious episode concerns "Marceline" (Tender Cousins' Legrand), a frizzy-haired nymphet who spends her afternoons on the lawn getting a bit more pleasure than is socially acceptable from her flurry white pet rabbit. Her parents don't take kindly to her activities and decide to take matters into their own hands, with unbelievably perverse results...

The last and shortest story follows the modern day adventures of "Marie" (Christophe), an unhappily married woman taken hostage by a randy criminal who decides to take advantage of her in his van. With the help of the family pooch, she discovers a way to get rid of all of her problems in one fell swoop, with the expected naughty wink at the end.

Though it doesn't have any casting novelty gimmicks like the preceding Immoral film, this is in every way a worthy companion piece and certainly as satisfying a piece of erotica as Borowczyk ever delivered. His wonderfully surreal sense of humor is well in evidence here, with each story taking a number of hilarious and often weird turns with murders often doled out as a matter of course. His anti-clerical jabs are still present as well, with a stern Pope duped by both Margherita and a hilarious Michelangelo who gets away with frolicking with naked boys under the eye of the church. The "immorality" implied by the title is clearly a reference to the women's philosophical choices to achieve their ends rather than a condemnation of their sexuality itself. In purely sensual terms this is also one of Borowczyk's most accomplished films, with Pierro in particular filmed as beautifully as any actress who ever stepped in front of a camera.

Various video editions of this film have circulated on the fan market over the years, usually originating from Greece or Japan. However, many shots were lost depending on the version, with virtually all male nudity and some frontal female close-ups hitting the cutting room floor; one particularly startling visual involving hymenal blood was always the first to go. Severin's release presents the complete version of the film thankfully uncensored, and the image quality is also a considerable improvement; apart from some limitations in the original film itself (a few rough cuts and bits of debris here and there), this is a stunning presentation of a film that's been crying out for an adequate transfer. The soundtrack can be played in the original French with optional subtitles or a not-bad English dub track. Extras include a thorough Borowzcyk bio by Richard Harland Smith and the evocative European theatrical trailer.

B&W/Color, 1968, 93m.
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Starring Pierre Brasseur, Ligia Branice, Jean-Pierre Andréani, Ginette Leclerc
Cult Epics (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

After earning a name for himself with a number of acclaimed short films and a striking animated feautre (The Theater of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal), director Walerian Borowczyk embarked on his first live-action film with the peculiar and fascinating Goto, Island of Love in 1968. Though anyone acquainted with his later work might expect a combination of antiquity and erotica, the film is quite a bit stranger than that, mixing political commentary with whimsical fantasy and poetic visuals into a truly unique and surprising experience.

On an isolated island unclaimed by any larger principalities, Goto (Brasseur) rules with a "generous" but firm patriarchal fist, with his wife, Glossia (Brancie), steady at his side. Essentially a dictatorship, the island is filled with a colorful assortment of characters who all fulfill their roles according to their social caste; however, enterprising Gono (Andréani) has other ideas, particularly when a reprieve from execution brings him into close contact with the rulers. At first assigned with odd but rewarding tasks like walking the royal dogs and catching insects, he begins a flirtation with the queen and orchestrates a political shift in power that may change the power structure of the island forever.

Filled with odd little grace notes and narrative tangents, Goto is fairly low on overt eroticism (mainly a few brief bare backsides and some corset-handling) but high on visual eccentricity that's unmistakably Borowczyk. The black and white cinematography (with a quick splash of color) reveals one formal composition after another designed to evoke the mood of a lost painting, with characters precisely placed in unusual compostions similar to his later framing in films like Immoral Tales and The Beast. One particularly striking scene features the releasing of the monarch's German Shepherds, a sequence possibly designed to pay homage to Brasseur's final scene in Eyes without a Face. The director's trademark oddball sense of humor is here as well, particularly in Gono's outrageous Machiavellian tactics which take several unusual twists and turns.

In keeping with Cult Epics' other fine Borowczyk releases, Goto sports a nice anamorphic transfer from a rare film element. The print features some flutterig black levels here and there, but the quality is sharp enough with good contrast. As with many titles supplied from Argos, the English subtitles are burned-in but at least remain clear and readable throughout. Extras include Borowczyk's quirky 1959 short film, "Les Astronautes" (14 minutes), the theatrical trailer, and thorough liner notes by Rayo Casablanca which lay out the film's placement in the director's filmography while sketching out some of its major themes.

Color, 1988, 97m.
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Starring Mathieu Carrière, Marina Pierro
Cult Epics (US R1 NTSC), Pagan (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.55:1)

This last completed feature film from director Walerian Borowczyk offers an erotic, dreamlike chamber drama between two participants, the stone-faced Hugo (Carrière) and prostitute Myriam (Borowczyk muse Pierro from Dr. Jekyll and His Women). The two meet during a strange flirtation in the Paris metro; transfixed, Hugo accompanies her across the city and to a local church where they enjoy some heavy petting by a confessional booth. Eventually they wind up at a fauna-filled apartment where they make love all afternoon, occasionally pausing to enjoy such poetic moments as a butterfly resting aloft Miriam's privates. However, the tryst takes a nasty turn when she decides to cut Hugo down to size using her bare hands... with a few nasty additions.

Virtually plotless even by the director's standards, this eerie ode to the impossibility of reconciling the theory of love with its painful realities features a magnetic performance by the beautiful Pierro, who also memorably starred in Jean Rollin's The Living Dead Girl the following year. Her swift retirement from European cinema after this film is cause of mourning indeed. The typically blank Carriere performs the role of a perplexed male adequately enough, but he really takes a backseat to the leading lady and Borowczyk's sumptuous visuals. The filmmaker's usual fixations are all in place, from soft focus shots of burnished antiquities to disorienting close ups of human anatomy transfixed with strange props. Obviously the brutal finale (which isn't much of a surprise since it's featured prominently on every piece of advertising art related to the film) lingers most strongly afterwards, but the slow, methodical buildup is certainly worth savoring for Boro-philes. It's certainly not the best choice for newcomers, however, especially those expecting graphic displays of skin; while both leads spend most of the film's second half in various stages of undress, the film is more concerned with the psychological undulations of passion rather than the physical ones.

Released in most European countries under a variety of titles ranging from the original Cérémonie d'amour to the evocative Queen of the Night (a reference to Myriam's poetic alter ego), Love Rites makes its American debut courtesy of Cult Epics in a double-sided disc containing the original 97-minute cut of the film and an abbreviated, 87-minute "director's cut." Like the dual versions of The Beast, the edits mainly speed up the flow of the film and omit some extraneous conversation, in this case a few chats in the park (one involving a pushy thug) while Myriam and Hugo get to know each other. The overall effect of the shorter cut is to balance out the running time between the first and second halves, resulting in a film that gets to the point far more quickly. Either way it's worth watching, though purists who have seen the film before may want to stick with the longer cut out of habit.

Transfer quality is acceptable enough; most of the film is shot with various filters, resulting in a hazy, glowing appearance. That said, digital flaws are kept to a minimum while the virtually open matte presentation (it's almost imperceptibly letterboxed at 1.55:1) remains balanced. The French dialogue features optional English subtitles, though the film (adapted from an equally oblique novel by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Tout disparaitra) isn't terribly talky for most of its running time. Extras include a photo gallery and an insert with liner notes by Rayo Casablanco.

Color, 1975, 94m. / Directed by Walerian Borowczyk / Starring Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elisabeth Kaza, Pierre Benedetti, Guy Trejan / Cult Epics (US R1 NTSC), Nouveaux (UK R1 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

After earning a certain degree of arthouse credibility with Immoral Tales, Walerian Borowczyk immediately lost almost all of it shortly thereafter with La Bête (The Beast), a randy and explicit exploration of the underlying sexual motifs running through such fairy tales as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Red Riding Hood." The wordless 20 minute centerpiece of the film, in which noblewoman Sirpa Lane is pursued and ravished by a hairy and anatomically gifted beast, began as an installment of Immoral Tales but circulated instead as a short. Borowczyk devised a craft, Bunuelian narrative film to surround this explosive little short, and soon he had quite a success du scandale on his hands. Banned or heavily censored almost everywhere, The Beast eventually resurfaced more or less intact on the English film circuit where its comic charms could be better appreciated.

Wasting no time, the film lays out its primary theme immediately with the sight of horses breeding in the driveway of a country estate owned by the Esperance family, a dysfunctional household of lunatics intent on maintaining a sense of normalcy. Their financial stability depends on a marriage between the brutish son, Mathurin (Benedetti), and young English rose Lucy Broadhurst (Hummel), due to arrive with her aunt. Meanwhile the priest arrives for the baptism along with his uncomfortably close altar boys, the younger daughter cavorts with the virile black valet instead of tending to the children, and the entire house is rife with artifacts relating to the family's most infamous ancestor, Romilda (Lane), whose torn corset now hangs encased in glass in the drawing room. Lucy is welcoming into the house, where she immediately becomes fascinated with the story of Romilda after leafing through an illustrated diary. That night she feverishly relives Romilda's beastly ordeal in the nearby woods, and most surprisingly, these events will have an immediate, surreal impact on the upcoming wedding.

Though filled with images usually suited for porno films, The Beast still remains at heart a poisonous comedy of manners. Borowczyk's wry observation of mankind's animalistic impulses results in some odd, beautiful imagery, such as Lucy's use of a rose for sexual stimulation or the odd recurring visual of snails gliding across human hands and polished surfaces. Accompanied by a maddening harpsichord piece by Scarlatti, the beast sequence is a masterpiece of cinematic outrage, calculated to have audiences doubled over with both laughter and shock as it forges into increasingly dangerous waters. Fortunately Borowczyk manages to top even this with his berserk finale, which foreshadows a similar denouement in his equally fascinating and thematically similar Dr. Jekyll and His Women. The whole film has a wonderfully polished, exquisite look; it's arguably the director's most beautiful film and serves as a good introduction to his fondness for interlocking narratives and themes. It's also not bad as a couples film for open-minded audiences.

The video history of The Beast is long and complex, with various languages and alternate cuts floating around for over a decade. The most widely seen English language version on VHS, Death's Ecstasy, deleted most of the horse footage and all images of the beast's prosthetic phallus. A French language print subtitled in English reinstated all of the graphic footage and appeared in U.K. cinemas in 2001, with a limited run in American art theaters shortly thereafter. As Mondo Erotico reported, this version was complete except for four minutes of tangential, dialogue-heavy footage which turned up only in a Dutch print. Two different versions of The Beast appeared concurrently on DVD in the U.S. and U.K.; the latter from Nouveaux contains the aforementioned French version with burned-in subtitles. The first Cult Epics version (sporting the Argos logo at the beginning, as with Anchor Bay's Immoral Tales) instead has the English dubbed soundtrack. The merits of these audio options are tricky, as the film was post-synched in both languages. The English dub sounds rather canned, but Hummel was clearly speaking English throughout the film and this is the only version which matches her lip movements. However, the French track remains a more dry, elegant atmosphere and bolsters the film's effect as an intellectual comedy rather than a chunk of sleaze. No significant extras for either one, however.

Fortunately The Beast received a much more deserving special edition in a three-disc set from Cult Epics, with the first disc containing the general release version (dubbed a director's cut as Borowczyk edited out the superfluous footage himself). The anamorphic transfer looks terrific and even cleaner than festival prints; more significantly, the disc also allows the viewer to toggle back and forth between the French and English tracks, with optional English subtitles. The disc also contains the uproarious theatrical trailer, which runs through most of the beast flashback while superimposing black boxes over the offending prosthetic. A stills gallery is also included.

Clocking in at a hearty two hours, disc two, "Beast Bis," sports a new video interview with Brorowczyk in which he discusses the making of the film and its rocky exhibitiion history, a hefty 103 minute reel of silent behind-the-scenes footage featuring all of the actors and Borowczyk hard at work on the set, a Borowczyk bio, and more stills. The third disc offers the complete Dutch version of the film, with permanent English subtitles burned in a black band across the previous Dutch subs. It's an acceptable presentation of the only decent video master of this previously scarce edition of the film; thought the packaging designates it as widescreen, this version is almost completely open matte with the credits mildly letterboxed at 1.50:1. A gallery of lobby cards is also included. The beautiful package includes a gorgeous 52-page book, complete with eye-catching images from the film, along with text covering Borowczeyk's career, symbolic influences, and thoughts on the film (as well as brief opinions from the two female leads). Absolutely essential.

Color, 1974, 103 mins.
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Starring Paloma Picasso, Lise Danvers, Fabrice Luchibi, Charlotte Alexandra
Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Ah, the European anthology film. This long lost art of the '60s and '70s allowed notable directors of all stripes and nationalities to experiment with any number of running times and story genres, with a wide range of actors at their disposal. Polish director and former animator Walerian Borowczyk found his greatest international success with an artsy, ultra-erotic variation on this formula, Immoral Tales, for which he somehow managed to rope in Pablo Picasso's fashion-savvy daughter, Paloma, to portray the real life, bloodthirsty Erzebeth Bathory. Needless to say, the results are unlike anything else ever committed to celluloid.

The lustful nature of mankind reveals itself in a quartet of tales ranging from medieval Italy to the present day. In the first, a rakish twenty year old escorts his naive young sixteen year old cousin to the seaside, where he talks her into performing sexual favors as the tide rolls in. Then in "Therese the Philosopher," a young Victorian-era girl undergoes a rapturous sexual awakening with the aid of a few handy household props and vegetables. But that's nothing compared to Countess Bathory, who rides into a local village, rounds up dozens of nubile young virgins, and escorts them back to her castle. There the girls strip, engage in harmless horseplay, and then... Well, if you don't know the legend, there's no point in spoiling the grisly surprise. Finally Lucrezia Borgia sexually cavorts with two men in her private chambers while a heretic burns outside; afterwards the true identity of her partners is revealed.

Straddling uneasily somewhere between '70s art house pretension and softcore sleaze, Immoral Tales is beautiful to look at but so slowly paced that much of its target audience may give up by the time the second story is over. Borowczyk's following film, The Beast, started life as a segment of this film but expanded into an entire, unforgettable perverse feature on its own. His best work was yet to come with such delirious gems as Dr. Jekyll and His Women, but this naughty collection still makes for a decent introduction and, sluggish pacing aside, contains what must be a record amount of nudity for a non-hardcore title.

Though Immoral Tales played U.S. theaters with an X rating, a small amount of footage was lost from most prints compared to the stronger European cut. One bit in particular of a girl "stuffing" herself with pearls is a bit more graphic on Anchor Bay's DVD, though it still lacks an alternate, live action prologue setting up the theme of the stories which appeared in the first French and Polish editions. Very briefly released on U.S. home video during the format's infancy, Immoral Tales has been only available to collectors for years through underground sources and PAL conversions of the British video release. The DVD is a much needed relief after such a long wait, and the presentation is good if not quite pristine. The original film has always looked a bit soft and grainy, with muted colors. The disc features burned-in English subtitles (alas), with the original French and English-dubbed tracks included. The mono sound is fine, again limited by its age and the quiet nature of the film. The lurid U.S. trailer, complete with critical blurbs, in also included.

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