Color, 1970, 90m.
Directed by Radley Metzger
Starring Silvana Venturelli, Frank Wolff, Erika Remberg, Paolo Turco
Arrow (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / DTS-HD Mono, Cult Epics (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), First Run, Image (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

Even if director Radley Metzger had only made The Lickerish Quartet and nothing else, he would still be a crucial name in cult filmmaking. On its own terms as cinema and outside the boundaries of European erotica, this remarkable film operates on levels of narrative gamesmanship, visual architecture, and technical virtuosity that put most modern films to shame. Many illusion versus reality studies tend to fall flat on their own pretentious derrieres, but this, along with 8 1/2, The Stunt Man, and Last Year at Marienbad, is one of the few exceptions. Along with Camille 2000, this represents Metzger and his Aubudon Films at the peak of their powers, operating with artistic freedom in amazing European locales with a stellar cast.

Frank Wolff (an American-born Eurosleaze veteran of such titles as Cold Eyes of Fear and The Great Silence) and the austere Erika Remberg (the bitchy big top diva from Circus of Horrors) are an unhappily married couple spending their time in a vast, deserted castle with Remberg's petulant son, Paolo Turco. One evening the three sit around watching a scratchy B&W stag reel on Wolf's 16mm projector and are taken with a blonde beauty (the insanely gorgeous Silvana Venturelli, coming off her memorable cuffs-and-cages stint in Camille2000) in the film. Afterwards they embark to a carnival where a young woman performs a gravity-defying motorcyle stunt called the "Wall of Death." When she removes her helmet, she looks just like the woman in the film... but with brown hair. Wolff conspires to lure the woman back to the castle and surprise her with the film, but upon doing so, they find that the film has inexplicably changed so that the actress' face is no longer visible. Venturelli stays the night, and the following day, she takes amorous turns with each family member before the surprising finale.

While The Lickerish Quartet contains a great deal of sex, the love scenes are ingeniously presented as moody vignettes which reflect the nature and transformation of the characters. The film's celebrated highlight, in which Venturelli and Wolff ferociously roll around in a library whose floor is decorated with dictionary definitions of sexual terms, is only one of the many pleasures to be found in savoring and gradually taking apart this elaborate puzzle. All of the actors are well up to the task here, and the twangy, vibrant score by Stelvio Cipriani (or "Stephen Cipriani," as the film credits him) adds to the twisted, playful ambience and serves as the stylistic centerpiece between his other major scores from the same period, The Frightened Woman and Bay of Blood. Beautifully shot and enhanced with razor sharp editing (including many disorienting cross cuts between time and space), The Lickerish Quartet is a beguiling combination of Teorema and The Twilight Zone, that rare film that not only benefits from repeated viewings but actually requires them.

Unfortunately this film's sorry presentation on video for the past twenty years has done nothing to enhance its reputation; while virtually all prints have remained uncut (it was released with a self-imposed X rating in '70), the majority of video transfers (often from public domain companies and sporting title changes like Erotic Illusion) were washed out and severely cropped. Metzger's short-lived Aububon Video label briefly issued a newer transfer of the film on VHS in the '90s which became a one-off aberration; this presentation mixed a mostly letterboxed presentation with open matte framing during the stag film footage and the motorcycle sequence. First Run's edition (issued first through Image on DVD and then through their own label), also supervised by Metzger, performed some additional color correction and looked better, with the entire film uniformly matted at 1.85:1 to prevent those jarring shifts in aspect ratio (a la most Stanley Kubrick titles). The same transfer was then rehashed in Australia by Umbrella for their DVD release, which was also packed into a Metzger box set.

You can easily toss all those versions aside now, thanks to the essential HD transfer available on Blu-Ray and DVD first from Cult Epics on early 2011 and then two years later in the UK from Arrow. The Blu-Ray option is definitely preferable as this film really sparkles in hi-def, with voluptuous little Technicolor touches (especially the rose-tinted light on the film projector, the red and orange drinking glasses, and saturated blues during the carnival scene) that were never even remotely captured in standard def before. Image quality is extremely sharp and film-like; as with the other Metzger Blu-Rays of Score and Camille 2000, this appears to be a straight-up film transfer with minimal additional fudging done afterwards so you'll see some occasional cinematic debris like a speck or a single-frame scratch here and there. It's very mild though and actually adds to the deliberately scruffy celluloid texture of the feature itself. Note that the opening scene with the B&W stag film is supposed to look rough and nasty; things improve considerably a few minutes into the feature itself. Despite the "R-rated" tag on the back of the box, this is the complete uncut version (with a surprising amount of equal-opportunity exposure for 1970) which was never officially rated by the MPAA. (The Cult Epics release is available as a standalone title and as part of the boxed set, in the three-title Radley Metzger's Erotica Psychedelica, which sweetens the deal with a soundtrack CD containing both vocal versions of the theme song from Score -- "Where Is the Girl?" and "Where Is the Boy?" -- and several selections of Cipriani's score from this film, though they're in pretty flat mono and sound like they're ripped straight from the movie instead of music masters.) Quality-wise the Arrow version edges ahead in the audio department, as with the other two films, thanks to the lossless DTS-HD track (compared to the lossy Dolby Digital mono of the American one) as well as the nice touch of optional English subtitles.

As with the other two releases, you get a terrific audio commentary with Metzger and Michael J. Bowen which covers the making of the film in context within Audubon's history, the locations, the two-day choreography required for Venturelli and Turco's idyllic countryside love scene, the intricacies and budgetary advantages of creating an English dialogue track in post-production, and the various other titles the film underwent before settling on its unusual final one. "Mind Games" is a new 11-minute featurette about the making of the film, with narrator Rick Ulfik talking about the production locations and actors over various production stills, vintage behind-the-scenes footage from Metzger's collection, and some standard def clips of the film itself (which show exactly how much better the new transfer really is). Also included are rough B&W "cool" versions of the love scenes which tone down the thrusting and reblock to avoid frontal nudity, while "Giving Voice to the Quartet" compares the final dialogue track with the original on-set recording. While everyone was speaking English on location, Wolff and Remberg provided their own voices during looping after the shoot while Turco and Venturelli had to be dubbed by different actors because, as this footage proves, their shaky command of English was almost unintelligible. An HD transfer of the original theatrical trailer is included along with trailers for Score and Camille 2000. Absolutely recommended without hesitation.

Updated review on 2/18/13.