Color, 1979, 102m. / Directed by Just Jaeckin, Shuji Terayama & Walerian Borowczyk / Starring Roland Blanche, Laura Gemser, Juzo Itami, Hiromi Kawai, Marie-Catherine Conti, Yves-Marie Maurin / Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

By the late 1970s, the whole "sexy European anthology" idea was largely played out, but that didn't stop French producer Pierre Braunberger from trying to update the idea by bringing together three very different directors for a collection of erotic tales. The most obvious choice of these is Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, who had already made a splash with his "dirty history" collection, Immoral Tales, but the other two contributors have plenty to offer as well.

The film begins with its most jolting segment, "L'île aux sirènes," by Just Jaeckin. a fashion photographer-turned-director still hot from Emmanuelle and Story of O. Here he teams up with star Laura Gemser, best known as "Black Emanuelle" in a series of enjoyable Italian knock-offs, and the results are even more perverse than you might imagine. A shipwrecked sailor (La Femme Nikita's Roland Blanche) finds himself on a sunny island where he begins to set up a sustainable lifestyle for himself. However, his routine is distracted by frequent glimpses of a beautiful, naked woman (Gemser) darting around nearby, and soon the two are coupling in the surf. Afterwards she introduces him to the beautiful, equally unclad female members of her tribe nearby, and the sailor thinks he's found paradise as the women give him free sexual license. However, when he begins to weary of the situation, he finds escape might not be as easy as it seems...

Beautifully shot and surprisingly gory, this segment -- sort of a kinky Twilight Zone episode -- marks an interesting chance of pace for Jaeckin and makes for a fascinating bridge between his dreamy '70s films and the more lurid, pulp-fantasy aspects of his later Gwendoline. Gemser is gorgeous and fun to watch as always, while regular Jaeckin composer Pierre Bachelet contributes a gorgeous electronic-pop score that perfectly suits the frequent sun-drenched love scenes.

Unintentionally continuing a theme, the film then presents a piece by Japanese director Shuji Terayama, who would go on to direct the startling Story of O sequel, 1981's Fruits of Passion, but who was barely known outside his native country aside from occasionally-screened future cult items like Emperor Tomato Ketchup. "Kusa-Meiku" is easily the most stylish and extreme entry, focusing on a young peasant boy constantly distracted by the haunting call of a crazy female neighbor, whose house is off-limits. The boy undergoes face-painting and self-induced bondage to resist her, but ultimately the secrets of the mystery woman are revealed in a visual orgy involving talking severed heads, a giant red spiderweb, lots of sex, and a bunch of crazy demon-people. Featuring the late director Juzo Itami, this will appeal to fans of surreal Japanese cinema as well as "pink" fans looking for a fusion of horror and erotica with a kicky psychedelic twist. Excellent all around.

Finally, Borowczyk's "L'Armoir," adapted from a more straightforward tale by twist-master Guy De Maupassant, is more of a mood piece than a narrative as it uses an interrupted night between a Parisian prostitute (Conti) and her well-to-do client (Maurin) as a springboard for a series of the director's beloved antiquated images of sexuality, including a carousel filled with call girls in their underwear and various female-and-male combinations in bizarre period dress coupling in doorways. It's all beautifully shot, though the sex content is actually pretty low with very little skin on display; Borowczyk fans will eat it up.

Although two of the directors are deceased, Severin still does a commendable job of bringing this rarely-seen but important gem of international erotic cinema to DVD. Image quality varies a bit depending on the shooting styles of the directors; the second looks best thanks to the eye-popping colors and crystal-clear cinematography, while the third is shot with Borowczyk's beloved soft-focus, powdery textures that come across as a bit hazy on video. That's how it's supposed to look, though. The 1.66:1 framing features some windowboxing on the sides. Audio can be played either with the original French and Japanese soundtracks with optional English subtitles, or an alternate, partially-English-dubbed soundtrack; stick with the former. Extras include a fantastic theatrical trailer (which makes it amazing this film got such limited theatrical play), bios for the three directors, and a new video interview with Jaeckin, a fine companion piece to his chat on Anchor Bay's Emmanuelle release in which he talks about his career a bit and how he became involved in this unusual production, as well as memories of working with the now iconic Gemser.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions