Color, 1977, 90/88m.
Directed by Anthony Spinelli
Starring Kay Parker, Joey Silvera, Annette Haven, John Leslie, Jack Wright, Abigail Clayton, Leslie Bovee, Kent Hall, Carole Tong, Johnnie Keyes
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1977, 90/88m.
Among the roster of golden age adult filmmakers, Anthony Spinelli has always stood out thanks to his impeccable stylist's eye and ability to film women like no one else. Though he started working in the industry in the early '70s, it wasn't until the end of the decade that he really hit his stride with an impeccable run of classics starting with Easy in 1978 and into the mid-'80s. His most successful and enduring work will probably always be Talk Dirty to Me and its sequel, Nothing to Hide, but a strong contender for his greatest work is SexWorld. Plenty of porn films adopted sci-fi trappings in the wake of the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but this one beat them to the punch and did it better by offering an erotic spin on the 1973 smash Westworld (and by association its sequel, Futureworld).
The title refers to a hi-tech vacation spot run by scientists in white coats who can arrange to bring anyone's deepest sensual desires to life. The latest busload of new arrivals consists of several couples and assorted singles with a variety of dreams and personal issues, such as married couple Ken (Hall) and Joan (Bovee), whose adequate sex life masks a host of rifts lurking between them. Then there's nagging housewife Millicent (Taboo's Parker), who can't seem to find satisfaction without a little help and some voyeurism from her wussy husband (Wright), a pouting bigot (Leslie) whose cure shouldn't come as much of a surprise, and a recently jilted lesbian (Haven) looking to fill the void in her life. In perhaps the most surprising meta moment, there's even a secretary (Thorpe) whose dream comes true when Behind the Green Door's Johnnie Keyes turns up near the end as his most famous character.
As with many of Spinelli's other films around the same time, SexWorld pays unusual attention to character development to get the viewer inside their heads before things heat up. It's a tactic that would never fly today for obvious reasons, but in an age when the actors were more than capable of handling difficult, intricate roles like this that required them to stay in character through some pretty outrageous scenarios, the gambit could pay off spectacularly when it worked. The film is always visually interesting, with the facility and the fantasy backdrops providing a wide variety of delights for the eye. All of the actors seem to realize they're in a project that could go toe to toe with its mainstream counterparts, and particularly Parker (in her debut) shows why she would quickly become one of the most in-demand and famous stars of the era.
Released theatrically by Essex, SexWorld has been a tricky title on home video with a smudgy, '80s transfer as the source for a variety of VHS editions and a DVD from VCX in 2001. The limitations of NTSC at the time simply couldn't cope with the film's intense color schemes, but it was still easy to appreciate how this film had an obvious visual impact on future directors like the Dark Brothers and especially Stephen Sayadian with Cafe Flesh and Nightdreams. (The following year's Fantasy World by Bob Chinn would be an obvious successor, too.) However, it's pretty safe to say that even those who caught this in 35mm didn't experience this the same way as Vinegar Syndrome's whopping three-disc(!) limited edition (1,500 units), with the Blu-ray offering an eye-poppingly beautiful presentation from the original negative. It's really no exaggeration to say this looks like it could've been shot yesterday; the level of detail is often astounding and puts many Hollywood HD transfers of '70s titles to shame.
The second disc, a DVD, features the theatrical XXX cut as well (which clocks in at 90 minutes) as well as one exclusive, the 88-minute softcore version which features a number of alternate takes and angles. Interestingly, the film plays about as effectively in that version, too. Otherwise the extras are the same on both discs: a teaser, the theatrical trailer, and a trio of worthwhile new video featurettes. Parker gets a 16-minute interview in which the very friendly actress talks about getting her start here at Spinelli's urging (referring to him as his credited name of Sam Weston) and talks about how her persona and fan base were shaped as the market was evolving. It's an unusually thoughtful chat as she goes into the way her own experiences and relationships were utilized for her character, not to mention her own personal discomfort with talking dirty. She also spills about most of her co-stars in the film, including some fun trivia casual fans might not know already. Silvera, one of the busiest actors of the '80s, has a much shorter (6 mins.) and more disjointed piece talking about meeting Spinelli and how he had to cope with the unusual demands of the part, while still photographer Joel Sussman has a brief, 4-minute overview of how he got into the business as a hippie snapping photos on softcore sets and parlayed it into more socially acceptable pursuits. The third disc is a soundtrack CD (a nice touch following the similar gesture on Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff); though none of the tracks are identified, the catchy library theme song by Berry Lipman kicks things off on an appropriately disco-tastic note. Snap it up while you can.