Color, 1980, 86am.
Directed by Kirdy Stevens
Starring Kay Parker, Dorothy LeMay, Mike Ranger, Juliet Anderson, Tawny Pearl, Michael Morrison, Turk Lyon, Miko Yani
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), VCX (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Very few adult films have crossed over into mainstream awareness as Taboo, a major hit in theaters and on home video that spawned a slew over sequels (over 20 as of the last one in 2007) and became a rite of passage for countless high school and college kids. Director Louis Malle may have caused a stir in 1971 with an act of mother-son incest in his art film favorite Murmur of the Heart, but here the porn industry brought it front and center as the focus of an entire film with any judgmental attitudes or punishment. Fortunately the actors performing the "taboo" act look nothing alike and are only separated by eight years in age in real life, which made it palatable enough for moviegoers to enjoy and justify all those sequels (which found about as many ways to combine family members as possible).
English actress Kay Parker was still fairly new to the industry (with credits including the brilliant SexWorld and 7 into Snowy) when she took on the role of Barbara Scott, whose husband (Lyon) ditches her in the opening scene because she's so uptight she won't even let the lights stay on during sex. Her teenaged son, Paul (Ranger), lets his libido run wild with his girlfriend Sherrie (LeMay) and the occasional third partner, but he's soon feeling some funny feelings about mom after they accidentally share a late night kiss and he later gets excited watching her shower and towel off in her bedroom. Meanwhile Barbara's forced to find work as a secretary for a horndog named Jerry (Morrison) and finding herself intimidated by the roaring sex drive of her best friend, Gina (Anderson, star of the Aunt Peg series), who talks Barbara into going to a swingers' party. That plan doesn't go so well, but afterwards a revved-up Barbara decides to go into Paul's room and let her desires run wild... only to find he's more than willing to reciprocate.
The aftermath of this coupling fills up the final act of Taboo, which hits a climax of sorts when Barbara confesses her deed to Gina -- at which point Anderson steals the film with an outrageous, hilarious scene reacting very differently than you'd expect. The whole film is played with a heightened combination of melodrama and cheeky comedy, which means the film is never really as offensive or tawdry as you'd expect from the subject matter. Of course, the real draw here is the cast with Parker, Ranger, and Anderson delivering some of their most memorable work; all of them would return to later series films at least once, and with good reason.
Taboo has been around on home video since the '80s including a some dated-looking DVDs from VCX and other labels outfitted separately with a reasonably decent but poorly recorded Parker commentary (starting late in the film and full of empty gaps) and another, more informative one with director Kirdy Stevens and producer/writer Helene Terrie. It never had a new transfer until Vinegar Syndrome's 2016 HD remastering. The packaging notes it's from "35mm original vault elements," and while the image quality is a massive improvement over the old dated one we've had for decades, you'll see more scratches and dirt in a couple of reels than you usually see in a VS title. Don't let that scare you off though; this is easily the best the film has looked on home video in any format and should please its many fans. The English DTS-HD MA English audio sounds solid throughout.
The old Parker commentary is carried over, but you also get two great new separate chat tracks with Parker and Terrie. Joe Rubin from Vinegar Syndrome moderates the Parker track, a major improvement over the previous one that offers an engrossing look at her career, the "misery of he suburbs" aspect of the series, her start in the business with John Leslie, and much more; great listening all around. Anyone who's met Parker at a convention can attest she's one of the most articulate and intelligent actresses from the golden age, and that's still the case here. The new Terrie one is far more technical and historical in nature, also moderated by Rubin, with a hollow echo to the sound recording that takes some adjusting. It's still worth listening to though as she offers a lengthy discussion of the history of the porn biz starting with her father and running through various legal hoops, family affiliations with Hollywood directors and actors (including her first screen appearance as a little kid with W.C. Fields!), vagaries of the home video business, and the state of liberal San Francisco at the time. Also included are a 7-minute video interview with Parker from the DVD (covering her reaction to her first sex scene and the spiritual aspects here work brought her), a gallery of stills and posters, and reversible cover artwork with two different poster designs.