ECSTASY (LOVE SCENES)
Color, 1984, 90 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Bud Townsend
Starring Tiffany Bolling, Franc Luz, Britt Ekland, Julie Newmar, Jack Carter, Daniel Pilon, Monique Gabrielle
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1983, 95 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Claude Mulot
Starring Josephine Jacqueline Jones, José Antonio Ceinos, Florence Guérin, Karin Schubert, Emiliano Redondo, Helga Liné, Mandy Rice-Davies
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA HD/NTSC), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray) (France R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
MELODY OF PASSION
Color, 1985, 91 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Hubert Frank
Starring Sonja Martin, Montse Bayo, Marina Oroza, Klaus Münster, Martin Garrido
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
How does an actress deal with disrobing on camera for the first time? "Get more naked." That's just one of the useful tips to be found in Ecstasy, a Playboy production and longtime VHS favorite (as Love Scenes) making its Blu-ray debut from Severin Films as part of a softcore skin-flick triple feature, Three Between the Sheets. The golden age of cable TV erotica with outlets like Cinemax and the Playboy Channel delivered numerous memorable films with enough exposure to make an impression on viewers (including a lot of awestruck kids), and two of the films here represent that era perfectly. The third one is another story entirely, but we'll get to that in a minute. Each of the three titles is allocated to a separate Blu-ray, and while extras are minimal, they all look far better here than they ever have before with the days of sickly old broadcast masters long behind us.
First up, Ecstasy. During a moment of passion, director Peter Binnes (Luz) and his movie star wife, Val (Bolling), are happily interrupted by cigar-chomping mogul Sidney (Carter) to find out their latest release has won the prestigious "Film Critics Award." To strike while the iron is hot, Peter opts to shoot a steamy script written by former actress Belinda (Newmar), Lovescene, but can only get financing if Val agrees to star. Fortunately Val is doing her first nude photo shoot at the time with cheeky Sapphic photographer Annie (Ekland), so it's just one jacuzzi heart to heart away before she agrees to act au naturel. Unfortunately we soon find out that Val has been faking it in bed and gets a bit of an awakening with her male co-star, Rick (Canadian exploitation vet Pilon), which in turn proves to be a threat to her marriage as the demands of the production escalate beyond her comfort level.
A member of cult movie royalty thanks to roles in Kingdom of the Spiders, Bonnie's Kids, and The Centerfold Girls, Bolling was vocal about her unpleasant experience posing for Playboy in the early '70s but decided to make this film due to her longstanding friendship with director Bud Townsend-- who has drive-in credentials of his own with The Beach Girls, The Folks at Red Wolf Inn, Coach, and Nightmare in Wax, but is most famous for the X-rated musical version of Alice in Wonderland. There's definitely a strange meta quality to this film as it seems to intentionally blur the lines between its actual making and the production we see on screen, accentuated by the repetitive, spooky electronic music. The fact that Townsend managed to wrangle up a cast of this caliber for what amounts to a cable TV sex film is wild to contemplate, and Ekland and Newmar seem to be in the right spirit. Add to that an appearance by a very unabashed Monique Gabrielle and the fact that this was ghost produced by none other than Harry Alan Towers, and you get a film that definitely scratches that '80s late night fix. Released on DVD back in 2007 by Severin Films under its brief Private Screenings banner, the film didn't look so hot back then (courtesy of an old broadcast era master) and had no extras; the Blu-ray easily tramples all over that disc with a crisp new 2K scan that finally looks good and has a superior DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track with optional English SDH subtitles. A trailer (as Love Scenes) is also included.
Harry Alan Towers rears his head again on disc two with another Playboy Enterprises production, this time made in Europe and one of the most frequently aired titles on Cinemax's Friday After Dark rotation: Black Venus. An effective mixture of elegant period decor, full frontal nudity, and oddball plotting, this one managed to draw in both TV viewers and, believe it or not, VHS renters courtesy of its big box release from MGM! Perfectly in line with the usual Victorian erotica, the plot follows the difficult passion which erupts between 19th-century sculptor Armand (Ceinos) and exotic beauty Venus (Miss Bahamas winner Jones) after they're brought together by an aging art bigwig, Jacques (Redondo). Unfortunately, the frequent demands on Venus' time as she supports her lover and ignites the lust in everyone around her eventually tear them apart, and Armand's ultimate masterpiece, a replica of his true love, only provides temporary solace. Will they get together again, or will Venus be consumed in a lifestyle of freewheeling, wanton carnality?
Beautifully shot in gauzy filters by director Claude Mulot (who went from The Blood Rose to the gimmicky porn classic Pussy Talk), this top-drawer slice of erotica still holds up quite well today and features a few memorable set pieces including that reliable standby, the "let's walk through a whorehouse and watch the kinky customers" routine already established in such films as Taste the Blood of Dracula, Salon Kitty, and Emanuelle in America. In this case, you get a few novel twists like sex on a pirate ship set. Jones is very vibrant and has no problem showing off her body (aided by Euro-starlets Florence Guérin and on-the-cusp-of-porn Karin Schubert, not to mention British political scandal legend Mandy Rice-Davies), while the love story carries just enough weight to keep the viewer engaged all the way to the satisfying end. Private Screenings' uncut DVD release in 2006 was an improvement over the hopelessly blurry old MGM version and ran almost 15 minutes longer, but it was still from an old master and looked its age. A greatly improved, 1.66:1 master finally turned up on Blu-ray in France (with English and French audio) as a bonus feature on the release of Mulot's quasi-giallo Le Couteau sous la gorge (also with Guérin). The Severin disc looks the same, which is good news; it's a very gauzy film by design but looks infinitely better here than what we suffered through in past decades. English, French, and German mono audio options are included (DTS-HD MA 2.0) with optional English SDH subtitles; being one of those "Euro-pudding" films, it was dubbed no matter how you saw it so the English track is good enough. A short trailer is also included.
Things go completely off the deep end with disc three, which delivers the most obscure film in the set: Melody of Passion, an Austrian-Spanish co-production directed by Hubert Frank, already a familiar Severin name from Vanessa and the guy behind the hit West German sexy romance, Melody in Love. You won't find anyone named Melody here; instead it's the saga of Betty Milton (Martin from Emmanuelle IV and multiple Lemon Popsicle films), a model who spends all her free time driving around with her boyfriend, Phillip. Their afternoon of her bobbing her boobs in his face is interrupted by a special delivery letter notifying her that she's inherited a castle in Mallorca, Casa Flores, from a recently deceased Contessa somewhere in her family tree. Since Phillip's busy with some kind of exams and work or something, he can't go along for her journey to check out the place -- which is currently being used for tours and nudie photo shoots, at the exact same time. ("Better than watching soap operas!") At night the place's bedrooms also host liaisons for various adulterous folks who want to copulate in luxury, a situation that suits the plotting current executor, Don Cervantes, who enjoys the pocket money and doesn't want Betty to mess things up. After a comical naked mishap involving the local cops and a sinister motorcycle ride, Betty makes her way to the castle with a colorful cement mixer driver who tells her there's a ghost living in one of the castle towers. Cue the Gothic candelabra wandering, creepy electronic music, sexy flamenco dancing, firelight strip shows, exhibitionist hospitality staff, snipers, and a random rock band performance in the courtyard. Amidst all this madness, can Betty navigate Cervantes' plans to swipe the castle out from under her for good?
The kind of wildly unpredictable, boneheaded insanity they just don't make anymore, Melody of Passion didn't get much exposure back in the day apart from a tiny handful of European VHS releases. That's a shame since it would've caused some jaws to drop had it hit the late night cable rounds, and depending on your point of view, it'll either be the best or the worst title in this set. It's '80s nonsensical Euro bliss all the way from the maddeningly catchy theme song to the goofy hairdos (including the requisite new wave character), and as usual, the English dub is about as good as anything else since it was shot without live sound anyway. No extras for this one, but the German dub is included as well (with optional English SDH subs) if you feel like comparing.
Reviewed on March 6, 2023.