Trekking up a mountain side are three male villagers hauling up a wooden casket. Inside the casket is thought to be the malevolent Yuki Onna, the urban legendary beautiful snow woman spirit who roams the snowy landscape enticing men to their death. Found seemingly dead and half naked amongst the village at the bottom of the mountain, this will mark the second trip up to the crag with her corpse that suddenly comes back to life. Feared by the men, her casket is left abandoned and stranded atop of the icy, cold mountain yet the thing inside the casket isn’t a ghost, but rather a shunned woman, Yuki, with a thought supernatural evil power that’s actually a death-trance condition where her intense sexual climaxes render her unconscious and not breathing for long stretches of time. Lodge owner Hyubei discovers her predicament firsthand after bedding the strange woman and the two use her condition to feign the killing of the “Snow Woman” when other persecuting-seeking male villagers coming calling for her head.
Many unusual, but still erotically stimulating, pink films have come across my desk for a professional review and for personal viewing. Shintaro Sasazuka’s “Snow Woman” might be the goofiest, nonsensical one, and threadbare storied one yet. Based off the Japanese folklore of Yuki-onna, various versions of Yuki-onna revolve around the freezing harm or death of children as well as succumbing those near the child to an icy grave. For Sasazuka’s “Snow Woman,” the 2009 released adaptation follows more closely to the Ojiya region of Niigata Prefecture where a beautiful and mysterious woman sought out a man to marry for her own sensual desires only to dissipate into frozen droplets when forced into a bath. While there’s no forced bathing in the film, the writer-director does pull inspiration of a woman immediately eager to please and marry the first man who doesn’t expel her permanently from companionship upon her climatic death-trance and is, in fact, more inexplicably inclined, aka an inkling of amorousness, to keep her around despite her unsettling disorder that locks their genitals together until she awakes from her stupor. “Snow Woman” is produced by Takeyuki Morikakuo (writer of “Rika: The Zombie Killer” and producer of “Legend of Siren XXX”) and is a production of the AMG vintage erotic catalogue.
“Tokyo Gore Police,” “Grotesque,” and JAV model actress Tsugumi Nagasawa stars in the folkloric titular role or Yuki. Nagasawa’s a bit all over the board, which is usually the case with all Japanese pink films, with her misjudged ghostly “Snow Woman” that loses all the pizazz when much of the mysticism is removed almost instantly when the immediate revelation of her sexual catatonic disorder renders her into a rigor mortis like state. Nagasawa doesn’t exactly sell the ethereal quality of the folklore of a presence able to float above sheets of snow without a trace left behind or burst into icicles surrounding heat. Yes, yes, I know pink films are strapped with very little cashflow, banking on the nudity and the bump-and-grind of exploiting popular and historical culture. Takishi (listed as Takashi on other platforms) Okabe opposites Nagasawa as the lonely lodger Nyubei who saves Yuki from an icy death by trying to charge her warmth and shelter. Okabe and Nagasawa fail to bring any kind of chemistry to the screen, romantically or sensually, that render themselves far short of saving this pink’s film vitality rebound on the home video market. The villagers who are seemingly more interested in destroying the Snow Woman as well as contemplating speculative conjecture on whether having intercourse with a monster is better than having intercourse with a woman who eats a lot is better. That whole section of the dialogue arc to the portrayed monster in the story, the Snow Woman, and when the virginal deft villager sees the Snow Woman for the first time, he immediately ravages her in a rape-eseque moment to prove no matter how monstrous she is he’s going to conquer by way of copulation. The other villagers round out with a cast in Takehisa Futagawa, Daisuke Tamaru, Horiken Fumio Yamamoto, Tetsu Teraoka, and Nami Uehara.
As mentioned, “Snow Woman” is considered a pinksploitation parody of a well-known folklore and as stated, the film’s financial support leaves much to be desired in the finish product to the point that there’s really not a story here to be told. Ostentatiously goofy without a morsel of A-for-effort lore or supernatural suspense to call a foundation, the struggle is inherently real to get through the entire film, a film that’s only approx. 1 hour long. The humor doesn’t stick and that would have flipped “Snow Woman” to a more advantageous experience coinciding with the one-on-one action that’s puts pink films on the erotica map. “Snow Woman” ultimately is a double flop on both fronts with the humor missing marks in its ultra-dry deliveries and miscued moments to the romping that’s not stimulating, titillating, or satisfying in the positioned choreography or character heterogeneity as a basic setup and cycle that inches toward only a chip of difference between the sexual scenes by adding the accompaniment of villagers with only the usual outcome results. The scenic views are actually pretty and breathtaking in see the snow-covered landscape with plenty of long and wide shots to capture Japan wilderness and while the location becomes only important in its aesthetic beauty, the b-roll footage never becomes important to the storyline as should with any Snow Woman themed media adaptation. I, personally, just wanted the characters to vamoose the lodge, or rather the overly large hut, that kept becoming the place of Yuki’s catalepsy trances because the location is the only interior location and gets old really quick.
For the first time, Shintara Sasazuka’s romantic-pink-comedy, “Snow Woman,” has a North American release from Darkside Releasing and distributed by MVD Visual. The region A coded Blu-ray release is an AVC encoded BD-R 25 presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There are two versions of “Snow Woman” available for viewing: the vintage version retains the Japanese orb of censorship around the nether regions and a newly restored version that basically means the removal of the those said orbs. Both transfers are identical in a clean and free from blemishes and damage eyesores. However, banding is a real issue that creates visible clear lines across a shade washed picture. The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack renders over quite well with discernable and clean dialogue, but the English subtitles are slightly out of synch and have at least one error that I saw. Special features include the original “Snow Woman” trailer, an erotic trailer reel that contains erotica and horror from select Italian productions, and a pink trailer reel that includes classic and modern pink films from PinkEiga. I guess in a world where pink films are outrageously perverse and can be downright sleazy and horrific, a necessity for balance would come in the form of goofy-romanticism and that’s what “Snow Woman” offers humbly by exemplifying passion and compassion as a cure for the mobbing disorderly and the ones with misunderstood disorders.
A wealthy educated man is arranged to marry the beautiful and sexually naïve daughter of a high scholar. After persuading her sex being a cornerstone to a healthy marriage, she quickly concedes to his insatiable desires. Yet, the man wants more and decides to venture out into world seeking passionate sexual escapades and when he happens upon a distinguished scoundrel, who’s good at swordplay, martial arts, and as a carnal adviser, the man is schooled about his insignificant manhood needing to be the size of a horse’s. The obvious thing to do, transplant his penis with a horse’s. The comical insanity pursues from then on out with the man falling for not only the brutish fabric maker’s wife, but also a bisexual noblewoman with a jealous lady lover. When the scholar’s secret is found out, the jealous lover imprisons the man’s stay-at-home wife into prostitution, spearheaded by the seduction of the vengeful fabric maker posing as the house’s new gardener.
Attuned to the same idea as war and peace, “Sex and Zen” is a delicate balance of control between the two and the dire consequences suffered if the sanctity of matrimonial fidelity is not respected. Hailing from Hong Kong under the infamy of the Category III rating and with surprising staggering budget of approx. 4 million USD, director Michael Mak’s artfully erotic 1991 sex-comedy is by far one of the most entertaining of its genre ever to be produced into the world. Michael Mak, the director of the three sequels following the “Long Arm of the Law” after taking over the franchise from his brother Johnny Mak, helms a script penned by “To Be Number One” writers Alexander Lee and Ying-Chiet Lee, based loosely off the drama-tragedy novel “The Carnal Prayer Mat” by Yu Li. While definitely not a mirror dramatization of Li’s novel, “Sex and Zen’s” melodrama is in full-frontal effect with outlandish sex organ transferring and fiendish-flings and betrayals that make this slapstick an absolute riot. Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest (“Game of Death,” “The Man from Hong Kong”) and Michael Mak’s brother’s company, Johnny Mak Productions,” build “Sex and Zen’s” luxurious sets and wardrobe, bright with colors and backed by phenomenal talent.
“Sex and Zen” is only as good in its absurdity as it’s actors and actresses and, fortunately, Lawrence Ng and Amy Yip, and amongst the others, infuse and imprint themselves to the carnally comically characters with pleasure. Ng (“The Underground Banker,” “Madame Q”) plays the travelling sex alcoholic husband Mei Yeung-Sheng to “Erotic Ghost Story’s” Amy Yip character, Huk-Yeung. Huk-Yeung is an in the closet nympho taught to be disgusted by sex from her father’s puritanical stance. Though Ng. and Yip’s scenes are few, they sizzle as explorers of each other’s bodies with Ng portraying shameless lust for the flesh against Yip’s innocent purity. When Mei Yeung-Sheng ventures out into the world seeking erotic flings, that’s when Kungfu superstar Lieh Lo (“Fiver Fingers of Death”) enters the fold as the famous masterful thief Choi Kun-Lun who not only steals from the rich and gives to the poor as a Robin Hood-esque martial arts bandit but also becomes the sexual advisor to a hapless Yeung-Sheng and his itsy-bitsy trouser snake problem. Lo’s hilariously cavalier and unpredictable in his performance that offers a divergent against the constant yearnings to follow the graphic depictions of pornographic picture art. The scholar becomes entangled with an abused fabric seller (Japanese-born actress Mari Ayukawa, “Groper Train Hurry Up and Come”) and, in consequence, the fabric seller’s husband Wong Chut, a ultra-physical ruffian played vigorously intensive by Elvis Tsui (“The Boxer’s Omen”), who has a vendetta against the scholar and has an affair with the scholar’s wife that leads to prostitution, frail health, and immense guilt in an parable about the misconduct of unchecked sexual liberties. “Sex and Zen” rounds out with a solid cast in Hong Kong comedian Kent Cheng (“Dr. Lamb”), Isabella Chow (“The Nocturnal Demon”), Carrie Ng (“Angel Terminators”), and Feng Tien (“Fist of Fury”) as the Sack Monk who warns about lust-induced karma that pulls the story into a full arc.
“Sex and Zen’s” mighty price tag is beyond being obvious with elaborately detailed set designs and structures, equally elegant and era appropriate wardrobe and makeup, elevated stunt work that blends highflying Kungfu with softcore eroticism, a physical and omnipresent choreography, and a few complicated shots, especially the one involving the back-and-forth editing of above and below the surface of a steamy hot tub sexual assault-to-fantasy fornication. The inexplicit story can be difficult to follow at times without much being conveyed to what the characters are doing, especially in the first act that jumps from a licentious Mei Yeung-Sheng debating with a temple-residing Sack Monk on the principles of polyamorous relationships, to the scholar fulfilling his engagement to and the slow deshelling into wanton exercises of the aristocracy daughter, to finally his sudden departure from her as he ventures out into the world for untamed carnal delights with strange women. From that point, “Sex and Zen” becomes a little more cohesive and coherent, building upon the scholars need for a bigger penis at the suggestion of his newfound friend Choi Kun-Lun and bedding the wife of a loutish fabric maker while paralleling a forbidden lesbian love affair of two stepsisters without the meddlesome of man in the mix. As Mei Yeung-Sheng and the lesbians’ paths collide, stiff and unforgiving karma catches up to each and every one of them with the welting sting of tit-for-tat cuckolding. Yet, Mak’s depiction of the story is wilder than the slapstick and melee humor with a stark contrast of, or maybe a complete overshadowing all together of, the perversion of foreign sex toys. From the hilt of a scroll brush to both ends of a golden flute (I’ll let that visual sink in), the women of “Sex and Zen” have a knack for insertion talents in this Hong Kong Cat III sideshow of debauchery and comedy.
Coming in at #2 on Umbrella Entertainment’s Sensual Sinema label, “Sex and Zen” lands on a sleek Blu-ray home video from the Australian distributor. Presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the “Sex and Zen” Umbrella Blu-ray has impeccable full high definition, 1080p quality that pops right off the screen. The original 35mm transfer has a healthy amount of good grain and the colors lavishly seize control over every scene with a full-bodied range of hues. Blacks are inky and unaffected by any major artefact issues and the skin shades are poor-riddles and hair-laden in every since of the detail spectrum. Umbrella’s Blu-ray offers two audio options with a Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD master audio with optional English dub or a Cantonese 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo with optional English dub. The dubbed-dialogue overlay is slightly asynchronous with the image, but there’s robust dialogue amplification centralized out of the five channels coinciding with isolating individual ambient sounds, such the swooshing of the swordplay or the chains clinking during acrobatic coitus. Special features are a little slim and of yore for a second title on a new sublabel, but the release offers an achieved, English-subtitled interview with director Michael Mak diving into the budget, working with the actors, and creating certain scenes. The theatrical trailer is also available on special features. The hot pink Sensual Sinema cardboard slipcover has a retro impression with various posters of the film on the slip and the snapper case surrounded by also a hot pink border. The film is listed as region B coded but played on my region free player without issue, runs at 95 minutes and is rated R+ for high level sex scenes. “Sex and Zen” is, by far, one of the best and most fetishized sex comedies ever produced and though a notorious Hong Kong CAT III production, the film is absolutely riotous and one-of-a-kind, deserving of praise from hedonistic crowds around the globe.
Sylvia Kristel. A name that is synonymous to eroticism. Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen. In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.
“Playing With Fire”
In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid. Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety. The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession. Or is it her who possesses him?
Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.” A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions. Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative. Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves: Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations. His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader. Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective. The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person. Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline. Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen. When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son. Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.
On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”). Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978. Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.
After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred. Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure. As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.
Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company. Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer. The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen. The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig. Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town. None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence. “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder. Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion. “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.
Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house. While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose. Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex. Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.
On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.
Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.
Ai doesn’t believe she is not good at anything. Her youth and beauty provide the early 20-year-old financial means of survival as a high class, Japanese prostitute with a fetish niche for clientele desiring sadism, masochism, or both. Eccentrically demanding and various in age customers range their likes from total self-humiliation by pain and punishment to rape and necrophilia fantasies. Unable to stop herself from accepting jobs because of her self-loathing cycle, Ai continues to endure most of the sexual whims no matter how outrageous or aggressive they may be during the sometimes hours long sessions. What keeps her knocking on strangers’ doors is the pining for a former lover, a now famous celebrity she at one time dated pre-stardom, who has since married and left the memory of a fragile Ai in his life progressing wake. After taking a gig alongside a fellow mistress in humiliating a real estate mogul like a dog, Ai’s invited back to the mistress’s elegant home where she’s exposed to a long night of unlabeled drugs that sends her into an uncontrollable high, looking for her former lover on the quiet streets of Japanese neighborhoods.
“Tokyo Decadence” makes “50 Shades of Gray” look like an inexperienced couple’s first time fumbling into cutesy foreplay. Though both films are adapted literary works made into controversial features surrounding sultry nipple clips, whips, chains and other playthings, the 1992 Japanese psychosexual drama is the only one out of the two where the novel’s author, Ryu Murakami, has total creative control of his tale of one woman’s squirming through perversion land as the screenwriter and director. Titled Topâzu in its originating country’s language, “Tokyo Decadence” opens up a carnalized world rarely seen amongst the daylighting fray and the price paying struggles of someone as meek as Ai in that position’s lustfully gripping vise that begs the question, is S&M obscurity an insatiable erotic hunger or is it a choking dangerous fantasy? Shot mainly in the titular city of Tokyo, the film is a production of the JVD (Japan Video Distribution) with JVD’s Tadanobu Hirao (“High School Ghostbusters,” “Celluloid Nightmare”) as producer alongside Chosei Funahara, Yousuke Nagata, and Akiuh Suzuki.
“Tokyo Decadence” is a sure-fire way to start the beginnings of an actress’s career with a rousingly provocative and difficult role that garners attention. For Miho Nikaido at the very start of her career, the lead role looked like a Tuesday. The then 26-year-old Nikaido, playing a 22-year-old Ai, stuns as a sympathetically shy S&M prostitute with underlining conflicting issues surrounding her social position, personal interests, and mental status. The opening scene with her legs lifted and spread strapped into stirrups and her bold colored red lipstick mouth buckled with a black open mouth gag complete with matching blindfold diverts eyes away from the usual nudity focal point. Instead, we’re more attuned to the happenings of a mild manner, smiling man, who we assume bound her down under professional servicing, as he stands over her, gently stroking her, and telling her to trust him and that he won’t hurt her. Then, out comes the drug pouch and needle. The jab sends shock waves of pleasure down Ai’s submissively fastened naked body, ending with Ryu Murakami’s extreme close up on Nikaido’s face after being released from the facial constraints. Her slightly crooked teeth shiver just past her stark red lips, agape by ecstasy, and the single tear drops from her soft eyes express the gargantuan amount of pleasure coursing through her helpless corporeal temple in a look that says, I am inpure, undiluted heaven. The opening sets the tone. Funny enough, Nikaido would go on to have a role in another underground S&M inspired drama “Going Under,” but instead of acting like the subservient dog or humiliating customers by having them suck on her stiletto heels, Nikaido steps aside as the girlfriend to Geno Lechner’s dominatrix role. Sayoko Amano, Tenmei Kano, and Masahiko Shimada co-star.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable or mainstream pink films from Japan because of its titillating and iconic cover art of Miho Nikaido arched forward and hands pressed high on the glass above her head, leaning against a tall and large window pane in a skimpy black lace and leather getup and overlooking the city lights and bustling residents, The very image epitomizes erotica and taboo acts and the narrative itself is nothing short of that slight zing of sordid pleasure we all experience in our minds, bodies, and especially in our more private areas. Pulled straight from Ai’s first job encounter, post-opening credits, with a wealthy business type Mr. Satoh’s and his perversion in dominating and humiliating without much physically contact in the first few couple hours of their session. The long-standing stint pushes Ai’s sexual limits without breaking her spirit that solidifies a baseline for what’s to come and what came crushes Ai’s sexual stimulation beyond the means of pleasure with a petri dish of distinctive peculiarities outside her already fringed tastes. Ai’s self-dismissiveness keeps her plugging away at a profession that’s eating away her, coming close to death in many various forms involving clients’ perversions. When she’s hired by another mistress in a co-op of dominance on a client, an unveiling of empowerment and a lavish lifestyle promises potential happiness away from her fairytale dream of reconnecting with her former lover, but that ultimately becomes a hard pill to swallow after swallowing an unidentifiable pill popper provided by her newfound friend in the trade, a pill that inebriates her into wandering the streets in search for her ex-lover. “Toyko Decadence” is as somber as it is sexy with a paralleling dark trip down delusional happiness and demented fantasy for a young woman clinging onto a past that has completely forgotten her.
Landing in at number seven on the spine is the Unearthed Films release of Ryu Murakami’s “Tokyo Decadence,” receiving a Blu-ray release on the label’s Unearthed Classics line in a widescreen 1.66.1 aspect ratio. The region A release has a runtime of 112 minutes and is plainly evident in exhibiting no rating listed on neither the back of the Blu-ray case nor the cardboard slipcover. After doing some light digging, there is a longer cut of the film with more explicit scenes, especially with Mr. Satoh, that would have adorned the U.S. release with a X-rating. The Unearthed Films release is not that cut; nonetheless, the film before us is still just as decadently beautiful in content and in quality. Stable image and color under the 35mm stock, Tadashi Aoki flipflops between mood lighting and natural light, contrasting the duality of Ai’s worlds with a lightly softness reflecting off the focal subjects. Details extend the same softness as skin textures appear overly smooth most of the time albeit the design of natural color tones. One instance of continuation concern is a prominent scene miscut left in during post at the editing room table. Though the miscut, of a closeup on Miho Nikaido, doesn’t cause a continuity error in the narrative, it does break the integrity of the scene. The Japanese LPCM 2.0 mono sound has a phenomenal, 1920kps bitrate, sound design created around a lite soundtrack that doesn’t leave room for ambient and dialogue tracks to hide behind, as if this release needed to hide behind its brawny audio output. “Tokyo Decadence” is all about the experience and every breath and movement is as felt as it is heard with a discernible dialogue well synched with the English subtitles. An optional English dub track is also available. The Blu’s special features include a release-party featurette/promo trailer that has snippet interviews from the Ryu Murakami during the event, gallery stills, and trailers. An absolute ideal upgrade for one of the best pinksploitation films to ever walk that thin line between sadism and masochism; however, I do believe Unearthed Films insisted upon the safe word by not, whether by choice or other circumstances, retrieving, updating, and releasing the fully uncut and unedited “Toyko Decadence.”
The Karnstein family’s notorious legends of evil spread vast throughout 18th century Germany. Once thought their wicked leeching of nearby villages exterminated after the Baron Joachim von Hartog dispatched all the villainous vampires after his sister fell victim to their seductive fangs. However, years later, the aristocratical General von Spielsdorf and his niece Laura find themselves in the unexpected company of a houseguest with Marcilla, the beautiful daughter of a new neighboring countess. Days later, Laura unexplainably dies from continuous nights that drain her of energy and flourish her mind full of nightmares of being strangled by a large wild animal. In the wake of her death, Marcilla also disappears. Sadden by the news of her friend’s death, Emma and her father take in the daughter of a travelling countess named Carmilla to provide Emma with cheery, distracting company in a time of distress, but the mysterious cycle of enervation and nightmares start back up all over again and it’s up to the survivals of Laura’s death to stop death before it’s too late.
Unlike any other Hammer horror film you’ve ever seen before prior to 1970, “The Vampire Lovers” blazed the trail for permissiveness of the era’s newly reformed certification system that moved the bar from 16 years order to 18 and kept in line with society’s leniencies toward the favoring sex and free love. “The Vampire Lovers” opened up to not only a new line of exploitation and violence at the turn of the decade but also introduced the longtime fans to new faces, especially actresses, who would accumulate labels and prominence inside the genre that last until this day. Based from the story of “Carmilla” from Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, relatively new at the time Hammer director Roy Ward Baker (“Scars of Dracula,” “Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde”) took the Harry fine and Michael Style adapted original story and ran the distance with the screenplay from Tudor Gates whose writing forte was not specifically well-known within horror genre nor was horror Gates’ personal interest, yet Gates tweaked the Le Fanu female vampire tale to accentuate more of lesbian themes in a very turmoiled time when lesbianism, or just being gay, was seen as a disease or an unstoppable influencing evil force amongst the young people. Fine and Style serve as producers in this co-production between Hammer Films and American International Pictures.
“The Vampire Lovers” comes under an atypical rule of the protagonist role or roles. Previous Hammer films oriented themselves with a male lead from Christopher Lee’s domineering monster Dracula to the fearlessly courageous vampire hunter played by Peter Cushing, but “The Vampire Lovers” has Hammer trade in the masculinity presence for femme fatale with the introduction of Ingrid Pitt (“Wicker Man”) in the role of the hungry Karnstein vampire, Carmilla as well as Marcilla and Mircalla as the sneaky creature of the night infiltrates estates. Pitt’s exotic look and uninhibited attitude discerns obvious sex appeal for the Polish actress who can also act with gripping emotion that develops compassion for her malevolent facade. Add another pretty face and innocently sensuous woman arm-to-arm to Pitt with then 20-year-old Madeline Smith (“Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell”) and you have a two-front protagonist made up of women. Tack on the dark features and piercing blue eyes of Kate O’Mara (“The Horror of Frankenstein”) and “The Vampire Lovers” evolves into the something unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Hammer horror trifecta as once the scene settles into the narrative’s girth, the dynamic turns into a love triangle of unspoken women intimacies and jealousy, under the guise of supernatural persuasion, rears its ugly head. The menfolk really do feel absent from the excitement despite being pivotal pieces to the story and despite being the iconic representation in face and name of Hammer films. Peter Cushing’s longstanding work with the company has branded him forever legendary in the eyes of horror fans young and new. As the benevolent General von Spielsdorf, “The Horror of Dracula” Cushing looks wonderfully regal, gentlemanly dashing, and epitomizes the very essence of a strong male figure who also takes a very noticeable backseat for much of the second and into the third act. Same can be said for that other vampire portrayer who’s not Christopher Lee, Ferdy Mayne (“The Fearless Vampire Killers”) as the village doctor with a scene plopped here and there to inch the story along as a motivational vessel and another player caught in the Karnstein fang-game. “The Vampire Lovers” sees through to move plot significant characters, played by notable actors, to and from the storyline with performances from George Cole (“Fright”), Jon Finch (“Frenzy”), Dawn Addams (“The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll”), Pippa Steel (“Lust for a Vampire”), Harvey Hall (“Twins of Evil”), and Douglas Wilmer as the Baron Joachim von Hartog who give a great opening expositional prologue that sets the background and tone of the film.
Laced in the traditional gothic style we all know and love from Hammer Films, “The Vampire Lovers” has grandiose late 19th century interiors and costumes with the latter gracing the starlets with strikingly bright tropical colored dresses that are elegant beyond the more stiff, and sometimes more imperialistic, outfits representing the period. In a way, the outfits contrast against the brooding gothic prominence that speak of subversive liberation much paralleling the very thematic elements of lesbianism, sexual motifs, and a nearly an all-encompassing female lead. If sex was ever a subtle insinuation in previous Hammer film it was not so subtle in “The Vampire Lovers” that consistently and constantly thickened the sexual tension and produced blunt scenes of eroticism between two or more women. Even with the powerful commingle of womanhood desires, as much as it was depicted to be devasting to their lifeblood, Tudor Gates’ narrative still pit them up against nearly impossible odds when the male characters, no longer duped by the formalities of chivalrous intentions, figure out what’s really happening under their noses, in their households none the less, and band together to put a to a heart-staking stop to the macabre madness aka metaphorical lesbian evil. The story has the women’s lusts and desires, whether their choosing or not, be an outlier from normalcy, yet on the other hand, nudity flourishes within the new laxed certification guidelines that see in some way, shape, and form four actresses baring skin in what what would have been considered risqué X-certificated scenes prior to 1970. “The Vampire Lovers” is by far a perfect film with a lack of character context, such as with the male vampire on horseback indulging his penchant for observing Camilla’s attacks from afar and doesn’t proceed to explain further or with more insight to who he is and what his position may be within the Karnstein family ranks, as well as the narrative format with early on into the story being bit choppy and disorienting when Carmilla assaults nightly the General’s fair niece as a furry beast in the confines of a lurid nightmare.
Deserving of a collector’s edition, Shout Factory subsidiary horror label, Scream Factory, presents a new Blu-ray release of “The Vampire Lovers” scanned in 4K of the original camera negative. Scream Factory should be extolled for their color grading toward Hammer transfers as the release looks stunning with quality stability and richness that brings the era alive. Transfer also appears free from any kind of major blemishes and barely of any smaller ones. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono has resolute fidelity in the best possible audio offering “The Vampire Lovers” will likely see now and in future releases with a clear dialogue track and a Harry Robertson score that relives the classic studio orchestra in compelling fashion. The release comes with a slew of special features including an exclusive new interview with film historian Kim Newman, who also shows up again in archived interviews in the “Feminine Fantastique: Resurrecting ‘The Vampire Lovers'” (Scream Factory lists it as Femme Fantastique on the back cover) featurette commentary snippets from John-Paul Checkett and David Skal and other historians and collectors of Hammer Films. Audio commentaries with director Roy Ward Baker, star Ingrid Pitt, and Screenwriter Tudor Gates, audio commentary with film historians Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, two interviews, one of them new, with co-star Madeline Smith that span about 10-15 years apart, Trailers from Hell: Mick Garris on “The Vampire Lovers,” a reading of Carmilla by Ingrid Pitt, a single deleted scene of Baron von Hartog radio spot, still gallery, and the theatrical trailer round out the bonus material. The 89-minute, Region A encoded, R-rated version runs solo as the only main feature and the transfer Scream Factory uses, or licenses, is the edited version of Ingrid Pitt’s bath scene that cuts away to a medium closeup of Madeline Smith holding a towel for Pitt who’s standing up in the tub and then cuts back to Pitt’s bare backside. However, in the “Feminine Fantastique” featurette, you can experience the unedited brief full-frontal of Ingrid Pitt standing up in the tub if that tickles your fancy. The collector’s edition sports reversible cover art with original poster art on the inside and a newly illustrated, and superbly beautiful in its simplicity, front art by Mart Maddox sheathed inside a cardboard slipcover of the same Maddox art. Turning a corner into vast opportunities for more violence, explicit nudity, and unrestrained vampire gore became a new dawn for Hammer Films without entirely prostituting themselves with wayward tactics to the point of unrecognition as “The Vampire Lovers” still emitted gothic characteristics and a partial token cast and now made even more alluring with a feature packed collector’s edition from Scream Factory!