Radley Metzger, 1970
Starring: Frank Wolff, Erika Remberg, Paolo Turco, Silvana Venturelli
Metzger’s last softcore film before he turned to hardcore movies under the pseudonym Henry Paris, The Lickerish Quartet is one of his finest and most surreal films, effectively putting his name on the top of the roster for ‘70s erotica. In a castle somewhere in Europe, a well-off couple and their adult son watch a porn film while trying to quell their endless boredom. Later, they go to a carnival and watch a death defying motorcycle act. One of the female performers appears to be the same woman from the film, so they take her home with them for what promises to be an intriguing night. But when they finally put the film on, it becomes a different entity entirely, reflecting the foursome’s varied desires, fantasies and personal histories. Soon their guest begins to seduce them each in turn, further changing the contents of the film and their lives.
There is some stunning cinematography from regular Metzger collaborator Hans Jura and The Lickerish Quartet has some of Metzger’s most impressive early visuals. One of the first sex scenes, which takes place inside a highly stylized library, is incredibly impressive and alone makes the film worth watching. Though technically a U.S. film, this was shot in southern Italy at the beautiful Balsorano Castle. Between the labyrinthine castle and the lush surroundings, it seems that this could, at any moment, turn into a horror film (in fact several, including Bloody Pit of Horror, were shot here). This somewhat mind-bending film feels like it was co-directed by Jean Rollin (sans vampires) and was influenced by Pasolini’s Teorema. It was understandably praised by artist-filmmakers at the time, such as Andy Warhol. There’s a decent score from Stelvio Cipriani, though I unfortunately can’t think of him without recalling his brain-melting soundtrack to Sergio Martino’s The Great Alligator.
Loosely based on Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, the mind games, winding dialogue, and attempts at characterization are all somewhat silly, but if you can look past those things and expect no more of the film than what a standard ‘70s erotica outing would typically offer, you will be very pleasantly surprised. Metzger’s clever use of desire and erotic tension is effective and he ultimately created a compelling meditation on the nature of memory, fantasy, and desire. The acting is average, but Silvana Venturelli, the “guest,” is beautiful and absolutely captivating. It’s a shame she didn’t have many other film roles other than this, Camille 2000 and small parts in a handful of Italian films from the period.
The Lickerish Quartet comes highly recommended, particularly for fans of unusual erotica and anyone with a special interest in cinematography. It is one of my favorite Metzger films. British company Arrow Video released The Lickerish Quartet this February as a dual format Blu-ray and DVD as part of a trilogy of Metzger releases, along with Camille 2000 and Score. Don’t worry, the discs are region-free, so you can play them on anything. The restored print, an encoded MPEG-4 AVC print with a 1.86:1 aspect ratio and a 1080p transfer is presumably taken from the same source as the U.S. Cult Epics release, looks absolutely wonderful. The print is uncut for the first time in the U.K. and includes optional English subtitles.
The lossless audio track is particularly stand out, making a few improvements over the Cult Epics release. Wonderful special features include an audio commentary with Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen, The Making of The Lickerish Quartet with behind-the-scenes footage, examples of toned down sex scenes, Giving Voice to the Quartet about the different audio tracks, and some more Metzger trailers. As with the other Arrow releases, there is an insert with all new artwork and a booklet with essays from Cinema Sewer’s Robin Bougie.