Cult Epics // 1970 // 88 Minutes // Rated X
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // April 29th, 2011
Beyond the physical edge...
The Man (Frank Wolff, Caliber 9), His Wife (Erika Remberg, Circus of Horrors), and Her Son (Paolo Turco, Bread and Chocolate) are screening a grainy, black and white porn film in a room in their castle. The Man and His Wife comment on the film, but dispassionately, making small critiques and observations. Her Son seems annoyed by the whole thing. He decides to leave, and the Man and His Wife go with him.
They end up at a carnival where they see a Woman (Silvana Venturelli, Camille 2000) who resembles an actress from the porn loop, only the woman is brunette and the actress is blonde. The Woman is a motorcycle stunt rider, and after her performance, the Man invites her back to the castle. They all start to watch the porn film, hoping to "catch" the Woman as the actress...but the film looks different this time. The actress has her face turned away from the camera or obscured, so it's impossible to tell if she and the Woman are one and the same.
They invite the Woman to stay the night. She accepts, and is shown to her a room. Alone, she looks in the mirror and removes...her brunette wig, revealing a mane of blonde hair. Soon, every member of the household will be living out a sexual fantasy with the Woman. But are these encounters real? Just fantasies? For that matter, are these people even real, or are they just fantasies? If so, whose fantasies are they?
A strange and dreamy bit of esoteric erotica that might be too self-consciously artsy for its good, The Lickerish Quartet is one of the best-remembered works of Radley Metzger, the director known for softcore classics like Therese and Isabelle, midcore experiments like Score, and superior hardcore efforts like The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Metzger's films are noted for their beautiful locations and cinematography, literate scripts, appealing casts, and potent sensuality. The overt sexuality made them daring and, along with their frequent European locations, helped usher in the era of "art house smut" in the '60s. His later work -- when he was directing hardcore titles like Misty Beethoven, Naked Came the Stranger, and The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann under the name "Henry Paris" -- is among the most significant from the 1970s' "golden age of porn."
With The Lickerish Quartet, Metzger offers up a sexy, softcore romp wrapped in an existentialist riddle. The film opens with a quote from Luigi Pirandello ("All this present reality of yours -- is fated to seem a mere illusion tomorrow"). The characters have no names (on IMDb, the character I'm referring to as "the Man" is called "the Castle Owner" and "the Woman" is called "the Visitor"); identities are obscured and switched; flashbacks and flash-forwards permeate the film, as do images of saints and sinners, along with a host of symbols. Reality and illusion are blurred, and when it all comes together...
Only it doesn't all come together. The Lickerish Quartet has only as much meaning as a viewer imposes on it. Characters say and do things that might or might not be significant or even true. Sometimes, those things, or variations of them, are played out, either in flashback or as part of the porn film, which keeps popping up like -- well, like porn inserts in a mainstream film. It's never quite clear where Metzger is going -- we're drawn in through his imagery, and the idea that there are ideas here -- and at the end, the director gives us a punch line that's either intriguing or infuriating, depending on your tastes.
Even if you find Metzger's setup to be pretentious, there's no denying the power of his erotic set pieces. Shot at an actual castle in Italy, the film is visually striking. In one sequence, the Woman and the Man -- whose wife has declared him impotent -- romp in a library, the floor of which has sexually explicit words printed on it, dictionary-style. The Woman and the Son have an idyllic rendezvous on the grounds of the estate; this could have come off as silly, but it's so beautifully shot and performed, that it's both erotic and moving. The scene between the Woman and the Wife is the most eye-opening -- titillating, seductive, chilling, and confounding.
While Turco and Venturelli are attractive players, Wolff and Remberg take the acting honors. Wolff, an American who became a noted character actor in Europe, and Remberg, whose career was spent mainly in horror and exploitation films, seem to "get" the bizarre nature of the film and offer accomplished, but playful performances. Neither shies away from the full-frontal nudity and simulated sex scenes. Remberg retired not long after this film was released. Wolff went on to make a number of films, but committed suicide in 1971.
The Lickerish Quartet has been available on DVD before, both as a standalone and as a disc in a series of Metzger box sets. Previous releases have featured poor-to-middling tech and no substantial supplements.
As they did with Metzger's Score, Cult Epics has turned out a top-notch Blu-ray. While the print is far from perfect, it's substantially better than any of the previous releases, particularly in terms of colors, which are vivid and natural. The overall visual presentation is solid with no major distractions. Audio is an old-school Dolby Mono track, and while it's not mind-blowing, it's quite clear and listenable.
The Lickerish Quartet comes with a solid slate of supplements. First is a commentary with Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen in which they discuss the production, the actors, the locations, all the usual stuff -- except that Bowen keeps trying to get Metzger to talk about what the film means, something Metzger adamantly refuses to do other than make some references to "Gestalt" and "the impermanence of film." There's a sense that Metzger isn't so much unwilling to answer as he is unable, that his vision was something he could put on the screen but not really articulate. He notes with a bit of amusement that through the years, The Lickerish Quartet has been analyzed and written about so much that if he were to say too much, he'd be damaging the film's appeal.
In addition to the excellent commentary, there's a "making of" featurette; 32 minutes of alternate takes of the sex scenes (the "cool versions," to be shown in places with more restrictive standards; in the commentary, Metzger suggests that the "cool" version of the film was never needed, and therefore, never shown); and a featurette on the dubbing. The Lickerish Quartet was shot with reference sound and the voices and effects dubbed later, with Wolff and Remberg providing their own voices, while Turco and Venturelli, who both had heavy European accents, were voiced by others. Trailers for the film, along with Score and Camille 2000, round out the set.
Incidentally, the case lists this as being "R-rated," but I'm fairly certain The Lickerish Quartet was given an X on its initial release, and I've never seen a re-rating for it.
Stylish, beautifully done, confusing, murky, pretentious, annoying, sophisticated, sexy, puerile -- take your pick; any or all of these descriptions could apply to The Lickerish Quartet. Me? I found the artistic pretenses and "figure it out for yourself" aesthetic kind of endearing; love it or hate it, it's far more intellectually and creatively ambitious than virtually anything that passes for erotica now, and you just can't beat that late '60's art house vibe. Cult Epics has given the film a definitive release on Blu, with solid tech and substantial supplemental material.
Highly recommended; a must-see for fans of erotic and/or art house cinema.
And not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cult Epics
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated X