DVD: Exotic Malice / Sesson Nero (1980)

December 12, 2011 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Weak / DVD Extras: Standard

Label: One 7 Movies/ Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: August 2, 2011

Genre: Erotic / Adult / Drama

Synopsis: With a week left before genital cancer claims his life, a career womanizer returns to the island where he met and lost his first love.

Special Features: Deleted Scene (3:12)

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Review:

Although made cheap and billed (according to the box art) as “the first official hardcore outing of Italian cinema,” this Joe D’Amato film is a peculiar, schizophrenic work that flips between porn, earnest drama, and (very, very mildly) giallo, although exactly how earnest the dramatic elements were meant to be remains exclusive to the film’s screenwriter, George Eastman, the giant, over-acting hulk best known for playing the sleazy, rape-hungry monster in Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (1974).

Eastman’s script is surprising affecting in spots, but half the credit goes to porn actor Mark Shannon, who manages to carry the film quite well, playing ‘Mark Lester,’ an American diagnosed with terminal genital cancer, and who heads to the island where he romanced his first wife Marja (Annj Goren) to find some peace before the disease rapidly claims his life.

Eastman and D’Amato keep several things vague – Mark Lester’s condition isn’t specified, for example, but he’s given a handful of pain-killing syringes for when things become unbearable – but as the story progresses, his second / current wife Lucia (Lucia Ramirez) arrives to convince him it’s worth undergoing the radical surgery (castration) to save his life, and not leave her alone.

Mark soon disappears on a drunken binge, worsened by what appears to be the ghost of Marja, who committed suicide more than a decade earlier. After watching her pleasure a ‘boyfriend,’ Mark is filled with self-loathing, drinks, hallucinates, and encounters a shocking revelation (well, sort of ) reminiscent of elaborate gialli.

As a director, D’Amato tackled many genres, but he developed a strange interest in combining porn with graphic horror, and although there are some graphic moments in the film – a medical operation, and the finale – D’Amato avoids details in the film’s predictable areas: he doesn’t bother with a flashback of Marja’s suicide or a killing that happens off-screen, and even the graphic finale remains true to the core story of a self-loathing womanizer who confronts mortality with the same rage he inflicts upon his conquests.

Eastman’s dialogue, as translated into English, is pretty decent and emotionally honest, and there are many character moments which seem uncharacteristic for a film ostensibly designed to be a porno. The adult scenes are less prolonged, as though D’Amato sought to legitimately balance the two genres, and Shannon’s scenes are allowed to unfold in a natural tempo.

There’s still a misogynist streak running through the film, but it leads in and out of the porn interludes, such as one man’s abuse of another’s spouse, which mandates ‘payback’ from the other’s wife. There’s also a strange scene where Marja gives Mark a ‘Mexican mushroom pill’ (which he accepts without delay) that soon freezes his legs and intensifies his emotional reactions – making it doubly unpleasant to watch the love of his life service another man.

The DVD from One 7 Movies (who also released D’Amato’s Sex and Black Magic) features an uncut print that appears to have been matted to 1.66:1, noticeably chopping off Shannon’s head in an early consultation scene with a doctor. Colours are stable, and the production has aged well, largely due to the use of simple two-piece outfits and off-white colours.

Digital noise reduction sometimes runs high, scrubbing away heavy print grain, whereas the mono sound mix is fairly standard. The English subtitles move a bit fast, but they’re pretty much locked to the fast dialogue delivery by the actors. Nico Fidenco’s score is mildly dramatic, often relying on slight yet repetitious theme variations, whereas a more Muzak style dominates his cues for the porn sequences (which overwhelmingly consist of women handling male timber-trunks).

Although the DVD’s supposed to contain several deleted scenes, there’s only one – a woman pleasuring herself that’s likely taken from a longer, mushy-looking VHS source – and the cover art of a woman drawing blood from the leg of a sunbathing beauty might be alluring, but it has absolutely no connection whatsoever with the film proper. If this was part of the film’s original art campaign, with the exception of the beach location, it is all a lie.

Reportedly filmed in 1978, Sesson Nero was also released as Orgasmo Nero III, perhaps as a faux tie-in with D’Amator’s Orgasmo Nero (1982), also known as Sex and Black Magic.

Eastman, who also contributed to Enzo Castellari’s Keoma (1976) and Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987), also wrote Hard Sensation (1980), Antropophagus (1980), Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), Porno Holocaust (1981), Absurd (1981), Caligula 2: The Untold Story (1982), and Anno 2020 – I gladiatori del futuro for D’Amato. The two collaborators also appear in Roger Fratter’s two-part documentary, Joe D’Amato Totally Uncut (1999), filmed a year before D’Amato’s death.

Most of the actors had worked with D’Amato before, and the film was part of a cluster of films the director made within a two-year period, although Shannon continued to act in several of D’Amato’s films until 1988.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Composer Filmography

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