An impor­tant part of  why Radley Metzger is one the pre­mier direc­tors of erot­i­ca is the fact that he under­stood the cru­cial eroge­nous zone in the human body is the mind.  His fil­mog­ra­phy is full of films that chal­lenge the audience’s mind even as it is appeal­ing to their more pruri­ent inter­ests.  The Lickerish Quartet is great exam­ple of his abil­i­ty to engage the view­er on both intel­lec­tu­al and erotic lev­els: while it deliv­ers the expect­ed amounts of skin and sin, there’s much more going on under the sur­face here.

In true Metzger style, The Lickerish Quartet opens with a lofty quote (from Luigi Pirandello) before sketch­ing out its main trio of char­ac­ters.  None are given names: instead, they are defined by their famil­ial rela­tion­ships.  The castle own­er (Frank Wolff) is the patri­arch of the group, a dri­ven, self-absorbed type who thinks noth­ing of screen­ing a skin flick in the den for his fam­i­ly.  His wife (Erika Remberg) plays along with his whim but hangs back with a cool sense of remove from the sit­u­a­tion.  Their son (Paolo Turco) looks on with dis­ap­proval.  Unlike them, he refus­es to be jad­ed and prefers to lose him­self in hob­bies like mag­ic and old reli­gious sto­ries.

Unbeknownst to this trio, the film the father has unspooled will intro­duce a shock­ing ele­ment of change and seduc­tion into their lives.  In the evening, they attend a car­ni­val and see a brunet­te stunt rid­er — known only as the vis­i­tor (Silvana Venturelli) — who looks exact­ly like a strik­ing blonde they saw in the stag film. The castle own­er bring her home with the rest of the fam­i­ly so he can con­front her with the film — but the screen­ing does no go as planned.  In fact, the bar­ri­er between fan­ta­sy and real­i­ty breaks down as the vis­i­tor works her way through the fam­i­ly in a unique­ly seduc­tive man­ner.

The end result is erot­i­ca with an unusu­al­ly provoca­tive and art­sy edge to it.  The Lickerish Quartet takes what could have been a sim­ple soft­corn porn premise and trans­forms it into a sexed-up ver­sion of Teorema.  The script was penned by Michael DeForrest, who also did the hon­ors for Camille 2000, and he delights into blur­ring the bar­ri­ers between the cel­lu­loid and human worlds. Characters shift back and forth between the­se set­tings in a way that sug­gest real­i­ty becomes liq­uid once “the vis­i­tor” is intro­duced to the sto­ry.  DeForrest also adds an extra lev­el of inter­est to the sex sce­nes by giv­ing each a unique visu­al con­text and tone that cor­re­sponds to the par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter being seduced.

Metzger takes the play­ful­ly sur­re­al tone of DeForrest’s script and runs with it: he blends col­or with black & white (the pho­tog­ra­phy by Hans Jura is beau­ti­ful­ly lit) and uses trip­py edit­ing schemes to under­line the shifts in real­i­ty.  He also makes the most of the dif­fer­ent set­tings for the seduc­tions, espe­cial­ly a library sequence that incor­po­rates a nov­el set fea­tur­ing var­i­ous naughty words and their def­i­n­i­tions laid out on the floor.  The image of Wolff and Venturelli rolling around naked atop the­se words is one of the film’s most mem­o­rably visu­al con­ceits. Amedeo Selfa’s  edit­ing style gives shape to the­se moments, adding punchy and baro­que visu­al rhythms where need­ed, and Stelvio Cipriani’s blend of lounge and orches­tral scor­ing shifts to and fro beau­ti­ful­ly to cap­ture the ever-chang­ing moods.

Finally, the act­ing is way bet­ter than you might expect from an erotic film.  Wolff was a famil­iar Italian actor of the late 1960’s (he has a mem­o­rable bit at the begin­ning of Once Upon A Time In The West) and he brings an admirable inten­si­ty to his work here while Remberg lends an icy sub­tlety to the wife to off­set him.  Turco adds the right naïveté, blend­ing intel­li­gence and emo­tion­al vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, to make the son the most sym­pa­thet­ic of the char­ac­ters.  Finally, Venturelli owns her role as the mys­tery seduc­tress com­plete­ly, using her beau­ty as a sphinx-like mask as she alters her per­sona to match the oth­er char­ac­ters’ fan­tasies.  She’s beguil­ing and aloof all at once, just what the film needs.

In short, The Lickerish Quartet is anoth­er Metzger gem.  It makes sur­re­al­ism seem like play­ful, sexy fun.