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 naivete, 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.