Color, 1980, 88m.
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Starring Mark Shannon, Annj Goren, George Eastman
One 7 Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), X-Rated Kult (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1)

At the height of his productivity, Italian director Joe D'Amato was an unstoppable exploitation machine traversing the boundaries between twisted horror and almost-as-twisted erotica. By the late ´┐Ż70s, he had no reservations about mixing the two in increasingly extreme fashion, often shooting in exotic tropical locales as backdrops for his stories of lust, doom, and bloodshed, including titles like Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) and Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals (1978). By 1980, he was clearly on a roll as he smacked viewers in the face with three berserk hardcore hybrids shot in the Dominican Republic: Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, Porno Holocaust, and the most obscure of the three, Sesso Nero ("Black Sex"), hiding under the generic title Exotic Malice for its American DVD debut. Bear in mind that he also did the infamous Anthropophagus the same year, and he was truly a cinematic madman to be admired.

As with its more notorious companion films, this one stars the ever-propulsive Mark Shannon as Mark (of course), a guy facing an impending operation that will completely deflate his sex drive. (Exactly how and why you'll have to discover for yourself, including a dream sequence not easily forgotten.) To relieve his anxiety, he decides to spend his time in the tropics coupling with every woman in sight in his hotel room and on the beach, including his best friend's wife. However, he's distracted by the presence of his ex-girlfriend (Eva Man's Goren), who might be a hallucination´┐Ż or a ghost.

For much of its running time, Sesso Nero feels like a melancholy character study like Under the Volcano except with injections of unsimulated sex. And yes, it's about as weird as that sounds. Like most of D'Amato's films from the period, it can't be classified as a traditional porn film since it clearly doesn't have the traditional raincoat brigade in mind (apart from the obligatory interracial orgy scene, which could have easily been dropped without harming the film); if there was any doubt, the grotesque climax clinches it as a particularly steamy beach encounter turns into a bloody, downbeat cinematic cry for help. Not surprisingly, this was written by D'Amato's frequent leading man and scenarist at the time, George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori), who also appears in a small supporting role; supposedly this was written to generate some extra income while shooting the other two horror/sex films and wound up becoming outgrossing them by a wide margin. Another familiar face from the D'Amato stable is composer Nico Fidenco, composer of all the great scores for the Black Emanuelle series, who provides more catchy, summery accompaniment with lots of drums and lilting flutes; his groovy highlight is probably the absurd naked nightclub dance scene, which must be seen to be believed.

Like the other sex/horror titles above, D'Amato's film did well in Europe and became a VHS staple in Italian but didn't travel over to America, even in edited form. It eventually surfaced on DVD courtesy of Germany's X-Rated Kult label in one of those great oversized clamsheel boxes, featuring a nice albeit non-anamorphic transfer but only in Italian and German with optional English subtitles. The American release from One 7 is definitely one of their stronger efforts; the anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer looks very much like the same source as the previous DVD (maybe blown up to 16:9), but given this was shot in 16mm on the cheap, anything's possible. It's not dazzling by any means, but better than expected. The Italian mono audio features optional English subtitles, which are fine but sometimes a bit awkwardly translated. The only extra is a short reel of deleted scenes, basically some dull, ugly-looking female solo footage added to some video releases to pad out the running time, sourced from a murky VHS tape; it's a good thing no one was tempted to splice this back into the movie.

Reviewed on August 16, 2011.