Color, 1974, 88 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by José María Forqué
Starring David Hemmings, Alida Valli, Francisco Rabal, Andrea Rau
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
If you were a really avid treasure hunter for weird movies on VHS back in the '80s, chances are you'd rent anything released by Prism Video in those eye-catching oversized boxes. One film in particular was a real puzzler, lurking behind an odd piece of semi-abstract art under the title Beyond Erotica. Touting a starring role for none other than David Hemmings (Blow-up, Deep Red, etc.), it tended to get categorized in any number of random genres: drama, horror, mystery... well, pretty much everywhere except the children's and sports sections. So, what exactly is "beyond erotica" when you watch the film? Apparently it means "very sweaty" since you actually get a psychodrama with a bit of nudity and a lot of twisted psychology in one of the most overheated atmospheres you've ever seen. By the time the IMDb rolled around it was easier to identify this as No es nada, mamá, sólo un juego, or It's Nothing Mama, Just a Game, a Caracas-Madrid co-production filmed in the latter country under what looks like extremely humid conditions and shopped around to U.S. theaters at the end of the decade as Lola and then that Beyond Erotica title. The VHS release certainly puzzled a few Hemmings fans and stuck in the memories of fans of Euro oddities, but the film dropped off the face of the earth after that for decades until Mondo Macabro dug it up for a nicely restored Blu-ray release in 2021.
In an opening that's strikingly similar to the same year's Seven Women for Satan, decadent sugar plantation owner Juan (Hemmings) is first seen astride a horse chasing a bikini-clad woman in furry bunny ears through the afternoon woods. He's flanked by a pack of ferocious dog as well, and when she gets her foot caught in a bear trap, the canines get fatally carried away. Cut to the main titles as the townspeople mourn the death and find themselves unable to take any action against Juan and his domineering mother (Lisa and the Devil's Valli), who are the primary local source of employment along with the nearby chicken farm. Penniless young Lola (Daughters of Darkness' Rau) catches Juan's eye as a suitable replacement when he spies her cradling a puppy out on the property, but she initially rebuffs him and brings out his petulant sexual assailant side. Delighted by her fighting spirit, Juan decides that he will find a way to dominate her but soon finds that money and entitlement alone may not be enough to get what he wants.
Though it has enough sadism and minor dollops of nudity from the unabashed Rau to see how it managed to do the grindhouse circuit for a little while, this film isn't really trying to turn on its audience. Instead, Spanish filmmaker José María Forqué (The Fox with a Velvet Tail) is more interested in depicting a blatant class war that spills over into an outrageous battle of the sexes as well, with Hemmings proving surprisingly game for some scenes that teeter on the verge of total absurdity. Rau manages to go toe to toe with him at every step, and though she doesn't have to do much more than sitting around shade at everyone in sight, the unusually tan Valli is perfectly cast as well.
Boasting a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, the Mondo Macabro release was first made available in the usual limited (1,200-unit), red-case edition featuring a set of lobby card reproductions, reversible cover art, and a 24-page insert booklet featuring a new essay by Ismael Fernández focusing on the director's twilight status in Spanish cinema, his more mainstream contributions including his comedy work, and the placement of this film which he regarded as one of his favorites. A new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger is very insightful and informative, quite different from her previous Spanish cinema tracks as she focuses on the Sadean elements, the frequent unjust dismissal of "journeyman" directors like Forqué, the constraints of Franco-era Spanish filmmaking at the time, the presence of Gothic elements like the monstrous mother, and quite a bit about Rau's career in front of the camera as both an actress and model, not to mention the film's distribution fate in the U.S. and some other contemporary filmmakers like Eloy de la Iglesia. A video essay by Chris O'Neill, "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely" (18m23s), focuses on Hemmings' career as both an actor and a director, using a variety of film and trailer clips to illustrate his unusual professional trajectory from boyhood onward with voiceover by Tori Lyons. It's very thorough, touching on both is odd European projects and his more mainstream achievements (though skipping over a few really crazy footnotes like the wild Technicolor musical Some People, which is worth a look). Absolutely worth a look for Hemmings newbies and fans alike, though be warned the repetitive three-note score that runs through nearly the entire piece might force you to take a breather halfway through. Also included are the Beyond Erotica Prism VHS trailer and the theatrical Lola one (also seen ages ago on the Trailer Trash DVD), the Spanish title sequence (versus the English one on the main feature), and the usual Mondo Macabro promo reel. As for the film itself, it looks really wonderful here; there isn't much of a home video history elsewhere besides VHS, but it's a glorious presentation and really gives it a professional crispness that wasn't even hinted at before. The English and Spanish tracks are both included in mint condition in DTS-HD 2.0 mono, with optional English subtitles (translated from the Spanish track). Most viewers will likely opt for the English track as it features Hemmings' original voice, and most of the other primary actors were speaking English as well (but dubbed later). However, it's interesting to compare the two given how different the vocal timbers are for some of the actors and the variations in some of the line deliveries, particularly when it comes to the great Francisco Rabal.
Reviewed on August 28, 2021