Review: The Eroticist

December 20, 2010

The time seems ripe for a viewing of Lucio Fulci’s The Eroticist, which comes courtesy of Severin Films’ fully restored 2007 DVD. Italy’s current Prime Minster — and controversial playboy billionaire — Silvio Berlusconi isn’t nearly as likable as Lando Buzzanca’s Senator Puppis, but his political and social blunders (to put it nicely) are reminiscent of some of the elements that the Godfather of Gore plays with in this sexy, political farce. No one is spared the treatment in Fulci’s 1972 feature about a Senator gunning for the presidency, who battles an obsession for delectable derrières. Fulci’s satire not only rips on the missteps of politicians, but also the army and police (including that darned Carabinieri), the mafia, and particularly the Vatican.

Senator Puppis has dedicated himself to a career in the political stratosphere — undeterred by the gossip surrounding his sexuality (or lack thereof, which at first pegs him as gay). A meeting with a female dignitary seems to unleash his repressed desires, however, and Puppis soon finds his fate (and many a shapely female behind) in the hands of his uncontrollable obsession. Since the church has groomed the Senator as their Christian, democratic political leader, he’s shipped off to a nunnery to be rehabilitated by a Dominican monk. Puppis, still entranced by his posterior fixation, ends up having his way with all 21 nuns before taking off for home again, believing himself cured. When a deranged Cardinal discovers that Puppis’ sickness has actually grown, he’ll stop at nothing to make sure Puppis wins the election — all the while dodging the opposing party, the military, and the Mafia’s sly attempts at gaining the upper hand.

While Fulci’s gory and treacherous horror isn’t on display here, there are shades of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and other trademark aesthetics in The Eroticist — most prominent during the fantasy sequences, which have a surreal, experimental vibe. Those shocked to see Fulci’s name attached to a comedy should note that the director found his start in the genre — working with the famed comedic duo, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia, before establishing himself in the world of horror. While the gags are naughty and often silly, they’re smart and indicative of more bubbling beneath the surface (Buzzanca’s Puppis was modeled after former Italian Prime Minister Emilio Colombo — who in recent years admitted he is gay; supposedly the American title is a play on The Exoricst — analyze that; I’m guessing the Senator’s name was chosen for its Latin translation, signifying the stern deck of a ship — stern also referring to another term for the … ass). The film is also a reminder that Fulci’s venom for politics and religion didn’t stop here. The classic, Don’t Torture a Duckling, was released the same year, and the jabs he takes are pretty brutal. It’s like comparing apples to oranges in terms of the genre, but the timeline makes it interesting and begs further questions about Italy’s political and social climate. Those who lack an interest in politics need not worry though, as there are some stellar performances on display. Buzzanca has a great physical presence, making him a lot of fun to watch, and Lionel Stander as the unruly Cardinal is perfect casting. There’s also enough female flesh to keep things provocative (thanks to Italian cinema sexpots Laura Antonelli and Anita Strindberg), but don’t expect anything on par with a nunsploitation/exploitation flick or you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Severin’s print of the uncut Italo sex-comedy looks fantastic and includes optional English subtitles. A 42-minute long featurette is included (the only special feature) titled, A History of Censorship, which offers commentary from Buzzanca, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, and make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi. The interviews focus on the trio’s relationship with Fulci and general stories about the film’s production (apparently Fulci channeled Puppis on set — grabbing the bottoms of his female starlets), but there is little to no mention of  “censorship.” While the anecdotes are interesting, they don’t really help the audience place the film in a historical context. A booklet essay or other more relevant features would have been advantageous. The cult distributor has grown since 2007 , so we’re seeing more of these additions to their library — and hopefully we’ll continue to do so. One thing is certain, though — you can count on Severin for high quality prints of classic cult cinema, and The Eroticist is no exception.

© Alison Nastasi, 2019