Time to put the spotlight on another DVD company that specializes in releases that are very bad for us, and for which we are profoundly grateful. Today’s object of veneration: Cult Epics. Their very name implies their agenda, but doesn’t quite do it full justice. The epics that they create a cult around are very sexual in nature. I’ve reviewed most of their recent releases individually, so I won’t rehash those musings too much here, but try to give you, loyal reader, a bird’s eye view of their output.
Thre… names dominate the Cult Epics catalogue: Bettie Page, Tinto Brass, and, to a lesser degree, Walerian Borowczyk. Page is the empress of what we might call the documentary side of the company’s sexy output. The Bettie Page Collection box set is your best bet here, with a disc of Bunny Yeager photography backing up two Bettie discs (one of her pin-up work, one of the bondage stuff). While none of Page’s films are necessarily good in and of themselves, they are valuable historical records, and make up an essential companion piece to both The Notorious Bettie Page and Cult Epics’ own tribute, Bettie Page: Dark Angel. This historical document angle also forms the principle virtue of the Vintage Erotica series, which has a disc now for every decade from the 20’s to the 50’s. Again, one doesn’t watch these films for their sterling qualities, but as curiosities they are invaluable, and worthy of preservation.Tinto Brass is probably still best known in North America (to the extent that he is known at all) as the man who directed that infamous folly Caligula, only to yank his directorial credit when Bob Guccione added the hardcore inserts. Cult Epics allows us to get to know the man much better through six (so far) releases. Far more light-hearted than the bloated monstrosity that is Caligula, these are all handsomely mounted, frequently period-set, exercises in erotica. The films aren’t as smart as Brass clearly thinks they are, but there is a rather disarming auteurist obsession to them.Walerican Borowczyk, on the other hand, makes the kind of movies Brass merely thinks he’s doing, and the highlight here is undoubtedly The Beast, a wildly perverse take on the Beauty and the Beast story that achieves the almost unheard of feat of being an absolutely gripping erotic film. It is a feast for the eyes.Borowczyk isn’t the only avant-garde director with an interest in the darker recesses of human sexuality on the Cult Epics roster. I should also mention Fernando Arrabal, who has the love of the surreal of an Alejandro (El Topo) Jodorowsky, but whose pretensions are nowhere near as annoying. There are three of his films on offer here, in a nice box set.A couple of one-offs deserve special mention. In a Glass Cage is a full-on horror film, though, as one might expect, the horror is sexual in nature. And is it ever horrific. This story of an iron-lung-encased Nazi pedophile is not for the faint of heart, but it is a stunning achievement. And then there’s School of the Holy Beast. There are all sorts of nunsploitation films out there vying for supremacy. But I haven’t seen any yet to top this Japanese effort for blasphemy, degradation and pictorial beauty (in case you were wondering, all three of those qualities are meant to be terms of praise). If these two titles were the only ones in Cult Epics’ catalogue, those good people could retire knowing the job was well done. I can’t wait to see what comes next.