What strikes one about Immoral Tales is just how good a film it is. When sexuality is usually displayed on screen it comes either with the unglamorous and cheaply shot, unromanticised rawness of the porn market or else the feigned, sweaty pantings of a topless Hollywood star a la Basic Instinct (1992) or Showgirls (1995). The artiest US porn ever heads toward is the glossy, airbrushed erotica of Zalman King. To see a film that puts the beauty back into erotica is not only striking but also unusually stimulating. Moreover, there is a surprising lack of guilt to the nudity that Walerian Borowczyk shows. Usually when Hollywood stars undress, there is supposed to be something covertly titillating about it, whereas Borowczyks cast undress with a complete lack of self-consciousness. There is a sense of natural unforcedness about what is happening on screen.
As with any portmanteau film, the episodes of Immoral Tales vary in effectiveness. The best of these are the first two, especially La Maree. La Maree is genuinely stimulating from its concept to its imagery the symbolic contrast between surf and orgasm, the play of power roles between the male and female cousin to its intensely erotic images the girl performing fellatio on the male as he lies on the sand and most provocatively of all simply a closeup wherein his finger caresses and penetrates her mouth. It is the most satisfying and complete episode.
Therese Philosophie is also excellent, even though the print seen here appears to have had the rape sequence, which the episode originally culminated on, cut. Like La Marees connection of surf and orgasm, Walerian Borowczyk makes a symbolic connection between divine passion and sex with a teasing provocativeness, we see Charlotte Alexandra stroking and caressing the ornamentation in the church, the pipes of the organ and kissing a wooden doll she finds in the attic, all a little longer than is entirely innocent.
The Lucrezia Borgia segment is the weakest of the four. The episode is little more than a parade of irreverent anti-church images a nude woman posing in papal robes, a cleric stroking an erection beneath his robes. At most, it seems to suggest the anti-church irreverence of a Luis Buñuel translated into erotica. However, the story never builds to any particular point.
Erzbet Bathory is the episode whereby Immoral Tales is usually cited in genre reviews. The segment is of course based on the 16th Century legend of the real-life Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory who notoriously bathed in the blood of virgins in the belief that it would make her more youthful. (The Countess Bathory story is often cited as a basis for vampirism). The Countess Bathory story has inspired several other film versions Countess Dracula (1970) and Daughters of Darkness (1971), the erotic film Eternal (2004), Stay Alive (2006), Metamorphosis (2007), Bathory (2008) and The Countess (2009), while the Countess also appeared as a character in Paul Naschys Waldemar Daninsky series. Unlike most of these other films, Walerian Borowczyks interpretation of the legend is non-fantastic (and in so doing is much more historically accurate to the real Countess Bathory story).
The episode is brief, nevertheless effective. Borowczyk makes striking contrast between beautifully artistically posed, almost painterly scenes of the young teenage girls lined up in the countesss bedroom and showering, and between the countess bathing in their blood. The episode culminates in an orgy in the countesss bedroom, through which the Countess (played by Paloma Picasso, Pablos daughter) moves with elegant aloofness as they tear her clothes from her, she exiting the room nude but gracefully untouched as behind her her swordsperson draws their sword and screams are overlaid. Unlike the previous segments, the erotica is tinged with a touch of nastiness, although Walerian Borowczyk is far too tasteful an eroticist too make the contrast too shocking.