Friday, September 11, 2015

Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975)

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

New high definition digital transfer of the uncut 98-minute version
Uncompressed Mono 2.0 PCM Audio
Optional English subtitles
Introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw
The Making of The Beast: camera operator Noel Very provides a commentary on footage shot during the film's production
Frenzy of Ecstasy, a visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk's beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
The Profligate Door, a documentary about Borowczyk's sound sculptures featuring curator Maurice Corbet
Boro Brunch, a reunion meal recorded in February 2014 reuniting members of Borowczyk's crew
Commercials by Borowczyk: Holy Smoke (1963), The Museum (1964) and Tom Thumb (1966)
Gunpoint, a documentary short by Peter Graham produced and edited by Borowczyk (11:04)
Behind Enemy Lines - The Making of Gunpoint (5:16)
Theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring Borowczyk's own original poster design
Illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and an archive piece by David Thompson, illustrated with original stills


New high definition digital transfers of two versions of the feature, the familiar four-part edition and the original five-part conception including the short film The Beast of Gévaudan (which later became the feature The Beast)
Uncompressed Mono 2.0 PCM Audio
Optional English subtitles
Introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird
Love Reveals Itself, a new interview programme featuring production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry
Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk, a newly-edited archival interview in which the filmmaker discusses painting, cinema and sex
Blow Ups, a visual essay by Daniel Bird about Borowczyk s works on paper
Theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring Borowczyk s own original poster design
Illustrated booklet containing new writing on the film by by Daniel Bird and an archive piece by Philip Strick

Normally, Blood Brothers doesn’t combine films into one review (I think Kill Bill is the only other one I’ve personally written), but when it comes to The Beast and Immoral Tales – we’re going to make an exception. Mostly because the films, in their essence, are of the same ilk. Similar themes, similar style, etc. and I don’t want to have to repeat myself on a lot of the same things right in a row for our readers. The films themselves are of a unique breed: films that can easily be swapped between arthouse and soft core pornography. If that sounds like a strange combination, don’t worry – it is, but it was a style that was not only fairly common in the cult markets of Europe in the 70s, but worldwide. The problem with The Beast and Immoral Tales is that too often it’s either horrendously boring in its arthouse elements or abrasive in its breaking of conventions (usually of the sexual kind) and it just doesn’t work nearly as well as expectations lead me to believe.

In The Beast, a young woman Lucy is set to be married off to a young French aristocrat but the two seem to have no interest in one another. After hearing a story about a woman’s affair with a beast from the woods, she begins to imagine how things might be different. In Immoral Tales, four tales interweave to parallel one another about the issues that plague people whether it’s teenagers from the present or Bathory from the past.

Truthfully, my only other experience with director Walerian Borowczyk is the erotic slasher The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne that was previously released by Arrow Video this year. While that film certainly had its merits (you can read my review for that HERE), Arrow Video seemed intent on bringing more of the director’s films to the US in new (and extremely packed with features) releases. Curiosity sure got me on these as there seemed to be a fairly dedicated arthouse cult audience that praised these films for their shocking tactics and stylistic visuals. However, both films tend to fall prey to the same fatal flaw: style does not equal substance. You can read into the films all you want on how Borowczyk will intercut a scene of oral sex between two people with seagulls over the sea or the fairly obvious attempts at creating a parallel of sexual beasts that are not all that different from plotting family who want to sell you off to marriage, but in the end the films remain astonishingly vague. The films both retain this sort of minimalist approach to narrative and allow Borowczyk's visual style to be the primary story teller which retains a soft and dream like approach to the matter that seems to be his calling card. Unfortunately, the stories and the social commentary are just too vague to allow his visual style to carry the films.

Perhaps it’s the fact that in 2015 the shock of extensively erotic sequences have lost their effect or that Borowczyk seems intent on making his scripts as vague as possible with nap inducing dialogue, but neither film seems to carry enough oomph to actual make the impact that so many arthouse reviewers give the two films props for. It doesn’t matter how effective the performances or visuals are when the film seems intent on focusing on the two extreme ends of foundational elements. The films might grow on me with some time to digest what Borowczyk is offering, but at this point the two films seem disjointed in their presentation.

However, if you are into the French erotic and the dramatic beats of early Borowczyk then you are certain to love what Arrow Video has to offer on these packed releases. Both films have some intense and massively informative interviews and some extensive essay work on why Borowczyk is such an influential cult director. Immoral Tales has two versions of the feature, the traditional four story one and one that includes a fifth short film that would actually become the other film The Beast just a year later. The Beast as a film contains a ton of bonus material including commercials filmed by Borowczyk and a fascinating visual essay that talks about the sequel to The Beast that never came to be - which is sure to excite fans.

While neither film struck a chord with me as films with their niche genre and vague foundations, there are certainly folks out there that seem to love the stylistic visuals and social commentary that the director injects into his films. If you are one of those that are curious about what either The Beast or Immoral Tales have to offer as arthouse erotica then you really can’t go wrong with the depth of material that Arrow Video packs onto these two releases. Seriously, I was far more captivated by the history and analysis of the films than the films themselves – it’s that effective. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider


  1. A review written by someone that obviously didn't watch both films all the way through with their finger firmly on the fast-forward button and/or didn't even bother to watch at all. Are you writing reviews simply to get free releases from Arrow? I thought this was supposed to be a "cult movie" review site and the reviews seem to be written by a bunch of posers that think any time a film has a little eroticism that it should be automatically written off as "drek". There is so much main stream crap like Transformers, Twilight and Fast & Furious that Roger Ebert would be proud.

    1. I'll be upfront in my general distaste for films rooted firmly as erotica. I feel it often overshadows a lot of the other elements of the films and is used as a shock factor when the same message can be obtained in other ways. I fully understand the general appeal of the films for cult audiences (and I explain in my review that both of these films came highly recommended by fellow cult film fans and friends of mine), but - and like most reviews this is most obviously an opinion - I was horribly bored by both films. I see how Borowczyk slyly injects social commentary into the films (the interracial love scenes in "The Beast" add a nice layer to the mix, although 70s French society isn't something I'm wholly familiar with so making assumptions to what he was trying to say about it would be a reach for me) but often the great things of his films are undermined by his stylistic choices and strange obsession with inanimate objects as focal points in shots that many read as symbolic. To be honest, I had high expectations for these films after The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne and the films were wholly disappointing. Perhaps they will grow on me with time, but at this point it's hard for me to recommend them to our general readers. I did try to make it clear to our readers though that if you're interested in these films that these new releases are very impressive and come highly recommended. If anything, I owe Arrow Video some props for showing these films as much love as they did - no matter my opinion of the films themselves. Similar to what my review of "Island of Death" had to say.

      As for our choice of selections on the site, just because a cult film earns a mainstream status doesn't mean that its bad even though die hard cult fans tend to think so. We attempt to review everything on an even level here taking context, intent, and execution into account. Just because its big and dumb and does well in theaters does not mean it should be automatically written off as "drek."

      Thank you for reading though. We appreciate the time you took to visit the site and respond to the review. If you would like, we are always looking for the best of any genre of cult film - so if you have suggestions for great erotica (or other Borowczyk films), you are welcome to comment or email us a list. Perhaps we just haven't seen the right films yet to have a full appreciation for what it has to offer.

      Thanks again! I hope this clarifies any issues you had with the review!

  2. No individual reviews because you feel you would be repeating yourself but at the same time you review every slasher sequel on the market - that makes no sense

    1. Well we have different writers that review different slashers so it's not always the same person. We also get a ton of requests to review slashers from our readers so we try to cater to them a bit by having franchises reviewed as each entry.

      I have these two written as two separate reviews, but posting them the same day seemed repetitive. Particularly cause I noticed how closely they were in what I had to say outside of some specific moments. Truthfully, I could have added these to my review of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (as the style of the director is remarkably similar), but that one was posted a long time ago. Hence, why I linked that review to these ones just in case people were curious about what I had to say about that film - which I still feel is far superior to these two.