On HELENA

A 70’s Europorno with a dark, psychological edge

People speak of the golden age of hardcore pornography spurting from the 1970s like they were hallowed, horny works of reflexive art. This is due in most part to nostalgia (what isn’t) when comparing these classics to the contemporary gynecological jack-hammering iPhone porn that now stink up every corner of the internet. And I mean, sure, Deep Throat and Cafe Flesh might as well be Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Alphaville by comparison to any of the antics on PornHub, but that doesn’t mean these pictures were the bold works of hormonal vision we deify them as today.

I think there’s also the factor that 70’s porn was shot on real deal 35mm film and more often than not were more couple-inclusive than run-of-the-mill stag films and most had plots and were publicly exhibited often in hard-top theaters with big splashy premieres and mainstream media coverage. But look closely and all you’ll see are standard-issue exploitation films, most of them crass and goofball comedies jazzed up with blowjobs and genital pumping. Even the aforementioned, highly regarded Cafe Flesh just swipes a science fiction hook to hang its graphic coupling on.

All that said, if you steer away from America during the free-love decade and look to Europe, you’ll often find porn that DOES function as art. You’ll find movies not made by gangsters and 42nd street hustlers but rather skilled craftsmen and realized by decent actors with a much more avant garde, occasionally even thrillingly dangerous, leaning. Case in point, director Alain Nauroy’s perverse and hypnotic 1975 fuck film Helena (aka La Villa), a lush and, eventually, rather disturbing movie that is not only a great porno (proving that yes Vagina, er, Virginia, there ARE such things as great pornos!) but a very, very good film in and of itself: dark and hot with a gritty, psychological edge.

Gorgeous French legend Valerie Boisgel (Max Peca’s Young Cassanova) stars as the tit-ular heroine, a woman who ventures into the French countryside to hook up with Roy, a wealthy socialite she had previously met and made love to. Instead she finds another skeezy fellow named Frank staying at the villa, who informs her that Roy is busy having endless sex with another woman by the pool. Helena is justifiably mortified but sticks around and waits (“He’s about to cum” Frank smirks at one point), engaging in witty, sharp-tongued banter with the cavalier Frank while Nauroy keeps cutting to Roy working on his other lover.

Eventually, Helena has sex with Frank ( a hot scene up against a wall, standing up) and then Roy (while Roy’s other lover masturbates with a huge dildo and watches) and all this elegant, urgent and well-shot pounding and climaxing happens outdoors, with the beautiful countryside in the background, the sun shining, the pool shimmering and composer Alain Goraguer’s psychedelic fuzz-rock groove snaking around on the soundtrack.

But suddenly, this lazy and lovely shagfest is obliterated when a gang of thugs overtake the villa and begin tormenting the lovers, first trying to bury a copulating couple alive and then raping Helena. What starts as a stylish and truly sexy porn, soon becomes a harrowing, often deeply upsetting, horror movie, with shades of Last House on the Left and the later Funny Games. All this insanity is peppered with more sex until the truly daft climax that sees Helena literally “reborn”. Hard to explain, hard to forget.

And speaking of hard, let’s talk about dicks in 70’s porn. More often than not, the penises were both obscenely hairy and, well, flaccid. Not here. In Helena, it actually looks like the actors were enjoying the experience and the men have legitimate, well manicured erections, which may seem an odd comment, but it helps sell the fantasy as opposed to other films where it looks like dudes are just rubbing their sticky sausages into spots, like wet hairy marshmallows stuffed into glistening piggy banks.

Bottom line is that Helena (recently unearthed and released by Synapse’s Impulse Pictures line on DVD) is a super stylish, grim, weird and rough Eurotrash film, a balletic melodrama that is like Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness without the vampires. It blows (ahem) other domestic films of its vintage out of the water.

 

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