The Film (3/5)
The notorious smash hit that has spawned 26 sequels (so far), Taboo hinges on the still-taboo topic of incest. What surprises most today is that, for a film that cannily exploited its subject matter, Taboo approaches its subject with a straight face. The story of one woman’s tentative sexual exploration and the shocking detour it takes, Taboo is neither judgmental nor sensationalistic about its heroine’s choices or its audience’s fantasies. While it’s a success by the basic porn metric of featuring plenty of attractive people boinking each other, it’s also smarter and more thoughtful about its subject matter than I expected.
The movie opens with Barbara (Kay Parker) being left by her husband, who blames her for being sexually uptight (the main evidence we’ve seen is that she doesn’t want to have sex with the lights on). Left alone with her teenage son, Paul (Mike Ranger), Barbara attempts to broaden her horizons with the help of her liberated, constantly horny friend Gina (Juliet Anderson). It’s obvious early on that Paul is entertaining impure thoughts about his mom, but it’s Barbara, after a visit to an orgy leaves her confused and bothered, who decides to give her son a surprising wake-up call.
For those icked out by the premise of Taboo, it should be noted that Ranger is too old to actually mistake him for Parker’s son. But for those who enjoy this particular fantasy, Taboo is likely to prove especially satisfying without being crass about it. I don’t want to oversell the movie’s high-mindedness, given that its sexual politics are very much of their time (a moment when Anderson, referring to Parker’s lecherous boss, exclaims “Ooh, is he raping you?” is unintentionally hilarious).
But writer/producer Helene Terrie (whose husband and partner, Kirdy Stevens, is the director) is clearly interested in considering Barbara’s perspective and giving her character an emotional journey in a genre that hardly requires it. And Parker’s above-average performance lends the movie additional depth (Ranger’s contributions are more purely aesthetic, but that ain’t nothing). While the movie’s provocative subject matter was enough to draw audiences, that it actually functions pretty well as a drama that features a lot of graphic sex explains the lasting impression it’s made on audiences.
Taboo is presented by Vinegar Syndrome in a 1080p transfer at its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The company’s 2K restoration of the film is typically strong; the more prominent wear and tear in the credits (shots featuring opticals are harder to restore) serve as a good before and after comparison, as most of the movie is free of scratches, dirt and other signs of age. Contrast, color and skin tone are strong throughout. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is clear throughout, with no noticeable hiss or distortion.
Two new audio commentaries are included, the first featuring Kay Parker (who reflects on Taboo and her other adult work) and Helene Terry (who shares stories from her and Kirdy Stevens’s start in the late 1960s through the VHS adult boom). Archival commentaries with Parker and Terry and Stevens (who passed away in 2012) are also included, as well as an archival video interview with Parker and a gallery of promotional images. A DVD is included in the set, which features reversible cover art.
Fans of vintage adult cinema won’t be disappointed by Taboo, which lives up to its reputation, and Vinegar Syndrome has yet again given us a stellar presentation of an adult classic.