The Film (4/5)
Although 1978’s Sex World is a porno variation on the premise of Westworld, it’s not exactly a parody. The movie makes explicit what the earlier, PG-rated movie heavily implied - that, if a futuristic fantasy vacation like the one in the film existed, its main appeal would be for tourists to live out their wildest sexual fantasies. Sex World takes that idea and runs with it; opening with the cast arriving by bus at the titular resort, the movie then flashes back to introduce us to our characters. Some have active, happy sex lives and are looking to have fun, while others are hoping the resort will help work out deeper dysfunctions in their lives and relationships. The setup reminds of the group encounters setting in director Anthony Spinelli’s earlier movie, 1971’s Touch Me, and Sex World also has an interest not only in the sex scenes but in the surrounding drama; it’s as interested in how each character is affected by exploring their fantasies as it is by the sex itself.
I don’t mean to make it sound like Sex World is a Bertolucci film or something - this is, after all, a porno about a hi-tech vacation resort called Sex World, and it’s mostly cheerfully silly fun. But I’ve also watched enough adult movies from the period to appreciate the difference between movies that are only interested in hardcore action and those that are interested in the opportunity porn provides to explore sex and relationships in a dramatic way. In one of the included interviews, actress Kay Parker says that Spinelli (who she refers to by his screen name, Sam Weston) was a lot like Jack Horner, the Burt Reynolds character in Boogie Nights, and Spinelli was clearly interested in making a movie with a story that would hold the audience’s attention beyond the sex scenes. It’s clear throughout the movie that as much care was put into the dramatic scenes as the porn stuff, and for a movie called Sex World, it has moments that are unexpectedly dramatically compelling.
The most interesting of these is the married couple played by Parker and Jack Wright. We’re introduced to them during an argument after Wright’s character is unable to get it up. At first this leads to unintentional laughs from moments like Wright’s petulant delivery of the line “I don’t want a smoke, I want some head!” But things turn surprisingly serious when they separately confess their secret desires to the technicians at Sex World, culminating in a scene where Wright plays voyeur as his wife fulfills her fantasy of having rough sex with a guy “with balls” (Joey Silvera) and discovering that playing the role of the cuckold isn’t for him. Sex World has the distinct feel of a porno produced near the end of the sexual revolution - while Touch Me and other earlier movies with similar themes suggest that a “If it feels good, do it” approach to sexuality is healthy and liberating, Sex World is more ambivalent about what happens to its characters after their vacation is over.
If I’m making Sex World sound more somber than it is, know that it also features scenes like the one where a racist (John Leslie) is dominated by Desiree West, who delivers the immortal line “I’ll show you your spigot ain’t a bigot.” It also features hilariously inexplicable details like the mural in one couple’s room that features a cow, a can of chili and the word “BEEF.” As for the sex scenes, they’re hardcore but feel closer to what is referred to as “couples porn” nowadays - the emphasis is on sensual detail over cues for male viewers to ejaculate. It’s a pretty female-friendly movie in general, with its grand finale a scene where a single woman (Sharon Thorpe) admits to fantasizing about an interracial scene from Behind the Green Door and is given the chance to reenact it with that scene’s star, Johnnie Keyes.
That scene highlights my only real criticism of Sex World - not a problem really, just a missed opportunity. The movie’s Westworld influence extends to scenes of technicians at control panels engineering and monitoring every scenario, and I assume that, during the Behind the Green Door reenactment, or a scene where a happily coupled woman (Leslie Bovee) gets to act out her fantasies about her neighbor (Abigail Clayton) in a facsimile of her own apartment, that both the neighbor and Johnny Keyes are supposed to be simulations. However, we never get into the sci-fi angle with, say, a scene that cuts to the lab that must be somewhere nearby, where these pleasure robots are repaired and fine tuned. More disappointingly, Sex World completely skips the part of Westworld where the robots malfunction and turn on the guests. I’m not saying Sex World should have ended in violence, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a missed opportunity that it doesn’t have at least one scene of a guest fleeing in terror from an out-of-control fuckbot.
When it comes to Vinegar Syndrome’s releases, I’m happy to be turning into a broken record - their 4K restoration of Sex World (from the original 35mm negative) is pristine and gorgeous, easily the equal of any other company’s releases of mainstream releases from the same period. Sex World was clearly made with a pretty large budget, and the transfer’s strong colors and fine detail do a great job of highlighting the movie’s giallo-esque lighting and funky production design. More than anything, the sex scenes look great and remind of a time, before decades of overlit porn shot on video or digital, of the appeal of beautiful, gorgeously lit bodies on celluloid. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono soundtrack is clear throughout, particularly whenever the groovy, ‘70s-futuristic soundtrack kicks in.
The Blu-ray includes interviews with actors Kay Parker and Joey Silvera and still photographer Joey Sussman. Parker is a particularly entertaining interview subject, and it’s interesting to hear her recount what it was like to find herself about to perform her first hardcore scene. A theatrical and teaser trailer are also included, both in HD. The DVD included in the package includes a softcore cut of Sex World that is three minutes shorter and includes many alternate takes. Best of all, Vinegar Syndrome has included a CD of the movie’s soundtrack; I’m currently resisting the urge to play the movie’s irresistibly catchy theme song on a constant loop in my living room.
Vinegar Syndrome continues their winning streak with a Blu-ray of Sex World that looks and sounds terrific, with more extras than even the movie’s biggest fans probably ever hoped for. Not only is the company doing exceptional work with vintage adult titles on a regular basis, their near-reference-quality restoration work should serve as an example to higher-profile companies in their releases of better-known mainstream cult titles.