SECRETS OF SEX
Also Known As
Erotic Tales from Mummy’s Tomb
Tales of the Bizarre
Directed by Antony Balch
UK/1969 – 92 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD provided by Synapse Film
Article written by Craig Hamann
According to writer and film historian Chris Poggiati, after executive producer Richard Gordon and producer/writer/director Antony Balch had finished their low budget production of SECRETS OF SEX, they decided to change the title. This was because Gordon and Balch felt the “sex” part of the title might cause distributors to mistakenly think they were dealing with a porno flick (and one must remember we are talking about distributors back in 1969). So the two men came up with the title BIZARRE, believing that they had, in fact, created an odd movie. They were right. Balch’s film is definitely strange. Unfortunately, it’s also quite bad. Actually, Gordon and Balch would have been more accurate if they had named the project AWFUL or RIDICULOUS.
The film begins with three naked people (two guys and one girl) sitting in a hayloft. They stand up and begin dancing around in a circle together. Then we cut to a scene where a judge discovers his concubine is hiding something in a large trunk. The judge assumes it must be a secret lover of hers, so he orders his servants to bury the trunk in the countryside. From there we are introduced to a dirt-caked mummy who confides that he is obsessed with watching sex wars between men and women, and that he has been doing this for quite some time. At that point the mummy serves as a wraparound host and we view a series of mostly pointless vignettes. Folks, I’m not kidding. That is how the movie actually opens.
The first story has to do with a female photographer and her skinny male model. Apparently, the photographer is doing a series of pictures utilizing medieval torture instruments and the wimpy male model is posing for all of them. She puts the man on a particularly uncomfortable device, where a long sharp blade is pressed against his crotch, and then leaves him there while she goes out for lunch. The punchline to the story is predictable and not the least bit suspenseful. Next on the list is a tale about a younger woman named Mary-Clare in love with an older man named Sacha. Despite being nearly 70 years old, Sacha still wishes he could have a son to carry his name. He even views women as simply being a vessel for the most important thing in life – a son. Mary-Clare decides to bare him the child, but complications arise when she finds out that she carries a genetic defect that could cause the baby to look like a big grub and die shortly after birth. The payoff feels like an afterthought and lacks any real drama. The third story is about an unimportant relationship between a female cat burglar and her male victim. It’s a waste of time. The fourth vignette is actually the best one of the lot and is rather funny in parts. There is an amusing parody of silent movies during one point that is refreshingly effective. Surprisingly, the ending even has a twist that works. Next up is a nonsensical story about some geek and his fascination with lizards and how he wants to share his interests with a panicked prostitute. And finally, the last tale leisurely reveals how a matron tells her new butler about her garden and how it supposedly contains the souls of her former lovers.
All in all the movie is a mess. It disguises itself as experimental cinema that pulls no punches when it’s really uninspired exploitation that is weakly written, badly directed, and ham-handed in its execution. Perhaps the most “bizarre” quality of the film is how it mysteriously manages to make nudity seem so non-sexy and monotonous. There is nothing erotic, sensuous or alluring about any of the awkwardly staged humping scenes. Oh, by the way, there is nothing scary here either. The direction and storytelling is far too passive and flat to create anything frightening on screen. The same can be said about the unrelenting pontification by the mummy during the stilted wraparound scenes. Although the late genre actor Valentine Dyall delivers the mummy’s dialogue, the screenplay doesn’t offer him any chance to be entertaining. Keeping in mind that Dyall was renowned for his voice work, this project certainly wasn’t a gold star on his lengthy resume.
Maybe most troubling is that there might be a message underneath all the garbage on the screen. I’m not sure what it is, though given the time period, I imagine it’s intended to center on some kind of sexual revolution base. That’s not just a wild guess, considering there is a generous amount of nudity in most of the stories. But I think there was also supposed to be an edge to this film. I mean, the DVD case advertises that this was: “The Film They Tried to Stop!” Then again, who was trying to stop it? Maybe the initial audiences picketed its release because of its painful tediousness. Whatever, there is nothing edgy or daring about the film’s content or images. Not even for 1969. And in case anyone is wondering, this project isn’t softcore porn. The only “softness” comes from some of the numbingly weak-minded characters, due mostly to the clunky screenplay.
I feel bad about throwing stones at a film by the late Antony Balch. Let’s not forget that it was Balch who co-wrote and directed the delightfully weird HORROR HOSPITAL for Hammer. It’s not like this guy couldn’t be entertaining, though it appears as if any production he ever touched turned out to be, well, “bizarre” (there’s that word again). Thankfully, Synapse must have realized this because they’ve done a pretty good job with the DVD presentation. Supposedly this is an uncut version, which is always good, even for a bad movie. The picture and sound quality are fine. No complaints. Even better, the special extras are simply fascinating. There are two extremely offbeat, avante-garde short films by Balch, with both featuring the legendary William Burroughs. While the short subjects play like black and white acid trips, they’re truly intriguing to watch. To be honest, if you must watch the feature attraction SECRETS OF SEX aka BIZARRE, then I highly recommend you do it with the commentary by producer Richard Gordon and film historian Tom Weaver on. It’s entertaining and loaded with tidbits about director Balch. Don’t forget the cool liner notes by Chris Poggiati. There is also an interesting interview with writer Elliot Stein. Because Synapse did its job so well with the special extras, the DVD is quite watchable, despite the fact that the film is a dud.