PLAY MOTEL (1979) Blu-ray
Director: Mario Gariazzo (as Roy Garrett)
Raro Video USA

Raro Video USA checks into the PLAY MOTEL with their Blu-ray of this obscure Italian sleaze classic.

The PLAY MOTEL is a swanky pay-by-the-hour establishment where philanderers and couples can pass the time, but the real fun is in rooms three and four which cater to particular fantasies. Businessman Rinaldo Cortesi (Enzo Fisichella, SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER) discovers, however, that what happens at the Play Motel doesn't stay there when photographs of his devil/nun kink encounter with prostitute Loredana (Marina Hedman, EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) arrive at his office via registered mail as blackmail. Unaware that his lawyer Alteri is sleeping with his wife Louisa (Patrizia Behn, MADNESS), Cortesi seeks his counsel and inadvertently gives her leverage in their pending divorce. Louisa takes the photographs to Inspector De Santis (Antony Steffen, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) hoping to unearth a scandal that will damage Cortesi's reputation. When former vice cop De Santis discovers that Loredana is a model for a porn magazine owned by Mario Liguori (Marino Masé, NIGHTMARE CASTLE), he starts investigating that angle but finds his inquiries at a dead end when Loredana is murdered and her death made to look like a car crash. When Louisa decides to do some of her own investigation at the motel, she too is murdered and her body ends up in the trunk of actor Roberto (Ray Lovelock, AUTOPSY) and his wife Patrizia (Anna Maria Rizzoli, BLAZING FLOWERS) – who have stopped at the motel to introduce a little excitement into their marriage – only for it to disappear when they call the police. When Louisa's body does turn up in her own car as an apparent robbery gone wrong and is positively identified by Roberto as the body from his trunk, De Santis suspects that her death is related to that of Loredana. Roberto is reluctant to employ his acting talents towards detection until Patrizia points out the publicity he could bring in. They scope out the Play Motel and find more links between Liguori's porn magazine and the motel. When Patrizia poses as a hopeful model, she determines that photography Willy (Mario Cutini, THE PORNO KILLERS) is the one taking the photographs of the assignations and implicates another model (Antonella Antinori, BURIAL GROUND) in the blackmail of banker Toselli (Vittorio Ripamonti, RING OF DEATH). The game may be up for Roberto and Patrizia before they can deliver proof to De Santis when Liguori – luring socialite Valeria (Patrizia Webley, THE BLOODSUCKER LEADS THE DANCE) – recognizes Patrizia prowling the motel from Willy's photographs.

Made at the end of the seventies when Italian cinema was turning away from softcore erotica to hardcore pornography, PLAY MOTEL in its intended form is an erotic giallo with its investigation punctuated by set-pieces involving kinky sex and nudity. Unknown to its starts and even director Mario Gariazzo (THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW) was that after they left for the day, another crew got together to shoot hardcore inserts, and the film would end up being distributed in both softcore and illegal hardcore versions domestically. The mystery is not that compelling but it holds together well in its softcore version. The hardcore inserts are not different sex scenes so much as taking things further than implied in the soft cut, and as such are pretty superfluous. The plot is so busy and peopled with slimy characters that Italian viewers may not find enough Lovelock, Steffen, Rosatti, Webley, Hedman, Hedman, or Masé to savor. While PLAY MOTEL may not be a good introduction to the giallo or even Italian erotica, it makes for a nice diversion for the more seasoned viewers of both.

Producer Armando Novelli (SLAUGHTER HOTEL) had just split with former business partner Fernando Di Leo (CALIBER 9) but carries over production designer Francesco Cuppini (THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN) giving a few of the motel sets some pop on probably a shoestring budget. The cinematography of Aldo Greci – whose association with Novelli goes back to THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (one of a series of poor relation Italian horrors inspired by BLACK SUNDAY) is well-lit but generally flat and lifeless. Fisichella and Webley appeared the same year in Andrea Bianchi's MALABIMBA, THE MALICIOUS WHORE while Hedman would appear in the unofficial remake SATAN'S BABY DOLL, horror films which would move further away from overt horror towards the explicitly erotic (both would be released in soft and hard versions as well). One of the film's best assets is its soundtrack which features some porn-tastic instrumentals, some funky vocals, and the wonderfully catchy theme song ("You can pass the weekend, you can really get on down, at the Play Motel outside of town!"). I'm not sure if Lovelock actually performed any of the songs, but the film's composer was Ubaldo Continiello who had collaborated with Lovelock on the theme song for Ruggero Deodato's LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN.

Never officially released stateside, PLAY MOTEL popped up in a poor quality, subtitled edition of the hardcore version from various grey market sources. Overlooked throughout much of the DVD age, the film finally popped up on the format in Italy from Minerva earlier this year. It was, therefore, an odd choice for the Blu-ray format when Raro Video USA announced it a few months ago. It was very unlikely it would arrive on the format in the USA in its hardcore edition – Raro released Alberto Cavallone's BLUE MOVIE on DVD only due to the materials and the hardcore content – and the high definition version is indeed the softer cut (93:12 vs approximately 96 minutes for the hardcore version at 24fps). Opening with English language credits (although it does not appear to have played in any English-speaking countries), the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer is crisp and colorful but pretty much digitally scrubbed of grain; and yet, it definitely is the best the film has looked on home video (and is likely to since I don't imagine this one getting a 4K overhaul anytime soon). Audio options include the Italian and rarer English dubs in LPCM 2.0 mono. The Italian track is cleaner but the English track has no defects to complain about other than the horrendously awful and hilarious dubbing performance of the actor who voices attorney Alteri. Optional English subtitles are also included.

"The Midia's Touch" featurette (18:41) – ported over from the Italian DVD and so named after the production company Midia Cinematografica – in which Nocturno's Davide Pulici provides the narrative of the transition from Novelli's partnership with Di Leo to forming Midia with Gariazzo as the house director. Lovelock does not repudiate the film but does feel it was unfair to add the scenes to make it into a blue movie when he had signed on to what was meant to be just an erotic giallo. Also discussed are Gariazzo's other Midia features: the UFO film EYES BEHIND THE STARS with actor Franco Garafolo (HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) giving a rundown of the plot, VERY CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND with Monika Zanchi (EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS) saying it is the only one of her erotic films she regrets because of the doubled shots while Pulici tells us that Gariazzo distanced himself from it because of its lampooning of his belief in aliens (the film was finished by URANIUM CONSPIRACY's Gianfranco Baldanello when Gariazzo was injured on set), and MADNESS (also featuring Behn) which he scripted but was directed by Di Leo. Novelli chimes in with some anecdotes about Di Leo and Gariazzo but does not comment on the hardcore scenes, but Pulici suggests that silent producer Rodolfo Puttignani (who was in a relationship with Behn at the time) might have been responsible. The alternate hardcore scenes (7:11) are included in a montage set to a medley fashioned from the various songs on the soundtrack and are of poor video quality but subtitles are provided for all of the dialogue. An uncredited liner notes booklet (probably written by Pulici) is awkwardly translated but covers the debacle over the hardcore scenes and includes some additional anecdotes like Rizzoli calling Gariazzo upset about the scenes when she took her father to see the film. (Eric Cotenas)