SexWorld (1978)

I can only think of two feature-length porno parodies that I watched before catching the original films they “erotically” spoof: 1974’s Flesh Gordon (a parody of the 1930s Flash Gordon sci-fi serials and subsequent 1950s TV show, later adapted again into a fully clothed action-adventure feature in 1980) and now 1978’s SexWorld (a parody of the 1973 sci-fi Western Westworld, later adapted into a semi-clothed prestige series for HBO in the 2010s).  In both cases, I basically got the gist (and the jizz!) of their parodic targets from their loglines and through general cultural osmosis.  Besides, both of those vintage pornos are more interesting for how they reflect the mainstream sexual attitudes of their era than they are for their thin satirical commentary on their respective source texts.  For its part, Flesh Gordon plays like a corny softcore holdover from the Russ Meyer nudie cutie era, shying away from taking full, explicit advantage of the porno chic movement that arose post-Deep Throat.  By contrast, SexWorld is unmistakably porno chic.  The Anthony Spinelli Golden Age porno shares some of Flesh Gordon‘s wink-wink-nudge-nudge cornball humor in its hardcore perversions of the Westworld/Futureworld premise, but its polished production values, abbreviated sex scenes, and vague gestures towards social commentary make it feel deliberately designed as a date-night dare for yuppie couples to giggle through, rather than pandering to the trench coat brigade.  Both films soften hardcore’s harshest edges to make porno publicly palatable for curious-but-cautious mainstream audiences but, of the two, only SexWorld gave those audiences their money’s worth.

As you would likely assume, the titular SexWorld is an isolated luxury resort that simulates “a world devoted entirely to sex,” realizing its horned-up tourist’s “wildest” fantasies though sci-fi convention make-em-ups that are never fully explained in the plot (but are hinted to be a combination of hologram projections & shapeshifting animatronics).  What you might not assume is that SexWorld’s high-end customer base travels to that resort via bus, a detail significant enough that it gets its own shout-out in the titular disco theme song.  The bus itself proudly advertises the SexWorld logo to lookers-on—no brown paper bag covering the label in shame—which was apparently somewhat risky to stage, given that the bus ride montage is mostly composed of a few quick shots repeating in an endless loop.  During that bus trip and subsequent interviews with the SexWorld staff, we get some insightful flashbacks into the dysfunctional sex lives and escapist fantasies of each tourist.  The staff repeatedly remind their guests that the far-out, unexplained SexWorld technology can realize their wildest, most unfathomable fantasy fucks, referencing taboos like incest, BDSM, and water sports that no one takes them up on.  The most transgressive their fantasies get are in exploring interracial taboos (including a bonus mini-parody of Behind the Green Door), but the less said about those particular vignettes the better.  Otherwise, between the budget restraints and the presumed hetero POV of its audience, the actual sex in SexWorld is relatively tame, unless you’re somehow still shocked by mostly straight women indulging in some momentary bisexuality in an otherwise straight porno.

The sex looks great, though, and Spinelli makes the most of the production’s cheap sets with a few well-positioned gel lights and some complicated wallpaper.  There isn’t much to the sci-fi conceit beyond a few SexWorld employees milling around in white lab coats, pushing useless light-up buttons on a switchboard to nowhere, but it’s all in good, hokey fun.  As a cultural artifact, its greatest value is in imagining what hipster city couples were supposed to get out of seeing it publicly projected in its original porno chic context, besides the obvious visual titillation and transgressive thrill.  Most of its characters’ fantasies are presented as quick-fix resolutions for common marital conflicts, to the point where it’s just as much couples’ therapy for straights as it is porno sleaze.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the film came with its own pre-loaded discussion topics on index cards for audiences to sort through as they travel from theatre to bed after the credits roll.  Personally, my favorite two characters are the evil shrew wife who desperately wants her husband to be more forceful in bed and the phone sex addict who feels intense shame in her post-nut-clarity every time she enjoys a dirty call – the shrew (Sharon Thorpe) because she reminds me of Mink Stole’s legendary comedic performance in Desperate Living, and the shy phone-sex pervert (Kay Parker) because her pre-cure flashback scene is genuinely hot.  It’s kind of a perfect porno chic movie in that way: a little sexy, a little silly, a little offensive, a little historically insightful, and—most shocking to anyone who grew up watching porn in the video or internet eras—a little considerate in its lighting & composition.  You don’t need to have seen Westworld or Futureworld to understand the appeal of that.

-Brandon Ledet