At what point does a sexually explicit art film simply become porn, and what is the distinction between art and porn exactly? A large part is the director’s intention but it’s also about the ratio between scenes with fucking and scenes without and where the real focus of the film is. Porn is porn because the main event is the sex and everything else is either lead up to that or filler. The only value the non-explicit scenes have is how much they prop up and enhance the explicit ones. A sexually explicit art film by contrast is focused on expressing ideas and uses sexuality as a tool in service of that rather than simply being a vehicle for titillating imagery. It seems obvious enough but aspirationally artistic porn films and excessively explicit art films have a way of muddying the waters.
While Hyde’s Secret Nightmare positions itself as an art film, a case can be made that it is nestled a bit more snugly in the gray area than it would like to admit. The story follows a young doctor/mad scientist Henry Chagall (Claudio Zanelli) who is desperately trying to find a scientific solution to cure his impotence. His work involves a lot of shady use of stolen female corpses and (somehow) he stumbles upon an elixir that turns him into a beautiful woman (Roberta Gemma) for a short period of time. Once he is in this new form, he adopts the persona “Eva Hyde” and starts exploring the world from a different perspective. This leads him on a journey of self-discovery filled with graphic ultra-violence and a whole lotta explicit sex.
There’s a lot to unpack in the movie’s more than two hour runtime but what jumps out the most here is that this is a film of strange choices. No, I’m not talking about all the genital mutilation, violent murders, necrophilia, and explicit fucking, that part I get. I’m more referring to the fact that the characters break into near-constant soliloquies delivered straight to camera that cover a range of lofty topics such as feminism, the ethical implications of animal testing, theology, etc. In case these unrelated divergences weren’t 4th wall breaking enough, writer/director Domiziano Cristopharo also occasionally includes the pre-take slates for, uh….some reason. Another piece that sticks out is the fact that Henry’s assistant Hans (Giovanni la Gorga) is constantly referred to as old and crippled but the actor looks barely older than Henry himself and no effort is made to cosmetically adjust his appearance to fit how the character is described.
Curious choices aside, there is also a lot that Nightmare does right and it unquestionably falls into the Extreme Cinema category. There is no shortage of graphic, unsimulated penetration and the film is also not limited to heteronormative coupling, which is nice touch. There are also some moments that really stood out to me such as a blowjob that turns into a dick being graphically bitten off and an unsimulated scene where a couple sews themselves together, piercing various parts of their bodies with a large needle including their faces and genitals. The performances are decent overall and Zanelli especially brings a great energy and earnestness to his role.
I always appreciate explicit sexuality being incorporated into a film but the sheer abundance of it, and the fact that the plot seems structured around it rather than vice versa, cheapens the experience. This is actually a situation where a “less is more” philosophy can give the explicit scenes more impact as seen in more plot-centric films such as Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell, or John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. The film does touch on some interesting ideas, such as gender fluidity and identity, but merely pays lip service to them rather than digging in and exploring more fully. This is unfortunate since a modern, explicit retelling of the Jekyll & Hyde story viewed through the lens of gender identity and societal stigmas could have been fertile ground for some interesting commentary. So, while light on substance, Nightmare does provide a generous amount of unfiltered sexuality and well-crafted violence that should make the journey worth it for fans of Extreme Cinema.
Availability: Upcoming Release
Film is scheduled to be released on physical media in July of 2022 at http://www.tetrovideo.com.