TABOO (1980) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Kirdy Stevens
Vinegar Syndrome

Kay Parker is the original MILF (well, Juliet Anderson's there too) in the award-winning, franchise-birthing adult film TABOO, out on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

When her husband (Turk Lyon, CANDY GOES TO HOLLYWOOD) uses her frigidity as an excuse to run off with his secretary, housewife Barbara (Kay Parker, DRACULA SUCKS) is left alone to care for her eighteen-year-old son Paul (Mike Ranger, SAME TIME EVERY YEAR) without a source of income. For promiscuous best friend Gina (Juliet Anderson, PRETTY PEACHES) – who has a pair of "oriental" lovers in SCREWPLES Miko Yaki and CANDY STRIPERS' Don Fernando – Barbara's lack of employment is secondary to her friend's sexual conservatism and encourages her to get under another man as soon as possible. In spite of Gina's attempts to be helpful, she does give Barbara the idea of applying for a job with family friend Jerry (Michael Morrison, CO-ED FEVER) who hires her as a secretary even though he does not need another one and immediately puts the moves on her. Although young Paul has a fulfilling physical relationship with his girlfriend Sherry (Dorothy LeMay, THREE RIPENING CHERRIES) who also shares him with her friends (including SEXUAL HEIGHTS' Tawny Pearl), he is rather unambiguously attracted to his mother, spying on her in the shower, complementing her rack, and kissing her on the lips. After the supposedly timid date (Lee Le May, VISTA VALLEY P.T.A.) Gina sets her up with turns out to be a swinger and takes her to an orgy, sexually frustrated Barbara loses her head and beds her son. Barbara regrets what they did is powerless to resist Paul. When Barbara pours her heart out to Gina and ends up giving her an orgasm, she turns to Jerry instead and starts to fall for him, driving a wedge between her and her son.

A surprise hit theatrically and on video that spawned twenty-two sequels – only the first seven films were helmed by original director Kirdy Stevens (ANYTIME ANYPLACE) and the first six written by his wife Helene Terrie (PLAYING WITH FIRE) – TABOO not only dealt with the fetish (or taboo) of actual incest as opposed to frowned-upon relations between various step-relatives, it did so in a manner that did not trivialize the emotional and psychological repercussions. Parker and Morrison capably handle the more dramatic aspects, and the former also has palpable chemistry with Ranger, while Anderson provides some much needed comic relief. All of the sex scenes are performed and staged with gusto, with the filmmakers' preference for "natural sounds" in sex scenes only coming across as particularly awkward during an early scene of oral sex in which the sounds of slurping are not only loud but remain at the same disquieting volume whether the camera is in close-up or long shot. The film does indeed tease its audience throughout, even drawing out the suspense and anticipation preceding the sex scene viewers have been waiting for. The open ending leaves the audience wanting more, even though Stevens and Terrie did not have a sequel in mind at the time. The photography is functional, but Stevens gets some good production value out the San Francisco and Mill Valley exteriors as well as some more tasteful than usual for the seventies interiors (most shot in the home of the director which was next to the Jackson family compound). Composer/songwriter Don Great (BREEDERS) provides the underscore including some "oriental" music during Gina's sessions with her lovers and an easy listening vocal (the two songs he wrote for Don Jones' THE LOVE BUTCHER had previously found their way into two adult films by Anthony Spinelli).

TABOO was released on VHS by VCX and sold millions of copies, topping VHS sales of mainstream titles the same year. VCX's barebones, fullscreen DVD was withdrawn when Stevens and Terrie took them to court because their contract only stipulated VHS sales. The filmmakers' special edition DVD from Standard Digital was also a fullscreen transfer but it added two audio commentaries – one with Parker and another with director Stevens and writer/producer Terrie – and a video interview with Parker. I named Vinegar Syndrome's 4K-mastered Blu-ray of SEX WORLD as one of my top ten Blu-rays of the year for 2015, and TABOO is another essential Vinegar Syndrome purchase destined for my 2016 picks. Scanned in 2K from 35mm vault elements, TABOO is not as dazzling spotless as SEX WORLD with more than a splice lines on several cuts, a frame tear, some vertical scratches, and less-than-smooth reel changes; yet, it is not only the best this film has looked simply by being a new transfer, it is also another admirable restoration without excessive digital clean-up or sharpening in a well-curated overall package.

The "archival" commentary tracks have been carried over from the earlier DVD special edition along with two new commentary tracks with Parker and Terrie. The archival track with Parker does not actually start until three or four minutes in and she is somewhat sporadic in her remarks; as such, the new commentary with Parker is more lively but also more focused with moderating by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin. She discusses her decision to become an actress and her training, as well as how John Leslie (CANDY GOES TO HOLLYWOOD) provided her introduction to pornography and debut in V: THE HOT ONE (in which she does not have a sex scene), her attempts to become a "straight" actress and being repeatedly drawn back into adult films. She recalls that she initially turned down the script because a friend of hers had recently appeared on a talk show as a victim of incest, but she meditated on it and decided that she could bring the appropriate sensitivity to the role. She discusses her relationship with the cast members, including Anderson and Ranger (who left the business at a relatively young age), as well as working with Stevens and Terrie, and how the role made her a media target in discussions of real-life incest. She also touches upon the other TABOO films and her other credits, as well as her work as a spiritual counselor, including working with clients who have experienced incest or incestuous feelings (she only takes responsibility for playing the role as sensitively as she could, not for what others attribute to it).

The archival track with Stevens and Terrie is thankfully retained not only a record of the late Stevens' thoughts on the film, but for the rapport between husband and wife was they discuss their experiences with the vice squad and obscenity charges as publishers of girly magazines and arcade loops in the roughly two decades before moving on to hardcore films. They discuss the scripting process – with Terrie pitching an idea to a receptive Stevens and then retreating to her study to develop a script which Stevens then rejected – and the films that lead up to TABOO, as well as the casting process for the film (Stevens had seen Le May in the Bo Derek film 10 and had her in mind but they also reveal that Jessie St. James was offered the lead and turned it down before they met Parker). They also talk about the relative safety of shooting up in San Francisco and the surrounding area where the vice cops were more lenient than in Los Angeles, as well as how weather ruined the one exterior scene in which they actually had lined up extras and rented out a restaurant space. Terrie also appears on a newer track moderated by Rubin which is not only a more focused discussion of the onscreen action but more elucidating about the overlapped information from the earlier track. She also discusses her own past in the movies, having come to Los Angeles with her mechanic father who wanted to be an actor and how he put her and her sister into drama school as children even though neither was interested. She recalls child roles in films with W.C. Fields and Robert Stack, as well as with Elizabeth Taylor in NATIONAL VELVET (and confirms the negative view of the actress' controlling stage mother described in Taylor's autobiography). The archival video interview with Parker (7:13) from the earlier DVD is carried over her, and mostly gives viewers an opportunity to see the well-preserved Parker as she touches upon the film, its controversy, and her affection for Stevens and Terrie. A still gallery is included, although the film's trailer is not (hopefully it will pop up in a possible release of the sequels). Both the front cover and the reverse are attractive, with the more "tasteful" artwork replicated on the face of the Blu-ray disc (I found myself preferring the more exploitative artwork not as a cover but on the disc face of the DVD side of the package). (Eric Cotenas)