"Deep down, all women have a desire to be exploited or abused". So speaketh one male pornographer near the opening of Jon Niflheim’s retro-style sleazeathon.

The man in question is Peter (Tyrone L Roosevelt), who takes fetishist photographs for seedy publisher Mal, for his popular magazine "Esoteric". After landing a hefty pay cheque for his latest photo shoot with hot model Susie, Peter goes to bed and wanks over visions of her fingering herself.

It’s not enough: he rings her up and invites her over to talk about their next project. He tells her of how his editor loved her photographs. Peter promises her more "opportunities", and promptly fucks her. Afterwards, he rolls over and goes to sleep – promising to discuss her career further the following morning.

However, come the following day, Peter tells Susie he has to rush off to meet someone, and promises to get in touch with her later in the week. And this is how our man survives, alone in his porn-littered apartment and boasting to mates in-between drug binges about the models he’s shagged in every manner imaginable.

In case you’re still in any doubt as to the extent of coke-snorting Peter’s bad attitude, it’s explicitly spelt out in the next couple of set-piece scenes. Here, he abuses and degrades women during shoots before telling them to leave his studio, taunting them that they’ll be back for more when they need more cash.

Of course, his bubble has to burst at some point.

Niflheim’s film looks good in many scenes, benefitting from considered camera set-ups and a keen sense of colour. Performances are also above average for this kind of fare. No-one’s going to win an Oscar, of course, but there is a little more effort here than what seasoned viewers may be used to expecting.

While the sex scenes shy away from full-on penetration or money shots, there is a lot of exposed flesh and simulated fucking being proffered. Female masturbation scenes are quite graphic, and Tinto Brass would love the artistically lit shots of women bending over to expose labia between their pert bottom cheeks.

Best of all, the film is brisk – aside from one redundant stroll around New York’s sex district that may serve as a postcard for the anal - at only 64 minutes in length. Its story is, after all, a rather basic and well-worn one: why bother padding it out unnecessarily?

THE SEX MERCHANTS opens to light library music and a cheery psychedelic backdrop to the opening titles. You could almost be forgiven for initially expecting this to play as a twee comedy. But, despite odd moments of clunky humour (Peter’s telephone calls from his annoying mother, for example; the final scene denouement), this is rather sombre fare. The opening titles go for a retro vibe, clueing us in that Niflheim is harking back to the glory days of New York’s 42nd Street revues. But he never quite achieves the naive charm of the films he’s inspired by, perhaps because there is a little too much polish on show here.

The film comes in its original aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 television sets. Colours are deep despite relatively soft images and an overall darkness to proceedings.

English 2.0 audio is a tad quiet for the most part and, when turned up to a suitable volume, minor background noise was evident on occasion. I’m nit-picking, however, as it’s nothing that approaches being problematic.

For such a rudimentary disc, it’s a surprise to see that it benefits from an animated main menu page – crude as it may be. There is no scene-selection menu, but the film can be whizzed through by way of 9 remote-accessed chapter stops.

The only extras on the disc are trailers for DIARY OF A SEX OFFENDER, DEFILED and FACES OF SCHLOCK.

THE SEX MERCHANTS is a decent enough foray into soft-porn territory with a bent towards S&M. There’s nothing particularly extreme about it and those looking for the authentic reek of sleaze would be better served by some of After Hours Cinema’s delectable range of grindhouse goodies (FORCED ENTRY, WET WILDERNESS etc).

But if you like your softcore shenanigans served up with style and gorgeous women, as well as a sweet ‘serves you right’ twist in the tale, then this region-free disc from Independent Entertainment should be to your liking.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Independent Entertainment
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review