Greece is not a country that you might usually associate with sleazy exploitation cinema, but it’s had its moments. The high – or, depending on taste, low – point of Greek sleaze cinema is undoubtedly Nico Mastorakis’ extraordinary Island of Death – few films from anywhere in the world could compete with that collision of incest, bestiality, rape, pissing and murder. But coming up close behind is certainly Tango of Perversion, a wonderfully mean-spirited affair in which a gaggle of unpleasant characters come together in a story that involves necrophilia, voyeurism, drugs, murder and bad fashion choices in a fast-paced romp that barely pauses for breath.
Made in 1974 – two years before the Mastorakis masterwork – Kostas Karagiannis’ film centres on the Tango nightclub, where assorted unsavoury types gather to engage in sordid, secretive activity (being 1974, this includes lesbianism) or to simply leer desperately at the rather staid dancing couples while imagining them naked. At least, that’s what Joachim (Vagelis Voulgaridis, here credited under the unlikely name ‘Harry Cooper’) does. You know he’s a misfit, thanks to an unflattering, centre-parted haircut, glasses and a twitchy demeanour, and sure enough, he’s seen as a soft touch by his charmless ‘friend’ Steve (Lakis Komninos, or ‘Larry Daniels’), who when not selling drugs or acting as gigolo will use Joachim’s pad as a place to screw girls. Not that Joachim minds, as he is lurking in a secret room, filming everything through a one-way mirror. Joachim, you see, is impotent, and this means that not only is he rejected by women (none of whom has any way of knowing his affliction, but let’s not split hairs) but that watching this carnal activity third hand is the only way that he can get off. Or so he thinks, until one night he sees Steve get rough with lesbian Rosita (Dorothy Moore) after catching her with his girlfriend Joanna (Erika Raffael), eventually killing her. As Steve flees, Joachim emerges from his hiding place and discovers that the cause of his impotence is apparently female breathing. Dead women are just his thing. After having his way with the body (shown in tasteful fantasy make-out sequences with the living woman), he disposes of the body by faking a car crash.
Things go on like this for a while – Steve brings another woman back to Joachim’s, they have a row, he leaves and then Joachim emerges to kill her after she discovers his secret room. But when Joanna turns up at Joachim’s place after being thrown out by Steve, our nerdy hero (and yes, despite being a murderous necrophile, Joachim is the closest thing the film has to a likeable character) discovers that he is able to finally get it up for a living woman. Perhaps he simply hadn’t had the chance to try before. The pair fall in love, leading to a lengthy sequence of shots showing the young lovers doing what young lovers invariably do in movies – walk through the woods, go water-skiing and so on. But Steve is not the sort of man to allow his former squeeze and best friend find happiness together, and the film’s final act is a frenzy of betrayal, double-dealing, blackmail, rape, murder and a nightclub singer who desperately wants to be Jim Morrison.
Much of Tango of Perversion has the feel of an especially grubby Jess Franco film – there’s an overwhelming, somewhat delirious sense of depravity that hangs over the whole affair, with everyone out for themselves and not caring who gets hurt in the process. This is a very deliberate thing on the part of Karagiannis – the film has a determined sense of nihilism at its heart. But equally, as an exploitation film, it doesn’t allow this nihilism to become so overwhelming as to get in the way of the more sensational elements. The film is a wild ride of gratuitous (and non-gratuitous, given the plot) nudity, well-shot violent action and intense madness that rarely slows down. It’s actually pretty well made – the production values are basic, but there are a lot of impressive visual moments and inventive shots that make up for the limited facilities (something else that is reminiscent of Franco). The sex scenes are, of course, rather tame even by the standards of much Euro-sleaze of the era, but the added twist of necrophilia gives them an impact that few other films have. You have to wonder what hapless viewers, expecting little more than a sexy romp, made of this unexpected perversion when it popped up. Then again, curve balls were so common in 1970s sexploitation cinema, perhaps they barely noticed. Still, we can only wonder how coherent the film was after the British censors had at it back in 1974.
The performances are better than they should be, even given the effects of dubbing (Mondo Macabro’s DVD has a few moments in the original Greek, with subtitles where English language versions of scenes were unavailable; like many a vintage exploitation film, this is much more fun dubbed than subtitled). ‘Daniels’ chews the scenery magnificently – he’s one of the biggest bastards you’ll ever see in a movie, all swagger and testosterone – while ‘Cooper’ does an impressive job in making his pathetic and slimy character someone who you actually care about. The female characters are, admittedly, rather thinly drawn, but that suits the storyline, where women are seen as little more than possessions and trophies.
With a swirling soundtrack, continual outrage and a nicely nihilistic and down-beat ending, Tango of Perversion fulfils all its promises. It’s a joy to see obscure, unsavoury titles like this being unearthed and given the full special-edition treatment, and we whole-heartedly recommend this to fans of the more esoteric ends of 1970s sleaze cinema.