Dear Penthouse Video,
I work at a large entertainment magazine in New York City. Needless to say, I never thought I’d be writing about tapes like these. But the other day I slid one of your half-inch cassettes deep into my waiting VCR and…
You’d think the magazine that established the X-rated letter to the editor and pioneered the dubious art of gynecological photojournalism would push the envelope of carnality to new electronic-age limits with its own line of videos. But the most shocking thing about these five recent releases from Penthouse Video is that there isn’t anything shocking about them at all. Sure, they’ve got plenty of full-frontal nudity (mostly female) and tons of writhing sex (mostly simulated); for the most part, though, there’s nothing here you couldn’t find in a Mickey Rourke movie. Like hotel-room Spectravision, this is naughty stuff with the truly naughty stuff snipped out.
Penthouse claims there’s a big market for such relatively tame, albeit unrated, erotica: men who are too ashamed to rent or buy hard-core tapes or who want to watch steamy movies with their girlfriends or wives but don’t want to risk grossing them out. Penthouse may know something I don’t know, but I’d feel pretty awkward renting The All-Pet Workout (1993, $19.98) at my video hut — and if I ever played it for my girlfriend, she’d probably front-load the tape into my mouth. A so-called exercise video, it zooms in on six Penthouse Pets wearing Frederick’s of Hollywood-style aerobics outfits as they grind their way through overheated calisthenics that Richard Simmons couldn’t imagine. This tape would embarrass even Clarence Thomas — not just because it’s cringingly gratuitous, but because it’s brainless. It makes The Bikini Open look like Strindberg.
The Art of Desire (1992, $79.98) is a much classier offering. Directed by former adman Andrew Blake — whose first arty hard-core feature, Night Trips, actually took a silver medal at the legit 1990 Houston Film Festival — it’s chock-full of pricey production values, ooh-aah camera angles, and classically gorgeous men and women. It is not, however, chock-full of sex: To keep the video out of the porno section, Penthouse cut the movie’s raciest scenes, opting to distribute the original, more explicit version only in Europe.
The sex in Forum Letters: Volume 1 (1993, $79.98), based on those infamous dirty missives to the editor, is similarly soft-core (even the voice-over narration is free of the traditional four-letter elocutions). Likewise Kama Sutra: The Art of Making Love (1992, $29.98), which shows couples cavorting in dozens of faux-coital positions as a narrator reveals ancient Indian sex tips (”Don’t hurry. Whatever you’re doing, it would be much better at half the speed”). The sexiest tape of the bunch: Satin & Lace II: Hollywood Undercover (1993, $19.98), in which the Pets put on — and take off — old movie-star costumes and pose as Monroe, Dietrich, and Garbo. I might not watch this one with my girlfriend either, but it’s filmed as slickly as a fashion shoot and has one thing the other videos don’t — a smidgen of wit. The All-Pet Workout: D The Art of Desire: C Forum Letters: D Kama Sutra: D Satin & Lace II: B