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Plot: bored socialites screw themselves, and others, over on opulent yacht

The abolition of the Hays Code in 1968 finally allowed American filmmakers to capitalize on the Sexual Revolution that was taking place in various places around the world. No longer restricted by its stifling regulations and free of its rigorous censoring directors could finally push the envelope in a more liberated fashion. In parallel movement erotic cinema surged in Canada thanks to Danielle Ouimet and her fellow stars of Maplesyrup porn (which is something of a misnomer as many productions of the cycle were soft erotic movies by and large) and the commedia sexy all'italiana turning up the heat in view of the more looser societal norms.

Leading the charge in terms of sexual liberation and gratuitous display of skin was Top Sensation (released in North America as The Seducers through Jerry Gross' Cinemation Industries), a thriller mostly remembered for being the only thriller, or early giallo, to pair together Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech, two of Italy's most desirable exploitation starlets. In a number of ways Top Sensation laid the groundwork for Nico Mastorakis’ deeply cynical Hellenic proto-slasher Island Of Death (1976). Dismissed on release as an exercise in pulp and tedium Top Sensation has since garnered the reputation of something of a cult favorite. Its formula proved strong enough that it even spawned one or two imitations of it own. Not bad for a movie about a bunch of unlikeable, bored rich people.

Ottavio Alessi had been second unit directing in various capacity since 1940, so it seems only logical that he would eventually ascent to the director’s chair to helm his own features. His only directing credit prior to Top Sensation was the Totò comedy What Ever Happened to Baby Totò? (1964). Handling second unit direction for the production was Rosalba Neri, who had over a decade of experience in front of the camera by that point. Based upon his earlier writing, and the decadence that would give Top Sensation its repute, Alessi was hired to co-write the screenplay for The Snake God (1970) with Nadia Cassini and to later provide the story for the Joe D’Amato directed Black Emanuelle installments Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage (1976), and Emanuelle in America (1977).

Top Sensation takes the central premise of Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962), one part of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), and spices it up with a healthy dose of Mediterreanean eroticism. Directed by screenwriter Ottavio Alessi Top Sensation works despite its minuscule budget and solitary location. In fact Top Sensation spawned imitations of its own with Giuliano Biagetti’s Interrabang (1969), with Haydée Politoff, and Ruggero Deodato’s Waves Of Lust (1975) with Deodato’s wife-to-be Silvia Dionisio in what looked like a constant state of undress. Not that Top Sensation is in any way lacking in terms of bare skin and nudity on display. Capitalizing on the nascent pin-up culture Top Sensation puts its two leading ladies in the skimpiest of bikinis, and more often than not, out of them.

Central to the plot of Top Sensation is middle-aged oil heiress Mudy (Maud Belleroche, as Maud De Belleroche), a jetset socialite, who has taken her mentally challenged, socially stunted son Tony (Ruggero Miti) on a boating trip on her yacht. Tony lives isolated in his bunk and enjoys nothing more than playing with his toy cars, and starting the occassional fire. Invited along for the trip are the stunning Paola (Rosalba Neri) and Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia), a young couple whose frolicking she hopes will spark the flame of sexual desire in Tony. Also on the yacht is Ulla (Edwige Fenech), a high-class escort, to ensure that Tony's first sexual experience is worth treasuring. To its credit the screenplay keeps how Mudy came into her fortune - whether she amassed it herself, or plainly married into it - rather vague. Circling around Mudy like vultures are Paola and Aldo, an upper-class gold-digging young couple, who take turns seducing the seemingly always cranky Mudy. Ulla partakes in the scheme but for entirely different reasons than Paola and Aldo. When the boat experiences technical problems near an island, and Tony takes a liking to naive, world-strange goat herder Beba (Eva Thulin, as Ewa Thulin) things go haywire when her husband Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) gets wind of the situation…

Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech spent most of their screentime in the skimpiest of bikinis, and about as much time out of them. Both women are highly sexual, and completely sexualized. In its defense at least Top Sensation makes no qualms or excuses about the fact. Early on Paola and Ulla notice Andro spying on them from the foliage. “God, I wish he'd move into the open more,” Ulla muses, “he ought to be hard by now” Paola notes in a near-porn exchange. The two girls lure him out by taking their tops off and oiling each other on the deck with sunscreen. When the boat first experiences trouble, Tony disappears and is seen on the nearest island. Aldo and Ulla volunteer to search the shore and return the young boy. At one point Ulla, wearing nothing more than a captain’s hat and a white shirt, runs into a wandering goat nearby Beba’s farm, something which greatly excites her. Aroused by the farm animal she spills out her left breast - which the goat happily indulges in suckling with reckless abandon - as the goat makes its way down she allows herself to be orally pleasured by the animal. Aldo, enthused at the shore-bound vista, wastes no time in documenting the salacious happening with a photocamera he brought along for the trip. Later on the boat Paola and Ulla ravage Beba by feeding her alcohol, and the two are only stopped when Mudy barges in on the lower deck.

The stars of Top Sensation are Rosalba Neri, at the height of desirability at 31, and Edwige Fenech, a freshfaced 21 year old model-turned-actress from France. Neri was regular in peplum, spaghetti western, Eurospy adventures and comedies throughout most of the sixties. Rosalba had also partaken in several Jess Franco productions by that point, back when doing so wasn't considered a surefire way to either sabotage, or end, one's career in the cinematic arts. Top Sensation marked Neri's trajectory towards more risqué productions. Not only did she direct second unit but also ensured that she looks amazing for the entirety of the production. In the seventies Neri would figure into, among others, The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971), The French Sex Murders (1972) (an all-star giallo with Anita Ekberg, Barbara Bouchet and Evelyne Kraft), and The Devil's Wedding Night (1973). Even though Neri was anywhere and everywhere in the 1970s she never truly established herself as a leading lady, much in the same way as her contemporaries Paola Tedesco and Rita Calderoni. In short, Top Sensation is sensational and quintessential viewing for Rosalba Neri completists/fanatics.

In more ways than one Top Sensation was a career-defining performance from the nubile Edwige Fenech. Fenech owned much, if not all, of her acting career to director Sergio Martino. After Edwige's appearance in Mario Bava’s 5 Dolls For An August Moon (1970) Martino directed her in The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and All Colors Of the Dark (1972). The only thing of note that Fenech had done prior to Top Sensation was the amiable adventure Samao, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) along with that other famous comedic star of the 1970s, Femi Benussi. Thanks to her work in giallo with Sergio Martino, Fenech would establish herself as the royalty of domestic exploitation. In the following decade Edwige would make her return to the commedia sexy all'italiana where she originally found her footing. Like her co-star Rosalba Neri, Edwige Fenech doesn't shy from the near-constant or partial nudity that her role requires. She seems to be having a blast.

Top Sensation was the only acting credit for Maud Belleroche and the screen debut for Eva Thulin whose career lasted a brief two years and encompasses a total of four movies. Maud de Belleroche is a Baroness from the exclusive 17th arrondissement of Paris, France who gained some repute and infamy as a writer, journalist and sympathizer to the Collaboration. As a student she was the mistress of Jean Luchaire and eventually followed her second husband Georges Guilbaud in exile to Germany, Italy, Spain and Argentina. De Belleroche was a decorated sportswoman (French junior ice skating champion, French record-holder scuba-diving) and gifted orator for Amis de Versailles, Amis des Châteaux de la Loire, Alliance Française, Connaissance du monde. She published various book under the alias Sacquard de Belleroche and won the Prix ​​Broquette-Gonin of literature of the French Academy in 1963 for Five Characters in search of Emperor. Her memoire The Ordinatrice from 1968 was so popular that it warranted a follow-up a few years down the line. Ruggero Miti - whose acting career lasted from 1966 to 1972, and whose only other credit of note is La Rivoluzione Sessuale (1968) with commedia sexy all-italiana queen Laura Antonelli - has the look of a 1970s Milo Ventimiglia or rather a fairly standard 1970s Italian pretty boy.

There's plenty of the naked female form to be had in Top Sensation, but it is custodian to quite some rich subtext beyond the superficiality of the premise. First and foremost, Top Sensation is about corruption: the corruption of wealth, the corruption of innocence and its brazen transgressive sexual politics qualify it as a giallo. Every character, Beba excepted, is thoroughly reprehensible. Paola and Aldo are two bored upper-class yuppies, with Paola being a bisexual nymphomaniac to boot. Ulla is a first-class opportunist who will jump at every chance if it involves personal enrichment. Mudy is high-strung, bossy, and abusive to anyone in her vicinity, not only Tony. At one point she encourages Beba, battered once more by her inebriated peasant of a husband, to cast off the shackles of the subservient, submissive housewife role she has assumed. However, none of it is genuine, as Mudy only does so as a way of extorting money from Andro via Beba. In other words, every single person, with exception of Beba, on the boat is thoroughly corrupted by greed, jealousy, and emotionally manipulative in the worst of ways.

Bored with their wealth and bored with their lives the socialites on the yacht will stop at nothing to screw over someone, anyone, everyone if it helps in their personal enrichment. Paola and Aldo are hired by Mudy to get Tony interested in the fairer sex, but that doesn't stop the two from trying to seduce Mudy at various points. Paola only shows interest in Beba once it's clear that Tony cares for her. In the ultimate act of corruption Paola and Ulla feed Beba alcohol which leads into a memorable girl-on-girl three-way that makes Paola's sapphic liaison with Mudy pale in comparison. By proxy Ulla is the least morally bankrupt of the socialites as she's merely there on a contractual basis, although that doesn't make her any less culpable in what ultimately transpires. Top Sensation is transgressive and risqué at various points but it never quite develops into something that really pushes the envelope. It's the old warhorse: the decadent ruling class feeding on the proletariat.

Concluded by a quote from Ecclesiastes in hopes of redeeming itself Top Sensation manages to do a lot with very little. With only a single location at its disposal the premise hinges on how well the dialog is able to sell the characters. Terrible English dubbing notwithstanding every actor gives his or her all to the characters. Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are a delight as a duo of nymphomaniac sex kittens that struggle to keep their clothes on, Maurizio Bonuglia revels in playing a sleazebag, whereas Eva Thulin shines as the innocent shepherd girl. Salvatore Puntillo enjoys the role of the somewhat dimwitted peasant, but in return is allowed to rub closely to both Neri and Fenech. Ruggero Miti is at his best in the scenes with Thulin, but his character is not nearly inculpable in the events that unfold. For a production as impoverished Top Sensation is a scathing indictment of the upper-class and reveals some surprising subtextual depth next to its rampant and near-constant showcasing of its generously formed and seldom clothed female lead duo.

Only a handful of death metal bands are as solid and reliable as Incantation, and even fewer can actually manage to get better in their old age. The Johnstown, Pennsylvania stalwarts experienced a period of fatigue and something of a career slump with 2006’s “Primordial Domination” and 2012’s rather colorless “Vanquish In Vengeance”. Since “Dirges Of Elysium” John McEntee and his cohorts have returned with renewed vigor and purpose. Like a good wine Incantation only gets fiercer and deadlier as the years pass. Production has practically since forever been Incantation’s bane, but “Profane Nexus” is probably the crispiest the band has yet sounded. “Profane Nexus”, the first Incantation record on Relapse since 2000’s quasi-technical “The Infernal Storm”, is the best they have done since then.

That the Incantation of today is an entirely different beast than that of its classic repertoire should be evident to anybody who has been paying the slightest bit of attention. Arguably since “The Infernal Storm” and 2002’s “Blasphemy” the churning riff maelstroms that were the bread-and-butter of their old repertoire have been relegated to the past and traded in for a simpler, less structurally dense direction that is no less effective. Fellow Americans Immolation have followed a similar career trajectory. McEntee has grown more than comfortable in his role as frontman and drummer Kyle Severn is one of the genre’s perennially underappreciated heroes, one who places feeling, percussive minimalism and atmosphere over showmanship and blinding speeds. Over the last two records bass guitarist Chuck Sherwood has proven vital to Incantation’s newfound vitality and conceptual reinvention. Sherwood’s funky finger style bass playing invokes memories of fallen comrade Joe Lombard and prior to that, Robert Yench. Since “Vanquish in Vengeance” Sherwood has proven a prolific songsmith and lyricist; and his contributions complement McEntee’s tried-and-true death metal formula.

Over the last couple of years Incantation has embraced the general occult next to their staple themes of heresy and blasphemy. With lyrics primarily penned by Sherwood and McEntee “Profane Nexus” concerns more than the band’s patented hatred for organized religion, Christianity in particular. “Profane Nexus” - like “Dirges Of Elysium” before it – draws heavily from mythology and antiquity, specifically the Arabian, Aztec, Brittonic, Greek, and Sumerian pantheons. ‘Rites of the Locust’ concerns the Biblical plagues of Egypt from the Arabic perspective. ‘Xipe Totec’, the shortest Incantation song ever, deals with the titular Aztec deity of life-death-rebirth whose name means "Our Lord the Flayed One”. Human sacrifices were often made in his honor, and he was believed to wear flayed human skin of those that were slain. ‘Horns Of Gefrin’ is about the ancient village of Gefrin (modern day Yeavering in England), or 'hill of the goats', where in 627 Bishop Paulinus of York spent 36 days in the royal vill Adgefrin preaching and baptising converts in the river Glen. ‘Omens to the Altar of Onyx’ concerns the ancient Samnites who worshipped the goddess Mephitis in the volcanic crater Avernus, believed to be the portal to the underworld, in central and south Italy in pre-Roman times. It’s good to see a band as old and experienced as Incantation embrace new engrossing historical subject matter this late into their storied career.

Also not unimportant is the presence of lead guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi who has injected the band with a sense of finesse and musicality that was absent in its 2006-2012 career slump. Lombardozzi sessioned on “Dirges Of Elysium” but was thankfully made a full member with this release. With Sherwood and Lombardozzi in tow Incantation is at its most potent since “The Infernal Storm”. ‘Incorporeal Despair’ is probably the gloomiest and doomiest Incantation has sounded in a very long time. Whatever infractions Incantation might be guilty of in the past “Profane Nexus” is a commendable showing for a band now onto its third decade. Incantation has never strayed too far, or at all, from its original sound and “Profane Nexus” is no different. Few bands are as consistent and reliable as Incantation. Incantation is still playing like it is 1992 and the secret to their longevity is that they never experienced any drastic stylistic shifts despite their gigantic turnover in personnel. Incantation after all is one of the few original USDM bands that never split and that has kept releasing albums in a fairly steady manner even when the scene and public opinion was indifferent to them.

Is “Profane Nexus” a new classic-to-be or has it Incantation at long last restoring itself to its former glory? No, far from it in fact. It has been well over a decade and a a half since the Pennsylvanians have released anything resembling a genre classic. Like any band of their stature (Malevolent Creation and Cannibal Corpse come to mind) they have released a number of albums that were far from essential. Since “Blasphemy” Incantation has frequently missed the mark and they became the subject of imitation with the so-called cavernous death metal movement in 2006-2008 through bands like Dominus Xul, Darkness Eternal, Necros Christos, Portal, Dead Congregation, Blaspherian, Father Befouled, Impetuous Ritual, Vasaeleth, Irkallian Oracle, Ekpyrosis as well as Chilean acts Demonic Rage and Abominatio.

“Profane Nexus” changes nothing substantial about the modern modus operandi of Incantation. It is a contemporary Incantation recording, perhaps one of their most pristinely produced at that. It's yet another iteration of 2002’s “Blasphemy”. Is it vital and mandatory to any collection? Far from it. It's solid, reliable and sounds exactly like you think it will. Is that bad in and of itself? No. Were early Incantation records more commanding, far more morbid in their destitution and frequently darker than “Profane Nexus”? Surely, but McEntee thankfully never committed the same sins as fellow death metal originals Deicide, Morbid Angel and Obituary.