The eternal dichotomy…religion and sex!

New sex slave is branded in SODOM & GOMORRAH (1962; 1963 in the US)

For a genre that’s intrinsically attached to religion, the PEPLUM genre is certainly filled with contradictory aspects, with the most obvious one being its penchant for fleshy action. As a genre, PEPLUM cinema is one of if not the sexiest ever. How is it then that the source of the majority of its stories have a religious aspect? Torture, sex slaves, skimpy costumes, etc, are all elements found in nearly all movies of said genre. It’s quite the dichotomy. I won’t go over this subject in great details here. I could write a whole book on the very subject. In fact, I wrote a series of articles at PEPLUM TV on the very subject: The Real PEPLUM X. This post is just to mention this eternal dichotomy of PEPLUM movies.

Odd angle of Anthony Steffen seen in SODOM & GOMORRAH

Of course, not every PEPLUM movie has a religious tone or are based on stories from the Bible. The genre is filled with historical dramas, like CLEOPATRA (1963) or stories of Greek mythology, such as HERCULES (1958), which are also a good source for sexy hijinks. Beefy men in short tunics or dancing nymphs in skimpy costumes. The many sexual aspects of PEPLUM included same sex attraction, as seen below with Nicholas Clay and Michael Biehn as lovers in THE MATYRDOM OF SAINT SEBASTIEN (1984).

Though already overtly sexy or sexual during the Golden Era ( 1949 to 1965), what PEPLUM movies hinted at during that period became overt and at times graphic in the 1970s. Movies set in Antiquity from that decade morphed into the soft-core or hardcore variety. Nudity and kinky sex became the norm with such films as THE ARENA (1974) or CALIGULA (1979). Torture scenes in old PEPLUM movies became graphic in details in CALIGULA 2: THE UNTOLD STORY (1982; below; with┬áDavid Brandon, Laura Gemser and Charles Borromel). When one thinks about it, it was the natural progression of the genre. The things which made it popular back in the day eventually became the norm in future periods. Sex sold many of those films so for the genre to go full frontal was inevitable. Cable TV shows like SPARTACUS (2010 – 2013) continued with the trend of sex in PEPLUM productions.

But today the genre is pretty much dead. Is there too much sex in PEPLUM movies or TV shows? Was it better when it was suggested and not full frontal? And unlike how things unfolded in the past, when sexiness pretty much sold these movies, and with so much nudity in the mainstream, the promise of sex won’t be enough of a selling point to ignite another PEPLUM explosion. As for religion, people are less and less religious these days. Is this also one of the reasons why PEPLUM movies aren’t popular anymore? Not because of a lack of interest in religious stories (that could explain part of it) but because of this duality, of religion and sex, seem to go hand in hand and without a predominately religious audience, ┬áthe genre’s eternal dichotomy can’t be as effective as it was 60 years ago.

Bondage! Popular in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956; with Vincent
Price and John Derek)