It would be totes instructive to elucidate the differences between softcore and hardcore when genretyping erotica, yes? So let's do this during this review of DESERT PASSION, one of the very first Skinemax movies teen me ever saw. Will this be a sad revisit, like HOUSE?
As is standard for academic analyses, I'll be using secondary sources. Like Amazon reviews: "This movie has lots of nudity and most of the women look good. But unlike most pornographic movies, it actually has a plot." I guess if you want to plot the dividing line between erotica and pornography, plot is a pretty good indicator. Softcore tends to be far more plot-driven, with actual (albeit shallow) characters and conflicts. Porn might be plot-esque, like (lady orders a pizza) + (cute pizza boy), but it's far more concerned with penetration than story (FYI, penetration is the badge that pornography wears to identify itself and is never seen in softcore!).
The plot of this movie is that two girls are friends and one is an actress, but keeps getting asked to take roles that involve nudity and gold foil panties that look like Christmas Hershey's Kiss wrappers.
"I can't do it! It's just not me!" whines the "actress". Needless to say, this is SO meta. Thankfully, her stripper friend has an audition in Vegas, so they hit the road, but are captured en route by pseudopolice and taken to the shittiest-looking warehouse brothel ever. The brothel is staffed by the Beaver Boyz from Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job.
It's not just a standard sex-slave brothel, either, because they use "some hypnotic drug, it makes you do really weird things," as another slavegirl helpfully explains. Money is gained through the staging of fantasies for male clients. I'm not entirely sure how this happens inside the pathetically small warehouse, since we see sex occurring in deserts and a full Roman spa, but maybe it has many sublevels or is the TARDIS. Anyway, this is another element of softcore, the presence of sets. Most porn happens at pools or in bedrooms or in corridors, NOT in lavishly-decorated landscapes shot from multiple angles.
Soon our two heroines are pressed into service in these fantasies. We get only four of these scenes (hypno-prostitution is a low-volume, high-margin business) and three of them are fairly hot. DESERT PASSION is a 90s movie, so many of the girls lack the monster breasts and catlike surgery-faces of nowadays sex cinema. We can add another defining element here. Softcore more frequently involves fantasy and atmospheric/ambient desires ("I want to have sex in a Roman spa" viz. "I want to have two dicks in my ass simultaneously").
I honestly could have lived without the Beaver Boyz sex, though.
DESERT PASSION is softcore/erotica because it thinks it's a real live movie, so it includes scenes designed to drive the narrative. Ironically, lots of these scenes involve driving a car and they are BORING. The sex scenes semi-redeem the time invested, although I'm sure that you could probably reap more satisfaction from other softcore products. It was more interesting to me as a Platonic ideal for what softcore IS (in terms of material quality, not quality of the film! I srsly hope that people get here by googling "pornography" or whatever and read this entire thing lolol).