Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Self-Discovery Through Camp and Cocksucking

THE SET and THE EXPERIMENT make for a strange double feature
What makes journeys of self-discovery exciting—and scary—is the unknown. You’re travelling to an undefined destination with only a vague idea of what direction you’re headed. If you’re secure enough to know where you’re going and how to get there, then there’s no need to start the journey—you’ve discovered your “self” already.

But often self-discovery doesn’t start as a journey; it’s more like a prison escape. Escape is foremost in the mind of Paul (Sean Myers, billed as Sean McEuan), the protagonist of the 1970 Australian movie THE SET, when leaves his dreary life in a seaside town with his miserable parents for the swinging life of 1969 Sydney.

The catalyst for Paul’s departure is not, surprisingly, his crater-faced father insisting Paul take a job at the shipyards rather than waste his time at some candy-ass college. No, it’s after some beach ballin’ with his girlfriend Cara (Amber Rodgers, billed as Julie Rodgers), when she reveals that when she was in boarding school she had an affair with—OMG!—a girl. This admission so horrifies Paul that he runs away, bare-assed naked, lest he get any more of Cara’s Sapphic cooties on him. 

Amber Rodgers and Sean Myers in a scene from the movie THE SET
Paul doesn’t stay mad at Cara for long.
Paul moves to Sydney. While on break from his department store job, he admires the window display of a downtown antiques store. On the other side of the glass Paul is admired by the store’s owner, renowned designer Marie Rosefield (Brenda Senders). Marie’s visiting GBF, Theo (Tracey Lee), is also intrigued by the young handsome window shopper, but politely waits his turn, letting Marie call dibs. Marie, encouraged that Paul is familiar with her work, happily takes the cute bumpkin under her wing, hoping he’ll eventually work his way under her skirt. She even goes so far as to recommend him as an assistant to the famous artist Mark Bronski (Denis Doonan, whose Van Dyke, despite all appearances, is not made of felt). All Paul has to do is make a good impression when he meets Bronski at a party, something Paul immediately jeopardizes by downing two drinks in rapid succession. I’ll admit I had trouble staying focused on the drama of this scene as I was too distracted by the Lhasa Apso sitting on Marie’s head.

Brenda Senders and Sean Myers in a scene from the 1970 movie THE SET
The Set didn’t win any awards, but Brenda Senders’ hair
deserved Best in Show.
Though Paul’s drinking too much and too quickly, it’s Marie who gets drunk, and Marie’s a bitter drunk. After watching Paul cut a rug with a much younger woman, who’s wearing a similar halter jumpsuit to Marie’s, Marie demands Paul go home with her and repay her years of kindness (though viewers will swear only a few months have passed) by allowing use of his young, firm body. Paul’s response is less than kind, telling Marie that people thought she was his mother. Before rejoining the party he tells her: “Your eyelash has come unstuck. Looks a bit revolting. Better fix it, eh?” Meow!

A scene from the 1970 movie THE SET
The softer side of drag.
Marie, devastated by her protégé’s rejection, promptly leaves, only to get killed in a car accident. “Poor bitch. She was in no state for driving,” says Theo when he relays the news to Paul. With the “poor bitch” out of the way, the path is now clear for Theo to make his play for Paul, and rest assured Theo wastes little time doing so. He takes the aspiring designer to a party, and though its populated by men of a distinct persuasion, Paul is oblivious to it being a gay party. He only gets a clue when he discovers the truth about the party’s sole female attendee: “Oh god! You’re a man!” Paul quickly flees the scene but not the party. When he returns moments later, the drag queen warns him: “Watch out, Red Riding Hood, the wolf is after your basket.”

Tracey Lee and Sean Myers in a scene from the 1970 film THE SET.
Paul gets caught making his getaway.

In the next scene Paul awakens alone in a strange bed, and though it’s implied he was roofied, the expression on his face when he looks in a mirror confirms he was well aware of what went on in that bed. Ashamed, he tries to sneak away, only to be confronted by Theo, wearing nothing but a towel. “Aren’t you even staying for breakfast?” he grins as Paul makes a run for it.

The movie takes its title from Paul’s primary job assignment from Mark Bronski: to design a set for a musical production. Though Paul is praised for having creative vision, he lacks the technical skill necessary to complete the job. Then he’s visited by his sexually frustrated aunt Peggy (Hazel Phillips), his teen-aged cousin Kim (Bronwyn Barber) and Kim’s hot-for-1969 boyfriend Tony (Rod Mullinar), who is studying engineering. Paul’s solution to his dilemma is to recruit Tony collaborate on the set design. There’s just one hiccup: Tony is an asshole. He first scoffs at the suggestion, then reconsiders when Paul’s girlfriend Leigh, (Ann Aczel, the weakest actor of the bunch), whose hair could house a family of six in Whoville, drops in for a visit. Tony says he’ll help Paul on the condition he gets to move in with him, and Leigh moves in, too. Paul readily agrees, and so does Leigh, happily prostituting herself for the sake of her boyfriend’s career.

Alas, while Paul looks good, he’s a lousy lay. Like, really, really bad. “I am just feeling so damned let down and so frustrated that I could just kill you!” rages Leigh before storming out of the bedroom and the movie. Later, Aunt Peggy drops by and, finding Tony alone and not averse to sex with older women, decides to have what her daughter’s having, only to discover Kim’s likely never been served. “Oh, I just can’t win. A husband who’s lost all interest and a boy who wouldn’t know how,” she muses after Tony “leaves [her] in mid-air.” But unbeknownst to Peggy, Kim is being delivered by a plot contrivance taxi, and it drops her at the apartment just in time to discover her mother’s and her boyfriend’s betrayal.

Rod Mullinar and Hazel Phillips in a scene from the 1970 film THE SET.
Reflections of a failed fuck.
Tired of all these demanding bitches wanting attentive lovers, orgasms and faithful boyfriends, Tony turns his attention to Paul, who’s too inexperienced to know better. Though Paul was disgusted with himself for having fucked Theo, he’s delighted to be used as Tony’s sentient Fleshjack, and fancies himself in love with the prick Tony rather than just loving Tony’s prick.

Sean Myers and Rod Mullinar in a scene from the 1970 film THE SET.
Tony decides he and Paul should be roommates with benefits.
The department store where Paul still works, apparently, learns of his work with Bronski, and decides to make him the host of a radio show about interior design that they sponsor. But Paul quickly reveals himself to be out of his depth, making things worse for himself by adopting the radio persona of a pretentious old queen, for reasons never explained. The show is quickly scrapped, and Paul fired. On the same day Paul’s canned, Tony announces he’s leaving him for a girl (“Good grief, she’s a prostitute!” Paul exclaims upon seeing her). After an extended sequence showcasing the many anguished faces of Sean Myers, Paul takes a fistful of pills. Tony, his new relationship barely lasting until nightfall, returns and discovers Paul on the floor unconscious. “The woman’s way, right to the end,” he scoffs.

Michael Charnley in a still from the 1970 film THE SET
John L. gets dolled up to meet his latest
conquest collaborator.
It's Bronski, delivered by the Deus Ex Taxi, the movie’s other car service, who actually calls for help. Bronski’s reason for showing up all of a sudden was to tell Paul about how his work—so far unseen by the audience—has attracted the attention of London producer John L. Fredericks, who wants Paul to design something for one of his upcoming shows. 

Paul survives, recovering in time to design something—with Tony’s help—for the famed producer. Then Paul finally meets “John L.” (Michael Charnley, flaming so hard it’s a wonder he doesn’t spontaneously combust), who makes it clear he plans to give Paul a #MeToo story to share 50 years down the road. But the producer’s plans are thwarted when Paul recognizes John L.’s “cold hard fish” secretary, and suddenly realizes he’s not queer, after all.

More an Aussie Curiosity than a Camp Classic

The Set is based on a then-unpublished novel by character actor Roger Ward (Janus Publishing published the book in 2011.) In an interview he gave FilmInk, Ward said every publisher he showed the manuscript to rejected it “not because I was an actor attempting to be a writer, but because I was a writer peddling filth.” It was a fellow actor who got the manuscript in the hands of director Frank Brittain, who wanted to adapt the book into a movie. But there was a catch: “Frank told me I had to lift every homosexual narrative from the novel and write a screenplay on that.” Certainly not the note I would’ve expected, especially in the 1960s.

Ward’s assessment of the final product is it’s “a shit film,” which I think is a little too harsh. The Set isn’t good, but it’s not shit, either. A B-grade melodrama that mixes 1960s kitsch with grindhouse sleaze (its subject matter and nudity earned it an “adults only” label in its day, but it’s now rated PG-13), The Set seemed the type of movie I’d fall in love with at first viewing. But as much as I enjoyed the movie for its campy excess, its story is uninvolving. The script, co-written by director Brittain’s wife Diane, is more concerned with plot points than character development, so people’s actions come off as plot contrivances rather than rooted in character motivations. And for all that happens, the movie has almost as many moments of characters just standing there, silently, waiting for another character to finish packing his bags or begin her tirade. Did the editor not realize these parts were supposed to be cut out?

Amber Rodgers and Sean Myers in the 1970 film THE SET
Cara and Paul end up right where straight audiences demand.
As for its treatment of queer characters, The Set isn’t totally insensitive, so I guess that makes it progressive for its time. Hell, considering how things are going in the United States, it’s progressive in our time. Homosexuals are presented as stereotypes, but they aren’t vilified, and there’s some ahead-of-its-time acknowledgment of the fluidity of human sexuality. Still, Paul ending up in a hetero relationship by the movie’s end feels like a cop out.

A Sensitive Coming Out Story or Hardcore Twink Action?

“I’ll never forget that summer—that restless summer, when I found out who I was, and that long walk to tell my father what I learned.” So recalls Billy Joe at the beginning of THE EXPERIMENT, setting the tone for this 1973 coming out drama. And for the first 20 minutes, watching Billy Joe (Mike Stevens, in his only film role, gay porn or otherwise) and his best friend Gary Lee (Joey Daniels) roughhouse in the desert, cool off in a swimming pool of what they think is a vacant house, and drink beer stolen from the fridge of the diner owned by Billy Joe’s dad, you might think this is a regular queer indie movie.

A still from Gorton Hall's 1973 movie THE EXPERIMENT
Though there are hints of what’s to come.

Then the dick sucking starts. Yup, it’s a porno! Billy Joe and Gary Lee giving same sex scrompin’ a try is the titular experiment (“Oh, Gary, it feels weird.”) The teens—at least we’re not to believe they’re older than 18—are awkward at first, but quickly get into it, taking turns blowing each other and even getting into a sixty-nine. The sex acts aren’t all that varied, which makes perfect sense. I always find it funny when present-day porn scenes attempt a similar scenario, where one, or both—or all three—guys are supposed to be inexperienced/straight, then end up deep throating like pros and getting DP’d with ease. I’m not saying it isn’t hot, it’s just not believable.

A still from the Gorton Hall's 1973 film THE EXPERIMENT
Billy Joe works up his nerve while Gary Lee lies back and waits.

Anyway, back to Bill Joe and Gary Lee, who get off with some frottage. Alas, shame comes shortly after they do. The next morning Billy Joe wants to keep “experimenting,” but Gary Lee pushes him away. Just like Paul in The Set, Billy Joe flees—not just the shed in which he and Gary Lee sucked each other off, but the small southwest town where he lives, hitting the road for Los Angeles.

Jimmy Hughes in a scene from the 1973 adult film THE EXPERIMENT
Jimmy Hughes prepares for his scene.
Of course, Billy Joe’s literal journey is also a journey of self-discovery. His first encounter along the way is “the salesman” Jimmy Hughes, not only rocking a head of shoulder-length hair but an impressive set of mutton chops as well. In a motel room that makes Motel 6 look like a Four Seasons resort, Billy Joe strips while his older trick, still dressed, takes sips from a pint of whiskey. The nervous teen lays down on the bed while his trick (or john; this encounter might be transactional) looks him over approvingly, then starts to undress.

Billy Joe might be nervous, but he’s intrigued, too, and so will you once Hughes gets naked. His ‘70s hair may not be for every taste, but his muscular physique has timeless appeal (too bad he’s a convicted rapist). Yet, the salesman’s hot bod isn’t enough to silence Billy Joe’s self-loathing inner dialog: “Goddamn you, Gary. Goddamn you for making me see what I really am.” Then, as so often happens, Billy Joe gets too horny to give a shit about his conflicted feelings, going from lying there like a cadaver to writhing like a voracious cock goblin.

Mike Stevens and Jimmy Hughes in a scene from the 1973 film THE EXPERIMENT
Self-loathing cured.
All good things must come to an end, and in the morning Billy Joe and the salesman go their separate ways. He hitches a ride from a dark-haired twink in a Mustang, David Craig. Craig makes a play for Billy Joe’s dick, but Billy Joe ain’t having it.

David Craig in Gorton Hall's 1973 film THE EXPERIMENT
It might have something to do with David Craig’s Grinch-like
Undaunted, Craig picks up another hitchhiker, Tony Ross, who is much more accommodating. Ross is a lanky guy with a majestic penis. He also looks he could be Warren Oates’ little brother, which might be why the camera seldom moves above his waist. Not helping is neither Craig nor Ross are particularly dynamic sexual performers, with Craig either tentatively licking Ross’s dick or playing dead while Ross mechanically pumps his ass. Billy Joe, who is napping in the car for the duration of this scene, isn’t missing anything.

Gorton Hall as Herm in the 1973 film THE EXPERIMENT
Better call (Gorton) Hall.
But Billy Joe’s dad, Herm (Gorton Hall, also the movie’s writer and director), is missing Billy Joe, and so is Gary Lee, who checks out their usual haunts—the desert, the creek—looking for his best friend. He gets sidetracked when he’s cruised by a young guy from Hollywood, slumming in the boonies. Gary Lee takes him back to the shed where he practices his sword swallowing. The encounter isn’t as fulfilling as his night with Billy Joe, however. “Well, I guess is doesn’t matter, as long as you get your nut off,” smirks the Hollywood dude before telling Gary Lee ciao.

Billy Joe gives his father a call, just to assure him he’s OK; there are just some things he needs to figure out on his own (a touching scene, actually). Billy Joe has found a Hollywood dude of his own, the skinny son of a film director who looks like a cross between Jason Gould and Jane Adams. Billy Joe is visibly creeped out by him, but the director’s son persuades him to stay. “I thought there were some things you had to find out about yourself. I can think of no better place than in my basement. Call it the acid test.”

A still from Gorton Hall's 1973 movie THE EXPERIMENT
Presenting “the acid test.”
This time Billy Joe joins in, though most of the action involves his host, as well as Craig and Ross, who are a bit more spirited this time out, though it could just be the kaleidoscope camera tricks making it appear that way. The next morning Billy Joe wakes up on a bed covered in sheets from Bed, Bath & Fuck You!, with the director’s son advising him to go back to where he came from. “Depravity isn’t something you learn all at once. It takes time and practice.”

A still from the 1973 gay adult feature THE EXPERIMENT
From the Peter Max Nightmare Bedding collection...
Billy Joe takes his host’s advice and returns home, where he tells his father that he’s gay. Herm’s response is not what Billy Joe—or audiences in 1973—expects.

The cover to Bijou World's DVD of THE EXPERIMENT
The Experiment is available
through Bijou Classics, and
presumably so is the movie from
which they grabbed that cover image.
According to the Ask Any Buddy podcast, Gorton Hall was the head chef of the ABC Studio commissary, but he had a number of creative side gigs, including writing pulp novels under his real name (unfortunately the AAB hosts don’t divulge what that real name is; I’d be combing eBay for one of those novels right now if they had), before getting into film via Pat Rocco. He was also a trained actor, which is why he liked to give himself roles in his films, and he certainly gives one of the more polished performances in The Experiment. His acting background was also why he liked to rehearse lines with his cast prior to shooting. Hall certainly got better-than-expected performances from Stevens and Daniels (other performers, like the guy cast as the director’s son, are lost causes).

The Experiment was released by Jaguar Films, the same company that released The Light from the Second Story Window. Like Second Story Window, The Experiment attempts to mimic mainstream Hollywood product and explore the struggles of being gay, as well as prominently feature Joey Daniels. Unlike Second Story Window, however, The Experiment succeeds by keeping its story simple, its scope small. It knows it can’t be a Douglas Sirk melodrama and doesn’t bother trying (though bless Second Story Window writer/director/star David Allen for going for it, limitations be damned), Furthermore, Experiment actually remembers it’s a porn film (though Hall reportedly preferred writing the scripts to directing the movies). It even has a few scenes that are borderline erotic. That said, the movie still works better as a coming-of-age/coming out drama, so maybe don’t watch this if you’re hoping to rub one out.

Mike Stevens and Joey Daniels in a scene from the 1973 movie THE EXPERIMENT
Billy Joe and Gary Lee contemplate a future as friends
with benefits, or maybe even lovers.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Short Takes: ‘Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots’ (2019) ★★

Poster for the 2019 movie BATHROOM STALLS & PARKING LOTS
A former roommate once quipped that you’re not going to find the love of your life in a bar. And then he threw a party that resulted in us getting evicted. Still, he was not wrong—about not finding love in bars, at least. Ditto for Grindr. It’s a lesson the main character of Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots, Leo (the movie’s co-writer and director Thales Corrêa), has yet to learn as he visits San Francisco to search the city’s bars for the Grindr trick he wants to make his boyfriend.

Leo’s S.F. guide is fellow Brazilian Donnie (the other screenwriter, Izzy Palazzini). Donnie, who looks like the estranged cousin Alvin doesn’t want the other chipmunks to know about, may be an expert on Castro’s nightlife, but he’s also hot mess. He’s more about scoring drugs n’ dick than helping his friend, a fact that Leo is surprisingly slow to pick up on. Except, no, Leo already knows this. He says as much.

“I should’ve known this was gonna happen because every time I go out with Donnie some crazy, stupid shit happens,” Leo moans after Donnie gets them kicked out of a bar when caught blowing his “straight” friend Hunter (Oscar Mansky, the answer to the unasked question: What if Jon Heder was fuckable?) in one of the titular bathroom stalls. And this is a mere 15-minutes into the movie.

Clearly, it’s going to be a long night, and I began to fear Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots was going to make me feel every goddamn minute of it. I don’t have a lot of patience for people like Donnie in real life, yet the movie was presenting him as just a comic foil, mistaking his obnoxiousness for hilariousness. I was seriously considering giving up on the movie before it hit the 30-minute mark.

But the movie is barely 80 minutes long, so I stuck with it, and though Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots didn’t become a great film, it did become a more meaningful one. After what has got to be the saddest underwear party ever, Leo realizes that he is looking for love in all the wrong places, and those are the only places on Donnie’s itinerary. He decides to focus more on quality than quantity, though not before one more sleazy (mis)adventure.

Given its minuscule budget, Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots is better made than one would expect, with passable acting and production values (the cinematography is a bit spotty, however). Its main drawback is its script. Though billed as a comedy, it’s only intermittently amusing at best, fucking irritating at worst. It’s only when it stops trying to so hard to make Donnie the life of the party that the movie starts to rise above viewers’ lowest expectations, though by that time many viewers may have already decided, as Leo ultimately does, to cut ties.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Remember, Ladies: No Orgasm Goes Unpunished

Posters for the 2017 movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE and the 2022 movie 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
I knew this day would come, the day I finally check out yet another godawful Fifty Shades of Grey knockoff that confuses abuse with romance. I’m talking, of course, about the 2017 British movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE.

This movie was put in my Tubi queue shortly after reviewing that more notorious Fifty Shades knock-off, 365 Days, as it looked like it would provide ample opportunities for ridicule. Then I realized I’d have to watch it first, and the prospect of doing that was significantly less fun.


It took the recent Netflix release of the second installment of the 365 Days saga—if a collection of montages, drone shots and sex scenes, varnished over with an overbearing pseudo-R&B soundtrack, even qualifies as a “saga”—to spur me to find out about Elise’s darker shades.

Becca Hirani_Louisa Warren_Tommy Vilés in scene from the 2017 movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
Elise is subjected to the judgmental gaze of
Janet, the cunty co-worker.
Elise (Becca Hirani), once an aspiring model and actress, is now a bored London housewife, married to workaholic Rick (Tommy Vilés). At the movie’s opening she shows up at his barren office with champagne bottle and glasses in hand, interrupting Rick having a flirty conversation about salads(?) with his colleague Janet (Louisa Warren). Janet, who should really be a lot humbler considering her shitty dye-job, takes her sweet time fucking off, making sure to give Rick’s wife a condescending once-over on her way out the door. Rick is just as annoyed by the interruption. It’s their anniversary, Elise reminds him. Surely, he could make time to celebrate. Though Rick apologizes, he’s not making any indication he plans on leaving the office anytime soon. When he gets a call about a work “emergency,” he seems positively relieved.

Elise begins to suspect Rick of having an affair. “Know what I would do?” Elise’s friend Bianca (Charlene Cooper) volunteers. “Go fuck every man in sight.” But Elise says she can’t do that—she’s married. Bianca, as the free-spirited/slutty best friend, doesn’t see that as a barrier. Then, just to rub salt into her friend’s wounded sex life, Bianca hurries Elise out the door so she can greet her latest internet hook-up. Elise instead lingers at the back window, getting so turned on watching a hot Black guy go down on Bianca that she can’t help but touch herself. 

Becca Hirani in a scene from the 2017 movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
There can be a fine line between sexy and sad,
and Elise quickly crosses it.
It’s while tailing Rick, hoping to catch him in the act of cheating, that Elise meets Felix (Arron Blake), an attractive, if somewhat hawk-faced, photographer. Felix immediately starts chatting up Elise, who blushes at his smarmy compliments but clearly enjoys the attention. When he asks if he can photograph her, she gives the request a millisecond of consideration—the same amount of time required to cut to Elise in her apartment, posing for Felix. Felix just as quickly jumps to suggesting Elise take her dress off. “What?” Elise gasps. “I don’t even know your name.” Wait, what? I’m sorry, even in my desperate bar trash days, when my affection was won by anyone who would talk to me for more than three minutes, I still knew the names of the men I was about to leave the bar with, at least until the next morning.

Once introductions are out of the way the pair kiss. Though Elise isn’t exactly resistant, this seduction feels like an uncomfortable assignment in a James Franco-led acting class. Elise stops Felix before things go too far, but her marital commitment snaps a day or so later when Rick and his assistants, doing some pre-meeting prep work at the apartment, respond to her offer of refreshments like she just farted. Rick and his assistants are barely out the door before Elise is inviting Felix over to initiate her into the joys of adultery.

Arrin Blake in a scene from the 2017 movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
Felix shows us the pale side of the moon.

Because female orgasms can’t go unpunished in movies, Felix quickly proves to be every bit of the creeper we suspect him of being. In the first of many red flags, he shows up in Elise’s bedroom while Rick is in the shower (this apartment building either has really shit security or Felix can scale walls like Spider-Man). Despite her protests, Felix fucks Elise (quickly), ducking out of the room—but not out of the apartment—the moment Rick asks his wife to hand him a towel. But, uh-oh, Rick decides now is time to tend to his husbandly duties and initiates sex with Elise, thinking her flushed face and WAP are the result of watching him shower (Vilés is cute, but “moisture-inducing” might be a wee bit of an overstatement).

Becca Hirani, Tommy Viles and Arron Blake in DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
Felix enjoys the show.
But watching Elise bone her husband gets Felix dripping, so after Rick leaves on yet another business trip the photographer proposes inviting random men over to fuck her while Felix watches. How would she like that? Elise responds as if just offered a cup of tea: “Yeah. I guess so.”

Felix wastes little time finding participants for his voyeuristic fantasies, though it’s clear what he really enjoys is Elise’s terror when these randos suddenly appear unannounced in her home, like the hunky Black man (not the same one who ate out Bianca), who walks into the bathroom while she’s bathing and begins undressing.

A scene from the 2017 movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
He quickly breaks the ice.
Later, Felix brings two twinks over to have their way with her. Elise is so blinded by all this nubile British boi-flesh that she fails to notice Felix has set up his camera to record the action. Or maybe she’s too horny to care. It’s not until brings home Mindy the Half-Price Dominatrix (Claire-Maria Fox) that Elise realizes this affair has to end.

Becca Hirani_Claire-Marie Fox_Arron Blake in scene from DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
The moment Elise re-evaluates her relationship with Felix.

Felix isn’t one to let go easily, however, and he quickly launches into a campaign of harassment that begins with threats and humiliations before quickly escalating to revenge porn and gang rape. Elise, feeling she has no other option, confesses the affair to Rick. That’s when things get all murder-y.

Though its title and marketing suggest Elise is a down-market Fifty Shades rip-off, it’s really just a kinkier (and significantly cheaper) Fatal Attraction, with a little bit of Animal Instincts thrown in. With a beefed-up script, higher production values and an effort to make the sex scenes sexy, Elise could’ve been an OK direct-to-streaming erotic thriller. As it is, Shannon Holiday’s script is populated with one-note characters spouting bland and/or dumb dialog (including a police detective making the most ridiculous/offensive request of a victim ever) and Jamie West’s direction does nothing to elevate the material. Whereas Fifty Shades and 365 Days are as much lifestyle porn as they are just porn, Darker Shades of Elise is aggressively drab, as if West shot the entire movie through a dirty window.

A scene from the 2017 movie DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
Director Jamie West captures the romance of the London setting.
The cast is largely comprised of actors who have worked together on similar Z-grade titles, and while none of them are especially good, a few are better than the material they are given. Had Elise’s character been given a few more shades, I have no doubt that Hirani could’ve made her seem more like a fully realized human being instead of a doormat in need of a good lay. Similarly, I’d like to think Blake might have displayed some charm in the early scenes had the script supplied Felix with any, which would make Elise’s attraction to him more believable and his psychopathic behavior a bit more shocking. Instead, he comes across as a predator from the start, though, for what it’s worth, Blake is quite effective the nastier he gets. Weirdly, the only character given any sort of nuance is Rick, who is first shown to be an insensitive dick, only to soften up over the course of the movie. I found myself wondering if the movie might’ve been better served if Vilés and Blake switched roles, though both actors would’ve been better served taking different jobs.

Becca Hirani not looking her best in a scene from DARKER SHADES OF ELISE
I know Im trespassing on Nick DiRamios territory, but girl,
who did your make up?

So, Darker Shades of Elise wasn’t as unwatchable as I feared, but that’s about the most that can be said for it. It isn’t sexy, it isn’t good, and it’s not worth your time.

On the other hand….

Let There Be No More Tomorrows After This Day

Anna-Marie Sieklucka in a scene from the 2022 movie THIS DAY
Binge and purge.
While Darker Shades of Elise is bad, 365 DAYS: THIS DAY, as most readers already know, is fucking dreadful, and just as offensive as the first movie. The “story,” using the loosest definition of the word, picks up several weeks/months (time doesn’t matter in this universe) after the first movie, on the wedding day of Massimo (Michele Marrone, who again contributes to the movie’s grating soundtrack) and “Low-ra” (Anna-Marie Sieklucka). The final scene of the previous film, in which Laura and her friend Olga (Magdalena Lamparska) are seen being driven into a tunnel but never coming out the other side is explained away in a few lines of dialog: there was an accident and Laura miscarried (but don’t tell Massimo she was ever pregnant!). Now let us never speak of it again.

Massimo has his own secrets, like the fact that he has a twin brother, Adriano. The brothers may be identical, but they are quite different: Massimo looks like drug trafficker while Adriano looks like a drug trafficker who uses the product. Henceforth, they will be known as Scowly and Twitchy. Anyway, Laura is pissed that Scowly—who, you’ll remember, kidnapped her and held her prisoner until she finally submitted to fell in love with him—withheld this information from her. She’s also starting to get a teensy bit annoyed that Massimo treats her like his property. But while Laura is relatively accepting of her abusive relationship, cheating on her is just a bridge too far. So, when she catches Scowly in flagrante delicto with his ex, Anna (Natasza Urbanska), she storms off, not realizing it was Twitchy the whole time.

Michele Marrone as Massimo and Adriano in the 2022 movie THIS DAY.
Scowly and Twitchy

Simone Susinna in a scene from the 2022 movie THIS DAY
Nacho undulates into Laura’s life.
Enter Nacho (yes, Nacho), Scowly and Laura’s new gardener, who gives the cuckqueaned gangster’s wife a lift, ultimately taking her to his place. It turns out Nacho, who is never once shown gardening, lives in a beautiful seaside villa. It’s his father’s place, he explains. Laura doesn’t ask any more questions, since Nacho, played by Simone Susinna, has a smile can melt away panties and cloud minds. Yet, while Nacho is significantly more pleasant than Scowly, viewers—those who have made it this far, at least—will suspect that he, too, is a piece of shit, and they’d be right. He’s just significantly less shitty than Massimo.

The only reason to watch the film adaptations of Blanka Lipińska’s porno trilogy is the explicit sex, and even there This Day disappoints. The sex scenes may be early and often (the first one happens a mere two minutes in), but there is significantly less flesh bared this time out. It’s not like Sieklucka and Marrone decided to beef up the nudity clauses in their contracts. They still get naked, just not as frequently, though you can still rest assured that Sieklucka will be baring more than either of her male co-stars. And it’s not like the sex is all that daring or interesting, the movie failing to realize that in the internet age it will take more than whipped cream and toys to get audiences’ collective blood pumping. However, there is a scene on a golf course that will get them laughing.

There is no such thing as privacy in the movie 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
Olga and Domenico are interrupted—again.
As with the first one, I’m providing the time codes for the “good parts” of This Day. I’m not counting that first sex scene, in which Laura and Scowly have pre-wedding sex (sample romantic dialog: “I don’t have panties”) as both actors remain fully clothed. The same goes for Olga and Domenico’s frequently interrupted couplings (people are always walking in on each other fucking in this movie), which aren’t very explicit and meant solely as comic relief. So, for those who want to see the hot people have simulated sex without having to sit through the movie’s remaining 95 minutes of watching them drive Lambos, eat spaghetti, shop, jet ski, drive Corvettes, walk on the beach, lounge on patios, lounge by the pool, and model comically large sunglasses, here are the parts to fast-forward to:

Anna-Marie Sieklucka and Michele Marrone in a scene from 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
I eat your face!
10:40 – Massimo and Laura’s wedding night. “You have one hour. Then I’ll do whatever I wan’ w’ju,” Scowly tells his bride. “No,” she replies, “I’ll do whatever I want with you.” She ties him (fully clothed) to a chair, then gets naked and pleasures herself with a vibrator until Scowly gets so horny he breaks free of his flimsy restraints and pounces on her. This scene segues into the movie’s honeymoon montage, which includes hot tub sex (non-explicit), Laura walking topless along the beach and, during a game of golf, Laura squatting over one of the holes as her husband/kidnapper putts a ball toward her cooch.
Anna-Marie Sieklucka and Michele Marrone in one of the goofier scenes in 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
Laura proves that nothing will make golf sexy.

21:10 – Massimo and Laura, who had sex on a patio table during the movie’s first two minutes, have sex on a dining room table after she slinks into the room wearing skimpy lingerie (almost everyone in this movie walks as if they are about to make a stripper pole their bitch). Scowly finally shows his ass (Marrone isn’t much of an actor, to put it kindly, but his body—woof!). He also goes down on Laura, which may not be entirely simulated.

Michele Marrone in a scene from the 2022 movie 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
Michele Marrone displays his greatest strength as an actor.

38:42 – Massimo gets his Christmas gift: a night of BDSM Lite with a box set of sex toys. Laura is gift wrapped in a garter belt and leather cuffs with gold lettering spelling out “Fuck Me” (Eat your heart out, Nicholas Sparks.) Scowly once again gets naked, though the illusion that he’s really giving it to his victim/wife is shattered with a brief full-frontal flash.

Anna-Marie Sieklucka and Michele Marrone in a scene from the 2022  movie 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
No wonder he had to use the toys on Laura.
51:00 – Laura walks in on “Massimo” and Anna. Not terribly explicit but you a brief glimpse of Urbanska’s naked butt (Marrone’s is kept covered by his shirttail).

1:09:17 – Laura and Nacho get it on (though it might be a dream; the movie isn’t clear, and you won’t care). Lots of close-ups of Laura looking pre-orgasmic and Nacho looking sleepy. Nacho kisses his way down her naked torso before chowing down downtown.

Anna-Marie Sieklucka in a scene from the 2022 movie 365 DAYS: THIS DAY
1:25:25 – Laura may/may not be dreaming of Nacho eating her pussy for breakfast. “Are you having a nightmare or just an erotic dream?” asks Nacho when she wakes up. Then they have spaghetti for breakfast, because they are in Italy.

1:30:18 – No sex, but Nacho finally shows his ass. 

Simone Sussina in a scene from the second intallment of the 365 DAYS saga_THIS DAY
Not bad, but Sussina looks better from the front.
You’ve got 20 more minutes to go after Sussina shows his two handfuls—20 loooong minutes. Not only is This Day unerotic, offensive and stupid, it’s also punishingly dull. At this rate, watching the third installment will likely feel as if time is standing still. It’s time that would probably be better spent watching real porn (see the internet for details.) But who am I kidding? I know I’m going to watch it when it drops on Netflix.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Short Takes: ‘Sunburn’ (2018) ★★ 1/2

The poster to the 2018 film SUNBURN
Put some sexy Europeans with complicated love lives around a swimming pool and I’m there: La piscine (a.k.a. The Swimming Pool), Swimming Pool (which is not a remake of La piscine), A Bigger Splash (which is) — I enjoyed them all. So, it was damn-near inevitable that I’d watch Vicente Alves do Ó’s 2018 film Sunburn (a.k.a. Golpe de Sol), which ups the ante by making its characters queer. Yes, please.

Four friends—Simão (Ricardo Barbosa, wearing Speedos for the majority of the film’s runtime), Vasco (Ricardo Pereira), Joana (Oceana Basílio) and Francisco (Nuno Pardal)—are spending a long weekend at Francisco’s secluded villa when they each receive a phone call from David, whom they haven’t seen in 10 years and whom a few hoped never to see again. When David invites himself over, his impending arrival turns what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend into a tense confrontation with their past decisions and encroaching middle age.

Though it would seem that it’s poised to rage out of control like the distant brush fires that surround Francisco’s villa, Sunburn spends much of its runtime merely smoldering, gradually revealing details about its characters and their history with David. Except, the movie never reveals as much as it holds back. In fact, for the first 20 minutes I wasn’t entirely clear on the characters’ relationship to each other. This is made more frustrating by intermittent voice overs from David himself that suggest the movie might take a much darker turn, but it’s just one more tease without a payoff.

Sunburn looks gorgeous, and writer-director do Ó manages to slip in a few pointed insights about aging and regret. That the characters’ sexuality (Simão and Vasco are gay; Francisco is bi, in a relationship with Joana) is treated matter-of-factly is also appreciated. But the movie is never as profound as it thinks it is and I never liked it as much as I hoped I would. It may be entitled Sunburn, but this Portuguese drama is wearing SPF-50.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

A Gay Man Watches Straight Porn #5: ‘A Woman’s Torment’

Cover for the Vinegar Syndrome release of A WOMAN'S TORMENT
The cover art for Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray
rightly plays up A Woman’s Torment as a horror film
rather than a porno.
I can’t believe it’s been a year since I’ve reviewed any straight porn. Not that any of you are complaining. Judging by the analytics, y’all aren’t nearly as interested in porn as I thought you’d be. With that in mind, I thought I’d check out one of director Roberta Findlay’s fuck films since she wasn’t all that interested in porn, either.

Roberta’s 1977 movie A WOMAN’S TORMENT, which she also wrote and produced—all under the pseudonym Robert Norman—was inspired by Roman Polanski Repulsion, or so says the copy on the back of Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray of the film. Though this may be true, the film has more in common with the American horrors of Curtis (The Killing Kind) Harrington or Robert Vincent (Blood Mania) O’Neil, minus the overt eroticism.

The woman’s torment we see at the film’s opening is the more typical kind when the camera takes us into the Manhattan bedroom of Dr. Otis Vorel (a bewigged Jake Teague, who’s pretty great in this) and his much younger wife Estelle (Jennifer Jordan), the couple in the middle of doing it. That a TV broadcast of a baseball game is playing while the couple bangs should give you an idea of how hot the sex is, but in case that’s too subtle there are Estelle’s cries for Otis to just “hold her.” But Otis just keeps pounding away.

A metaphorical representation of the eroticism
of Otis and Estelle’s coupling (Source: giphy)
Once Otis gets off, he’s genuinely perplexed by Estelle’s tearful complaints. “I just made love to you. Or am I hallucinating?” he asks. “Wrong, my friend,” Estelle snaps. “You just masturbated inside of me.” Otis then has the audacity to say: “I’m sorry you didn’t have an orgasm, but it’s not the end of the world.” And he’s supposed to be a psychiatrist.

There’s more to Estelle’s anger than unsatisfying sex. She’s certain her husband has no problem making other women come. Otis, however, is adamant that he’s never been unfaithful in all the years they’ve been married.

He’s lying, of course. He’s been carrying on an affair with Fran (Crystal Sync, also bewigged, billed as Harris Compton), whom he and Estelle see that very night at a party hosted by Fran and her architect husband Don (Jeffrey Hurst, who got my bear senses tingling).

A still from the 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
“Everything tastes better when it’s sittin’ on a Ritz.”

A still from the party scene in the 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Look, it’s R. Bolla!
There’s one other resident in Fran and Don’s apartment, Fran’s stepsister Karen, primarily played by Tara Chung (I’ll elaborate later). Karen, however, is not attending the party, preferring to stay inside her darkened room, clutching a doll and a pair of large scissors. I’d say she’s got issues, but as someone who finds parties more stressful than job interviews, her avoiding Fran and Don’s didn’t strike me immediately as a red flag. Don, however, thinks Karen belongs in an institution and approaches Otis about providing his professional assessment. Otis is more interested in guzzling vodka and sneaking away to feel-up Don’s wife in the kitchen. Too bad for him Fran has decided that tonight’s the night to call it quits (“Affairs aren’t like a marriage—they end.”)

Don confronts Fran about the affair after the party, which Fran inadvertently admits in her denial. Unlike Estelle, Don gets a charge out of Fran’s infidelity, saying he likes it when other men find her attractive. “Fran, you are a cock-stirring sight,” Don leers from the bed, adding: “Come here, wench. Let me make love to you.”

“All right,” Fran says resignedly. “Let’s get this over with.”

A still from the 1977 adult film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Don and Fran get it over with.
The couple then proceeds to get it over with, which is about as hot as it sounds. (In the interest of full disclosure, it wasn’t just that the couple’s sex was perfunctory that had diminished the scene's erotic appeal, but that Sync abstractly resembled the co-owner of a company I used to work for, a very pious woman who once used her position to mandate that “Xmas” not be used as an abbreviation for Christmas in file names because it made Jesus cry or something. Her husband—who bragged about owning 51% of the company to his wife's 49%—was even worse: he followed the Gospel According to Fox News. So, because of this association with a past employer, Sync and Hurst’s scene first struck me as funny, until I began to picture my past employers making apathetic love, and then I began to cry, just like Jesus did when I labeled files “Xmas Card 2013”.)

Meanwhile, in the next room, Karen is packing her suitcase.

A still from Roberta Findlay's 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Oops, she forgot the scissors.
Karen takes off for Fran and Don’s beach house on Fire Island, sacrificing her luggage to the tide before she’s even made it to the front door. Once inside, she turns on every light in the house, then takes a shower, becoming aroused until hallucinations of a man attacking her with a knife send her running upstairs in a panic. Discovering Michael Gaunt (billed as Michael Grant) waiting for her only intensifies Karen’s terror.
A still from Roberta Findlay's 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Arguably more startling than Karen’s phantom attacker.
Karen immediately grabs a knife from the kitchen counter, but Gaunt convinces her he’s harmless. He’s just a line worker from the power company, there to make sure the electricity is still working after the prior night’s storm. He even builds a fire for her. As he talks (and talks), Karen goes from frightened to horny and whips off her bathrobe. Gaunt protests, saying he’s never taken advantage of a lady in distress, but Karen, who’s been practically mute until now, taunts him into giving her what she craves (“Certainly a big stud like you isn’t afraid of a little girl like me.”) The lineman quickly acquiesces, giving Karen a thorough fingering, a scene that immediately brought Margaret Cho’s “Fat Pussy” to mind.  Karen isn’t as agreeable when Gaunt wants to fuck, however.
Michael Gaunt and Tara Chung in a scene from A WOMAN'S TORMENT
She let him nut first, at least.
Back in Manhattan, Fran and Don have Otis and Estelle over for afternoon cocktails, during which they discuss what to do with Karen. Fran, heretofore worried Karen receiving any mental health treatment would tarnish her family’s good name, grudgingly agrees to making an appointment with a specialist for her troubled stepsister. Then it’s time to gather ‘round the piano for a sing-along!
A scene from the 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
No, seriously.

Marlene Willoughby as Mrs. Grudkow
Meanwhile, Karen continues to be besieged by drop-in guests. First, there’s nosy neighbor Fanny Grudkow, who, despite appearances, is not a camp drag queen but adult film actress Marlene Willoughby. Willoughby’s comedic skills are commendable (favorite moment: Fanny empties sand from her shoe onto the coffee table, then scolds Karen for her poor housekeeping), and it’s not like the movie is totally devoid of humor, but the scene is out of place tonally. It’s akin to splicing a skit from The Carol Burnett Show into the middle of Last House on the Left.

After dispatching Fanny, Karen spends some alone time on the beach with her demons. While she’s out of the house, a pair of young lovers (Clea Carson and some anonymous dude who either looks like a sexier Ed Begley, Jr., or a homely Hugh Grant) decide to use her house as a fuck pad, because what’s breaking and entering when you’re horny? It’s at this point in the movie that audiences finally get treated to a more varied menu of sex acts in a single sex scene, rather than just one or two (the movie’s first blowjob doesn’t happen until nearly an hour in). That said, you may wish this movie never discovered cunnilingus, or a zoom lens. John Waters was right: hardcore pornography does look like open heart surgery.

A still from the 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Although its generally less bloody.
Weirdly, during all of Fran and Don’s discussions about Karen’s welfare, no one seems all that worried about her missing. Except, she’s not. It turns out the couple knows she’s at the beach house, and only become concerned when she doesn’t answer the phone. So, they urge their good friend Otis to go out to Fire Island to make a welfare check, of sorts.

A still from Roberta Findlay's 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Dr. Otis, checking Karens welfare.
In case we need any further proof that Otis is a shitty psychiatrist, the doctor judges Karen to be perfectly sane. Then, in a tone of voice used by men who call waitresses “toots,” the doctor tells Karen to make some coffee while he takes a shower. Instead, Karen rips a power cord from a lamp and joins Otis in the bathroom administer some shock therapy. Oh, Fran’s not going to be happy when she discovers all these bodies. What will become of her family name then?

A Drive-in Horror with Cumshots

The poster for the 1966 film TAKE ME NAKED
Roberta Findlay, billed as Anna Riva,
starred in the dreary 1966 sexploitation
movie Take Me Naked, directed
 by her husband,
Roberta Findlay’s film career dates back to the early 1960s, starting with the 1964 film The Body of a Female—made by her then-fiancée Michael Findlay and his friends John and Lem Amero—in which she starred as the titular body, as well as working as a lighting technician. After she and Michael married the couple collaborated on numerous roughies, including the infamous Flesh trilogy (though Roberta later denied having much involvement in those movies) and my personal favorite, A Thousand Pleasures. By 1970 Roberta had experience in almost every aspect of filmmaking, including directing, cinematography, screenwriting, editing, lighting and composing (she was studying to be a classical pianist when she and Michael met). However, she never talks of being interested in film as a creative outlet. She wasn’t an artist; she was just looking to get paid.

Yet, A Woman’s Torment, with its witty and surprisingly nuanced script, artful cinematography (excepting traumatizing close-ups of pussy eating), better-than-average acting, plus Walter Sear’s effective sound design, shows she might have been more ambitious than she let on. It’s not just a better-than-expected adult movie, considering it’s from the same woman who helmed the execrable Prime Evil, it might also rank as one of Roberta’s best films, period. It’s less a fuck flick with a body count than it is a drive-in horror with cumshots.

The movie’s quality is even more impressive when you consider that the lead, Tara Chung, ran off with a gaffer midway through shooting. (I wonder if Roberta’s production company made the mistake of paying Chung up front?) Luckily, Chung left behind her wig (yeah, she wore one, too), so Roberta, ever resourceful, donned it for some pick-up shots, and for the most part you can’t tell when she’s standing in for her AWOL actress.

A scene from the 1977 film A WOMAN'S TORMENT
Chung may have been an unreliable employee, but she is quite good in the role of Karen, effectively conveying her character’s troubled mental state. She’s also the most enthusiastic sexual performer in the cast, though to be fair to her co-stars, Karen is the only character written as being overwhelmed by her desires. And while we’re on the subject of A Woman’s Torment as erotica, let’s just say Roberta’s indifference to the genre shows. The R-rated cut of the film included on the Vinegar Syndrome disk is actually preferable to the original X-rated version as the hardcore scenes have all the fiery heat of a contractual obligation. An erotic masterpiece this ain’t.

I was also surprised by the feminist themes in A Woman’s Torment—surprised because, though Roberta’s life and career qualify her as a feminist pioneer, she is adamantly not a feminist. If you listen to the interview she gave The Rialto Report podcast, you’ll learn she’s the opposite (she bluntly states that she hates women and children). But maybe that’s why she could so deftly write Otis’s sexism: Roberta herself is a misogynist. In that light, maybe she intended Estelle to come off as a selfish bitch rather than a woman demanding the same sexual satisfaction as a man. Either way, “You just masturbated inside of me” is an awesome line. 

Crystal Sync, Jake Teague and Tara Chung in scenes from A WOMAN'S TORMENT
The wigs of Torment.