Guys, the human race is basically fucked, so just enjoy the ride for the last ten odd years that we have left. Find people you love and spend time with them. Do the things on your bucket list. Party hard. Explore kinky sex, bizarre obscure media, and lost art. Enjoy what your brain is capable of while operating on a new frequency. Be yourself and do as you please as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, because there’s not much time left in the world.
For me, one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is explore cinema’s dark side. I want to experience the weirdest, filthiest, most outrageous films ever made. Why? Well, when a person loves a particular art form as much as I love motion pictures, there comes a time when rewatching Citizen Kane for the umpteenth time just doesn’t enhance your appreciation for the craft anymore. To really know the full breadth of what the medium is capable of, you gotta start digging deep. Sometimes, to better appreciate quality work, you have to revel in the garbage, know what I mean? It’s like the same curiosity which drives certain people to watch car crash videos on YouTube and True Crime documentaries on ID. I just need to see for myself how low the depths of celluloid can go. And of course, every now and then there’s a diamond in the rough which works in spite (or perhaps because) of its grime. It’s the same drive which compelled me to listen to hundreds of unlisted ’60s and 70s albums even though the majority sucked. The good ones you find in the process somehow make it all worth it.
So, this blog entry will be a collection of some of the notable highs and lows of my venture. This may wind up being the first of a series, depending on how my future search goes. Some of the films I’m going to talk about here contain mature content and are very disturbing. Others less so, but in any case you’ve been warned.
Water Power (1976)
I actually did watch this movie on election night 2020, as I suggested in a tongue-in-cheek blog post. I felt that with a movie about forced enemas, you can’t lose. If Biden won, this movie would have accompanied the whole “flush the turd” meme I saw people post on Reddit. If Trump was reelected, I’d have an unsettling film to compliment my state of mind. Truly, it was a perfect companion piece.
Water Power is a twisted, horrible, ghastly…somehow impressive work of art. The cinematography is a little ham-fisted but perfectly sets the mood which director Shaun Costello was going for. (Despite the film being credited to Gerard Damiano for promotional reasons.) The soundtrack is dated (and stolen) yet viscerally effective as well. The tone is consistent and overwhelmingly ominous. Like it or not, as repugnant as the subject matter might be, this is a very effective piece of film-making. It succeeds at what it wants to do, which is to unnerve the viewer by getting in the head of a maniac. Now, would I say it’s a great movie? Not exactly, but neither is it a bad one, at least not from a technical perspective. I would place Water Power in the same strange valley as “Manos” The Hands of Fate. I find both films somehow compelling in spite of everything objectionable about them; they’re fascinating in their abhorrence.
What sets Water Power on a higher plane than some of its peers within the exploitation circuit is its use of humor. As distressing as it can be to watch a rapist/stalker in action, the sheer ridiculousness of his motives means that the story always has an undercurrent of absurdity to it. This is punctuated by the dialogue, which isn’t even trying to be subtle in its levity. (As an example, the Enema Bandit says “maybe we can be friends” after finishing with his first victim, and the entire scene with the incestuous lesbian sisters is a jab at the goofy conventions of porn.) Yet, I’d be lying if I said the most overwhelming emotion upon completion was anything but uneasiness. After all, our gruesome Enema Bandit evades capture and remains a threat to women everywhere. I have to give props to Jamie Gillis, who does does a fantastic job (especially by porn standards) throughout the film as our protagonist. It’s not easy to balance the sensibilities of Norman Bates with the tongue in cheek comedy I just described, but he manages somehow.
The best scene in the whole movie comes in the first act, when our protagonist visits a fancy sex club known as “The Garden of Eden.” He’s allowed to sit in on an elaborate BDSM scenario acted out by an unnamed customer, a female sex worker and a third woman who may be the customer’s girlfriend or perhaps another employee. Their roles are that of a doctor, nurse and patient, respectively. The scenario is that the patient needs an enema. I love the subtle nuances from all the actors involved to make their characters feel real, despite how crazy the whole situation is. The “doctor” nervously taps his fingers in the club’s waiting room, unsure of what to do with himself, but once he gets into character suddenly he’s confident and fully in control. I love his put-on authoritative tone as he describes the process of performing an enema, step by step. Meanwhile the nurse, who was stressing about memorizing her lines earlier, is giving him nervous smiles when she’s not rolling her eyes. You can tell she must be thinking “this guy’s nuts; how the hell does he get off on this shit?” but she goes along with his wacky fantasy because it’s her job. The future Enema Bandit (who was allowed to watch the scene unfold) runs out of the club in twisted ecstasy: with that fateful orgasm, a super-villain was born. The acting in this scene is probably the best I’ve ever encountered from an American porn film, and certainly from any ’70s era “roughie.”
Now, I found this movie through the recommendation of an anonymous poster on a random forum. They called it the quintessential exploitation porno of the ’70s, (or words to that effect.) After seeing it for myself, I would have to agree with that assessment. Water Power is depraved enough to satisfy any desire for hardcore sleaze, yet it’s still a competently made piece of cinema that doesn’t take its subject matter too seriously. (And really, how could it?) So many of its cousins stray too far into either the grisly or the ridiculous to their own detriment, but this one found the perfect balance.
Forced Entry (1973)
Here’s an example of an exploitation porn going way too far in the “grisly direction” I mentioned earlier. Forced Entry is one of the two most disgusting films I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It is a joyless slog without any redeeming values whatsoever. It revels in its “bad boy cred,” practically begging the audience to acknowledge how “hardcore” it is. There’s no humor to balance the gruesome subject matter like Water Power and pretty much every other film in the “roughie” category. (This is surprising, since Shaun Costello directed both films.) I’m all for watching films which push the envelope, I’m far from a prude…but even I have my limits.
For those who are unfamiliar, this movie involves a gas pump attendant stalking and raping the women who patronize his business. The scenes of him breaking into women’s apartments go on forever, with endless shots of him waiting outside the window just staring at his oblivious victim-to-be. The acts of violence are not artfully framed or shot; there is just rapist and captive standing stagnant in the frame. The intruder offers no witty dialogue or impassioned monologues about his worldview and motives, he only threatens his victims repeatedly. There’s nothing to inspire analysis or artistic appreciation for the viewer. If you’re not horrified by what you’re witnessing, you’ll be outright bored.
The only hint of any kind of creativity comes in the use of Vietnam war flashback footage, evidently to show that our protagonist is a disturbed veteran. But Forced Entry is too lazy to explore this premise in any kind of detail. The graphic images of war are just another excuse to shock the viewer with how “badass” this film wants to be. The only aspect of the movie I liked was when our protagonist found himself defeated by a pair of weed-smoking girls who laughed at his antics. The guy’s a typical macho-chauvinist who can’t stand to be seen as ridiculous in the eyes of women. His inability to inspire fear is his downfall, which was a fitting end, but by that point it was too little too late.
According to IMDb, this was Shaun Costello’s first foray into directing a feature length picture. It feels like this one was therefore a learning experience for the guy, who was able to make a far more balanced and effective exploitation porn with Water Power. (And dozens in between.) Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, I suppose.
The Defiance of Good (1975)
I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. I had heard it was one of the best adult features of the Golden Age. The trailer is excellent, along with the iconic poster. Many reviews stated words to the effect of “Defiance is one of the best movies ever made, and it just so happens to have nudity.” I’m sorry, but I just don’t see what all the fuss was about. Maybe those reviewers have never seen Femina Ridens or Scacco alla Regina and therefore have no frame of reference for how amazing movies about BDSM can really be. After seeing those, Defiance just comes up short, in my opinion. It seems like the American movies about dom/sub dynamics tend to ignore the concept of having a compelling story. Plus their cinematography, in my experience, is always so dark and blunt, lacking the color and imagination of their European contemporaries. American films tend to leave their characters as one-dimensional patchworks of sadist and masochist archetypes rather than giving them complexities or unique mannerisms. They expect the audience to fill in the blanks, and there’s something to be said for that approach, but I prefer the ’60s Italian philosophy more.
This film involves a young woman named Cathy, who is sent to a sanitarium because a friend convinced her to do drugs and she got caught. Later, she’s taken in by one of the facility’s doctors and forced to participate in his domination games. I liked the setup with the insane asylum and how horrible it would be to find yourself locked into that system. (Especially in the ’70s!) That was a good angle for a weird “roughie” to take. I just dislike the fact that it doesn’t do as much with that premise as it could have. It felt like the film had already pulled out its biggest gun with the asylum rape scene. When Cathy finally moves in with the BDSM-practicing Dr. Gabriel, the film already feels like it’s winding down rather than ramping up. The entire second act is over far too quickly for the doctor to leave enough of an impression on the audience. (Certainly he’s no Sayer or Margaret.) When it was all over, I wanted more scenes of Dr. Gabriel, maybe revealing a bit of his origins or ethos, rather than the extended (and boring) flashback about how Cathy got busted by her parents. (We could have gotten that information in half the time.) This film could have done so much more and when it was over, all I could think was “…that’s it?”
The story ends when Cathy’s friend (who convinced her to try drugs) gets sent to the doctor as a new prisoner, and our protagonist helps her escape. The doctor witnesses this and plans a harsh reprisal, but the film ends on a freeze frame before we see what that might be. I found this ending to be suitably unsettling, and our imagination can surely conjure possibilities worse than they could ever show on screen. However, the friend also reenters the house and says “I told you he was a groovy doctor!” revealing that this is the man whom she got the drugs from in the first place. This detail is where the film loses me: are we meant to assume the doctor has purposefully set our protagonist up from the start? Does he conspire to get all kinds of young women sent to the sanitarium so he can take advantage of them? Apparently so, and we are never told why. It’s nonsensical, but nobody said these movies have to be realistic. (Usually it’s quite the opposite, and they’re better for it.) I disliked the abruptness of the ending on my first viewing, but after letting it sink in for awhile, it grew on me.
In short, Defiance is hardly the untouchable masterpiece it’s sometimes built up to be among exploitation/porn aficionados. This is especially so when you compare it to other, lesser known ’60s-’70s eroticas out there. Taken on it’s own merits though, it’s still admittedly one of the most proficiently crafted and tonally effective American pornos I’ve watched. Defiance‘s most impressive feat is in its ability to create and maintain an effective atmosphere of dread. From the second it starts, with that three-note “title theme” and red text, you know this film isn’t fucking around. The art direction, filled with shadows and harsh lighting, is not usually my cup of tea but works here in that context. It’s a tragic tale for Cathy, without a sliver of hope to be found, and the stylistic choices reflect that.
Alice in Wonderland: X-Rated Musical Fantasy (1976)
Let’s end on something of an uplifting note.
Out of all the films on this list, Alice is my favorite by far, though it may not be fair to include it among such company. While this is a hard-core feature (meaning the act of lovemaking is shown explicitly rather than implied,) it’s not a “roughie” or exploitation flick. This one’s lighthearted and fun, with a bit of a moral too. In that regard, it’s actually closer to the Radley Metzger movies I’ve discussed earlier, however its art design and cinematography are nowhere near that level of quality. That’s not to say Alice is a poorly shot feature–far from it–but it’s a rushed production on a shoestring budget similar to the other films in this post. The ’60s films could only get away with so much nudity, so they largely compensated by making everything else as gorgeous as possible. In the ’70s, the attitude seemed to be “you’re seeing everyone’s naughty bits, what more do ya want?” Perhaps they figured nobody would notice beautiful sets and camera angles when there’s naked boobs in the frame. 😛
Alice has the same attitude I admired in Misty Beethoven particularly: it knows this is a silly premise and it doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is. Both movies have a carefree atmosphere which aids in communicating to the viewer that sex is supposed to be fun. In Alice, this theme is explicitly conveyed to our protagonist over the course of the narrative as a life lesson. The inhabitants of Wonderland tell her to loosen up about sexuality, and at one point tease her desire to wait for marriage. Yet, at the end of the story, a series of subtitles reveal that Alice and her boyfriend eventually did get married, and settled down in a house with a white picket fence. Initially this seemed a contradiction to me. However, I’ve come to believe that the filmmakers were telling us that you can do one and then the other. Just because you like sex, or use sex as a conduit for finding a compatible romantic partner, that doesn’t mean you can’t also go on to have a respectable marriage too. It’s not a one-or-the-other deal like Alice and many people in real life build up in her head.
This movie is just plain fun. The cast have great chemistry together as they make their way from one upbeat song to the next. It almost felt like a bunch of friends could’ve made this in their backyard with their camcorder. The songs aren’t great but they do have bouncy melodies and humorous lyrics. Everyone does a good job in their roles too; nobody’s gonna win an Oscar of course, but they have good screen presence. I like the premise, I like the execution…I unironically enjoy this movie and would recommend checking it out if you can find it.