In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

If you look at academic writing on the artistic & cultural value of vintage pornography, most discussion tends to focus on the genre’s usefulness as unintentional documentary footage. The renegade, unlicensed location shooting and footage of real people acting semi-naturally in their actual day-to-day wardrobes end up serving as time capsules of place & time as classic porn ages, when those effects were often just a byproduct of the films’ severely limited budgets. If you asked golden-era pornographers themselves at the time of production what the artistic or cultural value of their work might be, you’d likely hear a much different answer: defiance of censorship. Many of the pioneers of the “mainstream” porno business had to fight long, vicious courtroom battles to earn the right to make a buck, or even to publish their product at all. Major names like Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein come across as grotesque sleazebags at first glance, and maybe a lot of that reputation was earned. They also did a lot of great work in dismantling the unconstitutional “obscenity” laws that made the production of pornography (and any other artistic materials deemed immoral by highly subjective, Conservative standards) illegal, often explicitly out of a “You can’t tell me what to do” indignance. Many arrests & appeals later, these anti-censorship efforts did eventually chip away at the boundaries of what media was permitted to be published & distributed, paving the way for more mainstream industry shifts like the obliteration of the Hays Code’s lingering restrictions.

If you’re interested in vintage pornography’s history as anti-censorship activism but don’t want to watch something as anarchically lurid as the enema bonanza Water Power, In the Realm of the Senses offers an interesting, accommodating case study. That’s because it’s not exactly pornography in the strictest sense, even though it features lengthy scenes of unstimulated sex between its two main actors. Director Nagisa Ōshima at least partially intended In the Realm of the Senses to be a refutation of the “pink film”, the industry standard of Japanese softcore that’s heavy on eroticism & sexual play, but also incredibly demure in terms of depicting actual penetration or genitalia. Ōshima knew his film would not be permitted in its intended form due to Japanese censorship laws, so he exported it for processing in France and had it shipped to international film festivals as a French co-production. It’s been banned & censored in many countries over the decades since its release but none as harshly as in its native Japan, where it’s still to this day never been officially screened without the blurred modesty pixilation that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a Japanese porno. And yet, even though the film explicitly depicts sexual acts from its first scene until its last, calling In the Realm of the Senses a porno at all feels highly reductive. It’s more an intense romantic drama & erotic thriller that just happens to feature unstimulated sex, one that puts just as much effort into its slick production values as it does into its eroticism. If it’s a porno, it’s the only porno I know that’s earned a coveted spot in The Criterion Collection – which I usually wouldn’t point to as a benchmark of legitimacy, but does feel like an indication of artistic & cultural value in this specific case.

Set in 1930s Japan, In the Realm of the Senses is a historical drama retelling the infamous tabloid spectacle of Sada Abe. Abe is the exact kind of public figure John Waters would have written loving fan letters to if she had survived just a couple decades longer: an unlikely celebrity who earned their revered status through manslaughter & debaucherous sex. Sada Abe started her professional life as a prostitute, then found fresh-start employment as a hotel maid. She quickly became sexually & romantically involved with the hotel’s owner—a married man—and the two allowed their initial spark of lust to explode their lives as they essentially just fucked every waking moment away until one of them died. The partner who died happened to be the married man, and Abe was still so mesmerized by her connection to his penis that she severed it and took it with her in her travels, leaving the rest of his corpse behind. This proto-Lorena Bobbitt tale afforded Sada Abe a kind of vulgar celebrity, which she used to support herself in her remaining years as a macabre entertainer. The movie abruptly ends at the moment of genital mutilation, however, so we never get to see that fame-through-killing epilogue. Instead, it covers the time from the lovers’ initial sexual encounter until the violently kinky one that ended their tryst (through overly excited experiment in breath play, which is always a major risk). It’s basically a story about the intensely intoxicating lust period that accompanies the beginning of all new sexual relationships, pushing that mutual-obsession eroticism to its deadliest, least dignified extreme.

I personally most appreciated In the Realm of the Senses as a gorgeous, fully committed precursor to the 90s era erotic thriller, one that’s much more daringly direct about its ugly psychosexual impulses. Any tales of mutual erotic obsession you’d see from mainstream American sleaze-peddlers like Adrian Lynne or Joe Esterhaz are likely to be much more moralistic & sexually timid than this arthouse Japanese predecessor. Ōshima’s film fully captures the unstoppable, life-consuming fervor of intense erotic fixation, and it’s wonderfully tragic to watch two people fully give into their mutual obsession as the world watches them fuck each other into oblivion. It’s clear that Ōshima intended to challenge the boundaries on as many sexual taboos as possible here, though, so that the film also works as an anti-censorship provocation. Lengthy depictions of public sex, cunnilingus, menstruate, piss play, breath play, crossdressing, and selfish female pleasure all feel like they’re designed to push Japanese censors’ buttons even beyond the initial shock of the unstimulated PIV intercourse. What’s incredible, though, is that the film never feels like Pornography in the traditional sense, in that the actors aren’t performing sexual pleasure for maximum visual spectacle. Their encounters are intimate, contained, sensual – even when they involve genital mutilation or the vaginal insertion of food. It’s an oddly tender film about mutual self-obsession that just happens to include hardcore sex scenes. The question, then, is where does the boundary between fine art & pornography truly lie, and what use is artistic censorship if that line can be so easily blurred? In the Realm of the Senses was brave to ask that question so bluntly, but it’s also just a gorgeously sinister love story beyond that provocation.

-Brandon Ledet

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (2020)

The recent Finnish drama Dogs Don’t Wear Pants shamefully stumbles into some major Kink Movie clichés that I would love to see abolished entirely. This is a movie about an icy dominatrix who—surprise—allows her heart to melt for the first client who shows her romantic tenderness. That client is a father who—shocker—cannot fulfill his familial responsibilities because of his all-encompassing obsession with kinky sex. Other well-worn clichés about pre-scene negotiation and non-simulated violence also apply. And yet, I still very much adore this film, if not only because it follows what might be my all-time favorite plot template: Our protagonist is obsessed with something they know is going to eventually kill them but they keep returning to it anyway because it makes them super horny.

A widower processes the grief of not being able to save his wife from drowning by hiring a dominatrix to help him explore an emerging kink for breath play. As a respected brain surgeon, he logically knows just how dangerously irresponsible it is to have your air supply cut off by choking, even if through consenting to erotic asphyxiation. However, once he accidentally stumbles into a dominatrix’s play dungeon and experiences his first euphoric blackout by choking on her whip, he can’t help himself. The man spirals out from low-key depressed widower to depraved stalker who won’t let women be until they literally choke the life out of him so he can re-experience his near-death euphoria. The problem is that the dominatrix (besides not wanting to participate in his death wish) grows an unexpected soft spot for the doomed soul and can’t safely give him what he wants in a controlled environment. Breath play is already a dangerous enough risk under the best circumstances; his obsession with the most extreme end of that risk is absolutely terrifying to anyone unfortunate enough to be pulled into his self-destructive orbit.

As kink-misinformed as Dogs Don’t Wear Pants can be in terms of its fictional clichés, it at least takes genuine erotic delight in its femdom dungeon sessions. Giallo-esque red gel lights reflect off the dominatrix’s patent leather catsuits with an eye-searing intensity as she issues commands to her latest, most troubled client as if he were a lowly dog (thus the title). The actual kink sessions are long, lingering, and genuinely erotic. While the breath play itself is essentially assisted suicide, the way the widower masturbates to his wife’s left-behind perfume & wardrobe within and outside the sessions registers as genuine fetishism. The movie even has a positive outlook on kink as a therapeutic tool once he experiences a personal breakthrough that shakes him out of his rut (even if he takes a long, dark road to get there). Personally, I would have loved to see that breakthrough occur in the second or third act so we could experience the peculiar romance that develops once the film pushes past its genre’s most often repeated clichés. But, hey, maybe I’ll get my wish and this indie Euro fetish drama will somehow land a sequel. It ends at its most interesting point, and I would love to see that trajectory pushed even further.

I assume that if you leave a movie wanting more, it must qualify as some sort of a success. I may be frustrated by the way Dogs Don’t Wear Pants repeats the worst sins of the kinky erotic thriller genre, but it’s more than peculiar & stylish enough to be forgiven for the transgression. Or maybe I’m just too much of a sucker for neon lights & form-fitting leather to get hung up on its faults.

-Brandon Ledet

To Die For (1995)

Nicole Kidman stars in Gus Van Sant’s tabloids-obsessed erotic thriller To Die For as a local cable Weather Girl from the suburbs who cons metalhead teenage dirtbags into murdering her husband. It is maybe the most purely 90s Movie I’ve caught up with since the 90s ended, having blindly stumbled upon it as a recent thrift store purchase because I dug Kidman’s lewk on the poster. Her costars include Ultra 90s sitcom performers Wayne Knight (Seinfeld), Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show), George Segal (Just Shoot Me!), and the never-less-than-stellar Illeana Douglas (who had at least one guest spot on any TV show you can name) among Van Sant’s usual movie-star caliber cast of players. Arriving just one year after Pulp Fiction, it experiments with the scrambled timeline messiness that became inescapably popular in a post-Tarantino world, applying it to the Joe Eszterhaz era erotic thriller, as defined by 90s titles like Showgirls & Basic Instinct. Danny Elfmann provided the score, which can’t help but recall the 90s suburbia fantasy worlds he helped establish for Tim Burton in titles like Edward Scissorhands & Beetlejuice (which spilled over into the decade in its animated Saturday Morning Cartoon form). The only way To Die For could be more quintessentially 90s is if it were Clueless and, even then, both films share their casting of Dan Hedaya as a disgruntled dad.

Beyond its immersion in contemporary aesthetics & personae, To Die For is distinctly 90s on a philosophical level in its bottomless appetite for tabloid sensationalism. Vanity Fair dubbed the 90s to be The Tabloid Decade in its 1999 retrospective on how news media had changed over those ten years (which makes sense given that it was the decade when the O.J. Simpson trial kicked off the 24-hour News Cycle, bringing tabloid journalism into every American’s living room on a round-the-clock routine). Energized by that growing cultural obsession with Celebrity Criminals, Nicole Kidman plays a tabloid superstar who recalls archetypes of the era like Lorena Bobbitt, Patsy Ramsey, and Tonya Harding (which makes it fitting that I, Tonya later copied from this movie wholesale and turned every last interesting thing about it into a tactless embarrassment). The novel Buck Henry adapted his screenplay from was even “loosely” based on a real-life tabloid sensation: Pamela Smart, a New Hampshire high school employee who really did seduce her school’s least respected teens into murdering her husband. Although Smart was not a Weather Girl in real life, contemporary audiences still would have recognized the iconography of her crime from the supermarket magazine racks and instantly known where this story is headed, so Henry & Van Sant waste no time taking them there. The movie begins with Kidman being mobbed by paparazzi at her husband’s funeral. Her fame is then projected on tabloid magazine-inspired opening credits so intensely up-close that they resemble a Roy Lichtenstein print in motion. A fictional headline that reads “Sex, Violence, and the Weather” could have served as an alternate title if Van Sant really wanted to commit to this sadistic tabloid obsessiveness (it’s what the Lifetime Channel version of the movie would have done, anyway), but we still get the point without him going there.

Since the Pamela Smart story was already familiar to the point where it was practically a modern folktale, To Die For is less about the surprise of her life’s twists than it is about the alluring idiosyncrasies of her character. Kidman’s persona in the film feels like a Mainstream Hollywood mutation of the fame-seeking anti-heroines of John Waters’s oeuvre: Pink Flamingos‘s Babs Johnson, Female Trouble‘s Dawn Davenport, Cecil B. Demented‘s Honey Whitlock, etc. She is desperate to be a famous TV personality at any cost. At first, her path to achieving that dream seems to be exhibiting her bombshell good looks on a local cable network’s news show as their eye-candy Weather Girl. Murdering her husband was only a necessary insurance measure, since he disapproved of her leveraging that gig into bigger opportunities that might have come along – preferring that she settle for becoming a stay-at-home mother instead. It turns out, though, that the murder itself was a much quicker path to televised fame. There’s a noticeable thrill that lights up her eyes once she realizes that the world’s attention is glued to her misdeeds on the screen (and on supermarket magazine racks). By 1995, neither celebrating nor satirizing the attention-seeking narcissism of tabloid-friendly criminals were especially novel; Waters alone was nine features deep on the topic with Serial Mom the year before. Still, the specific textures of Smart’s bizarre circumstances, Kidman’s sweetly cruel performance, and Van Sant’s playfully ironic (and, frankly, patronizing) tone make the film a sadistic delight.

The only hiccup I have with my enjoyment of To Die For is the way Gus Van Sant plays with the order of events. His mix of mockumentary and traditional narrative filmmaking styles is generally fun to watch, but there is a jerky stop-and-start rhythm to their assemblage that makes it difficult to fully lose yourself in the story being told. Otherwise, I’m totally on board with this film as an exercise in 90s-specific aesthetics, especially in its harsh contrast between Kidman’s bubbly femininity and the speed metal riffs that frequently interrupt Elmann’s whimsical score. The film only becomes more impressive the longer you dwell on how I, Tonya disastrously attempted to repeat every single trick in its playbook (which becomes apparent as soon as Illeana Douglas begins conducting her “interviews” from an ice-skating rink) but stumbled on a hypocritical tact of audience-blaming that blew up the entire balancing act. By contrast, Van Sant openly indulges in being captivated by the Pamela Smart story, shamelessly burrowing into its most sordid details and cruelly poking fun at the small-town simplicity of its central players. It might not be as Moral of an approach as the audience shaming finger-wagging of I, Tonya, but it’s at least an honest one. To Die For captures a very specific time in tabloid criminal celebrity by genuinely participating in its full allure, like a Lifetime Original Movie that happens to feature actual movie stars. If nothing else, it’s easily among the career best outings for both Kidman & Van Sant, who have plenty of formidable contenders for that honor.

-Brandon Ledet

Kathryn Bigelow and the Tough-as-Nails Heroine

One of the more popular theories as to why Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director is that she almost exclusively makes movie about men & masculinity. That’s not to say she doesn’t have an active, genuine interest in the topic as auteur, but rather that it’s curious that the filmmaker fixated on telling men’s stories happens to be the one woman director to ever win her field’s top prize. Bigelow’s preoccupation with macho, dirtbag men is especially noticeable in our current Movie of the Month—the Y2K sci-fi epic Strange Days—in which a scumbag anti-hero played by Ralph Fiennes is inexplicably centered in the film’s narrative instead of the more traditionally heroic badass played by Angela Bassett. Bassett’s stunt-driving, punches-throwing, testicles-kicking, politically radical heroine is a true wonder—a spectacle in herself—which makes it all the more tragic that even she is helpless to Fiennes’s greasy macho charms in the main role. That letdown is an intentionally frustrating aspect of the script (which Bigelow penned with her creative partner and already then-former husband James Cameron), but it still left me wondering what the film might have played like if Bigelow were more interested in Basset’s inner life and instead centered the woman as the lead. It would at least have been a novel departure from her usual mode.

As far as I can tell, Bigelow’s 1990 cop thriller Blue Steel is her only feature film to date with a woman in the top-billed role. Jamie Lee Curtis stars a rookie NYC police officer with a violent streak that immediately lands her in hot water. She’s not exactly the tough-as-nails badass Bassett portrays in Strange Days, but that archetype is exactly what she aspires to be. When pressed by her male colleagues about why she wants to be a cop in the first place, she “jokes” about coveting the violent authoritarianism of the position, musing “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to shoot people.” The truth turns out to be more that she grew up powerless to stop her abusive father from physically assaulting her mother, and her new badge & gun armory allows her to wield power over him and other abusers. The first time she dons her blue uniform, she struts down the street with newfound, first-in-her-lifetime confidence. During her first night on the job she overreacts to the threats of an armed suspect and unloads every bullet she’s got into his chest. She just as capable of violence as Bassett’s tough-as-nails heroine, but lacks that role model’s cool, even hand and moral sense of justice. It’s a dangerous inner conflict that the film eventually likens to the sociopathic impulses of a deranged serial killer – a man. Naturally, this wouldn’t be a Bigelow film if there wasn’t some destructive, alluring force of masculinity present to steer the central conflict.

Blue Steel’s grotesquely macho villain subverts Jamie Lee Curtis’s hero status at the film’s center by realigning her with the Final Girl archetypes that first made her famous. Ron Silver costars as a dangerously narcissistic Wall Street brute turned serial killer, essentially laying out the entire American Psycho template in an underpraised stunner of a role. This mustache-twirling villain is first inspired to kill when he witnesses Curtis decimate her perp on her first night of patrol. His fetishistic obsession with her (and her gun) quickly escalates into erotic thriller territory, a tension he relieves by shooting randomly selected victims on the NYC streets. He also shoehorns his way into the rookie cop’s romantic life with his Wall Street wealth, so that she’s unknowingly dating the very killer she’s professionally hunting. While the film is willing to link the trigger-happy cop’s penchant for violence with the Wall Street creep’s own sociopathy, this largely becomes a tale of a woman who’s boxed in on all sides by macho bullies. Between her abusive father, her gaslighting boyfriend, and the police force higher-ups who do not believe her accounts of being attacked by creeps on the street, Blue Steel’s heroine is awash in a flood of insidious machismo. For at least this one film, Bigelow proves that she can center a woman protagonist’s story why still satisfying her auteurist preoccupations with the nature & textures of masculinity. In that way, Blue Steel deserves to be regarded as one of the director’s foremost texts.

There are plenty of other reasons why Blue Steel deserves higher critical prominence in the Bigelow canon that have nothing to do with its tough-as-nails heroine. From the harsh noir lighting to the ice-cold atmospheric score & eroticized gun violence, this deeply creepy, mean thriller finds Bigelow at one of her most stylistically indulgent moments as a director. She’s channeling some serious 80s Friedkin vibes here, which I mean as a high compliment; all that’s missing is an elaborate chase scene & a Wang Chung soundtrack. Still, the most readily recognizable significance of the film within the director’s larger catalog is the rare chance to see her center a woman protagonist while remaining true to the violence & masculinity of her typical milieu. It’s not exactly the hypothetical “What if Angela Bassett was Top-Billed in Strange Days?” scenario that genre nerd audiences are likely to hope for, but it is the closest Bigelow has ever gotten to satisfying that ideal. It’s also, notably, an exquisite chiller of a film in its own right.

For more on December’s Movie of the Month, the Kathryn Bigelow’s Y2K sci-fi epic Strange Days (1995), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and our look at the director’s continued fascination with police brutality in Detroit (2017).

-Brandon Ledet

The Big Easy (1986)

The only reason it’s so difficult for actors to nail a genuine New Orleans accent is that it’s always been difficult for actors to nail a New Orleans accent. There have been so many wildly inaccurate Cajun French & Antebellum South accents attributed to the city in films & television over the years that out-of-towners have a very distorted idea of what New Orleanians sound like. It’s especially strange if you consider that most low-level impressionists already have a perfect New Orleans “Y’at” accent in their arsenal; they just don’t realize that we sound almost exactly like New Yorkers. Of all the wildly off-base, Cajun-fried, Southern belle accents I’ve heard attributed to the city over the years, none have ever matched Dennis Quaid’s in The Big Easy in terms of pure preposterousness. It’s not that Quaid exaggerates the stereotypical inaccuracies of the big screen N.O. accent. It’s that he sounds like no human being who has ever existed on the planet. He turns the bad New Orleans accent into a baffling spectacle, a truly singular “What the fuck were you even going for?” experience for folks down the road. It’s as confusing as it is mesmerizing. It’s also hilarious.

Quaid stars in The Big Easy opposite Ellen Barkin. He’s a spicy Cajun NOPD officer; she’s the federal DA cracking down on the corruption that runs rampant throughout his department. They learn a lot from each other. She teaches him that his “good guys” vs. “bad guys” binary philosophy is a lot less cut & dry than he explains it to be, considering the bribe money local police extort from the public as if they were working for tips. In return, he teaches her the most valuable thing she could learn from a Cajun firecracker: how to fuck good. The Big Easy arrived at the height of the Joe Eszterhas era of the erotic thriller. It shamelessly exploits the cheesy, sleazy backdrop of New Orleans as an excuse for hedonistic sex & violence (the same way it’s exploited in Cat People ’82 & Zandalee). Barkin enters the city as a frigid, nervous woman who does not know how to relax, and Quaid’s space-alien version of a suave Cajun romantic awakens her inner sexual goddess. Meanwhile, the pair continually find horrifically mutilated, bullet-riddled corpses left by cops & mobsters around the city and collaborate on the paperwork that will dismantle that corruption, which are about as strange of aphrodisiacs as I can imagine.

Of course, the main draw of The Big Easy for locals is the 80s era tourism of New Orleans at is sleaziest. The movie wastes no time there, opening with an aerial helicopter shot of the bayou while drunken zydeco music blares on the soundtrack. The first spoken dialogue is of a radio DJ announcing “It’s 2a.m. in New Orleans, The Big Easy, and we’re stirring up that gumbo!” That’s when Quaid & Barkin meet at the scene of a homicide on the steps of the 80s World’s Fair pavilion (blocks away from my office). Other tourist stops include Voodoo stores, Bourbon St. strip joints, Antoine’s, Tipitina’s, the Cabrini bridge, and nighttime drives down Decatur. Chef Paul Prudhomme drops by the hot-and-dangerous couple’s diner table while they down Dixie beers among neon-lit crawfish signs and conspicuous bottles of Tabasco. Local actors John Goodman & Grace Zabriski appear in bit roles. The St. Aug marching band soundtracks a police chase. The pronunciation of terms like “Whre y’at?” & “Tchoupitoulas” are discussed at length in the dialogue. Even the film’s steamiest sex scenes are set to tender zydeco music, because nothing is allowed to touch the screen here unless it’s being served up Cajun style. It’s a dedication to shameless New Orleans tourism that makes The Big Easy especially entertaining as a locally-set novelty.

As laughably unconvincing as Dennis Quad’s accent is in the movie, he becomes endearing as a local-boy novelty through osmosis as you learn to accept the singular, space-alien lisps & rhythms of his made-up dialect. After all, the wildly inaccurate movie-star attempt at a New Orleans accent has in its own way become part of the city’s DNA. We are often delighted by our own shameless cheese, so it’s easy to fall for Quaid’s peculiar “Cajun” charms as he sings at a fais do-do and shows off his various alligator toys: gator plushies, gator dolls, gator lamps, etc. Barkin is also charming in her own right as the outsider to this world, her mannerisms often reminding me of (a much more stable) Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. The pair even drum up some genuine erotic tension in their clashing personalities, especially in a courtroom sequence where she’s pressured to interrogate him on the witness stand. Mostly, though, the entire production plays like a ridiculous joke – shamelessly mixing its Skinemax-tier sex with its grotesque mafia-violence gore to achieve something beautifully sleazy & New Orleans-appropriate in its B-movie majesty. Quaid has said in interviews that he regrets the quality of his performance in The Big Easy, a mistake he blames on Hollywood’s collective coke problem in the 1980s. I personally think he has nothing to apologize for, as his preposterous “Cajun” accent and old-fashioned N’Awlins hedonism make The Big Easy a true gift for anyone who loves the city – a trashy, campy delight.

-Brandon Ledet

The Loft (2015)

Man, are we still making erotic thrillers? Is there even a place for them in this post-[insert your porn aggregator of choice] world anymore? I suppose we still are making them this decade, given that Adulterers was released in 2016, one year after today’s stinker, The Loft.

Based on a 2008 Belgian film of the same name and featuring most of the same creative crew (director Erik Van Looy and writer Bart De Pauw, who is solely credited on the original film and is one of two credited writers here), The Loft is about five men who use a single loft apartment to cheat on their wives. Vincent (Karl Urban) is an architect who retained the apartment in one of the buildings he designed for him and his buddies to have their sexcapades: possible closet case Luke (Wenworth Miller), whose wife requires constant attention due to her diabetes; Marty (Eric Stonestreet), who channels all of his pent up, frustrated heterosexual energy from having to play broad gay stereotype Cam on Modern Family for the past decade into a disgusting misogynist pig; Chris (James Marsden), a successful psychiatrist who is the most reluctant to participate in this adulterous venture; and Philip Williams (Matthias Schoenaerts), Chris’s half-brother, a cokehead whose new bride is the daughter of a wealthy magnate. One of these names is not (recognizable) like the others; Schoenaerts is apparently reprising his role of Filip Willems from the original film.

The plot kicks off when a blonde woman is found dead in the bed that the men all use for their exploits. We then flash back to Philip’s wedding day, one fateful evening that all five men and their wives got together for dinner, and the evening that the building that houses the titular loft was opened. It’s established early on that Vincent caught Philip’s wealthy and powerful father-in-law in Vegas on a date with his mistress, and he intends to use this potentially damaging information to extort the older man into giving him the architectural contract for a new riverfront luxury building. Also on this trip, he and Luke meet Sarah Deakins (Isabel Lucas), and although they both find her attractive, she sleeps with Vincent (there is a strip-down from Karl Urban here that isn’t exactly a saving grace, but it does give this largely unerotic erotic thriller a little heat). We also learn that Chris, despite his original objections, has fallen for Ann Morris (Rachael Taylor) and has been having an affair with her. Who is the dead woman handcuffed to the bed: Sarah or Ann? And who killed her, and why?

There are twists a-plenty in this film; to be fair, most of them are unforeseen and unforeseeable but do make sense when they are revealed. The problem is that this is a film that prides itself on being 20 minutes ahead of its audience, but fails to realize that it’s also 15 years behind it. Belgian screenwriter De Pauw collaborated with American Wesley Strick to adapt the film for a U.S. audience, a choice that almost makes sense. After all, Strick penned the screenplays for some hit thrillers like 1998’s Return to Paradise (71% on Rotten Tomatoes), the remake of Cape Fear (75% and two Oscar nominations), and 1989’s True Believer (95%!), as well as 1990’s well-received horror comedy Arachnophobia. Those are the highlights of his career, however; 2006’s Love Is the Drug was only reviewed by 5 critics, and 1994’s Wolf was met with a mixed reception. The rest of his filmography is not only bad, but memorably so: Final Analysis is an attempt at aping Hitchcock with a director best known for U2 videos (and got only 54% on RT); The Saint (1997, 29%) featured one of my favorite bits of cinematic nonsense ever when Elisabeth Shue’s character realizes that love cured her heart condition; The Glass House (2001, 21%) pleased no one; Doom (2005, 19%) is over a decade old and still a punchline; and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake (2010, 15%) had only Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as its only redeeming feature. Only Strick’s 1995 debut feature, The Tie That Binds, was more poorly received, with a 9% positive rating. It’s a very mixed list of credits, but the fact that all of his successes were made between 1989 and 1999 tells you a lot about where his talents lie and what kind of thriller he’s capable of drafting. You take that nineties sensibility and blend it with a Belgian idea, and you get a film that almost works but falls short in ways that are difficult to pinpoint. Not even a cast of A/B-list hunks could draw in an audience, as the film only grossed 10 million dollars to its budget of 14 million.

About the only thing that makes this one interesting is that over half the cast would go on to play or had already played characters in superhero properties, largely of the Marvel vein, or another character from genre fiction. So if you ever wanted to know what it would be like to watch Cyclops (Marsden in the X-Men films) get it on with Jessica Jones’s best friend Trish Walker (Taylor, Jessica Jones), or for Dr. McCoy/Judge Dredd/Skurge (Urban, the Abrams Star Trek movies/Dredd/Thor: Ragnarok) to seduce a woman despite the charms of Captain Cold (Miller, The Flash), then you’re a weirdo like me, congrats, and you might get a modicum of fun out of this movie. Otherwise, however, there’s no real reason to check this one out. I’m hesitant to call it “chaste,” but in comparison to other films in this genre, it leaves much to be desired in the realm of eroticism, and the various twists and turns that the narrative takes are barely worth the time it takes to get through them. Skip this one.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Double Lover (2018)

The French erotic thriller Double Lover first hit L.A. & NYC theatres around Valentine’s Day this year, coinciding with the nationwide release of Fifty Shades Freed. As a result, many early American reviews had cheeky things to say about how this kink-splattered fuck fest made the final installment in the Fifty Shades franchise look embarrassingly tame by comparison. It’s a correlation that doesn’t make too much sense outside their parallel American release dates. Double Lover is erotically charged, sure, but its pronounced horniness is a ferocious, irrational indulgence in dream logic that leads to something much stranger & further outside the bounds of linear storytelling to be compared to a series of films so . . . vanilla in their estimation of kink cinema. That’s not to say the film supports no comparison to pre-existing art. In fact, it’s practically a work of pastiche. Double Lover starts as a cover version of David Cronenberg’s cult classic Dead Ringers, then works in notes of De Palma’s Sisters, Rosemary’s Baby, the 1982 Cat People remake, [safe], and the most shamelessly smutty gialli you can name until all its various influences meld into one barely cohesive, unholy erotic nightmare. It’s a narratively & thematically messy film that gleefully taps into sexual taboos to set its audience on edge, then springs a surreal horror film on them once they’re in that vulnerable state. Double Lover is not your average, by-the-books erotic thriller. It’s a deranged masterpiece, a horned-up nightmare.

A 25-year-old, gaunt ex-model becomes fed up with medical professionals dismissing a mysterious stomach pain she’s suffered her entire life. With few options left to search for a cure, she turns to psychiatry, interrogating her doctors’ claims that her symptoms are psychosomatic. Early therapy session are tame, with her doctor listening intently to her life’s story & list of ailments, offering an open ear more than any verbalized advice. The act of listening is eroticized in this early stretch and the pair become an unlikely couple, complete with a handsome shared apartment & a mischievous house cat. Reality melts around them from there. It turns out the psychiatrist is hiding the existence of a twin brother, who operates his own mental health practice nearby. Our troubled protagonist is both obsessed with the mystery of why her lover would lie about the existence of his twin and turned on by the erotic implications of there being a physical copy of the man she loves. She, of course, investigates the twin’s competing psychiatry practice and finds his . . . unconventional methods as alluring as they are taboo. In a traditional erotic thriller, her sexual affair with her lover’s twin brother and the mystery of the dual psychiatrists’ past would drive the plot home from there. Indeed, the violent confrontations you’d typically expect from that setup do arrive in due time, but the circumstances surrounding them are both too supernatural & too perverse to wholly predict. Double Lover’s basic premise is a familiar template, but as it spirals out into total madness, there’s no bounds to its erotic mania, which is communicated through an increasingly intense list of indulgences: incest, body horror, gynecological close-ups, bisexual orgies, negging, pegging, “redwings” erotic choking, and nightmarish lapses in logic that, frankly, make no goddamn sense outside their subliminal expressions of psychosexual anxiety.

Aesthetically, Double Lover filters the pseudointellectual smut of the most illogical giallo pictures in existence through the color-muted, urban visual lens of Brian De Palma (who was already heavily influenced by giallo himself). De Palma’s clinically-applied split screens are abound throughout the picture, visually echoing the theme of twins & doubles just as much as its obsession with mirrors (seriously, it feels like over half of the runtime is framed through mirrored reflections). The visual provocations are blunt & unsubtle, humorously so. The film opens with an intense, medical closeup of a gynecological exam, then dissolves into a similarly-framed eye, directly referencing Georges Bataille. The protagonist picks up part-time work at an art museum, which allows for artistically framed photography of medical gore in a clinical but abstract setting, in an exhibit seemingly titled “BLOOD, FLESH, BLOOD, FLESH.” Like many gialli, the film often resembles a fashion shoot more than a horror movie, with almost any given frame practically being able to pass for a Vogue magazine cover (minus maybe the gore and the sex). Many audiences will dismiss this handsome, cold aesthetic as pretentious drivel, but there’s a dry humor to the film’s fashionable psychosexual madness. As our protagonist enters a staring contest with her cat mid-fucking, as the frame fills with a funhouse hall of mirrors at the climax, as each sinister sex dream reveals another layer of gleefully taboo desire, it’s clear the film is having fun with its over-the-top indulgences. It’s just doing so with a straight face.

I wouldn’t exactly call Double Lover an empty provocation. Its (well-founded) paranoia over men’s control & dismissal of women within the medical field is a legitimate strand of psychological terror with a rich history in the horror genre (and in real life). Its fretting over the power dynamics of a dominant (evil?) twin and their submissive (good?) twin is outdated psychobabble, but an interesting lens for viewing the power dynamics of romantic coupling in general. These themes are conspicuously present and exhaustively explored throughout, but it would be a lie to say they’re the film’s main draw. Double Lover is a blast because it shamelessly indulges in excess. Its shots of mirrored reflections persist long after the audience catches onto their significance. Its nightmare logic makes little attempt to justify its narrative trajectory outside the fun & the discomfort of its surprise. Its horror genre indulgences are entirely unconcerned with remaining highbrow, even risking its art film pedigree on a series of jump scares in the increasingly bonkers third act. Its external influences are blatantly displayed on the surface, with a reference to “steel gynecological instruments meant for torture” directly calling attention to its similarities with Dead Ringers within the opening ten minutes. Most importantly, though, its indulgences in onscreen, kinky sex are frequent, disturbing, and often genuinely erotic. Your comfort level with deliberate shock value provocation will likely steer your experience with the film overall, even though it’s far from the only factor at play.

Given Double Lover’s willingness to indulge in kink-minded titillation and its completely disinterest in subtlety, I should probably be more forgiving of its flippant comparisons to the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. I have two major roadblocks preventing me form that accepting that, though. First, I’m deeply invested in the film being understood as a continued tradition within the dream logic surrealism of the horror genre, not just a throwback as an erotic thriller. More importantly, though, I want to single out Double Lover as being an exceptional example of my favorite type of filmmaking: Elevated Art Cinema™ techniques applied to trashy, genre-minded premises that typically aren’t afforded them. This movie is dumb, crass, exploitative, trope-laden, and more than a little silly. It’s also a gorgeous work of fine art that disarms its audience with its nonstop onslaught of inelegant indulgences as a means of crawling under their skin and rotting them from the inside. It’s so much more than a less tame Fifty Shades. Its kinks are just the surface of its bizarre sense of psychological menace, a deep well of oversexed paranoia & manicured evil. Double Lover is an over-indulgent, preposterous film and, paradoxically, a perfect one.

-Brandon Ledet

Adulterers (2016)

For a time before I moved to Austin three years ago, I flirted with the idea of moving to L.A. and working as a script reader, as a dear friend had for a few years. She gave me a few different scripts to work on doing standard format reader reviews for, and while some of them were quite good (Melisa Wallack’s Manuscript, which ended up on The Black List, was my favorite of these), there were also quite a few that weren’t very good at all. The one that sticks in my mind the most was one entitled Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch, which has an IMDb page that lists it as “in development,” but doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2009 or 2010. I read enough short stories and personal essays in creative writing classes and discussion groups in both my undergrad and grad school that I developed a kind of sixth sense for when something was what could charitably called “revenge writing.” It’s basically when someone (invariably a man, almost always straight) writes out his one-sided feelings about the dissolution of a relationship, recently or distantly, painting himself as the put-upon everyman whose life is disrupted by the she-demon who broke his heart. That Guy in Your MFA didn’t emerge from a vacuum, is what I’m saying, and there’s a universality to the personality that those tweets are mocking which speaks volumes about society, literature culture, the writing world, and college campuses. Even without the laughable “Based on a True Story” caption that opens the film, or the credit that shows that the film was written, directed, and produced by one person (me, out loud, when I saw that on screen: “Oh boy”), I can smell that same malodorous desperation and entitlement all over Adulterers, and boy is it not in service of the film as a whole.

Spoilers to follow for a film you should just skip.

Samuel (Sean Faris) is an assistant manager at a hardware store in New Orleans, preparing to celebrate his one year anniversary with his wife Ashley (Danielle Savre), at the pinnacle of a record-breaking heat wave. He tells her that he won’t be able to come home as early as expected, as he’s picking up a double shift to help pay for the house and his new truck, but in fact intends to go home early and surprise her. After fending off the flirtations of his co-worker Lola (Stephanie Charles), he picks up a box “of dem dark chocklits” along with a bouquet of flowers and makes his way home to the exterior of what appears to be a shotgun house but has the interior of a two-story. While waiting for his wife to arrive from her waitressing shift, he realizes that her purse is sitting on the table, and that there are the telltale grunts of some mischief going on upstairs; he finds his wife in flagrante delicto with another man (Mehcad Brooks). Distraught, he goes downstairs to grab a couple of handguns, then goes back up and shoots them both guns akimbo. Credits!

Or not; in fact, it appears he just imagined this. He again climbs the stairs, and this time confronts Ashley and her lover at gunpoint, forcing them to answer questions about how long they’ve been seeing each other, how they met, and the frequency and content of their sexual encounters (yes: they have done it in the butt). This continues for some time, as all parties are emotionally and physically degraded. Brooks’s character’s name is given as Damien, and he admits that he, too, is married, and that his wife Jasmine (Steffinnie Phrommany) is pregnant with their second child. This is not the first time he’s cheated on her, nor is Ashley, whom he only knows as “Peaches,” the only woman with whom he is committing adultery.

We also learn that Ashley was already married when she met Samuel, but he rescued her from her abusive husband and even adopted her young daughter (whom we never see). Ashley gives a monologue about how she can’t help herself because she’s “broken,” and tells about how this brokenness emerged from being sexually assaulted several times by her father’s employer. Meanwhile, Lola continues reaching out to try and get Samuel to return to work before he loses his job, and when Jasmine calls, Samuel tells her about her husband’s infidelity, she decides to take her own revenge by coming to the house and having sex with Samuel in front of Damien, then telling Sam to dispose of the other man as he sees fit. This descends further into much absurd nonsense, with a lot of “Do you read the Bible?” and “I am God’s judgment” and “I won’t pretend to be a Christian, but my mama took me to church every Sunday” dialogue that I’m sure means you can imagine every moment of this excruciating standoff. Ultimately, it’s left up to God (in the form of Russian Roulette) to decide Damien and Ashley’s fate, and the afternoon’s events come to a conclusion with Ashley smoking a long-deserved cigarette while watching Sam bury her lover.

Except psych! Because of course it is. Samuel really did kill both Ashley and her lover at the beginning of the film, and the entire rest of the film has been his imagining of what would have happened had he not done so. Interestingly, this twist appears to have been so confusing (it really isn’t, though) that even the person who edited the film’s Wikipedia page doesn’t seem to have understood what happened, as it states (as of 02/16/18) that “Sam later finds himself back in reality, just after burying Ashley beneath the rose bed in the back yard. He realizes that he killed his wife and made up a story of her cheating in his mind.” That’s pretty clearly not what happened, as he clearly shoots them both, but you can hardly blame anyone for giving up and just making up their own ending. Unsurprisingly, this kind of “the whole thing was imagined!” plot twist was also common in a lot of the bad scripts I read, not to mention the work of fellow students. In the latter that’s almost forgivable, but in the former it’s a telltale sign that you’re an amateur. That doesn’t matter, I suppose, when you’re the writer, director, and producer, but if you’re thinking of submitting something like this to a legitimate agency or production house, take a tip from your old friend Boomer and just don’t.

There’s so much else going on here that demands to be discussed. I was actually able to track down an interview with director (writer, and producer) H.M. Coakley with the Urban Movie Channel, and it is one of the fluffiest fluff pieces I’ve ever read, and that’s coming from someone who used to do just these kinds of interviews with small name, big ego local personalities when writing for Dig in Baton Rouge. In it, when asked about the origin of the story, Coakley states “The actual idea for Adulterers was based on something that happened to a family member. I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow— what would I have done, if that was me?’” That’s not really what “based on a true story” means, I’m afraid. Just because a friend or family member caught their significant other in the act with someone else, and you imagined what you would do, and what you imagined is a character imagining an interaction with their cheating wife and her lover, that doesn’t make it “based” on anything. That barely makes it “inspired” by something that happened; by that logic, Home Alone is “based on a true story” about that time you imagined what it would be like to be a kid left alone in a mansion at Christmas, and Starship Troopers is “based on a true story” of fascist propaganda.

The worst thing about the interview, however, is this statement from the interviewer: “The story location was steamy & hot New Orleans, Louisiana and the accents, especially Sean’s, seemed quite authentic.” It’s not. It’s really, really, really not. The only authentic thing about this movie is the fact that, if someone were going to cheat on sex-on-a-stick uberbabe Sean Faris (who, in case you didn’t know, looks like this), the only other human being on earth who could possibly make your eye wander would be megahunk Mehcad Brooks (who looks like this). To be honest, either one of them would be worth getting shot. Cinematographer Ben Kufrin‘s pre-2005 C.V. consists almost entirely of titles with the word “Playboy” thrown in there, and while I’m hesitant to say that he shoots these male bodies as lovingly as (presumably) he did the women in his earlier films, this “erotic” “thriller” may at least send you off with visions of chiseled abs dancing in your head. The interview mentions that Brooks expressed interest as early as 2010, which makes sense given that this was after he stopped getting regular paychecks for The Game and True Blood and before he started being able to get paid regularly for Supergirl, where he’s been unfortunately underutilized of late. Full disclosure: Sean Faris’s presence was the only reason I watched this movie, and I’ve long felt that his turn on Life As We Know It should have led to greater market penetration and made him more of a star, but he’s never had the mainstream success that his sister has.

The long and short of it is this: even if you’re trying to find a film that’s set in a hot place to try and make up for the cold, cold winter we’ve had this year, you’re better off watching a documentary about volcanoes. If you just want the visual feast of watching hot people sweating in a stuffy room, there are other, better places to get your jollies.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

The Handmaiden (2016)

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fourstar

I’m typically not a huge fan of twisty shenanigans in my movie plots, but director Park Chan-wook’s latest is a testament to the virtues of The Major Plot Twist as a storytelling device. The Handmaiden is a deliberately twisty crime story in which the audience is continually conned into believing half-truths depending on the minute-to-minute revelations of its various narrators, anxiously awaiting the next rug pull to knock us on our ass. As a lesbian erotic thriller with meticulous dedication to craft & a Tarantino-esque celebration of crime & revenge narratives, the film plays like an unholy combination of the flashier aspects of BoundThe Duke of Burgundy, if you could believe such a thing was possible. It’s a gleefully tawdry art piece that takes great delight in its own narrative cleverness, but also constructs a strong enough visual foundation for its flashy storytelling style to shine instead of annoy. If The Handmaiden were a little uglier or if its bigger reveals were held until its final moments, its tonal balancing act might have crumbled disastrously. As is, it’s too fun & too beautiful to resist.

A petty criminal brings in an even pettier cohort for a conspiracy plot to gaslight a young heiress & rob her of her dowry once she’s declared insane. The young, naïve forger finds it increasingly difficult to live a lie as the heiress’s dutiful handmaiden as she finds herself falling unexpectedly in love with her would-be victim. The love is quickly revealed to be mutual and the film deals in largely the same unspoken, but physically expressed homosexual desire as Carol . . . until it culminates in an explicit, laugh-heavy sex scene (or three). Once their mutual desire is solidified & consummated the question is how much further the handmaiden is willing to deceive & exploit her lady. That is, until Park starts to have fun in deceiving & exploiting his own audience. There’s a near-endless sea of complex relationships, past abuses, planned double-crossings, and unthinkable depths of greed that Park plays close to the chest until he can use them to prank & subvert audience expectation. It isn’t a storytelling style I usually care for, considering how much attention it calls to its own cleverness, but The Handmaiden is so lovingly constructed & visually detailed that my personal apprehension with its tone means nothing. It also helps that the film often plays like a comedy, one where the humor lands consistently & sometimes even tenderly.

The Handmaiden is above all else a film about forgery. Its characters forge expensive books & jewelry, along with entire identities. The central conman forges a life where he can pose as nobility despite his empty bank account & lowly beginnings. The lady’s uncle/Master forges himself a new national identity, forsaking his Korean heritage for a false air of Japanese superiority, complete with a vast collection of his adopted country’s erotica & a particular obsession with the infamous octopus sex print The Tale of the Fisherman’s Wife. Most importantly, though, the film tackles the idea of forged desire. It pits the real-life sexual attraction between the lady & her handmaiden against the forgeries of the predatory masculine seduction forced by the conman & the hideously cruel uncle, making almost a divine object out of the genuine thing. In his own way, Park himself also deals in a kind of forgery – intentionally selling the audience a fake version of his own story before slowly revealing the genuine version of the real thing. He was smart to marry that storytelling deceit with the consistent theme of deceit in the film’s content; it works both as an acknowledgement & as a mission statement.

A lot of the fun of The Handmaiden is in trying to get a firm hand on the film’s tone. Depending on what moment you’re watching, it can play as a myriad of different genres: a farce, a revenge thriller, a ghost story, intense erotica, literal gallows humor, etc. Park Chan-wook is playful & adventurous in the way he navigates these moods, but he anchors the film to a solid foundation of highly specific, meticulously crafted imagery. A cherry blossom tree, an octopus, a coiled rope, an ink-stained tongue; The Handmaiden is first & foremost an achievement in intense costume & sent design, which allows for plenty of room in its narrative sprawl for twist-heavy shenanigans. I don’t think it’s quite the exquisite art piece of the similarly twisty & playfully erotic The Duke of Burgundy, but the film also gives no implication that it’s aiming for that work’s quiet emotional impact. It mostly aims to have fun with its narrative & its audience and by that measurement it’s a major success.

-Brandon Ledet

Scott Valentine’s Other Over-Sexed Demon Feature: To Sleep with a Vampire (1993)

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As Boomer mentioned in our Swampchat discussion of April’s Movie of the Month, the romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, the film’s star Scott Valentine had struck it somewhat big as a bad boy heartthrob on the televised sitcom Family Ties, but mostly failed to convert that success into a long term film career. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Valentine had a long string of starring roles in minor titles throughout the 80s & 90s, but his turn as the titular monster in My Demon Lover would mark the high point of a career that never truly took off. Topping out with My Demon Lover might help explain why the actor later returned to the antiheroic position of romantic love interest/supernatural threat in the straight-to-VHS oddity To Sleep with a Vampire six (six six) years later. To Sleep with a Vampire & My Demon Lover are two vastly different films working in two entirely separate genres (the erotic thriller & the romantic comedy, respectively), but Scott Valentine’s starring roles as the dangerous, titular love interest in both works serve as a clear connecting piece between them.

Some of the genre markers of To Sleep with a Vampire are seemingly at war with themselves. The film opens with Scott Valentine stalking back alley as if he were the brooding antihero in a self-serious neo-noir, immediately announcing himself as a vampiric threat. Once the film shifts gears, Valentine does his brooding in a cheap strip club, revealing the film’s true nature as a sleazy erotic thriller. To Sleep with a Vampire commits a little too earnestly when it reaches the strip club, indulging in so many passionless strip teases that it started to feel like a strange, vampiric modernization of the Ed Wood-penned “classic” Orgy of the Dead. Thankfully,the film eventually moves on and blossoms as being . . . actually pretty great? Valentine’s vampiric sex demon materializes at a sleazy strip club not only to oggle, but to search for a potential victim, one he finds in a down-on-her-luck stripper who is hopelessly suicidal due to an estranged relationship with her young son. The stripper, who’s essentially hit rock bottom on this particular night (and, thus, more attractive to her vampire predator, since killing someone suicidal is justifiably more ethical), is convinced to follow the bloodthirsty beau back to his bachelor pad (lair?) to discuss the delicacies of mortality until he plans to feast on her blood just before sunrise. Eventually, they bone.

A straight-to-VHS triviality produced by Roger “The Best There Ever Was” Corman, To Sleep with a Vampire is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. At times threatening to devolve into a deeply misogynistic masturbation fantasy for immature man-children, the film gradually reveals itself to be something much more poignant. Its all-in-one-night plot structure eventually morphs the film into something of a glorified stage play (from way, way, way, way off Broadway) akin to Steve Guttenberg’s passion project PS Your Cat is Dead. It’s far from the vampiric romance of titles like The Hunger, Near Dark, Only Lovers Left Alive, Innocent Blood, or A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in terms of quality, but there’s still an interesting back & forth in the film’s understanding of gender politics through a vampiric lens & Scott Valentine’s monstrous heartthrob really does have great chemistry with his sex worker victim (Charlie Spalding) despite the predatory aspect that relationship dynamic implies. This is an atmospheric work where the gloomy, horny atmosphere is often undercut by an overbearing sense of camp, but it’s a compromised formula that works surprisingly well. In particular, the objectively bad acting of the two leads makes their overwrought characters seem all the more “human”. In a more tongue-in-cheek work, the exchange “Tell me about the daylight. How does the sun feel on your skin?” “How the hell should I know? I work nights,” might’ve been worthy a hearty eye roll, but the deadpan performances sell it wholeheartedly here.

That’s not to say that To Sleep with a Vampire is anything more than a campy trifle. There’s plenty to scoff at here: the black & white vampire cam, the titular antihero’s oversensitive concern with vampire stereotypes, weird exchanges where the mismatched protagonists become physically a combatitve & then immediately make out, an inevitable love-making scene that nearly outdoes The Room in sheer audacious cheese, etc. However, the movie still has a surprising emotional weight to it, especially in its exploration of the vulnerability in following a complete stranger home for casual sex. Scott Valentine also shows a surprising amount of range here. His two portrayals of sex-obsessed demons could not be more different. In My Demon Lover he’s pure cartoonish id, not unlike a murderous version of Rik Mayall’s performance in Drop Dead Fred. In To Sleep with a Vampire he goes full Batman in his performance (this was the Tim Burton era of the character’s popularity spike, mind you): gruff, brooding, misunderstood, conflicted. Again, it’s difficult to discern which is the better film out of To Sleep with a Vampire & My Demon Lover because they are so artistically disparate (and so politically regressive in their own unique ways), but both are transgressively entertaining in an odd way & both do their best to showcase Scott Valentine’s talents as a dangerous bad boy sex symbol. My Demon Lover is more readily recommendable to potential Scott Valentine fetishists in its (minor) cultural significance & its commitment to let the actor run wild, but To Sleep with a Vampire features the 80s semi-icon wearing only a pair of leopard print bikini briefs on a moonlit beach, so who’s to say which is more essential in that regard? Either way they compliment each other nicely & they’re both worth a watch for the shlock-inclined.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the 1987 romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this look on how it reflects the work of director Ate de Jong, and last week’s unlikely, uncomfortable look at how it compares with Harold Ramis’s 2000 remake of Bedazzled.

-Brandon Ledet