Shudder’s “Porno” makes real that feeling where getting laid is a life-or-death proposition.

Look, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that trying to find something to do as a family during the holidays is hard. You’ve got competing interests to manage, a variety of talents, and maybe even ages to consider. How are you supposed to handle that with all the extra stuff life is throwing at us right now? The answer is often found at the movies. In the Before Times that meant searching your local listings for whatever is playing at the multiplex and picking something broad enough to appeal to everyone. With that option gone, it’s up to whatever you can get at home. Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, there are plenty of options for the broad audience. But what if you want something a little more niche? A little more specific and tailored to your family’s interests? Wanna get weird? Head to Arrow Video Channel. Wanna get down with the martial arts? Check out Hi-YAH!. If you want to get your freak on, head to the premiere horror streaming service Shudder. Each month they release a new selection of horror films from around the world, many of which hit the international festival circuit, received a theatrical release, and/or both. The latest is the Giallo-meets-home invasion horror comedy Porno, the first feature-length release from director Keola Racela (Above the Sea) and co-writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli. You may not get off on something so dirty sounding, but don’t worry: the title gives off an X-rated vibe when the film is actually a hard R.

L-R: Larry Saperstein as Todd, Evan Daves as Abe, Jillian Mueller as Chastity, Robbie Tann as Jeff, and Glenn Stott as Ricky in PORNO.

On a Friday night in the summer of 1992, a small town movie theater wraps up the day’s screenings and the five co-workers deliberate on what to put on for their “Friday Night Movie Club.” Buddies Todd (Larry Saperstein) and Abe (Evan Daves) want to watch Encino Man, new assistant manager Chastity (Jillian Mueller) wants to watch A League of Their Own, returning employee Ricky (Glenn Stott) doesn’t care, and projectionist Jeff (Robbie Tann) just wants to go home. Before they can come to a consensus a strange man from off the street appears and reveals to the group a hidden door with a staircase leading to an unknown theater room and an archive of materials. As quickly as they discover this, the man disappears, but not before Abe finds a mysterious film reel. Hopeful that it’ll have some salacious material, he convinces the group to play it, accidentally opening the door for a demon with an unquenchable lust.

Katelyn Pearce (center) as Lilith in PORNO.

Sex. Sex. Sexy sex sex. There’s a point where sex went from this natural thing that people do and became something folks should do in dimly lit rooms or in the shadows. Perhaps that’s why necking in theaters is so popular, but this is neither the time nor the place for that examination. Instead, sex is a dirty three letter word and writers Black and Vannicelli use the allure of a Giallo-inspired tale to pull out all the tropes of sexual repression in order to examine the hypocrisy surrounding sex. Sexy sexy sex sex. So let’s start with what we know: summertime when teens and young college kids have more freedom, a period of time when the Straight Edge movement was gaining in popularity (a way to be hardcore without the elements associated with the hardcore lifestyle), when being of an alternate sexual persuasion was more dangerous than now (Brandon Teena would be killed in 1993, Matthew Sheppard in 1998), and near the end of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. These aspects are utilized by Black and Vannicelli to layer Porno with a variety of elements which soak deep into the story, adding weight to the more insane, detestable, and even horrifyingly gross moments of the film. In an interesting way, for as much as Porno utilizes the repression of the Church and local community as the foundation of its narrative, the violence of the Succubus does not represent the kind of opposing sexual liberation you might expect (see: Bacchanalia) but that of punishment for giving into those impulses, creating a conflict in the messaging. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t seem to run any deeper than that, so, while Porno is a mostly fun romp, the final result is something far more basic than the set-up implies. By credits roll, sex remains something dirty instead of liberating, personal autonomy is shunted for social acceptance, and nihilism is presented as the only choice over religious oppression. Hard to tell if this is purposeful on the part of Black and Vannicelli or if it’s a by-product of leaning too hard into the horror elements to create a most gory ending that’ll have body horror fans screaming with delight and the squeamish running for the hills.

L-R: Glenn Stott as Ricky, Jillian Mueller as Chastity, and Evan Daves as Abe in PORNO.

Where Porno doesn’t disappoint at all is from a mixture of Racela’s direction (capable of framing a shot as equally terrifying and hilarious) and a generous heap of brilliantly constructed prosthetics, special effects, and make-up which make a horror film memorable when all you’ve got left is the terror. The unnamed movie, the one which Abe finds, feels like something Dario Argento directed, lines of purple and red overlapping against bare flesh, only darkness behind figures who stand either stock still or move as though in slow motion. The result of the film-within-a-film is something memorizing with a mixture of tension and titillation. The prior sequences up to now just feel like they could be Anywhere, U.S.A., but, with this sequence, Racela grounds the film is a specific era of horror that also serves to change the entire vibe of the theater the events take place in. Suddenly this fun-filled house of illusions becomes a playhouse of horrors, where what we think is real is imaginary and the imaginary is deadly real. There are several moments in which I turned to EoM editor Crystal Davidson and said, “I know that it’s just a prosthetic, but it’s seriously wigging me out.” One example is when the Succubus (Katelyn Pearce) delivers a horrible form of testicular torsion post-sexual engagement or when another victim finds themselves perforated by the Succubus’s limb. You know it’s not real, yet the work done by Esther Kim’s makeup and prosthetic team is so good that you’ll feel the pain the Succubus inflicts in the soles of your feet.

L-R: Glenn Stott as Ricky, Jillian Mueller as Chastity, Evan Daves as Abe, Robbie Tann as Jeff, and Larry Saperstein as Todd in PORNO.

While the messaging in Porno is uneven at best, empty at worst, it’s the perfect entertainment for someone with an unsated hunger for a midnight movie as the majority of theaters are closed. Though the vibe is cheap, there’s nothing within Racela’s film that feels that way, which may just work to its benefit as audiences clamor for something that’ll entertain in a variety of ways. Porno does this in such a way that, once the kids go to bed, the adults can gather for some safe agitation. If nothing else, Porno offers more than a handful of late night delectables, as promised.

Available on Shudder beginning November 24th, 2020.

Final Score: 3 out of 5.



Categories: Reviews, streaming

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