June 01, 2000 09:00am
Porn Spoofs Mainstream - Private Observations
by: Joel Starr
There seems to be a general agreement in America that pornographic films are just about sex, just about depicting the act of sex on film. Pornographic films are even categorized at the video store and online by the sexual appeal that they present, such as oral, anal, gang-bang, etc. This type of categorization may lead people to forget that there are also pornographic films with stories, pornographic films that are spoofs or parodies of mainstream hit films that come out of Hollywood. These films have big budgets, expensive special effects and the possibility of luring audiences with the spoof of a familiar title and storyline.
These films not only promise action and suspense similar to popular American films but also have hardcore sex scenes throughout. This begs the question as to just how similar these porn films are to the mainstream films that they parody. Some of these films are almost scene for scene reenactments of mainstream films with numerous hardcore sex scenes included. Some just spoof the title of a mainstream film but are not a parody of the plot. There are also a number of pornographic films that do not spoof mainstream films at all but still have high production expenses and more complexities than the average adult movie.
During the Golden Age of Porn, which ran roughly from 1972 until video took over in the early 80s, pornographic feature-length films were made and exhibited across the country in adult movie theaters. When Deep Throat first opened in the summer of 1972 at the New Mature World Theater in Times Square, it was the first time in pornographic film history that a feature-length film "managed to integrate a variety of sexual numbers into a narrative that was shown in a legitimate theater" (Williams 99).
This film also marked "the transition from illicit stag films to the legal, fictional narratives" of feature-length pornographic films (Williams 98). Other popular films followed this new trend such as The Devil in Miss Jones and Behind The Green Door. These films were made much like Hollywood films were made during that time. They had big budgets and even followed some classical Hollywood narrative structures such as the marriage structure in Behind the Green Door.
Eventually these Golden Age pornographic feature-length films started to spoof mainstream Hollywood films. Even as early as 1972 there was the classic pornographic science fiction spoof Flesh Gordon (Movie Film Fest). Then a few years later in 1976 famous porn starlet Annie Sprinkle stared in the pornographic knock-off of M*A*S*H entitled Smash'd also known as M*A*S*H*D (Rame.net). But it was not until the 1980s, after the Golden Age of Porn and the transition from film to video, that porn mainstream knock-offs really began to flourish. Adult films such as The Big Thrill, Hot Gun, Ramb-Ohh, Crocodile Blondee, The Color of Honey, and For His Eyes Only were all released in and after about 1984 (Rame.net).
So it seems that as pornographic films started being enjoyed by people at home on videotape, more porn mainstream knock-offs were made. Many of these porn knock-offs even spawned sequels. Both Crocodile Blondee and Ramb-Ohh had one sequel each (MFF). There are also a number of mainstream film titles that continue to be spoofed by porn films over and over again (Rame.net). To date there have been seven porn films made that are knock-offs of the mainstream classic Bonnie and Clyde. There are the porn spoofs Full Metal Babes and Full Metal Bikini as well as Florence Hump and Foreskin Gump. For some mainstream films it seems that just one porn knock-off is not enough.
There is also a small group of pornographic films that are knock-offs of popular television sitcoms and dramas. Some popular sitcoms are spoofed in the films Fresh Tits of Bel Air, Frenz and Hindfeld (MFF). Hindfeld is basically the hit television show Seinfeld with hardcore sex included. It has look-alike actors playing the same characters and leading the same lives as the characters on the popular television show did (MFF). There is also the film Hill Street Blacks, released in 1985, which only loosely parodies the original television drama (MFF).
Though these porn knock-offs all spoof the titles of mainstream films, they do not all necessarily spoof the plots. Ironically the title of the classic children's film Black Beauty has been used for two pornographic films to date, but these two adult films do not in any way spoof the plot of the mainstream classic (MFF). Instead of being about a courageous black horse these two films are really just typical porn films with African-American actors.
The porn film Saturday Night Beaver obviously gets its title from the 70s hit Saturday Night Fever, and from the box cover this becomes even more obvious, but has very little to do with the plot of the mainstream film it spoofs the title from (Imperial Reviews). The plot of this film has little to do with the 70s disco scene and more with marriage and infidelity and of course sex. Even the majority of the films mentioned in the previous paragraphs are not necessarily scene for scene parodies of the mainstream films that they spoof the titles of. Though many of these films are similar to the films they parody it seems that their plots all mostly revolve around sex. But as famous porn starlet Nina Hartley says, "In a good porn movie the sex helps advance the plot".
In 1985 Sex Wars was released and it received rave reviews from porn film critics as well as the best adult film of the year award. The film is obviously a spoof of Star Wars while it also pokes fun at many of the Star Wars rip-offs that came out during the early 80s (MFF). It is also the first adult film with major Hollywood studio special effects and action (MFF). X-Rated Guide called Sex Wars "probably the most expensive science fiction porno film ever made and also the best acted one!" Though the film is science fiction and has similarities to Star Wars it does not, like most of these types of films, stay completely true to the plot of the classic science fiction blockbuster.
One noticeable difference is that the main character in Sex Wars is a female, a heroine. In Star Wars Princess Leia was not really as much a part of the action as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were. But in Sex Wars Princess Layme is the lead and Brinker Duo and Mark Starkiller are her crew, who she bribes with "sex, money and sex" to take her to the planet Tyros to rescue her sister (MFF). In this film sex does seem to help advance the plot. Yet even though it does fit a description of a good porn film, Sex Wars seems almost to be more a pornographic sci-fi hybrid film than a pornographic version of Star Wars, though it does cleverly poke fun at Star Wars in subtle ways.
Sex Wars spoofs the title of the mainstream hit perhaps to entice people to see it based on the mainstream title's success, but is not a scene for scene parody of the storyline of Star Wars. So don't expect to see a Luke Skywalker character leading a rebellion against the dark side in the film. Nonetheless, it does attempt to parody not only the title of a mainstream film but more than most of this type of film, the plot as well.
A number of the pornographic mainstream knock-offs that came out in the late 80s and early 90s such as Apocalypse Climax, Penetrator, Penetrator 2: Grudge Day, A Clockwork Orgy and Blazing Boners, are films that parody more detailed the plots of Hollywood films. Blazing Boners is a curious film in that it seems to parody the title of the classic Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles while the plot of the film actually parodies the more recent Billy Crystal comedy City Slickers (MFF). In the film three guys from the city leave town on a wild-west vacation that includes hardcore sex. The synopsis of the film at Movie Film Fest calls it "pornographic comedy at its best".
It goes on to describe one of the main stars in the film, Ron Jeremy as "the adult performer to cast in any comedic feature". "The man, aside from being one of the living legends of the porno world, is seriously funny" (MFF). So it seems that from the previous description, the film not only follows the plot line of a mainstream Hollywood film, but that it is also "seriously funny", perhaps implying that the film is as funny as a mainstream film can be in general.
Nic Cramer is one adult filmmaker who makes films that are very similar to the Hollywood action films they parody. Adult Video News (AVN) magazine calls the Swedish director "Mr. Homage". Cramer has made "adult versions" of A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Based on the synopsis of the film Penetrator, directed by Orgie Georgie, found at Movie Film Fest, the film seems to have exactly the same plot as the original Terminator, the only difference being that it also has hardcore sex scenes. Instead of trying to shoot the female lead in the film with a gun the evil android wants to kill her by "penetrating" her (MFF). According to AVN Penetrator is "One of the best adult versions of a mainstream film you'll ever come across!" Cramer's follow up sequel to this film, Penetrator 2: Grudge Day, seems to be more of the same stuff only bigger and more expensive, with better special effects and more action. "I can't do a film and not have action. I have a weak spot for blowing things up", admits the director.
Cramer's film A Clockwork Orgy is described at Movie Film Fest as being based on Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange. The synopsis of the film goes on to say that it sticks "closely to Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of the novel" (MFF). Based on the description of the film and besides the hardcore sex scenes, it seems to be almost a scene-for-scene retelling of A Clockwork Orange.
More recently however, it seems that the popularity of porn knock-offs is dwindling. As Los Angeles Times "Off-Kilter" columnist Roy Rivenburg writes in his March 20 article "Pity Those Poor Millionaires" (E-5):
Dark Boogie Nights of the Soul: Hard times have also hit the porno film Industry. Normally, X-rated flicks lure audiences by spoofing the titles of mainstream movies. But that strategy is now in peril. According to Nic Cramer, director of such Oscar contenders as A Clockwork Orgy, most recent movie titles don't readily lend themselves to parody.
Some possible titles are given in the article such as The Sex Sense ("I see nude people"), American Booty and There's Something About Mary's Bustline (Rivenburg). These titles don't really seem as catchy as some of the previously mentioned titles are.
According to veteran adult film actor, producer and director Gino Colbert, good gimmicks make a big difference in the marketing of adult films. He goes on to say about adult film box covers that, "the box cover is king". So it seems from this that a catchy title and box cover are essential to marketing adult films. Perhaps porn knock-offs no longer have the appeal of catchy titles and eye-grabbing box covers to make them competitive in today's adult video market. Colbert believes and some of the research shows that many porn knock-offs don't live up to the promise of their titles. So it is also important for these films to deliver the goods, which many of them simply don't do. Colbert has also said that, "when video came into porn, nobody really cared about storytelling", and that, "special effects are like Tabasco sauce, a little bit goes a long way".
So from this it seems like people don't really want a complex story in a porn film, and that a lot of special effects are unnecessary in porn films too. Also according to Colbert "comedy and sex don't work together during a sex scene". So from this point of view porn films are not all that good when they combine comedy and special effects with hardcore sex scenes. Of course this begs the question as to what a good porn film is. Well, for all intents and purposes, it seems that a good porn film is a porn film that gets people off, a film that causes sexual arousal. Perhaps the big budget porn knock-offs just don't do that and maybe that is why few of them are made today.
Michael Ninn is one of the few adult filmmakers working today who makes pornographic films that are not knock-offs of mainstream films but still have story lines, big budgets and amazing special effects. Since directing his first film Black Orchid in 1992, Ninn has won over fifty adult film awards including "Best Film", "Best Video", "Best Director", "Best Art Direction", "Best Editing", "Best Special Effects" etc. from AVN, the XRCO awards and the Hot D'or awards (VCA). Plus his films are best sellers and continue to sell long after they are first released. He is credited by VCA Pictures for bringing "mainstream images and a more commercial look into the adult world." In Michael's own words, "I package and sell sex as Madison Avenue would present one of their products" (VCA).
Colbert says that his films have a music video quality to them. Ninn does use fast cuts and incorporates musical numbers into the narratives of his films. He seems to be an original pornographic film director with a unique vision and style that characterizes all of his films, similar to a mainstream film auteur. Rather than making adult versions of mainstream blockbusters, Michael Ninn makes original adult film blockbusters and they sell.
So it appears that the era of the pornographic mainstream knock-off may be coming to an end. There seems to be two main reasons that can be attributed to its demise. For one, many of these spoofs don't live up to audience expectations. The majority of these films are not similar at all to the films that they attempt to spoof. Another reason is that many of these big budget porn spoofs in their attempt to combine Hollywood action, suspense and comedy with hardcore sex, just simply don't work. Plus, with today's technology just about all one needs to make a pornographic film is a group of actors and a camera, thus a big budget and a story are more and more becoming unnecessary. Michael Ninn has found a way to combine a narrative, expensive special effects and hardcore sex in his films so that they are popular and profitable. He does not spoof the titles of mainstream films, though his films do have catchy titles: Sex, Latex, Shock, and Ritual. Nor does he spoof the contents of mainstream films.
Nic Cramer says that there are very few good recent mainstream titles out there to spoof. But shouldn't the content be as important if not more important than the title? Maybe there is just not enough good content out there to spoof anymore either. Maybe the lure just does not work because big budget action and comedy don't mix well with hardcore sex. Maybe this does not turn people on, which is something a good porn film should always do.
"Directors: Michael Ninn." VCA Pictures Online. 5 May 2000
"The Imperial Reviews: Vol. 28." Rame.net. Ed. Imperator. 4 Nov. 1995.
Rame.net. 14 May 2000 <http://www.rame.net/reviews/imperator/part28.html>.
Movie Film Fest. 31 May 2000. Excalibur Films. 30 May 2000
Rame.net. 31 May 2000. The Official Web Site of Rec.Arts.Movies.Erotica. 30 May 2000 <http://amri.iafd.com/reviews.asp>.
Rivenburg, Roy. "Pity Those Poor Millionaires." Los Angeles Times. 20 Mar. 2000, Home ed. : E-5.
Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible". California: UC Press, 1989.
FS 101C, Research Paper