copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
With few exceptions, horror fiction has a reputation for being puerile and jejune. One might add that this reputation, hard won, is well deserved. However, the same charge may be leveled accurately at any other genre of fiction and, indeed, has been leveled at many classics in mainstream fiction as well by the critics and contemporary authors of the day in which these literary classics made their debuts. It may be interesting to some to review the plots of a few of the more brazenly irrelevant examples of what might be termed erotic films. In doing so, it should be apparent to any that the flimsiest excuse for a model or an actress to doff her clothing was regarded as reason enough for her to do so. What is good for the goose of the sexploitation movie, one may argue further, should be good for the gander of the horror story. Violence and, indeed, gore needs no more persuasive or socially redeeming reason for being than erotica disguised as--well, let’s look at the rationales, suggested or stated directly, for the sexploitation films of the past and see just what reasons they do offer for their existence.
2069: A Sex Odyssey: Venus’ females (who, as it turns out, resemble the most beautiful women that planet Earth has to offer) visit our planet to fornicate with men so as to preserve their own species. Reason for being: Species survival.
The Beautiful, The Bloody, and the Bare: Behind Closed Doors: A nude photographer--no, he’s not nude; his models are--takes fine glamour shots unless the color red appears. The color of blood drives him to lust--for blood--and, therefore, to murder. Reason for being: Art for art’s sake.
Philosophy of a Knife: A documentary (kind of) concerning the Japanese version of Nazi Germany’s Dr. Mengele. (Okay, so this one does have a little real reason for its gratuitous displays of nudity, which make such displays no longer gratuitous, just nude.) Reason for being: Documentary of human villainy.
Bikini Airways: Sexy stewardesses find a way to earn their pay after their airlines seems to be going belly up financially: they rent their aircraft as a flying forum for wild bachelor parties. Reason for being: Financial survival.
Brigitta: Swingers’ fantasies about swinging. Reason for being: Uh, Brigitta?
Curse of the Erotic Tiki: A talisman sold at a bikini shop causes whoever wears it to lose her sexual inhibitions. Reason for being: Magic and enchantment.
Okay, now that we’ve taken a squint at some of the lamer sexploitation flicks and their reasons for being, let’s look at a few horror movie plots to see whether the excuses that they offer for their existence are any less lame.
Species: An alien female mates with Earthmen to avoid her species’ extinction. Reason for being: Species survival.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: Due to his sins, Dorian’s portrait ages while he stays young. Reason for being: Art for art’s sake.
Ed Gein: A transvestite killer wants his mom back--from the grave. Reason for being: Documentary of human villainy.
Hostel: An entrepreneur’s inn of supposed pleasure turns out to be a not-so-public house of pain. Reason for being: Financial survival.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes: The doctor is a rabbi, maybe, who uses the same sort of amulet that Moses apparently used to stir up the plagues in ancient Egypt, because he’s doing the same thing now, in modern America, using a set of his own similar charms. Reason for being: Magic and enchantment.
Wow! It looks like a tie, proving that other film genres--in this case, sexploitation films--offer excuses for their existence that are just as flimsy--in fact, identical at times--as those of the weak excuses that horror films advance for their existence. In fact, at times, it’s hard to tell the two genres apart, since many horror films are made to exploit the adolescent crowd, as are sexploitation films. Sex and violence both sell, and, with the former, as with the latter, there is often the added bonus of bikini-clad girls or actual nudity. What does a little prurience matter, along with the puerility or a little jiggle along with the jejunity? It’s all harmless fun until someone gets an eye poked out.