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PORNO (2019)

Directed by Keola Racela
Written by Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli
Starring David Arrow, Evan Daves, Blake French, Jillian Mueller, Amber Paul, Katelyn Pearce, Bill Phillips, Peter Reznikoff, Larry Saperstein, Glenn Stott, Robbie Tann

Don’t be fooled by the title. Aside from a wild and loud sex scene at the beginning of this film, PORNO is a horror romp through and through.

It’s the summer of 1992 and five employees of a small town Christian theater are cleaning up for the night and preparing to watch either ENCINO MAN or LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (the only two films playing at the theater) after hours. The bible-thumping manager does his best to keep the teen employees out of Hell with strict guidelines set to keep them from giving into their baser desires. This leads to some of the most sexually pent-up teen employees you’ve ever met. When a hobo is found squatting in the theater, the kids’ night becomes complicated. When he breaks through the wall and uncovers a passage leading to a secret section of the movie theater, things get worse. Amongst the dust, cobwebs, and old movie memorabilia is a film canister marked with an ancient rune. Deciding that whatever is on the film inside has got to be better than the previously mentioned films, they play the mystery roll and find out it is a psychedelic sex ritual reel made years ago when it was a porn theater. What they don’t know is that playing the film unleashes a succubus (a sex demon played by the sultry Katelyn Pearce) with a thirst for blood and other bodily fluids (ifyaknowhatImean…). Now unleashed, the kids must find a way to get the succubus back in the film casing before she murders them with their own repressed sexual desires.

OK, the concept of having a sex demon stalking a bunch of uptight teens is a good one. It’s ripe with possibilities given the awkwardness of sexuality during one’s teen years. Immediately, scores of scenes pop into my head taking advantage of the sex/death theme that was beaten into our heads in horror films in the eighties. So as far as overall concept, PORNO is a winner.

What makes things overly complicated are the details added to the mix that I don’t think are really necessary. It’s quite obvious that the writers and filmmakers are either from the specific time and place or paying homage to the time and place–most likely in Mid-Western America somewhere, where religion is a strong influence on all things. I know these places still exist today, even though it is something that is almost unfathomable to some in more progressive areas of the country. I can also imagine that the filmmakers set this film during a time when they themselves were teenagers experiencing these conflicting and confusing feelings involving sexuality. Much time and effort is made to make these five characters distinct and with their own set of sexual hang-ups. Still, I think setting the film in the early nineties in a Midwest Christian town narrows the possibilities down substantially.

Why set PORNO in 1992 specifically? If you’re looking for a period piece exemplifying sexual repression, the 90’s isn’t the first era to come to mind. The eighties was the age when culture had a mad-on for sex and violence in the cinema. Even better, why not set the film in the fifties or sixties when sexual repression was a modern way of life and the need for porn theaters was in higher demand? When I think early 90’s, I think of Madonna masturbating and George Michael shaking his ass in music videos and modern culture only being slightly peeved about it (and I lived in Ohio during that time!). Setting the film in such a drab era as the early nineties seems confusing to me, especially when nothing about the clothing or language seem very distinct to the timeframe and nothing about that era supports the film’s prominent theme of repressed sexuality.

Why set the film in a highly Christian town and why have the Christian angle at all? I get that setting up Christianity as an opposing force for the sin of the porno is an extreme, but on the nose version of right and wrong, but I don’t know why it is so prevalent in PORNO. One of the kids being highly religious, I can understand. But all of them questioning every thought and action against their bible teachings felt like overkill. Why not just set the film at a bible camp? It would feel less forced as it really seems the kids are taking all of this religious stuff very seriously. I know when I was a teen, I began questioning the faith I had been taught in church and rebelled from it as much as I could. But none of these kids seem to have these rebellious feelings at all. Even the goth kid is afraid her naughty thoughts are going to have her punished in flames.

This shines a spotlight on a glaring plot hole that is never addressed in the film; if the town is so Christian, why was there a porno theater built there in the first place? A little backstory on the town might have given some context as to why everyone is thumping the bible so hard now. Has the town always been this strict? Maybe the town used to be a den of sin. Maybe the theater is built on a gentrified section of town that used to be smuts-ville. Who knows and any answer would just be me writing the movie for the filmmakers. We get no backstory at all, leaving me question why everyone is so devout and guilt ridden.

I didn’t hate PORNO. I found a lot of the characters endearing and well thought out. The performances from everyone were above the norm and most likely we will see actors Jillian Mueller, Evan Daves, Larry Saperstein, Glenn Stott, and Robbie Tann again in bigger and better things. The look and feel of everything from the classic theater to the sex ritual reel all worked marvelously and set the right mood. While the damned footage is not really porn, it does have a taboo feel to it with subliminal and sacrilegious imagery. There’s a lot of gore to be enjoyed as well, including a genital mutilation scene that made me cross my legs multiple times in empathetic pain. There’s actually quite a bit of shots to the crotchal area which caused me to groan, but also had me wondering why all the attention was towards the male anatomy.

I liked the look of the succubus in declothed form, of course, but also as the screeching demon Katelyn Pearce turns into later. The laughed quite a bit at the film as the humor hit more than it missed. While the film suffers from going off the rails during the climax and occasionally the cast has nothing to do but stand and scream at the horror going on, the story moved at a brisk and entertaining pace. I just feel that there were some misguided decisions made at the blueprint stage that didn’t translate well to the final project. Had PORNO been a bad concept, I wouldn’t have been as frustrated with it. With as many kinks, hang-ups, and quirks out there today, the possibilities of how this succubus takes down her victims are endless. Hit the PornHub categories menu and you have enough fodder for a dozen PORNO sequels. Unfortunately, PORNO just didn’t live up to its potential as it pigeonholed itself with overly specific and ultimately unnecessary details.

Click here for the trailer!!