Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'll have to frisk you...

There’s no stronger heart-pounding moment in fiction than that in which someone says that our heroine must be frisked. It’s the horniest in breached space. It’s the use of power and authority to satisfy the most primitive of compulsions: that to explore the female anatomy. Like peeping through a keyhole (the first stage of sexual curiosity) and the tentative groping in the darkened cinema or the interior of a parked car, frisking the suspect harks back to unsatisfied desires of an adolescent mind.

To watch it on film, is to relive those days of youth, when the world was full of promise. Here we have three instances of frisking on film. The first one comes from Quick (1993), a Rick King vehicle for hottie actress Teri Polo, who plays here the role of the title character, a paid assassin hired to eliminate a mob accountant, played by nerdy actor Martin Donovan. This scene takes place when Quick (Polo) visits the lair of mob kingpin Robert Davi, and a lucky bit-player gets to frisk her with evident gusto. Unfortunately, the search is interrupted precisely when he tries to reach for miss Polo’s breasts.

It is more or less a staple (more implied than explicit) of action vehicles starring hot young female leads. In Fathom (1967) sexy spy Raquel Welch must expose her breasts to the villain (making us wish she’d do it for the audience as well) in order to assure him she’s not carrying concealed weapons. And in the Ginger series of films, Cheri Caffaro is subjected to several body searches, despite her skimpy outfits.

Let us now turn to Double Impact (1991), Sheldon Lettich’s classic double dose of Van Damme action. Here, the frisking (purred deliciously by Corinna Everson, just seconds before she pushes hot Alonna Shaw – in her first screen role – against a sceptic office wall) is pure sexual innuendo. Danielle Wild (Shaw) works for the bad guys, but she’s soon converted to the cause of good and starts helping twin brothers Alex and Chad (both Van Damme), taking advantage of her position inside the organization. She’s surprised by badass mama Kara while searching through the archive files, and gets frisked in a steamy if short scene. Kara finishes by asking: “Now, do you want to frisk me?

In both these situations it’s well in evidence the sexual nature of the frisking. When you dwell in a lawless environment, what would be a police procedure turns into wish-fulfilling abuse. That the search for concealed weapons is in most instances no more than an excuse for groping (with all the implied relations of power) the female body (the opposite is far more unusual) is made blatantly clear in this scene, taken from Alan Robert’s Karate Cop (1991).

In this scene, all the viewers’ expectations are played with in a savvy, tongue in cheek approach. When Rachel (Carrie Chambers), the heroine of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi actioneer, is taken by Snaker’s (Michael Bristow) henchmen and held in restraint, incapable of resistance, the über villain, played with campy aplomb by Mr. Bristow, when enraged by her defiance, wants to know: Has anyone searched her for hidden weapons?

And gladly proceeds to do it himself. Knowing what the audience expects – confessing the fact that the “search” is merely a pretext for sexual groping – he does it theatrically, in a precise three-step rhythm, closing his paws on Ms. Chambers’ hips, waist and finally, breasts. He doesn’t even pretend to be trying to find any weapon. It’s the sexual innuendo taken into solid affirmation of power.

And the expression on Rachel's face is pure bliss for us sick viewers. («I'd rather have sex with a warthog.» « That can be arranged.»)

(I must apologise for the poor quality of the Quick and Karate Cop stills, but they were taken from some old VHS copies from my own personal collection).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

THE SLIME BEAST by Guy N. Smith (1976)

Guy N. Smith is a hack writer mostly known for his Crabs series. And when one says hack writer in conjunction with Guy Smith, it means precisely that: the guy hacks his stories out of the typewriter with the panache of the proverbial 1000 blind monkeys trying to compose a Shakespearean sonnet. Fear not. He won’t do it, even if the monkeys succeed.

Truth to tell, Mr. Smith writes to recipe: select a monster on the rampage (it needn’t be an original one), add a loony scientist, a hunk hero, a sex interest dumb girl, mix in some violence, a lot of gore and a modicum of sex, shake it up in short sentences composing short chapters and you’ll have a short fun book to read.

And that is also the recipe for the book at hand. The Slime Beast is how the dimwits that pass for the heroes of this short novel treat the smelly abomination they’ve found buried beneath the bogs of the Wash, in the Eastern Coast of Britain.

Well, these dimwits are Professor Lowson, who doesn’t do much but shuffle papers and books on his quarters, and lit a pipe every time he’s described as an archaeologist; Gavin Royle, the hunky Assistant-curator of the British Museum, who doesn’t do nothing much but look the hero, utter short sentences and profess anti-science views, and, of course, lusting over Liz Beck, the professor’s niece (yeap, you read it right, it is that clichéd) who doesn’t do much but sex up the story, allowing Gavin to ejaculate his seed over her thighs as a contraceptive method, and serve as the target for two rape attempts, one of them by the entire village of Sutton (don’t get your hopes high, it sounds more fun than it reads).

Now, please consider that these three form the entire expedition that tries to uncover the location of King John’s lost treasure, and you’ll have the full extent of how ludicrous the story gets. True to Susan Sontag’s purported structure of the 50’s science fiction movies (read, please, Sontag’s Against Interpretation, 1962), this “expedition” accidentally bop into a strange reptilian creature of unknown origin, buried in the mud flats, and quickly all hell breaks loose. It has to be said that it only happens because our dimwit heroes seem not to share a whole brain between them, managing to do the silliest things all the time (like leaving the creature where they find it, never informing the authorities even after it had started killing people, and not even after the whole village of Sutton tries to kill them on the counts that they had awakened the spirit intended to protect the treasure. Yes, they are all dimwits in this book.

Of particular interest to our purposes, there are two staples of the damsel in distress pulp genre narrative in use here: first, the expedition to the uncharted wilderness. Well, maybe we can’t refer to the eastern coast of England as uncharted, but the way Smith describes it, it works as an embodiment of the lost or primitive world’s savage village, where the natives can not be trusted. We find it in every Tarzan movie, as well as in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Wrong Turn (2002) or any other adventure movie you can think of. In fact, observe how Smith describes it: “The rows of cottages and houses were reminders of a past era, of primitiveness, and poverty. Even in this affluent age they had not move with the times. That was the way these people of the Wash wanted it” (p.76).

The operating concepts here are “primitiveness”, “poverty” and “will”(to remain so). That’s what makes them dangerous, even when the monster is killing them one by one. It dates back to the Roman Empire, when an edict from Adrian forbid the rural inhabitants of entering Rome, on account of noisiness, uncleanness and improper behaviour. Obviously, it is the age old riff between primitive and civilized, rural and urban, archaic and modern. Primitiveness bellies a proximity to animals, a closeness to nature, an identity between the animal in man and the self. It speaks of implied bestiality.

And, if the creature doesn’t lust after Liz (as so many Bug Eyed Monsters did in the old pulp covers), the villagers surely do. They are almost as dangerous to our heroes as the beast. When they try to kill them one night, they are eager to rape Liz en masse. And when Mallard Glover, the hermit wildfowler and an unexpected local ally is entrusted with taking care of Liz, he can’t resist his animal instincts, and tries to rape her as well, while she sleeps.

She was lying on top of the sleeping bag eyes closed, asleep. There were a couple of buttons on her blouse undone. She wasn’t even wearing a bra. He leaned forward in order to obtain a better view. Now he could see a nipple”. I must confess I am a big fan of this kind of scene where the heroine is defenceless in her sleep, being watched, undressed, groped. It speaks of a second level of exploration: also the female body is uncharted territory, daring to be braved, mapped, explored. And, just like the primitive territories that are exploited by civilized capitalism, it can be either admired, enjoyed or raped. It echoes the main theme of the expedition, of the savage in us.

And the sleeping female, the sleeping beauty, can only be awakened by a sweet kiss (as in the fairy tale) or by ravaging, like Anne Rice’s take on it in her The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. The innocence of sleep can be spoiled by the outside world. And this is the second staple I’ve mentioned before, the unconscious female, standing for nature against nurture.

I'll get back to this theme later.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Breached Space: LA COCCINELLA

La Cocinella is a short film (30’) by Nello Pepe. At a first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a part of the grand tradition of Damsels in Distress that this blog intends to enshrine. But it works as a nice exercise in breached space, as it tells the story of a young sterile wife (very sexy actress Francesca Nunzi) who needs a sperm donor (Marco di Steffano) in order to get pregnant. Her husband has invited the donor to their home while away on business, but the artsy donor doesn’t feel capable of “performing” for a plastic cup in the couples’ bathroom, to the growing despair of the anxious and uncomfortable wife.

As the time passes and the successive attempts to raise the mast of success succumb to the awkwardness of the situation, they start to try several more risqué alternatives. She dances erotically for him, while he is sitting at the toilet, peeking through the keyhole (a first breach of the personal space, through the immortal medium of voyeurism). As she is not a very capable or enticing dancer (the scene is awkward, as we watch a very sensual actress pretending she is just a shy inexperienced housewife) they try phone sex, from the bedroom to the bathroom, with identical results.

Attributing the failure to the confined and oppressive space of the bathroom, they relocate to the living room, where the donor, an artist, tells her that he usually gets excited when he’s painting, and implies that should she allow him to draw her it could work. Well, it doesn’t, but we have mounted another step on the lather of breaching space. From the visual through the keyhole, we breached the space of the imagination through the phone and are now separated by the thinness of a sheet of paper.

When it also fails, she proposes that he just do it there, looking at her. He agrees, lets the cup fall to the floor, they both make a go for it, space is breached as he grabs her breast. What are you doing?, she cries. I’m trying to make this work!

And there ensues a very hot and steaming sex scene, that goes to show that nature’s methods are still the best ones. It is worth repeating that Francesca Nunzi is a very sexy actress. Adding to her ample personal charms, the intensity of the scene is compounded by the knowledge – stitched there, in the back of the viewer’s mind – that it is not proper adultery, and that it is not fully consensual sex. There is a dimension of necessity that, in the logic inherent to the erotic fantasy, forces the wife to have sex with a stranger. A manifestation of breached space.

Ok. So you may not by my theory. But I had – I just had – to print here these sexy grabs from the film. It can be found in the second of four discs that Filmax has published in Spain under the title Tinto Brass presenta Sus Cuentos Mas Atrevidos (Vols. 1-4, 2002)

Breached Space

Let me now propose to you an unconventional idea: that one of the central elements of eroticism is that of breached space. That it is the threat of invaded personal space that spices up so many erotic thrillers as well as much of the adventure pulps. Robert Scholes, in his comprehensive essay Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision (with Eric Rabkin, 1977) has counted as many as seventy-four attempted rapes in the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Obviously, it would not do to have the main heroine being effectively raped in a bunch of novels read by kids (although one can ask how many interior fires that menace have started), but it isn’t less true that it is precisely the implied menace that is so thrilling and exciting.

And one of the most effective ways to convey that menace is through the breaching of personal space. One does so in one of two instances: when one as a relation of affection with the person whose personal space is being invaded or shared (family, friends, a lover); and when exerting an act of aggression (when you have to literally step over the virtual line separating personal spaces). It can be argued that the breaching of the heroine’s personal space as a mean of sexual thrilling has much to do with the so-called phallocracy that purports the heroine as “territory” of the hero, thus making that invasion one of the personal space of the hero. But that doesn’t hold water in the cases of independent heroines such as Red Sonja, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Modesty Blaise, Brigitte Monfort, Ginger and so on, so I won’t consider it here.

One of the most exciting examples of breached space in pulp or erotic thrillers is that of the undercover heroine that must get inside a) a strip club b) a prostitution or white slavery ring c) any other similar situation where her maidenhood is in danger (and I say maidenhood not as a literal concept). Considerer Miss Temple in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (2006), Athena Massey in The Unspeakable (1996) or the young and naïve Clara in the most erotic novel of all times The Devil’s Advocate (1942).

In each of these cases the heroine has to infiltrate an inimical space, knowing that she may have to pay the correspondent cost of such invasion in terms of bodily currency. In the three examples above, Miss Temple (a Victorian maiden) escapes with her virginity intact, although she feels her fire stoked and is almost raped; Athena Massey is a cop, not a virgin, and must demean herself by stripping naked on the pole (her space is breached with the eyes); while Clara, almost a child in sexual matters, is progressively immersed in a web of depravation that will subject her to vaginal, oral and anal sex (and “between my breasts too”) in order to discover whatever happened to her sister Rita.

And, in each instance, whenever the personal space is breached, we know we’ll have: a) sex (the heroine will be raped or will have to forcefully consent to sexual advances); b) violence (the heroine will fight the assailant or the “hero” or some outside force will intervene).
It’s in those moments that precede the breaching, that stretch the undefined boundary between spaces, between force and consent, that we find the most sublime eroticism.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I cannot recommend strongly enough this wonderful book by Mr. Gordon Dahlquist. If it has all the ingredients to please the fans of several literary genres from steampunk to dark fantasy, its first chapter - Temple - is a tour de force in successfully adopting the tone of a Victorian novel.

The eponymous character, Miss Temple, is a young wealthy lady of 25 ("too old to be single") who, when receiving a letter from her fiancee ending their relationship, is determined to follow him in order to learn the dreaded reason why. It is not clear if she feels more afraid of finding out that the culprit was another woman (one can always slap her) or just the fastidious aim to ascension inside the boring duties of the Ministry.

Her investigation will lead her to a sinister ride on a mostly empty train boarded only by masked men and women who assemble in a not less sinister mansion for a purpose that is not immediately clear to the reader or to Miss Temple. One thing that seems clear is that some of the women are prostitutes, there to entertain part of the guests while real business is carried somewhere else.

Well, the reader's heart must be beating by now. In true pulp sleazy style, Miss Temple is able to pass herself as one of a group of prostitutes, and is immediately led to a changing room, where she's expected to don some very sexy and revealing white silk corset. I must say it is a hell of an erotic read.

Miss Temple is a truly Victorian heroine, not much dissimilar from Catherine Morlan of Northanger Abbey fame, although a lot more smart. And Mr. Dahlquist clearly knows his gothic novels, as he smoothly parades before the reader a succession of horror cliches, from the steps approaching in the dark, through some macabre medical cabinet to a very touchable atmosphere of dread and menace. The shadows are rich with innuendo, as are some of the weird characters that cross this brief section (of around 70 unforgettable pages).

Before the section ends, we'll see Miss Temple at the receiving end of a fairly graphic rape attempt; but the high point must be the scene when she is changing clothes to a more revealing outfit in front of a mirror. As she dons the sexy corset, breathing fast, pink nipples visible above the cloth, it's not only wardrobes being changed. We assist to a profound change in the demeanor of the young (virgin) Victorian girl, and it speaks sociological volumes of an era when even the table legs had to be covered.

I'll return to this novel as I progress in its reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

INTO THE FIRE by Richard Laymon

What’s Richard Laymon’s secret? What is it that makes his novels unputdownable? First of all, it’s the sheer strangeness that he imbues in everyday occurrences. He can see, and make us see, the familiar through the naïve – but oh so resilient – eyes of youth. For him, every thing is new. With his characters, we’re just exploring the world for the first time, minds overflowing with heroic and erotic ideals. Even when we find out we’re living in a world of overflowing nightmares.

True, there’s much not to like in his books: the bad guys are usually fat, ugly, filthy and mean; usually they are bums or homeless people. But so are the good guys. Filthy and mean, that is. Remember, they are living the hormone fuelled years of youth. That means meanness, callousness, indifference, larger than life antics and dastardly daring dos.

It’s Laymon’s female characters that are the richest. They are at the same time Justine and Julliette, the virgin and the whore in one single beautiful body. They may be simple wish-fulfilling ideals of a middle age author living an eternal teenage. But they are the lights that attract the moth-readers to the raging fires of his books.

Richard Laymon died five years ago, too soon. His first published novel, The Cellar (1980) was a huge success. And deservedly so. The final chapter, written as an uninterrupted dialog that sheds light on what is going on, should be read in every writing class around the world. His second, The Woods Are Dark (1981) was a not less deservedly flop that almost ended his career then and there. It surely kept him away from the American radars while his reputation grew overseas. The experience was enriching. It helped him find the balance between weirdness and outright pornography. He might have written to formula, but few did it as well as he did.

Into the Fire (2006) is his latest posthumous novel. I confess I don’t really know when it was written or, if unfinished, who did the final writing. The reader who comes to it as a Laymon fan, will find here much familiar territory. Fortunately he won’t find such an abrupt change of style as in No Sanctuary (2003), clearly an unfinished draft completed by a hack, or an hopscotch of earlier writings like Amara (2005).

And, in some ways, Laymon have risen the stakes of weirdness when telling three parallel stories that will intermingle with disastrous results. He treats us to an American geography of madness and meanness, as Pamela (escaping from a mad rapist that has just killed her husband and abducted her to the desert, is saved by a strange and sinister man who drives around in a ancient school bus filled with mannequins) and Duke, Boots and Norman (three teenage hoodlums), converge into the desert ghost town of Pits, where a new breed of cannibals thrive. It is a topography populated with eccentric characters, where the victims are as guilty as the perpetrators, and where minds get twisted by fate.

And, as should be when opening a Laymon book, it oozes sex (here perhaps more openly and unashamedly than in previous novels) and eroticism intermingled with all the violence. It sometimes gets to moments of twisted surrealism, as when Pamela falls asleep having her hurt feet massaged by blonde nordic Nicki: “Her eyes snapped open. The trailer was in near darkness. Peppermint scented the air. Her feet were still being massaged, only… Only differently now. Raising her head a little. She looked down he length of her body. Nicki still knelt by the sofa. She’d removed her sweater. Holding Pamela’s feet by the ankles, she rubbed her big, soft breasts against the soles of her feet. The nipples felt like fingertips” (p.121).

It is not a novel at the same level as The Stake, Bite, Night Games or Funland, but it is pure unadulterated fun with a punch that’s Laymon’s own.

Catchphrase: “He sweated like a pig that’d learned the truth about bacon".

Welcome to this depraved lair...

.... where damsels will be in dire distress, as we explore their tribulations on films, novels and comics. This blog's name comes from the belief that it is in Sade's Justine ou Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) that we can find the prototype of both the pulp maidem and the sexually conscious modern heroines. An archtype of innocence, lust and sexual awakening that can be found both in the heroines of jungle adventure tales (Tarzan's Jane for instance) or more modern satires as Terry Southern and Mason Offenberg's Candy. And that just not to mention recent incarnations of Justine that may range from Alien's Ripley to Star Trek's Six o'Nine.

So stick with me as we brave our path through rapes (both attempted and consumated), revenges, innocent virgins and undercover missions. Themes that have made the mad, delirious and loveble world of sexploitation.