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.