The underground/independent market has been glutted for several long years now with semi-pro “erotic” “horror” “features,” most of which fall, aesthetically, a pubic hair this side of totally unwatchable. Lots of them don’t quite pay off as narrative film, let alone genre thrillers, or even softcore erotica. Aside from a broad variety of technical shortcomings related to camera and cast, a lot of this stuff is written by, I’ll be nice and call them unseasoned artisans, who don’t know how to craft a script long enough for a feature. As a result, these movies often either fall short of feature length, or visibly flounder in trying to stretch thinly plotted material out to that magical 87 minutes, which qualifies a picture for a much improved landscape, in re distribution possibilities; sometimes, they do both. 

Sub Rosa isn’t the only distributor out there pulling this stunt. The stunt is to package two such pictures together on the same DVD, to draw back buyers who are already wary of this kind of product. A lot of companies are doing this now (perhaps inspired by the success Something Weird has deservedly enjoyed, double featuring the vintage trash they specialize in). And I must say, it does work to the extent that together, these two featurettes add up to something, even if it isn’t much. 

The first picture, “Vampire Carmilla,” is a creature more intriguing than it is engaging. The most intriguing thing is this note, tacked onto the back of the end credits: “This film was not the intent of its creator and to Ms. Crawford and Ms. Morgan, I extend my sincerest apology.” I’m not sure what this means, but an educated guess, based on watching the movie (which refers to itself, via opening credits, by the variant and presumably “original” title “J Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla”), is that a first filmmaker among the two tangled up in the creative credits made a movie that didn’t work at all, either because it was too short when finished, or because it was still unfinished when the money ran out. Then, a second filmmaker, the other of the two entangled names, was obliged to step in and finish the movie, bringing fresh money along, and fresh ideas. I would further guess that the second filmmaker in this equation made this more of an exploitation picture than it was originally intended to be; and maybe even that one or both of the lovely young actresses mentioned in the apology was contractually obliged to perform exploitative material that wasn’t a part of the original plan… but I’m just guessing. This dichotomy, between a bad art nudie vampire film and a bad exploitation nudie vampire film, is visible to such an extent that scenes and sequences were apparently recut out of order to try to improve the pace. For instance, there’s a part where the male lead sees someone burning a corpse in an alley, rushes home to the hotel and his female companion, spends all night lying around debauching her with a most untroubled demeanor, and then, some time the next day, breathlessly tells her about the burning corpse. Still, it might not be so bad, except that there really just isn’t much sex and nudity, as art or sleaze, to enliven the dully fractured narrative. Also the script is shabby, and the acting is shabby. Also the camerawork is plain awful; the camera is just never pointed right. I kept wanting to snap at someone to frame the goddamn shots so I can see what’s going on. 

The second movie, “Game of Pleasure” (both these pictures by the way were shot in Sykesville, Maryland, and share a production company) provides perhaps four fifths of the entertainment on this disc. Its plot concerns a VR sex game that sort of takes over the reality of the hacker hero; it’s sort of “Existenz Erotique,” if you follow. And it’s not bad. By which I guess what I really mean is, it’s not awful. The camera works, editing is tight (that’s why it’s so short), the script is properly constructed and has a sense of humor, and the cheap special effects are kind of trippy sometimes. That’s enough to make it easy to watch, even if “Game of Pleasure,” as a whole, is a little dull and mediocre, in a Cormanesque sense – flippant, tawdry, oddly endearing. I even thought at least one of the faux sex scenes in this picture was superhot; Kim Penn is the actress who inspired this er-, uh, reaction. (Hi, Kim. Stop by and say hello to me and Rhonda, anytime.) 

I guess I don’t have anything else to say about this, except that it’s another example of how the genre erotica keeps getting weaker, as the independent American cinema keeps producing more and more of it. (As one of the characters in this “Carmilla” says, in a moment of uncomfortable self-deprecation, “Just what the world needs – one more vampire movie!”) I do have a real fondness for these kinds of ideas, and kinds of movies, as, I would guess, do most of you who’ve read this review this far. I, or I guess I should say we, can only hope for some kind of creative renaissance, or renascence at least, to grow out of this market. Eventually it has to happen – the sheer volume of material in this corner dictates that sooner or later something good is going to crawl out of it – it’s as simple as the proverbial law of averages.  

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