18th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘Porno’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Evan Daves, Jillian Mueller, Katelyn Pearce, Peter Reznikoff, Larry Saperstein, Glenn Stott, Robbie Tann | Written by Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli | Directed by Keola Racela

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Two of my all-time favourite horror films are Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987), which sees a group of stage actors locked in the theater for a rehearsal of their upcoming musical production with a psychopathic killer; and Mark Herrier’s Popcorn (1991), which sees a murderer kill the attendees of a movie marathon in an old abandoned cinema. Why am I telling you this? Well Keola Racela’s Porno continues the same thematic tradition found in those films and other movies such as Fade to Black, Anguish and Demons, whilst also harkening back to that similar period in film history, setting this particular story in small-town America circa 1992…

Taking place in a local ultra-Christian movie theater, currently showing 90s “classics” like Encino Man and A League of Their Own, Porno finds four teenage employees and the theater’s cranky older projectionist facing their worst fears when a mysterious set of pornographic reels releases a little more than their repressed desires; as the group suddenly find themselves haunted by a sexy succubus while closing up one night. Violent mayhem ensues as the teenagers desperately try to escape the clutches of the oversexed demon in their midst.

I’m not going to lie, when you make a film like Porno, which continues the same tradition as two of my all-time favourite horror films, there’s absolutely no way I’m not going to be in some way biased. However that bias could go either way: I’m going to think this is deserving of following, and being mentioned, in the same breath as the aforementioned films, or it desecrates them. Thankfully it’s the former.

The debut feature for Keola Racela, Porno is one a very small pantheon of horror films that successfully manages to balance humour, horror, gore and sex in a way that very few ever do. There are times when this film goes for the jugular (sometimes literally) and other times where it feels like we’re watching Porkys. In fact, imagine Demons, but with an evil, yet sexy, succubus instead of the possessed undead, crossed with a teenage coming of age story like The Breakfast Club – a film that has a similar “teens locked in” premise – throw in some laughs and some grotesque gore and you have Porno in a nutshell (if/when you see the film you’ll get THAT pun!).

But Racela’s film is more than that. Surprisingly it says a LOT about the state of America, where religion and repression¬† are on the rise seemingly as a “reaction” by the Christian right to the growing liberalism that came with the countries previous government. Here liberals are the succubus, a leftover of the cinema that existed before the current ultra-Christian one (one hell of an analogy), preying on the teens who represent clean-cut America, an America that really doesn’t exist in any other form than as an ideal, a throwback to the past – which is apt given this films setting almost 30 years ago.

Of course that doesn’t mean the film isn’t also stacked with sex and violence. It is. From the incredibly sexy succubus played by Katelyn Pearce, in a role which recalls the kinds of “T&A” horror films that featured Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer and Julie Strain; to the extreme gore that, whilst often played for laughs, pushes the limits of the audience’s levels of taste and decency, Porno marks writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli and director Keola Racela as ones to watch. If they can pull off this kind of film with such aplomb – the first feature film for ALL three having worked on shorts previously – I can’t wait to see what they do next!

***** 5/5

Porno screened at this years Fantasia International Film Festival on July 13th and 16th 2019.

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