Jun 27, 2014

The Destroying Angel (1976)

Aside from a handful of works directed by daring (and, in some cases, deranged) filmmakers like Jonas Middleton (Illusions of a Lady, Through the Looking Glass), Stephen Sayadian aka ‘Rinse Dream’ (Nightdreams, Café Flesh), Curt McDowell (Thundercrack!), and Michael Zen (Falconhead, Falconhead Part II: The Maneaters), there only a handful of avant-garde/arthouse horror porn flicks that have blessed this dark and depraved world, so naturally I always keep a lookout for similarly works themed from this rather idiosyncratic and somewhat inexplicable style of filmmaking. Recently, upon reading about the death of English avant-garde auteur-pornographer Peter De Rome on 21 June 2014 at the rather senile age of 89, I also learned that the fiercely fetishistic filmmaker directed an experimental hardcore homo horror flick entitled The Destroying Angel (1976), which was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 doppelganger-themed short story William Wilson (which was also loosely adapted by German filmakers Stellan Rye and Hanns Heinz Ewers in 1913 as the silent horror flick The Student of Prague aka Der Student von Prag, as well as by Louis Malle in 1968 for the three segment omnibus film Spirits of the Dead aka Histoires extraordinaires) and borrowed its title from Luis Buñuel’s Mexican surrealist masterpiece The Exterminating Angel (1962). As a man who worked as a publicist for David O. Selznick and even worked on Carol Reed’s masterpiece The Third Man (1949) and Vittorio De Sica’s Terminal Station (1953) aka Stazione Termini, De Rome was not exactly the typical gay pornographer as a cultivated and worldly man who began making short avant-garde porn flicks during the mid-1960s for the mere personal pleasure and never expected that he would develop any sort of reputation among art fags and more cultivated porn addicts. After hooking up with fellow auteur-pornographer/producer Jack Deveau (Left-Handed, Drive), De Rome released eight of his shorts under the title The Erotic Films of Peter De Rome and achieved success among both art and porn crowds, thus leading him to directing his first X-rated feature Adam & Yves (1974) which, on top of being more or less a gay take on Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) and being heavily influenced by Jean Cocteau, is also notable for being the last film to feature silent screen diva Greta Garbo. Indeed, due to the fact that De Rome stalked Ms. Garbo around NYC and filmed the reclusive actress against her own will from a rooftop, she would ultimately unwittingly conclude her acting career by unknowingly appearing in a 3-minute scene in a gay porn flick that was made some 30+ years after her last role in George Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman (1941). For his second feature, which like Adam & Yves was produced by Deveau, De Rome decided to mix leather-fags, psychedelic mushrooms, Christian guilt, and a tinge of fascistic imagery for a perversely potent, if not somewhat incoherent, mix of hardcore Poe-esque pornography that will certainly be a more of interest to fans of avant-garde horror than horny homos looking for a cheap squirt ‘n’ spurt aid. Directed by a man who beared a strikingly physical resemblance to Poe, De Rome’s film is, if nothing else, probably the most demented and deranging depiction of a minister’s degeneration into sexually depraved personal purgatory of hallucinatory homo orgies, deleterious doubles, quasi-demonic golden showers, rectum-reaming cucumbers, and less than saintly seed spilling. 

 Caswell Campbell (Timothy Kent) is a sexually inverted minister who has been in the seminary for two years and one day makes the major mistake of taking a break from his religious studies to put into practice his undying fantasies for male flesh and exotic hallucinogenic mushrooms (notably, the books The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John Allegro and Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality by R.G. Wasson heavily inspired De Rome’s screenplay). Upon taking his sod sabbatical, novice cocksucker Caswell decides to head to a shadowy and equally sleazy NYC leather-fag bar in the sadomasochistic spirit of William Friedkin's Cruising (1980) where he meets a meaty philistine biker buck named Bud (Bill Young) who, being a full-blow degenerate of the morally retarded sort, is proud of the fact that he shares the same name as the crappy America beer. Naturally, curious Caswell reluctantly takes Bud back to his pad near the Brooklyn Bridge, which is adorned with religious and icons, as well as a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe instead of Jesus Christ (indeed, it is quite apparent that something is a little off about the poof protagonist). After Bud insults minister's religious devotion and sexual performance and subsequently leaves his dimly lit apartment, Caswell confronts his double/doppelganger (who his identical from the minister aside from having a bigger cock and much more mangy hair) and for whatever decides to slowly devour a small red mushroom that he has magically found on a small nightstand near his bed. Before Caswell knows it, the mushroom, which he assumes to be a Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), has sent him into a surrealist sodomite nightmare where he becomes the passive victim in a golden shower orgy involving a brigade shirtless beefy beefcakes sporting tight denim jeans.  Needless to say, Caswell is somewhat troubled by the entire experience of being ritualistically pissed on by a gang of fag phantoms with big pricks.

 After his ugly phantasmagoric night of ritualistic communal urination, Caswell goes by a friend’s house who, for whatever reason, has both a Jewish menorah, as well as a painting of a young Aryan twink wearing an Iron Cross necklace, hanging up in his loft. Needless to say, Caswell meets a dimwitted yet sexually eager twink (Philip Darden) at the party and brings him back to his Brooklyn flat where the two take shrooms and suck cocks. While literally tripping balls, Caswell’s debauched doppelganger abruptly appears and gets in the middle of the sexually aberrant action. Indeed, Caswell watches in horrified amazement as his kinky double grins sadistically while being anally reamed by the minister’s twinkish one-night-stand-man. After the plodding phantom threesome, Caswell decides he needs a break from his spiritual cramp and heads to the beach for a rather lonely vacation of would-be-holy serenity where he even turns down a muscular Mediterranean man for sex. Of course, the debauched doppelganger is not happy about this and appears while Caswell is shaving to tell the minister that, “I’m the air you breathe…the blood in your veins.” After also telling Caswell that he is his “Angel of Light” (but that he can also destroy him), the doppelganger coerces the mentally perturbed minister into getting with the Mediterranean beach boy, who ultimately shoves cucumbers, bananas, and other quasi-phallic items in his holy manhole. In the end, Caswell realize that he was not taking Fly Agaric after all but the similar looking but quite poisonous mushroom Amanita virosa (or “Destroying Angel,” hence the title of the film) and that he will soon die as there is not antidote. Clearly enraged as a young minister who has spent his remaining days living in hardcore sin and only has a couple hours to live, Caswell murders his doppelganger by stabbing him to death through a Cocteau-esque mirror. Dressed in monk-like religious garb, Caswell, who has somehow inherited his alter ego’s mighty phallus, fiercely masturbates onto his own grave, thus spilling his seed onto the ground, which sinks into the earth and produces Amanita muscaria. 

 Not one to play around with puffery in regard to his own films, auteur Peter De Rome wrote regarding the somewhat spastic narrative of The Destroying Angel in his memoir The Erotic World of Peter de Rome (1982): “If not all of this is apparent to the casual viewer of the film, it is partly due to insufficient development of the theme on my part, and partly because the film was undershot, leaving our very creative editor, Bob Alvarez, with a difficult problem which he brilliantly manage to disguised with some virtuosos effects.” Indeed, Alvarez edited a number majorly masturbatory jump-cut montages for the film that give it a certain hyper hallucinatory, psychosexual psychedelic flare, as if the viewer has been sentenced to endure surreally sadistic sexual savagery in some sort of post-counter-culture homo Hades that is ruled over by Fred Halsted. Indeed, The Destroying Angel certainly demonstrates why alpha-Beat William S. Burroughs, who once wrote De Rome a letter of praise describing his own film ideas, described De Rome’s work as “gassy- a real rarity.” Unfortunately, it is quite clear while watching the film that the over-ambitious auteur did not get to fully realize his vision and thus was forced to extend what would have probably made for a nearly immaculate short film into a discernibly fractured work that is barely feature-length.  Aside from the fact that De Rome was unable to shoot all the scenes he needed, the work is also apparently missing a scene featuring Peter Berlin. Indeed, Andy Warhol's 'painting assistant' Rupert Smith probably said it best when he described De Rome's hardcore horror feature as, “a mess but a masterpiece,” as a work that is discernibly flawed yet is a totally singular and strangely effective piece of pernicious pornography that, indeed, despite what politically correct poofs say, proves that homo sex can be horrifying, especially for those the god-fearing sort. Due to the AIDS scare and various other personal reasons, De Rome decided to quit directing artful fuck flicks after The Destroying Angel, complaining in his memoir regarding the pathetic state of porn at the time: “Sadly, what passes now for pornography in movie house plays gay sex films I find infinitely tedious and depressing. Possibly I am in the minority and most people would rather watch graphic scenes of explicit sex no matter how badly filmed. I would rather not. And for this reason I have tended to be relatively unproductive in the last few years. It’s an age-old gripe, and may sound presumptuous, but until and unless I can make the sort of films I want to make, I am not interested in making any.”  Indeed, one can only guess what De Rome would have accomplished had he been given a proper budget to work with, as The Destroying Angel features more authentic horror than anything ever created by a contemporary no-talent zionist psychopathic like Eli Roth. It should also be noted that The Destroying Angel was not the the director's last celluloid excursion in horror, as De Rome went on to play a malicious yet terribly charming man-loving magician in Long Island-based exploitation auteur Nathan Schiff's short Abracadaver! (2008), which was included with the 2012 BFI dvd release The Erotic Films of Peter De Rome, who strikes fear into a married homo-hating heterosexual man and proudly states, “Magic’s quite gay […] How many female magicians do you know? It’s a bit of a boy’s club.”

 On top of being one of the greatest homo hardcore horror flicks ever made, The Destroying Angel should be also noted for being a rare work that attempts to establish the controversial link between homosexuality and religious fanaticism. In his groundbreaking 1886 text Psychopathia Sexualis, revolutionary Teutonic psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing recognized that a rather large numbers of gays become seriously mystical-minded and spiritually devout, but more importantly, he recognized the common link between spirituality and sexuality, writing: “But this relationship between religious and sexual feeling also manifests itself on indisputably psychopathological territory. Let it suffice to point to the powerfully active sensuality in the case histories of many religious maniacs, to the colorful mixture of religious and sexual deliria, that is observed so often in psychoses (e.g. among maniacal females who think they are the mother of God and the bearer of God), but most especially in psychoses with a masturbatory basis; finally, let us point to the lustful, gruesome self-flagellation, wounds, self-emasculations, even crucifixions on the basis of a morbid sexual-religious feeling.” Indeed, before he became a highly influential hieromonk for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia that had an immense spiritual and theological influence on the Occident, Seraphim Rose was a practicing sodomite who only gave up his vice after accepting Orthodoxy.  Of course, the tragic protagonist of De Rome's film was not nearly as strong of a man as Rose. Needless to say, I would not mind hearing Rose's always provocative insights regarding a seemingly personal film like The Destroying Angel, as a work that somehow manages to create an aesthetically and thematically malevolent marriage between Poe, leather-faggotry, spirituality, and psychedelic mushrooms in a way in uniquely unhinged fashion that reeks of abject metaphysical malady. 

-Ty E

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