Sep 15, 2014

The Death of Scorpio

While probably better known for hallucinatory experimental heterosexual quasi-hardcore horror works like Bacchanale (1970) and cultivated comedies like Blonde Ambition (1981) which he co-directed with his brother Leo, John Amero was also a prolific gay pornographer who directed brutal butt bandit flicks under the pseudonym ‘Francis Ellie’ (and sometimes the variant ‘Francis Elise’), which was also a name used by veteran exploitation auteur Michael Findlay (The Curse of Her Flesh, The Ultimate Degenerate). Indeed, from the sodomite serial killer flick Killing Me Softly (1979) starring Jack Wrangler as an unfortunate fellow who falls in love with a deranged dude that has an, “uncontrollable need to kill in order to have an orgasm” to the brutal S&M flick Boots & Saddles (1982) also starring Wrangler as a man who must save his lover from a sadomasochistic neo-Nazi played by poof porn icon Scorpio, Amero was one of the most innovative and artistically subversive auteur pornographers when it came to porn chic era fag fuck flicks. Unquestionably, one of Amero’s strangest, darkest, and most sensitive yet minimalistic works is the sensationally titled flick The Death of Scorpio (1979). Indeed, although starring white-trash-like gay porn icon ‘Scorpio’ (real name Wilbur James Weiss Jr.)—a fellow who, like so many men of his time, inevitably succumbed to complications to AIDS (including stomach cancer)—the iconic porn star does not play the lead character, but instead a secondary ‘character’ who invokes the wraith of the beyond bitter antihero, but not before getting involved in a little balls-to-the-wall pre-condom bareback brutality. A sort of warped psycho-sexual thriller and fiercely foreboding carnal chamber piece made very vaguely in the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock’s ambiguously gay classic Rope (1948), albeit with cocks and minus the quasi-Nietzschean philosophy, The Death of Scorpio depicts that revengeful short-time serial killing of a perennially internally wounded artist who decides to get revenge against his long-term ex-lover/great lover and the mutual ‘friends’ that destroyed their relationship. An award winner from the Gay Film Institute, The Death of Scorpio, which mostly takes place in a single dreary and scantily blue room, was largely shot for a live-audience at Show Palace Theatre in Soho, NYC where Scorpio regularly performed while high on “poppers” (Amyl Nitrate) and thus offers a rare raw window into a lost time that was largely vanguished by “gay cancer” (AIDS) and, later, aesthetically insipid shot-on-video smut. 

 As antihero Shawn Gregory (Amero’s In Search of the Perfect Man, All Tied Up) writes in a ‘therapeutic’ letter that to his ex-lover Michael Stone (whose only other film credit was on an episode of the forgotten TV series Sons and Daughters (1982–1987) created by Reg Watson): “Ten years… Ten years…or at least it would have been ten years today, Michael. Oh Michael, how did you let our friends destroy such a wonderful relationship? The day I met you at Jessica’s, I knew you were all and everything I needed. She was the cause of it, you know. Jessica knew that Giuseppe and Scorpio wanted to be more than just ‘good friends.’ They wanted you…they used you, but they never loved you. Not the way I did, Michael. I never tricked with them…our so called ‘best friends.’ But in one year you let them ruin all the togetherness we had developed in the best 8 years of our lives. I need my peace of mind…my course is set…my anguish will be resolved. I will end this torment.” Indeed, struggling painter Shawn plans to “end this torment” by not only killing his ex via poison, but also their mutual friends Giuseppe Welch (Amero and his partner Findlay’s Christopher Street Blues, Amero’s Killing Me Softly) and Scorpio (Jack Deveau’s Just Blonds, Christopher Rage's Street Kids), who he blames for destroying his relationship. Indeed, appealing to their flagrant narcissism by offering the opportunity to be the subject of a painting that will be in his supposed upcoming art gallery showing, Shawn convinces the men to come to his apartment where he paints and then defiles their nude bodies, and afterwards plies them with alcohol, which he has spiked with poisonous pharmaceuticals. 

 The first forsaken fellow that Shawn gets to come by his rather pathetic apartment of death is Giuseppe Welch, who poses for the aberrant artist in nothing but a rather unflattering jockstrap. Shawn convinces Giuseppe to come over by pleading with him over the phone regarding the supposed bad blood between the two men: “I’m all over that. No, no hard feelings. Michael and I just weren’t meant to be. I’ve got my head together…don’t even go to the shrink anymore and I really want to paint you.” After Shawn paints his unsuspecting victim, he worships the young man’s jockstrap and the two proceed to share carnal knowledge with one another, but both men seem to have trouble keeping their members hard. After Shawn gives Giuseppe poisonous wine, the latter soon dies and days later a newspaper headline states regarding the death: “Body Found in Soho…Poison Suggests Murder.” Next, Shawn gives good old Scorpio—a dirty blond mop-head with an equally unflattering mustache that would probably scare away any sensible young child—a call and lets the porn star know regarding their upcoming painting session, “Can’t wait to get you in oil!” While Shawn seems to have fun with Scorpio during their post-painting session after engaging in a little 69 pleasure and aggressive butt banditry, that does not stop the lethally lovelorn artist from perniciously poisoning his subject’s vodka. In what ultimately amounts to a rather pathetic lonely death, Scorpio merely drops dead on the hot NYC asphalt like a common bum, with no one even noticing his degrading demise. In a quasi-poetic post-coitus rambling, Shawn states: “Oh Scorpio, how incredible it is that in this fragile existence we should hate and destroy one another. There was someone that said a man at the point of death was more free than all others…because, Scorpio, death levels all things. Goodbye, sweet Scorpio.” 

 Of course, Shawn saves the best for last. Indeed, knowing that his ex-boyfriend is mourning the dubious death of Giuseppe, Shawn calls Michael and states the following like a true scheming psychopath: “Michael, I just heard about Giuseppe…how awful. What?! Oh my god, not Scorpio too! Michael, I must see you, especially after what’s happened. Please come. Remember the good times. I want to be with you. There must be a very sick person somewhere in this city.” Of course, totally unaware that Michael is a malevolent mad man with a thirst for carnally killer revenge, Michael shows up and the two instantly make love in a scene of almost Riefenstahl-esque “body worship.” After having sex, Michael ends up accidentally finding Shawn’s “kill list” while the painter is mixing together a poisonous alcoholic beverage for his ill-fated lover. In a twist ending, Michael switches glasses with Shawn while the two are kissing. Somewhat ironically, Shawn dies in peace in the arms of the man he loved so much that he was driven to coldblooded murder. Indeed, things may not have worked out as Shawn had originally planned, but at least the perturbed painter was able to “end this torment” in a most fitting and, dare I say, romantic fashion, thus giving The Death of Scorpio a sort of morbid and sadistic Shakespearean vibe. 

 While nowhere near as masterful, entrancing, and aesthetically ‘idiosyncratic’ as Amero’s haunting esoteric psychedelic-gothic hardcore effort Bacchanale, The Death of Scorpio is no less dark and depraved, as an unwittingly prophetic piece of pornographic poetry. Indeed, created just before the AIDS epidemic more or less decimated the strongly organized gay community that popped up after the Stonewall riots of 1969, Amero’s film certainly seems like it anticipates the internal ‘self-destruction’ that hit the homosexual world after gay cancer spread like the plague in NYC and every other American metropolis. Despite the fact that the title of the film certainly tells the viewer otherwise, The Death of Scorpio is surely not a mere Scorpio vehicle but a decidedly disturbing chamber piece wherein Shawn Gregory and Michael Stone (whose haunting portrait is focused on in the antihero’s apartment throughout, thus highlighting Shawn's superlatively sick and obscenely obsessive heartbrokenness) are the real stars. Indeed, when it comes down to it, Scorpio’s contribution to the film is no more captivating or iconic than that of a grimy blowup doll (in fact, a blowup doll would have added something more ‘novel’ the film). While a little too ‘porn-heavy’ for my tastes as someone who watches vintage fuck flicks for solely aesthetic reasons, Amero’s perturbing piece of homicidal homo pornography will certainly disappoint those looking for a quick and painless masturbation aid, as an oftentimes melancholy blue movie with an upbeat yet paradoxically strangely eerie electronic/disco soundtrack that anticipates the collective screams of countless AIDS victims. Indeed, with Scorpio now long dead as a result of the same plague that devoured his friends, lovers, and fellow porn star comrades, The Death of Scorpio has gained more meaning with age, thus guaranteeing that not all old school wank material will succumb to the dirty semen-stained dustbin of porno history. 

-Ty E

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