Nov 16, 2014
Probably out of all the film genres, none attracts more whores, pimps, gangsters, crooks, swindlers, shysters, morons, and just plain untalented hacks and frauds than the horror genre and I say that as a lifelong horror fan who is always looking out for a decent or at least somewhat entertaining slice of celluloid fear. While he has directed at least one masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), as well as various classics like The Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), The People Under the Stairs (1991), and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), horror auteur Wes Craven has produced even more dumbfounding duds, phony hack pieces, pseudo-intellectual leftist jerk-off-fests, superlatively shallow ‘subtextual’ satires, and shockingly horrendous ‘for-hire’ hack works, thus making him a filmmaker that is equally loved and hated by fans of the genre. Of course, Craven’s personal life and professional history is ultimately much more curious than the uniquely inexplicable unevenness of his oeuvre lets on. Although raised in a strict Baptist household, Craven, like his contemporary George A. Romero, came of age during the counter-culture era and clearly received a Frankfurt School-approved lobotomy with him even working as an English and Humanities professor after receiving a graduate degree in Philosophy and Writing at John Hopkins University before trying his hand at a potentially lucrative career in horror filmmaking, which eventually became quite a success, but not before dabbling in the then-booming world of celluloid pornography. To Craven’s ostensible artistic credit, he managed to employ his newly-found college-induced liberal humanist atheist Weltanschauung in these early works, or as John Kenneth Muir noted in his book Wes Craven: The Art of Horror (2004) regarding the nihilistic nature of Craven’s exceedingly loose exploitation remake of Swedish master auteur Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece The Virgin Spring (1960): “Terrible things happen to innocent people in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT with regularity and even so-called "good people" such as the Collingwoods easily resort to brutal violence and bloodlust. Although Mari prays to God before she is murdered, in a scene staged in an almost identical fashion to Karin's rape and murder in THE VIRGIN SPRING, there is no salvation for her or redemption for her fallen parents. Unlike the Tores in THE VIRGIN SPRING, the Collingwoods are not enlightened in the finale by the existence of God or an awareness of divine method [...] The camera does not swoop heavenward to give the impression God is watching because in Craven's film. God is dead.”
Indeed, on top of defiling a Bergman masterpiece and turning to proto-torture-porn of the savagely sadistic, if not nonetheless undeniably enthralling sort, Craven also proved he had a knack for indoctrinating the viewer with his quasi-existentialist philosophy via cinema’s most aesthetically disreputable genre. What few people realize, aside from horror/exploitation cinephiles, is that despite its already aberrant, sexually graphic and foully fetishistic essence, The Last House on the Left was originally intended as a hardcore porn flick and that Craven began his career in the seedy mafia-ridden porn world, even working in some capacity on Gerard Damiano’s crossover ‘porn chic’-launching classic Deep Throat (1972). Despite the black cat being out of the bag in regard to his fucked film career, Craven has been quite, well, craven, regarding his early years in the blue movie world, with him only admitting in the doc Inside Deep Throat (2005): “that he had made “many hardcore X-rated films” under various pseudonyms, and luckily at least a few of his filmic excursions into erotica have been positively identified. Indeed, aside from receiving his very first film credit as a co-producer on his early collaborator Sean S. Cunningham’s barely soft core pseudo-documentary Together (1971) starring porn diva Marilyn Chambers of Behind the Green Door (1972), Craven co-wrote, edited, directed, and starred in the quite oneiric and vaguely avant-garde incest-themed porn flick The Fireworks Woman (1976) aka Angela Is the Fireworks Woman aka Angela, The Fireworks Woman aka The Fireworks Man under the pseudonym ‘Abe Snake.’ A fellow with the seemingly pseudonymous Nordic name Hørst Badörties was also responsible for co-penning and acting as the cinematographer for the film. While not exactly a master work, even where pornography is concerned, Craven’s piece of unintentionally corny carnal celluloid, which was curiously directed in between Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, is a sometimes interesting formative piece from a budding auteur who, like Orson Welles protege Gary Graver with 3 A.M. (1975), somehow thought he could reconcile the heavy philosophical melodramas of Ingmar Bergman with lackluster unsimulated hardcore works featuring homely longhaired hippie-like people, including the auteur himself as the eponymous ‘fireworks man’ of the film’s alternate title. The superlatively sordid and sacrilegious story of an incestuous young girl who, when not being defiled and molested by various people of all ages and both genders, attempts to vie for the love of her brother who is entering the priesthood, The Fireworks Woman is also notable for being Craven’s most overtly anti-Christian and, somewhat paradoxically, most experimental work to date (indeed, the film features much heavy-handed symbolism, like a bible being rained on).
Beginning with a post-hippie Dionysian orgy presided over by auteur Wes Craven himself featuring a bunch of debauched beatniks running around waving fireworks and dancing in a seemingly demonic fashion, The Fireworks Woman then introduces pervert protagonist Angela (Jennifer Jordan aka ‘Sarah Nicholson’, who started in off-off-Broadway productions and would go on to star in Joseph W. Sarno flicks like Misty (1976)), who narrates about how she is deeply in love with her big brother Peter (Eric Edwards) of various porn chic classics, including Bo Derek’s husband John Derek’s artsy fuck flick Love You! (1979), the Amero Brothers’ Blonde Ambition (1981), and various Cecil Howard flicks), who shares his sister’s feelings but thinks he's more in love with Mary Magdalene and enters the priesthood. Set in a seaside Bergman-esque landscape that has an almost otherworldly feel that is as ominous as it is orgasmic, Craven's film features an esoterically erotic realm of the ridiculously risque sort where Catholicism seems to be the only real vice, with the orgasm seemingly the most holy and transcendental of states, as if cumming is the closest way one can get to god. A seemingly Satanic beantik played by auteur Wes Craven, who sports a gothic tophat and resembles a sort of counterculture Edgar Allan Poe (though not as much as gay pornographer Peter De Rome, who incidentally directed a psychedelic homo hardcore horror reworking of Poe's 1839 short story William Wilson under the title The Destroying Angel (1976) the same year as Craven's fuck film was released), seems to be the one that is responsible for Angela's sensually hypnotic powers and he is never that far away from the protagonist. Angela apparently has the ambiguously magical power to sexually attract any person, no matter their gender or sexual persuasion, that has the (mis)fortune of crossing her seemingly erotically magnetic path, hence her brother's reluctant love for her. As Angela states of her and her brother, “we loved each other as children and nothing else matters” and “Nothing mattered to me but our love…it didn’t matter to me then and it doesn’t matter to me now that we were brother and sister.” While Peter would have sex with his sister in the past, he would get angry and violent afterward as depicted in a post-coitus flashback scene where he smacks Angela in the face and indignantly declares, “this is all you're doing Angela…this would have never happened if you did not force yourself upon me. I want you to stay out of my life. And don’t you ever try to see me.” Of course, that doesn’t stop Angela from seeing him, as she shows up at his church and confesses her love for her big brother in the confession booth, who declares her selfless and demands that she “submerge” herself “in serving others,” which she subsequently does.
Indeed, Angela goes to work for a wealthy blonde blueblood bitch named Elizabeth Walters (Erica Eaton of the Amero Brothers’ Every Inch a Lady (1975) and Gerard Damiano’s The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (1980)) who treats her worse than a dog and introduces her to the masochistic side of bisexual sadomasochism where she is forced to be the pretty little plaything of her boss and said boss’ ugly dork friend. In a scene anticipating the blowjob-turned-castration scene in Last House on the Left, Angela smokes a man’s pole so hard he screams like a wounded, dying animal. Of course, it does not take long before Angela is trying to blow her brother again and she even tells him to quit the Catholic Church because “they don’t want or need you…they're vicious. They're hypocrites,” but of course he just gets angry and kicks her out of the confession booth. Looking to escape, Angela sets sail for literal paradise and in a rather heretical dream-sequence, the protagonist is featured naked against the sail of her sailboat in a crucified position with the heavens beaming down on her body, which then dissolves to an otherworldly shot of brother Peter also naked and in a Christ-like position standing in front of a completely white background. Indeed, director Craven seems to be implying the old real heaven is hedonism. While sailing on her somewhat small sailboat ‘The Mystique,’ Angela falls overboard and almost drowns, but luckily two bourgeois degenerates, Celeste (Helen Madigan of Jonas Middleton’s Illusions of a Lady (1974) and Radley Metzger’s Naked Came the Stranger (1975)) and her seemingly mute boy toy, salvage her from the water and the three begin a menage a trios involving banal barnyard buggery and communal cocksucking which the protagonist blasphemously describes as “some sort of communion between us.” In what is easily the most degenerate scene of the film, Angela is brutally raped by a rather repulsive redneck fisherman credited as ‘Fisherman in Red’ (Lefty Cooper), who sexually pillages the young lady on ice covered with dead fish (I don’t want to give Craven too much credit, but it seems he was attempting a pornographic pun with this scene, thus demonstrating the director’s graduate degree came in handy). After raping Angela, the red-coated redneck flicks his cum at her, calls her a “cunt”, and then adds insult to injury by asking her, “you liked it, didn’t you?”
Of course, even with all the physical, emotional, and sexual trauma she has suffered, Angela still cannot get over her brother and his cock, though she has some pretty perturbing nightmares involving her bro, Ms. Walters, and the redneck fisherman beating her. By simply taking a bath, Angela seems to be cleansed of her trauma and proceeds to diddle herself while thinking about being penetrated by her brother Peter’s peter. Meanwhile, Peter suffers a highly sensual nightmare involving his sister giving him a blow job while she is sporting a medieval monk outfit. Eventually, Angela begins being stalked by a sneering and seemingly pernicious cigar-smoking degenerate named Nicholas Burns (director Wes Craven), who has actually been secretly following her around for the entire movie in a top hat, although he is dressed in plain clothes when he approaches the protagonist. To get her brother's attention, Angela decides to hold a party involving the congregation of Peter’s church. Of course, the Svengali-like character played by Mr. Craven calls Peter to let him know about his sister’s swinging fuck-fest and then laughs afterwards in a maniacal manner not that unlike Freddy Krueger. After seeing his completely unclad sister being communally groped by about a dozen or so equally unclad people (including porn chic’s leading Semitic screen psychopath Jamie Gillis), Peter decides to throw away the cloth and sail away to paradise with his sister. In a quite fitting end twist, it is revealed that Peter’s fat old priest mentor who partially influenced him to quit the church and get with his sister is really the seemingly demonic character played by Craven.
Undoubtedly, it seems auteur Wes Craven’s anti-Catholic Baptism upbringing suited him well when it came to directing a fuck flick that seems to rejoice in mocking Catholicism, but more importantly, it demonstrates that the auteur is a much darker dude than most of his largely horrendous and unintentionally hokey horror films would have us believe. After all, NYC crackhead auteur Abel Ferrara has no problem owning up to the fact that his first feature was the hardcore flick 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy which, unlike Craven’s film, features the director engaging in some rather kitschy unsimulated action (not to mention the fact that Ferrara also sports a goofy grey wig). Indeed, as the mensch responsible for such mediocre garbage as Invitation to Hell (1984), The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), and My Soul to Take (2010), among other largely worthless and weak mainstream garbage, Craven certainly has nothing to really be ashamed of with The Fireworks Woman, which is essentially a slightly above average and shockingly original and well directed work from the porn chic era. One thing I found particularly interesting about the horror auteur’s somewhat idiosyncratic blue movie is that most of the ‘adult performers’ in the film also worked with the Amero Brothers, whose early experimental psychedelic-gothic fuck flick Bacchanale (1971) starring blonde dime-store diva Uta Erickson, seems to have not only influenced The Fireworks Woman in terms of its central sister-brother incest theme, but also Craven’s subsequently surrealist horror works, most specifically A Nightmare on Elm Street, which contains dark and shadowy nightmare realms as haunted by an ominous figure with discernibly dubious motives. Of course, more than anything, Craven’s fuck flick proves that superior pornographers like the Amero Brothers and Cecil Howard could just as likely have entered the mainstream had things worked out for them differently. In its own way, The Fireworks Woman is more of an ‘auteurist’ work, as it reveals more about Craven and his vices, fetishes, religious views, and political views than Scream (1996), thus making it mandatory viewing for both fans and anti-fans alike of mainstream horror cinema’s biggest unholy whore. Of course, any fuck flick directed by Wes Craven and featuring Jamie Gillis—the virtual David Hess of the Golden Age of Porn—is also mandatory viewing for any semi-serious subversive cinephile. Certainly, The Fireworks Woman has given me a new found respect for Craven, though I guess that does not say much considering I see the filmmaker as one of the most shamelessly money-motivated men of the horror genre as a clearly talented fellow who has a pathetic propensity for churning out vapid celluloid swill with his name on it despite being responsible for directing some of the most recognizable horror and exploitation films of his zeitgeist.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:35 PM
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