Just how much you love Porky’s depends, I suspect, on how old you were when you first saw it. I can definitely see that if you watched this as a teenager – particularly in the pre-internet days – you’d probably think it was the raunchiest thing imaginable, and certain scenes would burn themselves into your memory, to be called back during moments of nocturnal stress relief, and as such you might genuine believe this to be the greatest film ever made. Although I was in my mid-teens when the film was released, I didn’t catch up with it for a few years, and by that time I’d worked my way through assorted Golden Age porno classics, softcore dramas, sex comedies like H.OT.S. and others of the 1970s, and to be honest, a bush-heavy shower scene didn’t seem like the height of sexual daringness to me. So I’ve never quite understood the adulation that the film is held in by others. But when it came to rewatching the film a few years ago, to my surprise I could see a lot to enjoy. I still don’t think it’s a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but as a lightweight, episodic coming of age comedy, the film is a lot better than it needs to be.
The main story running through the film is the eternal desire of teenage boys to get laid. Pee Wee (Dan Monahan), Tommy (Wyatt Knight), Mickey (Roger Wilson), Meat (Tony Ganios) and Billy (Mark Herrier) are the main horny characters, who we first see being set up for humiliation with an older woman and then heading out of town to strip joint / brothel Porky’s, where they are robbed and humiliated by the chubby, sleazy owner (Chuck Mitchell) and the local sheriff (Alex Karras), who just happens to be Porky’s brother. Mickey takes this especially badly, and despite the discouragement of the others and his own sheriff brother Ted (Art Hindle), keeps returning to the club to get his revenge, being more severely beaten up each time until finally, he is hospitalised and his friends decide to take revenge on Porky in spectacular fashion.
Within this framing story, we get several sub-plots and incidents – there’s Pee Wee being tormented/flirting with allegedly promiscuous Wendy (Kaki Hunter), a phone prank involving asking if anyone has seen “Mike Hunt”, a moment of seriousness featuring anti-semitism aimed at Brian (Scott Colomby) that also leads to a confrontation with an abusive ex-con father, The secret of why Miss Honeywell (Kim Catrell) is nicknamed Lassie (revealed in a comedic sex scene and not exactly the world’s biggest surprise!) and of course, the legendary shower scene, where the boys spy on the girls after gym class, and when caught go for broke with Tommy sticking his penis through the peephole – only for gargantuan and humourless female coach Beaulah Balbricker to grab it and engage in a dramatic tug of war, leading to the film’s funniest moment, a meeting in the principle’s office where she demands a naked line-up of students so she can identify the offending ‘tallywhacker’.
This set-up of a central plot boosted by a number of comedic (and occasionally dramatic) incidents, together with the early 1960s setting, is rather reminiscent of Lemon Popsicle, the Israeli sex comedy that was coincidentally remade the same year that Porky’s was released as The Last American Virgin. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Porky’s is an imitation of that superior film – Bob Clark, who made his name with impressive horror films like Deathdream and Murder By Decree, but who had his biggest hit with this film, maintained that much of it was inspired by his own teenage years, and I don’t doubt that he was telling the truth. But the similarities in structure are interesting. Of course, both Popsicle and Virgin took a decidedly dark turn in their narrative, while Porky’s, by and large, avoids that – yes, the issues over racism are handled with due seriousness, but you know that it will all end well, with lessons learned, if only because no mainstream American movie was going to have one of its sympathetic leads remain a bigot for too long – and the tone here is light and happy.
Thankfully, the movie’s main characters are easy to like – no one is an utter ass (modern teen horror films, take note) and even when they are behaving like idiots, you don’t find them annoying. These are a good-natured, if continually horny bunch of kids (and watching period films like this, we are reminded that despite what some politicians and newspapers would like you to think, sexual thoughts among teenagers actually did occur before internet porn came along) and their interactions seem authentic. It’s notable that despite some criticism, the film isn’t really very sexist at all – Wendy might (or might not) be promiscuous, but she’s not portrayed in a negative way at all, instead being entirely likeable and sweet, and the boys certainly don’t see the girls as second class citizens or behave in a sexist way towards them – they just want to see them naked. Kim Catrell’s character – a bundle of sexual teasing and provocation who is probably the sexiest thing in the movie, doing more erotically just by bending over than the rest of the girls do in their infamous nude scene – is also allowed to fight back against the prudish and bitter Balbricker when she is accused of being morally loose and a bad influence. Despite what you might have been led to believe, this is a film that stands up for women’s sexuality rather than condemning it.
Of course, watched now, it’s a stark reminder of how much nudity – male and female – was allowed in R-rated movies back then. If it was made today, you suspect Porky’s would be slapped with an NC-17 rating. And the joyful sexuality of the film is in stark contrast to the sour-faced attitudes towards sex we see across much of society these days. Even if it didn’t have a period setting, Porky’s would feel like a relic of the past now.
This clearly isn’t a film of substance. Unlike The Last American Virgin, it’s a film that doesn’t surprise. But then, there’s no real reason why it should. Porky’s is basically a feel-fun, sexy teen comedy that you’d have to be especially miserable to find offensive, and three decades on, it’s probably still a great party film.