Pirates Of San Fernando Valley

These swash-buckling epics represent the last gasp of ambitious adult cinema.

Pirates caused something of a storm in the adult industry when released back in 2006, setting a new standard for the dying artform of big-budget, high concept hardcore and arguably spawning the new generation of porn parodies. The first adult movie in decades to be re-edited for an R-rating and given a theatrical release, this alleged $1 million production successfully showed what needed to be done to combat the threat of the tube sites – namely, making something that bedroom amateurs couldn’t compete with, and producing a film that can cross-over beyond the traditional XXX marketplace.

While obviously inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean, Pirates sets itself apart from the parodies that followed by at least having an original plot. Pirate Captain Victor Stagnetti (Tommy Gunn) kidnaps just-married Manuel Venezuela (Kris Slater), the descendent of Incans who have hidden away some sort of magical sceptre that only he can locate. Chasing them down are pirate hunters Captain Edward Reynolds (Evan Stone, channelling William Shatner) – a rather incompetent blowhard – and his first mate Jules (Jesse Jane). After the rescue of Manuel’s bride Isabella (Carmen Luvana), thrown to the sharks by Stagnetti, they follow the villain to a secret island where the two forces do battle.

There’s no arguing with the fact that Pirates is a pretty impressive effort. With sumptuous sets and costumes, a huge cast and some decent – not spectacular but efficient -CGI (the Jason and the Argonauts-inspired living skeletons are particularly impressive, and it’s a pity that such cool monsters are pretty much thrown away in the story), this could easily be a better-than-average SyFy movie if you took out the sex (as the R-rated cut did). You might choose to question the authenticity of virginal brides who have distinctly modern tattoos and implants, but the film isn’t taking itself too seriously anyway, so such anomalies can be accepted.

As you’d expect, the acting is variable. Stone is amusing as the egotistical but inexperienced Captain, Steven St. Croix is effective in a small role and Gunn is suitably unsavoury as Stagnetti, complete with his blind eye and gold teeth. The female cast is less effective – Jesse Jane just about manages to deliver her dialogue effectively but looks way too much like a modern porn star to convince as a sailor, and Janine, who I’ve seen give decent performances before, seems strangely one-dimensional. Carmen Luvana does her best but seems a little wooden while acting, and visibly relaxes during the sex scenes.

And the sex scenes come at regular intervals and are as raunchy as you’d expect. Luvana and Jenaveve Jolie probably have the best scene, a lesbian encounter surrounded by cheering pirates that oozes with genuine passion – something so rare in mainstream porn that you really notice it. The rest of the cast give their all too, with the Jesse Jane showing why she was cast – her sex scenes are as filthy as you could hope for, though I’m not convinced that a better actress might not have been equally impressive.

This film set a new standard for modern erotic cinema, and its success – not to mention the requirement to make the most of the costly costumes and props – led to the inevitable sequel. Of course, if you’re going to make a follow-up to what was proclaimed to be the biggest adult movie production of all time, then you really have to go one better. And so Digital Playground and director Joone deserve praise for this sprawling epic that manages to outstrip its predecessor on pretty much every level.

Picking up from the end of Pirates, this sequel sees Edward Reynolds and Jules once again setting sail to track down another nefarious pirate in exchange for a pardon being granted to ex-pirate Serena, who has been arrested and is facing execution (a good way of writing Janine, who was.. erm… ‘indisposed’… out of the story). They are joined by Serena’s cousin Olivia (Belladonna) and set out in search of the fiendish Xiefeng (Katsuni), who we first see killing the Archbishop of Canterbury (!) with a weirdly icky sea slug in order to retrieve a magical blue pearl that she intends to use to resurrect the late Captain Stagnetti (Tommy Gunn). Along the way, the pirate hunters are joined by Maria (Sasha Grey) and her crew, as well as the returning Marco (Steven St Croix, as they battle pirates, snake monsters, squid creatures and a horde of living skeletons.

While Pirates was no slouch of a film, this sequel improves on it in all the most important areas – the acting weak links have generally been replaced by better performers, the action is more impressive, the scale of the thing remarkable and the sex scenes are harder and raunchier. The CGI has generally improved too – though the scenes of a computer-generated Belladonna leaping into action against the giant snake monster are cringingly awful. However, the skeletons are well rendered – and, unlike in the first film, get a decent amount of screen time in the climactic battle – and the less obvious CG stuff, like all the backdrops and sets, can’t be knocked. I’ve certainly seen worse on SyFy.

The new additions to the cast are impressive: Shay Jordan is cute and amusing as the romantic nymphomaniac Ai Chow, Sasha Grey impresses in a role that is probably not all that necessary to the story (but essential for the sex scenes), and both Belladonna, always impressive on screen but here swashbuckling like she was born to it, and Katsuni, the most impressive dragon queen I’ve seen in many a year, should’ve had roles in mainstream action adventures after this. And on a personal note, it was nice to see much-missed old buddy David Aaron Clark hamming it up in a cameo as a particularly grubby looking pirate.

As for the sex scenes – well, they come thick and fast and don’t compromise in any way. The scene between Belladonna, Grey and Stone, in particular, is ferocious and raunchy – as potent and hard as you’ll ever see in any less-plot-driven film, but notably not interrupting the narrative in the way that sex scenes in the way that caused many of Axel Braun’s superhero parodies to stumble.

Pirates – Stagnetti’s Revenge steps up to the challenge laid down by the first film and easily outstrips it. If you’re looking for solid, story-led hardcore that can sit alongside any low budget mainstream movie, this is the film for you. If you prefer gonzo style tube clips, it probably isn’t – but in that case, why the hell are you looking at this review in the first place? Ambitious and mostly excellent, this is a superior sequel.

The Pirates films feel very much the last gasp of the ambitious adult movie – sure, there have been glossy narrative films since, but nothing even approaching this scale. For those of us who enjoy adult films with storylines and production values – which ought to be something no stranger than reading erotic fiction, but is still scoffed at by many – both porn haters and porn lovers – the death of this sort of thing feels like a genuine shame.


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    1. The BBFC-approved version is 175m long so that seems unlikely to be accurate. But then, I haven’t seen the UK release and that running time clearly includes extras.

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