Is That A Severed Arm In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me? Horror Goes X-Rated

Exploring the symbiotic relationship between horror and adult movies.

The worlds of adult filmmaking and horror cinema may not immediately look like two siblings separated at birth but their similarities are like two halves of the same blood cell. Both are genres often spurned and mocked by the mainstream, though their commercialism wins begrudging respect. Both genres have thrived on low budgets that can generate vast profits, both have been attacked for corrupting the youth and have subsequently suffered from censorship and media-driven moral panics. Most notably,  both are designed at their most basic to elicit an emotional and primal response in the viewer – fear and sexual arousal. Unsurprisingly, as much as they have traditionally been despised by critics, both genres have garnered a hugely loyal fan following as a result of their cultural outsider status. There’s another connection. Both genres offer an alternative route to stardom for performers, even if that journey stops with a few cranky appearances in some straight-to-DVD gore-ghastly or a few dozen anal-gape epics.

Dozens of porn stars have now crossed into horror and most ‘scream queens’ of the 1980s and 1990s flirted at the very least with softcore, stripping and fetish videos, while several have X-rated pasts that they may or may not be happy to talk about. Adult stars like Ginger Lynn (Allen), Ashlyn Gere, Veronica Hart, Sharon Mitchell, Abigail Clayton, Samantha Fox, Teri Weigel,  and several others made their way across genres via the work of director Chuck Vincent, who successfully transitioned from hardcore to softcore, comedy, horror and action in the 1980s and admirably took many of the people that he worked with in the XXX world along with him for films like Deranged and If Looks Could Kill. Leading the way for all of them was Marilyn Chambers, who had the lead role in David Cronenberg’s 1977 shocker Rabid and, on the strength of her performance in that, should’ve gone on to bigger things – but the world was against her and she was never quite able to transcend her past. Cronenberg was famously thrown out of his apartment by his landlady after news of him working with Chambers hit the Canadian press, showing just how much moral stigma was in force even during the height of ‘porno chic’. Around the same time in France, where there was less moral finger-wagging at work, Brigitte Lahaie moved from porn to horror via the movies of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco (both of whom had also directed porn and so were probably more sympathetic to the talents of the performers) and then into mainstream success.

And to show that it’s not just the ladies who made the shift, Robert Kerman – aka R. Bolla – made a curious movie from American hardcore to Italian extreme horror, becoming the king of the cannibal movie thanks to appearances in Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive. Kerman had a long career in mainstream movies, often in blink-and-you’ll-miss-him roles, one surpassed only by the infamous Ron Jeremy, whose bloody-minded determination to work outside porn – while still making several hardcore films a year – saw him appear in small and big-budget Hollywood films alike, though he was cut out of as many films as he appeared in – producers and studios being less inclined to have an instantly recognisable porn star in their movies as directors were – and his ambitions eventually collapsed when he was arrested on multiple rape and sexual assault charges.

Jeremy’s rejection by film studios is not an uncommon fate for porn stars who try to go mainstream. Traci Lords is an exception, though her transition occurred after she had effectively ostracized the entire adult industry by lying about her age and leaving key producers and distributors open to prosecution for child pornography. She had no choice but to move on and by disowning her past and claiming to have been exploited, she was seen as suitably repentant by the hypocritical Hollywood establishment, and would appear in titles like Not of This Earth and The Tommyknockers before settling into a solid mainstream acting career that has taken in everything from Blade to The Princess of Mars.

And then there is the biggest adult movie star of the 1990s – perhaps the final era of the true adult movie superstar – Jenna Jameson. By the Nineties, porn was changing – no longer illegal, it was starting to produce real stars and some studios were making millions of dollars, and having successfully clambered up porn’s jizzum-covered pole, Jameson set about consolidating and exploiting her name and body in ways once the preserve of mainstream celebrities. However successful she might have been in positioning herself as a bona fide celebrity, Jameson was still a pornstar and so was unlikely to ever cross over to Disney movies when she decided to move on from hardcore. In an attempt to cross into the mainstream, she chose horror, though initially with little more success than her less famous sisters. Her first vehicle was a confused gorerotic title called Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain, which probably holds the record for the highest number of porn stars to star in a horror movie, also featuring Ginger Lynn Allan, Chasey Lain and Taylor Hayes, all with heaving blood splattered bosoms.

Not that it mattered to Jameson of course, whose career into mainstream superstardom was continuing at breakneck speed with appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and features in Vanity Fair magazine. Within a few years, Jameson was back in horror, this time in the hugely successful and knowingly trashy Zombie Strippers, with A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Robert Englund and alt. rock star Roxy Saint, where she does what she does best, stripping off and eating flesh. The audiences loved it, so much so that Jameson was soon back in horror again, this time with William Shatner in Horrorween, billed as “the world’s first viral horror movie”. None of this is great art, but it shows that there is a route from porn to a sort of mainstream. Notably though, Jameson never quite managed to make it out of porn – while she might have been as famous as many a mainstream celebrity, that didn’t translate into mainstream acting work. Producers remained cautious about employing porn stars other than as naked extras and playing porn stars, strippers and sex workers. Low-budget horror – less concerned with maintaining an air of respectability – seems to be the only place where adult performers are welcomed.

Horror has actually mixed sex and violence for decades, from Hammer Glamour to Jess Franco and Jean Rollin’s forays into dark erotic horror. Fear and sex have long been uneasy bedfellows with pornography’s graphic pleasures constantly hinted at or used to tease and entice the viewer. The mixing of horror with strong sexual content is never been a comfortable mix for the censorial, stirring as it does too many conflicting and disturbing emotions – and for this reason, it is an area that, while not entirely taboo, was rarely ventured into after the anything-goes days of the 1970s when movies ranging from Dracula Sucks to Widow Blue pushed at the boundaries that separated the two genres. Adult horror movies of the 1980s tended to be lightweight spoofs and satires, avoiding any actual sense of horror for fear of giving the moralisers more ammunition.

More recently though, we’ve seen impressive X-rated gothic horror movies like Vampyres, Dark Angels and Pornogothic, adult spoofs of Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street and other cult classics and more twisted affairs from online distributors like HorrorPorn as fans of those films grow up and enter the porn industry, wanting to remake or reference their favourite horror movies.

One of those filmmakers is Joanna Angel, the New York producer, businesswoman and Alt. pornstar, whose gruesome porn films XXXorcist and Re-Penetrator once looked briefly set to ignite a whole new horror porn craze, with genuine gore effects and full-on genital action, double-penetration scenes and green cum slime. While these two horror-porn crossovers did not spawn a resurgence of similar goregasm material, they did help propel Angel towards the mainstream with softcore versions of these films that, like Axel Braun’s superhero parodies that followed them, received the sort of mainstream coverage that would be unthinkable for more generic adult movies.

The porn film that really broke the rules though was Rob Rotten’s Porn of the Dead, mixing Fulciesque levels of gore with full-on sex with the result that viewers could get turned on seeing someone get sucked off one minute and be in danger of throwing up the next, as the fellatio-loving zombie girl bit the man’s penis off. Such decidedly unerotic moments abounded, making Porn of the Dead almost unwatchable. Rotten followed up with The Texas Vibrator Massacre, which offered such an extreme mix of sex and violence that the BBFC refused it an R18 certificate, worried that allowing explicit sex and graphic gore to exist side-by-side would warp the minds of potential viewers.

While mainstream horror has generally eschewed its erotic connections in more recent years – with nudity increasingly seen as unacceptably exploitative by the new generation of filmmakers – there will always be those in the adult industry who have a love for the genre and a desire to bring the two sides of forbidden filmmaking together. The worlds of sex and horror are not quite ready to go their own way just yet.

(additional reporting: David Flint)

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