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A film review by James Gardiner

It may seem far away now, but many still remember the nostalgic pull of the movie theater. From the intoxicating aroma of movie theater butter to the feel of one’s feet peeling from the movie theater floor, it doesn’t take much to bring me back to a time when the doorway to another world was just a screen away. When the theater lights dimmed and the projector came to life, that doorway opened, and I could let myself step inside. And of course, a horror movie comes along that puts a ridiculous but gory spin on it. That movie is Porno

In a small-town movie theater in 1992, there’s a double feature of Encino Man and In a League of Their Own, but a group of prudish young people find a very different film in a sealed-off room. After the manager and customers go home for the night, they play this film and release a succubus (Katelynn Pierce) trapped within the celluloid. This succubus uses her knowledge of temptation to try and capture the souls of these kids, or at least explode a testicle or two. Now these God-fearing young people are locked in the theater with the succubus and must survive the night with souls and genitalia intact. During this dark night of their souls, secrets will be revealed, innocence will be lost, and some jokes that make Porky’s seem like high art will be told. 

This movie is lightyears away from Hereditary and The Lighthouse. In fact, horror icon Joe Bob Briggs would likely show this movie at his Drive-In. The movie does recall a late-night grindhouse sensibility that’s more reminiscent of horror in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The movie that the succubus is trapped in reveals that director Keola Racela has watched his fair share of Dario Argento and Hammer films. Porno earns it TV-MA rating not by being particularly disturbing but by not being afraid to delve deep into its exploitation roots. Blood, including meaty explosions, are used generously. And fans of Cinemax late night may be titillated by the amount of frontal nudity, both male and female, that this picture provides. Chills and thrills are ignored in favor of shock and schlock in this film. 

The young people who must navigate this bloody, naked landscape seem like they’ve come from a plethora of ‘80s and ‘90s movies. There’s level-headed assistant manager Chastity, or Chaz (played by Jillian Mueller), who’s pining for star athlete Ricky (Glenn Scott), who is not reciprocating because he has a secret that isn’t really a secret. There’s Todd and Abe (Evan Daves and Larry Saperstein), two best friends who seem preoccupied with sex despite the crowd they hang out with. Finally, there’s elder-by-a-few-years projectionist Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tan), who offers up self-help and Christian platitudes that were pulled straight from an afterschool special. The main characters have varying degrees of likability. Some likable ones include Chaz, who shows herself to be capable in her role as assistant theater manager in a very unusual situation, and Ricky, trying to reconcile his faith with his sexuality. The most annoying is Heavy Metal Jeff, who seems to only exist in this film to succumb to the succubus after espousing the superiority of his straight-edge lifestyle. 

One of the issues that befall many horror comedies is they often struggle to find a proper balance, often pinballing madly between horror and comedy to the point that viewers don’t know whether to scream or guffaw. Too funny, and the viewers don’t know when to be afraid. Too scary, and the funny moments are completely incongruous with the rest of the film. This problem shows up in Porno, but it’s still a fun scary movie. There are plenty of movies that lined video store shelves in the ‘80s and ‘90s that were more deserving of Razzies than Oscars, and plenty more boundary-pushing gore films that Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. If this movie does one thing well, it leans into its late 20th century nostalgia, channeling the Satanic Panic and similar movements into some great social commentary on the phenomenon. 

Yes, there is a demon in this movie, but it’s not God that saves the day but more the kids’ resourcefulness and determination. In truth, the so-called adults espousing strong Christian values, especially the theatre’s manager, reveal themselves to be well-intentioned but clueless at best and straight-up hypocrites at worst. This moment could lead to a crisis of faith for perhaps more devout characters, but these theatre employees eventually band together not through the power of Christ but with the power of friendship. They see the importance of sticking together in the face of demonic temptation. 

Porno may not be high art, it might be uneven, and it may not be laugh-out-loud funny or horrifying, but there is a bloody, beating heart of nostalgia in this little film. Viewers may have had to deal with workplace crushes like Ricky or annoying know-it-alls like Jeff. They may empathize with the characters who slowly realize that the world is bigger and scarier than what pastors or any adult authority figures might tell them. If you’ve ever sat in a theatre, as I have, and watched a substandard movie, yet had yourself a good time immersing yourself in the movie experience, Porno might be a good Friday night watch, along with a tub of artificially buttered popcorn. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reviewer

James Gardiner is a voracious reader and devourer of all things HORROR. Follow James on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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