Fantasia 2019: “Porno” Goes For The Crotch

The horror comedy tackles sexual repression amidst plenty of penis gore.

(This review is part of our coverage of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.)

Porno, director Keola Racela‘s feature film debut, has the kind of logline that horror thrives on: five teens are trapped in an independent movie theatre after they unwittingly release a succubus from a haunted porn film. As the creature begins to stalk them, preying on their unspoken carnal desires, the group must fight back before they lose their lives…or at least their genitalia.

It’s patently ridiculous, but the script (by Racela’s pals Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli) plays the premise mostly straight. The icing on the cake is, of course, that the kids are deeply religious, which offers Porno plenty of opportunities to explore the repercussions that emerge when repression, denial and sexual urges intersect.

The film opens with a cursory establishing scene that introduces best friends Abe (Evan Daves) and Todd (Larry Saperstein) as they spy on Abe’s neighbors having sex. Todd insists that they leave before they’re late for work, prompting Abe to reluctantly accompany him by bike to the theatre where owner Mr. Pike (Bill Phillips) is waiting for them so that they can pray before the theatre opens.

Like a number of clever, streamlined scripts, Pike’s mini-sermon provides exposition on each of the characters, including Todd’s “delinquent” behavior, Chastity (Jillian Mueller)’s promotion to assistant manager and her crush on Ricky (Glenn Stott), who has recently returned from camp. Finally, there is slightly older projectionist Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann), whose apt devotion to Pike’s every word and uninformed opinions about nearly everything provide most of the film’s humor.

Porno excels in its delicate balance of gore and comedy.

Once all of the customers have been evicted, the gang settles in to hold a private screening (1992 choices include Encino Man and A League Of Their Own). Plans immediately go awry, however, when a drunken old hobo (Peter Reznikoff) infiltrates the theatre, crashes through a hidden wall and leads the group into an abandoned basement theatre replete with vintage porn posters, burned demonic texts and abandoned film reels. When they return topside, the man has escaped outside so the teens pressure Jeff to let them watch a film whose glowing canister caught Abe’s attention, accidentally unleashing the naked woman — and succubus — Lillith (Katelyn Pearce) from the screen into the theatre.

Porno excels in its delicate balance of gore and comedy. Jeff’s repeated refrains about the dangers of porn, vices, and sex frequently verge on hysterical, and his opinions are hilariously uninformed. The true source of comedy, however, is the practical prosthetics used for Lillith’s victims, who tend to fall under her spell and lose their jewels in spectacularly icky fashion. In these instances, red lighting clouds their vision as they see an imagined ideal sexual partner and then <poof> their penis or testicle has been ripped off or exploded. The (sometimes extended) close-ups of the crotch trauma are amazingly disgusting and easily the film’s greatest selling feature. The score, by Carla Patullo, is suitably eerie, with lilting vocals illustrating Lillith’s hold on the film itself.

Alas, the film struggles with its script and pacing, particularly in the film’s latter half. The influence of Lillith’s powers is inconsistently applied as some characters appear more easily duped than others. At one point the group realizes that one character is missing, and after a throwaway line, the absence is ignored for at least ten minutes, and one attack sequence, until finding him becomes a priority again. Later events come to a head in what appears to be the climax, only for the action to be extended for an additional ten minutes of confrontation. These inconsistencies belie the screenplay’s lack of polish and the result is a film that moves in fits and stops and seemingly loses track of its own internal logic.

As much fun as the blood and viscera is, Porno is ultimately built on a foundation of self-discovery, acknowledgment, and acceptance of their individual sexual hang-ups. It’s an unexpectedly meaningful journey, even if the revelations themselves are not especially surprising. It helps that the performances by the young cast are uniformly good and that the characters, even when they are making bad decisions, are likable and ring true.

Porno is a dirty and amusing film filled with good characters and a fun premise. Despite some hiccups in the script and inconsistencies in the success of some of the humor, it’s an enjoyable little horror flick.

Porno Trailer:

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