Monday, March 20, 2017

Nightdreams 2 / Nightdreams 3 (1991)

Although there had been adult films that came before it that cross pollinated sex with elements of the fantasy and horror genres such as The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) and Through the Looking Glass (1976), Nightdreams (1981) was nevertheless a watershed film for the adult medium. Proving just how imaginative an adult film could be, Nightdreams also introduced the cult film world to Stephen Sayadian who, under the pseudonym “Rinse Dream” penned Nightdreams along with Jerry Stahl (“Herbert W. Day”). In a strange way, Sayadian's sheer originality was a bit of a detriment at first as the fusing of sex and surrealism found in Nightdreams wasn't exactly what adult theater attendees wanted to see at the time. While introducing a screening of the film at the 2013 L'Étrange Festival, Sayadian joked that a projectionist who played the film once told him that it was the only time in porn history that audience members actually demanded a refund. While Nightdreams is appropriately considered the first Rinse Dream movie, Sayadian technically didn't direct the film as Francis Delia (“F.X. Pope”) called the action while Sayadian prepared the next set piece. Following his only non-adult feature Dr. Caligari (1989), Sayadian returned to the realm of Nightdreams, this time directing two sequels that retained the spirit of the original film as well as signaling what was to come with the rest of his 90's video output.

The first of Sayadian's 90's videos, Nightdreams 2 is an interesting watch as it more or less sees Sayadian finding his footing with the approach he would take in subsequent films. While “restrained” is hardly the right word, compared to later videos like Party Doll a Go-Go! (1991) and Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West (1993), Nightdreams 2 feels like somewhat of a trial run at times while still fitting in with the rest of Sayadian's filmography. It might be the farthest thing from “conventional”, however in the vein of the original Nightdreams the film revolves around the common narrative thread of doctors Sledge (Lauren Brice) and Haunt (Joey Silvera) observing the fantasies of inmates at their clinic, the star patient being one Mrs. Atkins (Tianna). Whereas Sayadian would develop a habit for interrupting the sex scenes in later films with random bits of nonsense, here Sayadian lets the sex scenes run their course uninterrupted for the most part, only cutting away on occasion to the astonished reactions of Sledge and Haunt. While the quirks that would become the calling cards of Sayadian's video features are in their embryonic stages here, the film is still a bombardment of surrealism, featuring one of the most bizarre sex scenes in Sayadian's oeuvre with two participants dawning strange masks and face paint and the film even crosses over into full-blown Cronenbergian body horror territory with a manic Tianna displaying an extra orifice ala Cronenberg's Rabid (1977) plus an unforgettable enlargement on another region of her person.

Nightdreams 3 is an even more narrative based endeavor and at times portions of the film could be seen as an XXX variation on Dr. Caligari. Lauren Brice once again is Dr. Sledge, who's unorthodox methods of treating the various sexual neurosis of her patients at the Benway clinic have drawn the unwanted attention of her supervisor Dr. Sirk (Tianna). Its here where Sayadian's unconventional approach to the adult video format really begins to take shape with the sex scenes constantly interrupted by disorienting repeated bits of dialogue from previous scenes and much like the previous film, as well as Dr. Caligari, any resemblance to realism is tossed out the window from the beginning with Sayadian's impeccable post-nuclear chic dayglo production design making the “clinics” both films take place in resemble the remnants of an atomic fall out. Being more narrative driven allows for longer breaks in-between the sex scenes, resulting in an excellent turn from the imposing Brice who gets much more to do here as Dr. Sledge than in the second film, including a hilarious pre-sex bit with a hysterically overacting Tom Byron which again is reminiscent of a scene out of Dr. Caligari. Sayadian's irreverent sense of humor shines through on numerous occasions via the always memorable dialogue with lines like “Your a cupcake full of strychnine” and “She's got a thing for longshoreman. Just mention “On the Waterfront” and she gets randy-pants” as well as his habit of giving his characters Manson family surnames, like Fromme, Krenwinkel and Van Houten.

The opening credits to both films reveal a list of names, or rather pseudonyms, that would become a constant throughout the rest of Sayadian's video era. Key players include producer “Sidney Falco”(nom de plume taken from the 1957 film noir Sweet Smell of Success), hair and make-up artist “Purr Delux”, director of photography “Klaus Krupp” and costume designer “Polly Ester” who was also the costume designer for Sayadian's directorial debut Cafe Flesh (1982). Tianna and Tom Byron would also go on to work with Sayadian again with Tianna providing some of the most memorable moments in both Party Doll a Go-Go! videos and Byron also appearing in the Party Doll videos as well as the first Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West video. Perhaps the most valuable of Sayadian's reoccurring collaborators would be Double Vision, who's score for Party Doll a Go-Go! is a major part of what makes those videos so brilliant, provide some of their finest, most hypnotizing work for the second and third Nightdreams films, particularly the third film. Unfortunately, like the rest of Sayadian's 90's videos, the pair of Nightdreams films can be tricky to track down having never been officially issued on DVD and neither may attain the following of the first Nightdreams film, however both are essential pieces to the Sayaidan puzzle showcasing the origins of Sayadian's radical approach to adult videos that he would soon perfect.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Party Doll a Go-Go! (1991)

A go-to, and somewhat overused way to describe the work of filmmakers who work in or around the fringes of genre is how said artists “transcend” genre. For instance the films of David Lynch, Walerian Borowczyk or Andrzej Zulawski, filmmakers who's influences result in films with visions so entirely singular the films essentially become they're very own genre. Perhaps no other filmmaker fits that criteria better than Stephen Sayadian. The first film to come from Sayadian's headspace under the nom de plume “Rinse Dream”, Nightdreams (1981), a film so unlike any other adult film that came before it, alienated adult theater patrons so much the film failed as an adult film yet found its champions in the art crowd. Sayadian's divisive streak would continue with the now legendary Cafe Flesh (1982), which again frustrated the raincoat crowd unprepared for Sayadian's colorful post-apocalyptic fusion of sex and sci-fi, however the film quickly gained a following as a midnight movie and is more likely to be mentioned alongside the likes of Pink Flamingos (1972) or Eraserhead (1977) rather than Deep Throat (1972) or Debbie Does Dallas (1978). Following his only non-hardcore feature Dr. Caligari (1989), Sayadian turned his attention to the adult video market and let loose with six highly unusual videos, potentially even more maddening than his early films to anyone expecting typical adult fare with Party Doll a Go-Go! being the crown jewel.

Almost playing out like a video experiment more than an actual movie, Party Doll a Go-Go! finds Sayadian taking the cliched popular consensus of what an adult video is, all sex and no plot, and brilliantly contorting it into this lunatic creation bound to confuse as opposed to titillate. Sayadian has gone on record saying that eroticism was never a main goal for him which might seem like an odd mindset going into an adult film, yet its exactly what makes Party Doll a Go-Go! and the rest of Sayadian's video work that followed so unique. The film may be built around five random sex scenes but Sayadian disposes with any set-up, presenting the sex without context, thereby eliminating the fantasy element making any eroticism purely incidental based on how attractive anyone viewing the film finds the performers. While making the sex the least interesting aspect of an adult feature would be enough to set Party Doll apart from every other adult video, what makes the film such an innovative and memorable watch is everything else Sayadian peppers the film with, from the delirious editing with numerous instances of repetition, to Sayadian's always highly innovative, almost baroque production design. Without question though the films biggest strength is the writing, with the pre-sex skits and Sayadian's routine interrupting of the sex scenes, with the performers offering hilariously witty commentary, breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience, spouting some of the most ingeniously absurd and endlessly quotable dialogue ever uttered on film or videotape.

The same freewheeling, nonsensical irreverence is carried over into Party Doll a Go-Go! Part 2 with some slight adjustments to the sex scene pairings and and even more off the wall pre-sex vignettes. Opening with Jeanna Fine frantically fishing for an “artificial man-thing” (a dildo being dangled in front of her on a wire) while Madison and Tianna comment in astonishment “Did you see that Cecil disappear? Talk about lost in space!” and featuring a vignette where Tianna manically gyrates due to her being unable to “turn off the wiggle” while Madison pleads with the other party dolls to give advice, leading to such suggestions as “Electroshock therapy?” and “Load up the RV and head for corn country!”, Sayadian turns up both the wiggle and the frivolity for the second video. The lively banter between the performers is ever present as well, and the second video in particular makes use of the tongue placed firmly in cheek innuendos and euphemisms that would feature prominently in Sayadian's video works, gut-busting terms like “special tingle”, “lucky spasm”, “boy jerky”, “girl biscuit” and “girl homo”. Both videos also benefit greatly from the finest ensemble Sayadian ever had at his disposal featuring the likes of Patricia Kennedy, Bionca, Raven, Nikki Wilde, Peter North, Randy Spears and Tom Byron alongside the aforementioned Jeanna Fine, Madison and Tianna. All are clearly enjoying doing something so different, particulary Madison and Tianna, who own the dialogue delivery and in a way could be seen as the defacto hostesses of both videos.

As if the two videos didn't already have enough going for them by way of the enthusiastic performances, flamboyant production design and kooky dialogue, another one of the films strongest selling points is the incredible soundtrack courtesy of Double Vision, sounding like an alien variation of one of the soundtracks to a 60's surf/beach party film. The films main theme even sounds like a riff on The Ventures take on the classic instrumental “Walk Don't Run”. The pieces accompanying each scene along with the occasional vocal heard in some of the tracks just further emphasize the not of this planet vibe of both videos. Really the only negative thing regarding both Party Doll a Go-Go! videos are their unfortunate current home video status, with the double feature DVD issued by the now defunct VCA, who also distributed the two videos upon their initial VHS releases as well as both films on laserdisc, is long out of print and commands unjustifiably high prices. While NightdreamsCafe Flesh and Dr. Caligari have their places in cult film history firmly secured, Sayadian's later video work remains woefully neglectged. Being Sayadian features, both Party Doll a Go-Go! videos have the distinction of being niche films in an already niche realm, however adventurous viewers willing to celebrate Sayadian's strange aesthetic should have no trouble rightfully hailing both Party Doll a Go-Go! features as the mischievous masterpieces both are.