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It was a rescue mission; his wife had left him. Well, not really. Mary had accepted a job in Jakarta, of all places, and would be there for several months at least, leaving my friend JB home, alone. And what are friends for, if not to show up in times of stress with words of comfort? And videos of naked women? I am such a friend.

When I arrived at JB’s cozy Reston home, I found him screaming at his computer. Good lord, I thought—I’m too late! Then I saw the snazzy unit—a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion model, number HP6370Z, with an Intel Pentium II 350MHz processor, 96MB SDRAM memory, 9.6GB hard drive, 100MB Zip drive, V.90 56Kflex modem with telephony, one-touch multimedia keyboard, ATI Rage Pro AGP 2x video card, and 8MB SDRAM video memory. Gosh, it’s swell!

JB was screaming at the machine because he had installed IBM ViaVoice98 voice-recognition software, which seemed to be in an unlistening mood. “Will you write the words I tell you?” shouted JB, again and again. “Eilwh you sieht the weyeheh eye slsh you?” responded ViaVoice98—rather petulantly, I thought. It was 30 minutes before I could coax JB out of his computer room and in front of the TV. I piled the latest video offerings on the kitchen counter: a feast of feminine flesh in VHS format.

“I have to tell you,” JB told me, in stern tones, “I consider myself a pornographile, and these things disgust me.” The problem, he explained, is that “real pornography has no story. They just go at it.” That, naturally, is as it should be. “This thing,” he sniffed, waving the box to Vampire Call Girls, “has to have these titillating stories and a moral. So it always disappoints.”

“Of course,” he added, with a slow drag on his cigarette, “you’re talking to a man who’s been faithfully married for 25 years, so what do I know about adventurous sex?”

Well, let’s find out.

VAMPIRE ECSTASY

E.I. Independent Cinema

Slogan: One of the Most Erotic and Provocative Vampire Films Ever Made!

“Wow,” exclaimed JB. “They actually show nipples?” Sometimes they do, I replied with a professional smirk. “Do some of these really show full-frontal nudity?” he asked, hopefully. Ha-ha, my friend, be patient. Be patient. And patience was soon rewarded, as a cabal of nude vixens cavorted in an underground lair. “I think she’s pretty,” JB said of the vampish lass on the cover of the box. “She’s just so striking.” Searching the screen, he asked, “Which one is the cover girl?” Hard to tell. And hard to tell what exactly was supposed to be going on in all the writhing. “Maybe we ought to read the cover and get the plot,” suggested JB, after fast-forwarding through another group grope. Plot: A group of women attempt to bring an evil baroness back from the dead through lesbo orgies. Turns out that Vampire Ecstasy is a classic from the mind of Joseph Sarno, sexploitation pioneer and auteur of more than 200 films. This is the “deluxe collector’s edition” release of the long-sought work, shot in the early ’70s in a castle in Germany (“which means those horses are dead now,” JB shrewdly observed). As the vintage images unreeled before us, JB asked, more in pity than curiosity, “This is what you do for a living?” Well, yeah. “I’d like to see the script to this,” said JB. “‘Now in this scene you are masturbating while talking to Bobby. In this scene, you are masturbating while walking across the hall…’” I’m sure in 1973 the naked witchcraft and phallic candles were quite scandalous. “How much of these things do you usually watch?” JB wanted to know. I think this is plenty. FREEZE-FRAME.

VAMPIRE CALLGIRLS

Burning Moon Home Video

Slogan: They’ll Love You to DEATH.

“The machine ejected it by itself. What’s that tell ya?” JB scoffed as he tried to get the tape to play. It tells you that this was shot on video and apparently stars habitués of some New Jersey bar. But I could be wrong; the cast might be members of a Long Island strip club. “I’ve always wondered,” JB wondered, while a large-breasted woman squirmed all over a spinning washing machine in the extended pre-credit sequence, “are these real actresses?” As the “real” actress continued fondling her “real” breasts and humping the Kenmore, JB, who has been in the construction business going on 30 years, spotted the problem with the scene: “You need to adjust the feet on that washing machine. It shouldn’t be rocking like that.” As the laundromat scene went on and on—and on—JB asked, “Is that what vampires do all day?” Not sure. We’re really not given much info before the chompers appear and the blood spatters. “She’s really trying to act, isn’t she?” JB said of the woman who had trouble with dialogue even before putting in the vampire teeth. As one incongruous bit of nonsense followed another, JB turned to me with a look of stunned disappointment. How, his crushed features seemed to say, could such inanity be created? Where is the Eros? The Romance? The simple plot continuity? Has, perhaps, God forsaken us? He threw his pizza down in disgust. I hit Fast Forward. Later, JB asked, “What is it with shower scenes? Are they a standard feature of these movies?” Before I could speak, JB provided the answer: “Is it because you’re a voyeur and you’re not supposed to see it?” As usual, JB had cut to the heart of the matter, insightfully encapsulating the entire raison d’être of the DTV genre. He is a wise man. Wisely, he said, “I think now would be a good time to start fast-forwarding.” EJECT.

HEAVEN OR VEGAS

Columbia/Tristar

Slogan: Winner Take All. Double or Nothing.

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Having somehow missed the Academy Award-winning Leaving Las Vegas, I was particularly excited at the prospect of this film, starring Richard Grieco and Yasmine Bleeth in the roles previously played by the much skinnier Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. A word about Ms. Bleeth: In addition to a strangely euphonious name, she has a smile that simply lights up the darkest night. I’m sure we’d get along just dandy, should she ever return my calls. And so the thought of Ms. B deigning to enter my DTV world had me all a-giggle. Tragically—no, super-tragically—when I hit the Play button, there was no sound. Not a peep. The picture was gloriously clear, the color sharp and vibrant. But as the camera played over the Vegas skyline, none of the—undoubtedly—smoky jazz score could be heard. “I really, really wanted to like this one,” said JB, echoing my deep despair. “This is a big disappointment.” We sat a moment longer in cruel silence. Noting Yasmine’s outfit, JB sighed, “The red wig, the little black bra peeking out—all the makings of a well thought-out production.” Yes, obviously. I must give Yasmine my highest rating! PLAY.

EXECUTIVE POWER

Artisan

Slogan: An Improper Relationship Was the Least of His Problems.

“This is a definite improvement,” JB said as the tape began. “This one has sound.” And a plot ripped from today’s headlines. And yesterday’s. As the world becomes more and more confusing, we look to art for answers. Big Art asks the big “What if” questions. For instance: “What if Monica had died, maybe gagged to death in the Oval Office?” One answer is that John Heard and Craig Sheffer would find work. As they have in this political thriller about a Secret Service agent who’s “not gonna sweep another scandal under the rug.” Except that’s pretty much what happens, after a bunch of shooting, explosions, and chase scenes. There’s a nice, elegant score, and proper mention is made of Tim McCarthy, the agent slain during the Reagan assassination attempt. But more of the dialogue is along the lines of this: “With all due respect, Mr. President—fuck you!” “This is like a really bad movie, Dave,” said JB, ignoring my pitiful protests. “What’s sad about this is they’re trying. They’ve got a group of pretty girls, they put some money into it, nice cars…” His voice trailed off in disinterest, and he began playing with the tiny kitten his wife had acquired a few days before leaving the country. “This kitten goes after this toy about as much as I like your direct-to-video movies,” he said, as the cat sat motionless on his chest and I sat glumly in the recliner. I had been almost enjoying the film. “OK,” said JB, tossing kitty aside and reaching for the remote. “It’s time to check out Beach Babe Experiment.” PAUSE.

THE BEACH BABE EXPERIMENT

E.I. Independent Cinema

“What do you think they’re going for in this one?” said JB facetiously, mulling the ample pulchritude displayed on the box. “Actually, this looks fun. I wanna see the first five minutes, where she’s a real girl. I want to see the conversion to Beach Babe.” Yes, that is the height of eroticism, isn’t it? The transformation, the willing sublimation, the giving in to one’s passionate nature. But the filmmakers opted for a bunch of gals exposing their breasts in a hot tub in someone’s back yard. “See, this is what I’m talking about!” said JB. “The only thing he’s got that we don’t is the girls,” he observed, perhaps too wishfully. “They’re just having so much fun,” he noted, as the women writhed in swirling water. As the “plot” developed—a “student” interviews “beach babes” for a study of “babeology”—JB grew bored of the endless parade of breasts, bikinis, and butts. “Again, I could never figure this shit out—are the girls stupid? They’re nice, attractive girls, and they do these cheap things.” And this is super-cheap, shot on videotape—an alarming trend in DTV-land. As the lead actress continued her “studies,” JB came to a shocking realization: “You know what—that’s Macaulay Culkin!” Egad, he was right. The resemblance is startling. Which takes some of the erotic thrill out of things—not all, but some. “This whole thing was shot in one day, wasn’t it?” JB said, with typical perception. As the movie ended, JB yawned, stretched, and lit another smoke. “And that was it?” Yeah. Unsure whether my mission had succeeded, I packed up the tapes and left my friend to commune with the machines in his empty house. FREEZE-FRAME.

NEVADA

Columbia/Tristar

Slogan: The West is Wildest Where the Women Rule!

“Look at those pumps she’s wearing with that dress!” snorted my special friend “J.” “It’s preposterous! Do you think she’s walked that entire ribbon of highway in those?” No, but it certainly adds to the mystery of this “A Film by Gary Tieche.” Who is she? Where is she going? Why? Eventually, Miss Inappropriate Footwear finds her way into the deep desert to, as my special friend “J” put it, “a strange, out-of-the-way settlement of young, good-looking people.” And Kathy Najimy. And Kirstie Alley “at her big stage,” and an almost unrecognizable Dee Wallace Stone, turning in a surprisingly bright performance in a k.d. lang crew cut. “Sure is filled with sexy mamas for a town in the middle of nowhere,” observed my special friend “J.” Yes, the men are all away building a dam, so the gals get to do what gals do when the guys are away building a dam: They talk. And talk. And gossip. And talk. I wanted to fast-forward. “J” stopped me. It wasn’t just the blather that was causing my eyes to droop. I was bone-tired and ready to sleep. “Hang in there,” soothed “J.” “You’ll be so glad you’ve knocked off another one. It’s true, not much has happened now, but that just means that a lot will happen in the second half.” I admired her optimism but headed for the couch. As I dozed, I heard “J” commenting, “This is totally homoerotic. This is totally lesbian.” I forced myself back to consciousness in time for the dénouement, which, though written and directed by a man, involved a woman choosing some vague self-discovery over honoring her commitment to a family that did not seem in any way deserving of abandonment. “Weird-ass movie,” said my special friend “J.” PAUSE.

MEN

A-Pix

Slogan: So Many Men. So Little Time.

Karen Black, seen of late in so many DTV efforts, often speaking and singing in languages of her own devising, has perhaps realized that she must take control of her career. And so she is the co-author of this story about a woman with “too much curiosity,” who believes in “sexual anarchy,” and says, “I shouldn’t blindly accept anybody else’s idea of what’s moral or immoral or civilized or uncivilized.” Thank goodness, that woman is played not by Black but by perky, kooky Sean Young. (Black appears as a blind lesbian.) Sean declines the use of a body double, thank you, as she picks up men willy-nilly for romps. There are many shots of condom wrappers—this is safe sexual anarchy. There are also many shots of gourmet cooking and a wine lesson from John Heard until chef-wannabe Sean finally falls for a guy who looks exactly like Mariel Hemingway, with better hair but not as smart. He lectures us on the economic discrepancies he will overcome with his photography. In the end—though the title says “The Beginning”—Sean learns a valuable lesson: She knows “just how important the sex is.” Well, duh! I’m not sure what lesson I learned. FREEZE-FRAME. —Dave Nuttycombe

Next month: For your protection.