To be king of the straight-to-dvd homoerotic(-ish) horror film, 48-year-old David DeCoteau has had to compromise on a number of things--capable acting, plausible dialogue, production values, originality--but never has he had to compromise on his ace in the hole--smooth attractive young men willing to shed their shirts and pants and spend a good three-quarters of their time on screen fleeing some if-I-don't-laugh-I'll-split menace while in their tight white undies.
He's been making movies since the mid-1980s, but ten years ago he hit his stride with Voodoo Academy, a template for everything he's done since--at an astonishing rate of over three productions a year! For the record, I am a fan. DeCoteau's cheesy and predictable potboilers fill a definite niche. I love horror, and I love well-toned young men cavorting with little to cover themselves (this you already know).
DeCoteau's work presents the paradox that I can have it all without its ever being quite enough--his horror stories are not scary, or even vaguely atmospheric, and his hunks go to ridiculous lengths to make sure that we get a peek at nothing that would attract an NC-17 rating ... or much controversy. The end result is what you'd expect if Roger Corman produced the Halloween issue of the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog--and that's not altogether a bad thing.
Many of these movies have soft-pedaled the "gay" aspect of the plot--simply seeking, instead, every possible circumstance in which heterosexual young men might strip down to nearly nothing and frolic together. Not so with House of Usher, DeCoteau's 2008 predecessor to his delightfully execrable The Pit and the Pendulum (2009).
It too is an "adaptation" of a story by American master Edgar Allan Poe, but this one homosexualizes the principal characters in a way that almost makes sense and remains surprisingly true to a usually overlooked subtext of Poe's stories (i.e. male romantic friendship) while wreaking havoc with Poe's mastery of tone, mood, and, well, horror.
What I'm saying is that House of Usher is not half bad. It proves that even schlock, if pursued with fervor, can achieve something very close to "quality" entertainment if only it sticks to its guns and pursues its maker's kinks to the -nth degree.
Rather nicely, the movie reminds us of Poe's hints of homoeroticism in the original story, "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), and to bring a bit more to the surface Poe's sly revamping of the Judeo-Christian myth of the destruction of Sodom--and dozens of similar tales of supernatural retribution for unnameable perversions.
Just ten minutes into the movie, a love scene between the haunted and ailing protagonist, Roderick Usher (Frank Mentier), and his very cute ex, Victor Reynolds (Michael Cardelle) is, although overly edited and lit like a perfume ad, the most overtly erotic (and romantic) scene this director has ever shot. But the protagonists' discomfort with their desire sets up the eventual menage-a-trois with Roderick's sister, Madeline (Jaimyse Haft)--and its allusions to the loss of innocence, infantile concepts of marriage and childbirth, aristocratic families decaying from within, and the essentially predatory nature of all human desires.
Oh, but don't let me go too far in this direction. I don't want to overstate the film's profundity. Let's get real--it's a silly movie--just not as silly as DeCoteau is capable of being. And it's fun--provided you've got it in you to let go and drift into its Velveeta ambiance--with plenty to howl over--the "magic hands" sequence as Victor bathes and the spectral visitations of Roderick's exes (fit, shirtless lads, all of them), to name just two. And, like DeCoteau's other movies, its plot swerves recklessly into incomprehensibility, under the apparent assumption that disorientation and disjointedness are, in and of themselves, the secret source of horror.
One thing The Pit and the Pendulum has going for it, though, that this film does not have is an eroto-wrestling scene. But the raw stuff is there, if you've got the imagination. When the ghosts of Roderick's former lovers (all three in squarecut clingy underwear) come to torment Victor in his nightmares, you can always hit "pause" and imagine your own tag-team match--Victor and Danny versus Sam and Casper.
Then there's this line, brimming with camp, cross-stitch-able into decorative pillows for thousands of homes across America: "Living in a house of the damned is no easy thing."
But let me assure you of one thing--you will never hear me complaining about too many hot shirtless hunks in a movie--or sporting event--and, frankly, I can't imagine much liking the person who would complain of such a thing. Still, I'm assuming that, if you visit this blog often, you may well enjoy this sort of thing too; if so, accept my guarded recommendation of House of Usher, out this week on dvd.
The time may well have come for me to start investing in DeCoteau's dvd's and building my private collection. Living without constant recourse to Michael Cardelle's smooth and symmetrical pecs promises to be no easy thing.