Tag Archives: Gay/Queer

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: KILLER CONDOM (1996)

Kondom des Grauens

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DIRECTED BY: Martin Walz 

FEATURING: Udo Samel, Peter Lohmeyer, Marc Richter, Leonard Lansink, Iris Berben

PLOT: Hard-boiled detective Luigi Mackeroni sets out to stop a  malevolent predator resembling a prophylactic that uses its razor-sharp teeth to perform impromptu penectomies on the patrons of sex workers at a grungy New York flophouse.

Still from Killer Condom (1996)

COMMENTS: Does anyone go into a movie titled Killer Condom with high expectations? Before you’ve seen a frame, you’re already primed for an experience that will be trashy fun at best, exploitative and gross at worst. And your reservations will only be reinforced when you learn that the title is in no way metaphorical; the movie really is about a killer condom. 

Reality turns out to be much better than expectation, because that title monster—a ravenous rubber that looks like a Snapchat logo but with the teeth of a fluke—is an ideal metaphor for the movie itself. So much of Kondom des Grauens is about misleading appearances. For one thing, it’s distributed (though not made) by , with all the crudeness, grotesquerie, and DGAF attitude attached to that label, and yet it has a sweetness and enlightened viewpoint not often found in films produced by the studio. For another, it’s a movie about the seedy side of gay culture that is decidedly pro-gay, complete with a central romance and an unexpected level of empathy for a trans character. Most significantly, it’s a typical New York police procedural that’s distinguished by the fact that everyone in the film is speaking German.

It’s a measure of how much Western audiences have been trained to accept their stories in English, regardless of time or setting, that the language is the part that feels most bizarre about the film. And while turnabout is fair play, the lengths to which the filmmakers go to provide some verisimilitude only adds to the confusion of seeing this parade of New Yorkers delivering their lines in German. Ample Manhattan location shooting magnifies the many tropes that die Deutschen leave intact: the gruff black police chief who frequently threatens to take the hero’s badge, the tough-as-nails medical examiner with a blindness for social niceties, the parade of undesirables who wander through the fleabag flophouse (bearing the name “Hotel Quickie”). Killer Condom could pass for a low-budget Charles Bronson flick, if not for the Teutonic dialogue. 

Foremost among the required elements is our hero, the impeccably named Luigi Mackeroni. Like many a downtrodden movie cop, he spends his days wandering the streets of the Big Apple, monologuing in voiceover about what a dump it is and how he would maybe be better off in his native Sicily (again, this is all in German). He’s pretty Continue reading IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: KILLER CONDOM (1996)

CAPSULE: UNIDENTIFIED OBJECTS (2022)

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Unidentified Objects is currently available for VOD rental.

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DIRECTED BY: Juan Felipe Zuleta

FEATURING: Matthew Jeffers, Sarah Hay

PLOT: Peter, an irritable gay dwarf, reluctantly agrees to go on a last minute road trip with sex worker Winona, who believes she has a date to be abducted by aliens in Canada.

Still from Unidentified Objects (2022)

COMMENTS: Ralph Waldo Emerson could have made his famous declaration “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” as a motto for the road movie genre. The road movie formula structures its plot as a series of challenges meant to reveal its characters, force them closer together as they overcome obstacles, and eventually rip them apart (before they reconcile in the finale). Unidentified Objects fits firmly within the road movie genre, with a couple of twists: it focuses on one of its two travelers much more than the other, and it’s spiked with hallucinatory sci-fi interludes.

Not to slight Sarah Hay—who is excellent as a sex worker Winona, a woman who appears wacky in her alien obsession yet is far more down-to-earth than her companion—but Unidentified Objects belongs to Matthew Jeffers. His portrayal of Peter perfectly embodies the script’s magnificent creation of a misanthropic, deeply depressed homosexual dwarf who’s an expert on Anton Chekov. If Jeffers had hit a single false note, the movie might have quickly come to a screeching halt. Fortunately, Jeffers is always a joy, prickly and sarcastic but achingly vulnerable. Peter is a natural hermit—a sort of homegrown alien in, as he complains, “a world with little to no patience for bodies not of a highly specific make and model”—so Winona’s main function is to give him an excuse to travel out into the world, as well as to challenge his cynicism. She’s a platonic pixie dream girl.

Along with their road encounters with drug-addled survivalist, lesbian cosplayers, and horny teens, two or three dream sequences provide serious character development for Peter. I’ll leave it to the viewer to discover the details for themselves, but the first major set-piece is effectively horrific and supplies backstory and motivation for his journey, while the second emphasizes his loneliness in a way that a real-life scenario never could. These scenes (and others) are accompanied by disco-pink lighting that emphasizes the tale’s otherworldly queerness. Although Winona sets a dreamlike tone early on by asking, “ever wake up from a dream and it’s like you’re still dreaming?,” in practice the movie does the opposite: it’s always clear when a dream has ended, but not when one has begun.

Some may complain that the ending, while not overly ambiguous, shies away from the cosmic promise of the premise—but remember, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Winona abducts Peter from his lonely apartment, where he feels like he has every reason to stay locked away from humanity with his volume of Chekov. His courage in choosing to face a harsh world that was not built with him in mind is ultimately a more impressive achievement than being chosen to be whisked away to some celestial paradise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Thankfully, this cinematic trip embraces its intimacy the further it ventures into colorfully surreal territory.”–David Lynch (not that one), KENS5 (festival screening)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: VEGAS IN SPACE (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Phillip R. Ford

FEATURING: Doris Fish, Miss X, Ginger Quest, Ramona Fischer, Lori Naslund, Tippi

PLOT: Space troopers go undercover on the planet Clitoris in the fabled women-only city of Vegas in Space, where a plot to steal Queen Neuva Gabor’s jewels threatens the galaxy.

Still from Vegas in Space (1991)

COMMENTS: Can you critique camp? Is there even any point? The very act of trying to evaluate it immediately denotes you as someone who could never “get it.” If you’re not turned off by the credit “Based on the party by Ginger Quest”, it’s not as though a cogent analysis of the plot is going to scare you away.

So let’s raise a martini glass to the DIY-fabulous vibe that permeates Vegas In Space. For a sci-fi epic, the film is almost deliberately ramshackle, with landscapes that look less realistic than the opening credits of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and sets that rival After Last Season. But who cares about covering the walls with tinsel and tin foil when you’ve got a chance to put your energies where they really count: costumes and makeup. This is first and foremost a drag show, and the queens of Vegas In Space take advantage of the opportunity to go beyond the usual outrageousness of the format, combining the traditional bitchy repartée with an array of colorful skin paints and unusual alien prosthetics. If you paid your money for “intergalactic drag show,” you will not walk away disappointed.

There’s a charmingly catty spirit to the enterprise. The film is loaded with entendres that barely work up the nerve to be single. Snipes are mean but toothless. But the filmmakers seem to actually be interested in the plot, of all things, which leads Vegas In Space to commit the sin that would be most appalling to any self-respecting drag queen: it gets boring. As the space captain and Vegas’ queen of police bicker over who stole the jewels and what the consequences will be for the galaxy, it’s impossible to avoid thinking, “Who cares?” We’re here for the drag queens; do not try to save the cat.

With the main joke of the movie out of the way early on, filling out an hour and a half is going to take some (and I really am sorry for this) padding. There’s an eyebrow-raising interlude in which Captain Tracey and Queen Veneer encounter an ancient creature called a Drag, who is surmised to be the missing link that led to the evolution of womankind. There’s also a creepy dream sequence for one of Tracey’s lieutenants, the secretly competent Sheila Shadows, who has surreal visions of the coming catastrophe. But even the film seems to recognize these are mere distractions, as we quickly get back to the plot development that matters most: the Earth trio’s cabaret show. 

As mentioned, the overall vibe is “we’re amazing and we don’t really care what you think,” and for a film allegedly based on a party, that’s fitting. And it’s to the filmmakers’ credit, in light of the considerably more fraught behind-the-scenes tale. Ford and Fish shot the movie in fits and spurts over the course of 18 months at the start of the 80s, and then scrounged up money wherever possible for post-production over the course of the next eight years. Fish actually died of complications from AIDS before the film was finally released, meaning Vegas In Space stands as an unlikely valediction. So there’s a level at which it’s remarkable we got a film at all.

Ultimately, whether or not this ends up being a fun night out likely depends on the audience. For the devoted, Vegas In Space is a long-awaited induction of sci-fi into the drag canon. For the curious, it’s a novel diversion. For weird movie aficionados, it’s probably a busted queen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Vegas in Space certainly earns its cult status just for how weird it is, especially with its intentionally tacky aesthetic… If you’re a fan of campy sci-fi, you might get some enjoyment here, but there are better options. Overall, Vegas in Space might appeal more to drag fans, but it’s only watchable as a curiosity.” – Matt, Film Nerd

(This movie was nominated for review by Baal, who deemed it “Troma crossdressing campsploitation.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: PLEASE BABY PLEASE (2022)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Harry Melling, Karl Glusman

PLOT: A gender-bending leather gang awaken unfamiliar desires in a beatnik couple.

Still from Please Baby Please (2022)

COMMENTS: Please Baby Please is queer, defiantly so, in both the new and the old senses of the word. This movie is proud to be what it is—which is a perverted, experimental non-binary comedy/melodrama/musical, or something like that. This is a film that describes itself as featuring “bisexual lighting,” and that somehow makes perfect sense when you see it. It seems like the script was written to answer the question, what would happen if the leather daddies from Scorpio Rising took over the set of West Side Story?

That last connection is referenced explicitly in the movie’s opening scene, where a leather clad gang prowls the streets in finger-snapping rhythm. These aren’t the Sharks or the Jets, though, but the Young Gents, an ultra-macho bunch of reprobates with a dangerously non-hetero vibe. When happily (if platonically) married couple Suze and Arthur come across the gang standing over a couple of freshly beaten corpses on the street right outside their apartment, their libidos are separately ignited by the heart-pounding excitement. Please Baby Please doesn’t feature a lot of narrative; there is an arc to the couple’s journey, but most of it is revealed through oddball exposition (most of the characters in this movie talk like Dead End Kids enrolled in NYU’s Gender Studies masters’ program). Much of the rest comes in musical production numbers: Suze’s sexual awakenings are depicted in a series of musical fantasies, including one where the Young Gents take turns ironing her ass.  We’re also treated to interludes like a drag queen in a Bo Peep bonnet and flowery eyelids singing a love song in a phone booth. The fine musical accompaniment ranges from exotica to mellow acoustic bass jazz to poppy torch songs; the choreography is simple but effective, more dependent on the dancers’ outrageous wardrobes than on the moves they perform. True to the 1950s style, everything is repressed, and there’s little actual sex: we come upon two motorcycle dudes doing nothing more than hugging passionately in the men’s room. The characters do talk dirty, but in the context of gender roles rather than personal desires. Only the final scene breaks the no-onscreen sex rule.

Please Baby Please is obsessed with masculinity. Arthur has built his entire life philosophy around how doesn’t want to be a man, doesn’t want the pressure of always having to be a contestant in a toughness competition with other males. That doesn’t mean he’s not attracted to masculine surfaces, though; to the rippling abs, mesh-clad pecs, and leathery bulges of the Young Gents. The motorcycle gang stands for the masculine ideal in all its muscly, sneering, rough-mannered charm. In 1953, Marlon Brando in The Wild One evoked an outlaw desires for rebellion and domination in female audiences; Tom of Finland was simultaneously (and more lastingly) co-opting the same biker imagery for the gay subculture.  Please Baby Please is aware how ludicrous a caricature of manhood all this chrome and black leather is; that’s precisely why it’s fascinated with this iconography. This objectifying beefcake spectacle is especially weird because it’s shot through multiple lenses: a female director looking at men through the homosexual male gaze.

Handsomely geeky Harry Melling ably handles his duties of playing a closeted homosexual in a rewarding but familiar way, but much of the praise for Please Baby Please comes for Andrea Riseborough, whose over-the-top vamping wins over even the film’s detractors. Her acting choices all seem to be formed by asking the question, “how would Nic Cage play this scene if he were a housewife caught in a sexless marriage?” She gyrates in a corset, howls at the moon, breaks into a spontaneous Bert Lahr impersonation, and acts crazier and crazier (and more and more like a man) as the movie progresses. This risky material could sag limply if not aroused by hyperbole, so it’s hard to imagine the movie succeeding without Riseborough’s committed insanity setting the tone.

‘s cameo was much-hyped, but underwhelming; the most significant thing is the vote of confidence she casts by lending her name to this esoteric project. We did notice an old friend showing up as co-writer: . Please Baby Please is currently in a limited run exclusively in theaters; we’ll update you when it becomes more widely available.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the film’s over-the-top approach and awkward pacing prevent this defiantly bizarre concoction from resonating deeper than its surface fascination. “–Toff Jorgensen, Cinemalogue (contemporaneous)