Let Me Die a Woman

A great deal has been said unofficially in the past about this obscure and highly dubious American film, released uncut by our friends Derann Film Services in Dudley, West Midlands, in 1981. In mainstream, “civilised” circles it is virtually unknown and mentioned in very few reference books indeed (any?), but in the UK it has gained a certain notoriety among collectors of obscure (and obscene) videos. The reason for this is partly the film’s uniquely bizarre subject matter but mainly the graphic nature of what it depicts and, more precisely, how it depicts it. Whether we should be grateful that Derann gave us an uncut version of this repulsive film really depends on the strength of your stomach. Those who are likely to be easily offended by close encounters and intimate meetings with abnormal sexual organs and practices should steer well clear. (Personally I love that stuff…)

The copyright date at the end of the film indicates a 1978 production, but it’s difficult to tell, even on an original. The film looks and sounds a fair bit older, but this could simply be due to the use of library pictures/music in some cases. For those who are not “familiar with the text”, it’s a cheesy, sleazy documentary on transsexualism primarily consisting of a straight explanatory monologue from a Leo Wollman M.D. sat in his office/surgery, various — usually contrived and staged – interviews with transsexuals, and hest of all (?) gratuitously explicit footage of naked transsexuals, their “bits” and other stuff. It’s the other stuff that has generally earned the documentary its questionable reputation.

It’s bad enough being confronted with numerous freaky transsexuals in a variety of frank, naked close-ups – this is generally unsettling as it utterly challenges your established notions of sexuality, homan or otherwise; all past experience and accepted truths are suddenly undemiined. But then, if that’s not enough, we are treated to all kinds of other disturbing delights. Most notoriously of all, we are given a reconstruction of an incident where a male lopped off his tackle with a hammer and chisel, because he was dissatisfied with the presence of his male sexual organ and couldn’t afford a proper operation.

This is an extremely “nice” scene indeed and if you’ve got a willy yourself (which you’re happy with), it’s a real leg-crosser. Later there is likewise a reconstruction of an incident where a recently transformed woman (i.e., ex-man . . . it’s all very confusing) uses her vagina for sex too soon after the operation and consequently bleeds over her bed-sheets—a reconstructed scene which could probably have been left to the imagination (like most of the rest). There’s real footage of an actual surgical operation to “convert” a penis into a vagina and a prolonged extreme close-up examination of the finished product (you’ll be blowing chunks at this point) into which Dr. Leo inserts various things. And that’s not to mention numerous transsexuals exposing their naughty bits and jumping in and out of bed.

The above description might give a person the impression that a lot of the explicit unpleasant material is really quite gratuitous and unnecessary, used for sensational ends and that the film is nothing less than the most unadulterated, unapologetic piece of exploitation ever made. Exactly. Spot on. Hit the nail on the head there. This is really the film’s main source of amusement, I believe, which few critics in the past have highlighted. At first it’s naturally the visual repulsiveness of the proceedings that strike you. However, when you step back and take a look at this terrible production, it’s in fact the documentary’s sheer exploitative glory that is most “stunning”. There seems to be nothing which the viewer will be spared the privilege(?) of seeing, and the total ineptitude of the production more then equals its immortality – the production values leaves a lot to be desired, to say the least. As Martyn Carre so aptly puts it in Samhain (27) our informative Dr. Leo Wollman hardly emits professional credibility by the gallon: “An apparent expert on transsexualism, but whose often hungover, shifty appearance lends credence more to the idea of a back-street abortionist”, a very appropriate description.

Early on in the movie, the camera pans over his medical certificates etc. on the wall of his office, so we presume he is actually a qualified expert he is supposed to be. However, even if he is, what the fuck kind of doctor is he, appearing in sleaze like this?! Any medical expert willing to appear in a film that stoops to such depths, I personally wouldn’t even consult about the ‘flu’ let alone let him chop my cock off. His frequent explanations on the subject of transsexualism from his desk in his office must be seen to be believed (as must most of the film). His delivery of the material is worse than Terry Christian on acid, as he stumbles his way through sentence after sentence printed on card after card, clearly position to the side of or below the camera. His eyes are rarely looking into the camera as he speaks (obviously they’re focused on his cards by the side) and it’s quite good fun watching his eyes go back and forth as he reads his stuff – no efficient auto-cue here.

Some of the interviews featured are wonderfully rehearsed and you can virtually sense how hard the interviewees are trying to recall what they were supposed to be saying, especially one woman towards the end, who tries ever so hard to be convincing but is constantly seen looking over at the cards, presumably being waved about frantically on the other side of the room. The absence of an official directorial credit on the film is perfectly apparent [Ed: It was actually Doris Wishman] , but the real Oscar for the production must go to a Mr. Juan Fernandez, a supposed “director of photography” (ha!) for what is surely the most dull and inept photography ever recorded, especially in Doc Leo’s scenes of explanation. These are all incredibly static, but what is even worse is when of Juan decides to provide his own brand of variation, like a really adventurous pan down to Leo’s nameplate which jars badly with the monologue, and best of all a complete change of room and angle—which results in Leo delivering his explanations from a desk in the far corner of a room, photographed on a slant. Nice one, Juan.

The film also has a great deal of filling; in fact, most of the film could perhaps be regarded as filling; although as I say it’s entertaining for being completely bad. A typical highlight is when Leo of course has to be shown going from his office desk to his surgery, donning his white coat, etc. without saying a word, for about half a minute. Likewise the interview with the main transsexual woman is extremely overlong—the bitch rabbits on endlessly. Finally, to top it all, throughout the film there is a lot of unnecessary and inappropriate background music, which really sounds out of place.

At the end of the day, probably the most entertaining stuff in the film is its offensive footage and this is truly the film’s “raison d’etre”, like most Shockumentaries. However, if you’re into incredibly bad films like me, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this production which is one of the most classic examples of all-out exploitation (definitely not) available today.


On the other hand… The Edward Penishands trilogy

Most porno rip-offs of Hollywood films usually have nothing to do with the movies they’re based on, except for utilizing a humorous title (take CAPE REAR or MAD JACK: BEYOND THUNDERBONE for example) to link together a group of generic sex scenes. But Paul Norman’s EDWARD PENISHANDS (and its two sequels) definitely proves to be the exception to this, as not only does it “generously borrow” the entire plot of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, it’s also one of the most perverse, twisted, and original porno films ever made.

EDWARD PENISHANDS opens with Patricia (Trinity Loren), a “door-to-door marital aid representative” (or in other words, a dildo saleswoman), going to a dilapidated castle and discovering a scared young man hiding from her. But Edward (Sikki Nixx) is not your normal lad, for he has penises for hands! Suddenly his ‘hands’ are feeling her up (“They have a mind of their own,” he says) and Patricia eagerly takes them on, delivering a wild and demented sex scene. She decides to take Edward home, and this piques the interest of her neighbours, Margaret (Ashley Nicole) and Louise (Dominique Simone). In his new home, Ed finds a picture of Patricia’s daughter, Susan (Jeanna Fine) and instantly falls in love with her.

Susan and her friend Karen (Jamie Lee) come home and decide to try out mom’s vibrator samples, first on themselves, then on each other. Meanwhile, Edward is in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror and crying (he’s having a flashback to when he was created. A woman is looking at a dildo and says “If only you were real”). Susan discovers him and freaks out, but Patricia intervenes and introduces their new houseguest to Susan and her husband Carl (Jon Dough). While attempting to eat chinese noodles at dinner, Ed is called disgusting by Susan and Carl suggest a career in proctology. Margaret and Louise arrive and have a three-way with Edward in the bathroom. Karen shows up looking for Susan (who’s not there) so Patricia has sex with her on the kitchen table.

Edward is masturbating his hands over Susan’s picture; she catches him in the act, and he runs away. Susan realises “Maybe he could be fun,” and goes to him in his castle. She finds him and asks him to hold her. Ed’s reply: “I can’t. I’ll squirt.” But Susan hugs him anyway, and soon his hands are spraying like a fountain! In the film’s funniest scene, Susan dances majestically under Edward’s rain of semen (much like Winona Ryder’s dance under the snow from SCISSORHANDS). Then they make love by the fireplace.

Paul Norman has created a near masterpiece of porn. The make-up FX (courtesy of Mark Garbarino) for Edward’s penis hands is incredibly realistic, just as good as anything seen in a regular film. Sikki Nixx is the stand-out among the cast, bearing a minor resemblance to and possessing many of the mannerisms of Johnny Depp’s Scissorhands character. Budgetary reasons obviously caused Norman to shoot this classic on video, which is a shame, since a movie of this calibre should’ve been shot on film.

The first instalment had to be re-edited with new footage featuring Trinity Loren, as underage porn princess Alexandria Quinn originally had the Patricia role. Loren actually makes a better mother than Quinn; she’s older than a lot of the cast, while Quinn was younger than Jeanna Fine, who played her daughter! Because this new footage was shot some time after the original’s release, Jamie Lee experienced a “second puberty”; she sports a new pair of siliconed tits in her lesbo scene with Loren, yet had her small, original pair during her liaison with Fine.

The second chapter picks up six months later after Susan has left Edward (“My mother says it’ll only be a year” she says in a voice-over during the credits). He’s sad and alone in his castle when Hollywood super-agent April Rayne arrives and promises to “make him a star”. Rayne takes him back to her place to see if he’s got what it takes (and he does, with all three of his appendages). A cover shot on PEEPLE magazine (proclaiming him as “America’s Newest Sensation”) profiles Ed’s rise to fame. But one of April’s other clients, Mercedez Lynn, is losing a lot of work to Edward, so she (and boyfriend Chris Stock) plot to get rid of him by “Showing him the other side of fame!” They arrange for Edward to visit Angela Summers and Jamie Lee, who practically rape him when he arrives and get him addicted to cocaine! Soon, Ed’s a coke-head, missing all his acting jobs (DAILY VAPIETY reports “Edward Fired From Picture”), losing his recording contract, and spending all of his money. No one cares about him anymore as his penis hands have gone limp from all the coke he did!

So with no money and a promising career flushed down the toilet, Edward is forced to become a park trash picker, with the cleaning pole strapped to his right hand. After a gratuitous fuck between T.T. Boy and K.C. Williams, Ed returns home to his castle, limp and virtually useless. Then Susan’s friend Madison (sporting a pierced tongue!) shows up and tells him “Susan can’t see you like this when she gets back”, so she manages to bring his hands to erection and fucks him.

PART 3, subtitled “THE NEXT GENERATION” (for no apparent reason other than to have a subtitle), takes place years later, with Edward (played by porn director Fred Lincoln) now old, gray, and limp. “Yes, I’m older” he says directly to the camera, “but I still have my memories”, and the majority of this instalment tells of Ed’s sexual adventures when he was younger (again played by Sikki Nixx). After brief flashbacks to the first two films, Edward begins remembering his old girlfriends, beginning with Linda (Monique Hall), who has sex with him on a pool table. Next up are Laura (Teri Diver) and Mara (Bionca Trump), two women who reject him and instead take on each other by the pool. Joanna (Samantha York) is some one who Ed lovingly remembers as “The first who could take all of me” as he delivers a double vaginal penetration to her.

The old Edward tells us that even though he had lots of women, he never found love (except for Susan) and that wherever he went, he saw people in love. Cut to Ed spying on Buck Adams and K.C. Williams screwing their brains out. In the end, Edward concludes that he may not have found love, but he has lots of great memories, and every time he “turns around, more. More. MORE!” he says as Jamie Lee and Madison (showing off her two new siliconed melons) shows up to bring his aged hands to erection. As he gives new meaning to the term “hand-job”, Mona Lisa masturbates on a couch. Edward climaxes with a rain of jism shooting from his hands, as well as smoke and semen popping out of his ears!

These two follow-ups to EDWARD PENISHANDS are inferior to the original, but are better than most of the smut being released today. When viewed together, the three films make up an erotic, entertaining, and original trilogy. PART 2 offers an interesting plot (the “rise to and fall from fame” is actually kind of sad!) and Norman has the balls to show drug use in a porno film. PART 3 is the weakest of the trilogy, falling to porn’s conventions and is basically a plotless sexvid. There’s only so much that can be done with this concept, and by the third film it’s gotten stale. But it’s not a total failure, Fred Lincoln’s manic, demented performance as the old-and-gray Edward makes it worth seeing. Lincoln’s obviously having a lot of fun with the role, and it shows in his wild performance and in the monologues he gives.

This series could not have been made without Paul Norman, porn’s most original director. Before becoming such a creative force, Norman began his career directing gay porno movies, and encountered great success making the first bi-sexual video, THE BIG SWITCH. More success came with a series of lesbian films starring Raquel and Saber (such as LACE, LEATHER. and LEATHER AND LACE), and he also starred Tori Welles (whom he would later marry) in her first porno film. He began utilizing decent make-up FX and his films began to take on twisted and demented aspects, but most of all they were highly original. Some of his first bizarre films include THE OFFERING (about a woman with no vagina). JOINED (Saber and Raquel play siamese twins) and it’s sequel, SEPARATED.

Being a director of gay and lesbian features came in handy when Norman did the 131 AND BEYOND series about hermaphrodites. Some of his recent achievements include CYRANO (three guesses…), HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Buck Adams gives a great performance under layers of make-up), and a new series, D.P. MAN (about a man with two penises). Norman continues to alternate between regular porn vids and these original features. But despite being porn’s most creative director, he’s certainly not the “best”. He’s sort of like the “Paul Naschy of Porn”; though his heart’s into it, the film execution sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. However, with time (and a decent budget), one day Paul Norman could very well be one of porn’s greatest directors.

In the Realm of the Censors

It’s “explicit, powerful, stylish and impressive”. It’s “like LAST TANGO IN PARIS, a breakthrough film”. It’s “a guarded celebration of erotic union and a critique on all forms of sexual repression”. With a rare display of unity, the critics have swung solidly behind a Japanese film denied a certificate in Britain since it was made, and declared it an erotic masterpiece.


In a secret kept for years, the film is now revealed as having been directed under a pseudonym by Nagisa Oshima, perhaps best known for MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE, a film in which a Japanese rock musician (Ryuichi Sakamoto) is cruel to an English rock musician (David Bowie). This tells us that Mr. Oshima does not like British music.

It is not surprising that it took so long for the revelation to be made. The directors of Traci Lords’ films have an alarming habit of changing their names, undergoing plastic surgery and moving to Rio because directing her films has never won anyone anything except a long period of research into prison life. However, now that it’s revealed that one of the most renowned Japanese directors was responsible, TRACI TAKES TOKYO has acquired a new lustre, a BBFC certificate, and has been playing to packed art-houses. It also allows us to examine the film in a new light, especially under the original, planned title of AI NO CORRIDA II.

Some critics think TRACI TAKES TOKYO is one of the classic erotic films of the last twenty years. These people have missed the point—TRACI TAKES TOKYO is not “about” sex—in fact, careful viewing of the film shows it to be a cunningly constructed criticism of the Americanisation of Japan after World War II.

Oshima carefully takes the conventions of the pornographic film and transforms them to give us a deep and meaningful insight into the Oriental psyche. As the movie explores the subtle and complex relationship between the sexes which by implcation represent the East and West, the picture becomes a damning indictment of the way that the insatiable Occident, perfectly represented by Ms. Lords, manipulated the Orient physically (and by implication, mentally) after VJ-Day. This is best demonstrated by the point-of-view shot from within Traci’s mouth as she, metaphorically, sucks the East dry. And what better simile for the emigration to the West of the flower of Eastern youth than Ms.Lords sighing deeply, her breasts covered in semen?

This attitude contrasts markedly with sordid films like 91/2 WEEKS where the makers attempt to conceal sexuality beneath plot, acting and direction, when everyone knows the main purpose is too see Kim Basinger (or Mickey Rourke) with no clothes on. TRACI TAKES TOKYO displays a refreshing honesty and openness to it’s subject matter in comparison, dispensing with the irrelevancies of storyline (the title says it all—Traci Lords chews and sucks her way through Tokyo and it’s inhabitants like a latter-day Godzilla), replacing them with scenes which leave the viewer certain that, if nothing else, Ms. Lords is gynaecologically sound.

She gives the impression throughout the movie that she’s from another planet; NOT OF THIS EARTH, as it were. It is now clear that this was a subtle ploy to counterpoint the alien nature of the Japanese culture, rather than because she was out of her tree on some illicit pharmaceutical.

Oshima is obviously “mad as hell” at the way Western influence has corrupted the purity of Japanese culture and turned much of it into a pastiche of 50’s America. This can be the only conclusion drawn from a film where the opening section has Ms. Lords seducing a virgin boy, rapidly reducing him to a dribbling fool—understandably so, losing your virginity on camera to Traci Lords must be about equivalent to debuting against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. Certain cynical reviewers have suggested that he may have been an actor, and not a ‘proper’ virgin, but this isn’t credible to anyone who has studied Oshima’s oeuvre—his uncompromising honesty is visible in the rest of the movie and we have no reason to doubt it here.

By having the participants enjoy the experience, Oshima suggests that part of the blame for their cultural contamination must be placed at the door of those Japanese who embraced the American ideals with open arms, or indeed open everything else. And by making one of the supporting cast a German (plus a use of close-ups reminiscent of Italian New Wave director Fellini), he also criticises Japan’s former allies for failing to provide support after the war.

The rumours that DEBBIE DOES DAllAS was directed by Steven Spielberg, or that David Lean was responsible for DEEP THROAT are unconfirmed as yet but all in all, TRACI TAKES TOKYO is a joy to watch, a rare, raw film which some will find hard to understand, many will condemn but as a subtle mix of political comment and historical satire, it is truly an ‘adult’ movie that need not be ashamed of the label.

Things That go Hump in the Night…

The speculations which follow were partly triggered by the thesaurus on the word-processor I use for much of TC. This device will suggest alternatives for any expression you type in, to help avoid repetition. On a whim, I typed in ‘Trash’ and was mildly surprised to discover it suggested ‘Pornography’; I say surprised, as the two to me are poles apart. But it did generate a train of thought on what pornography is, why it is, and how it functions.

Firstly, a definition. “Writing, pictures, films, etc. designed to stimulate sexual excitement” is the one in the dictionary, but for our purposes, this needs to be refined a bit, in both directions. We should appreciate that pornography is usually more, rather than less explicit, though the boundary level varies from vehicle to vehicle. Additionally, I think it’s the main purpose that matters; a book doesn’t have to be non-stop sex to qualify. I would agree that it’s the intent of the maker, rather than that of the viewer, which is important. ‘Pandora‘ (TC10) remains pornography, as it was designed to be arousing – it’s irrelevant that I watch it because it’s hysterically funny. But raids on places like Health and Efficiency magazine show that the police think otherwise; be careful if you’ve got a Littlewoods catalogue, with that potentially dodgy underwear section!

There’s very little in the way of absolute pornography – one culture’s filth is another’s religious ritual – and even in these days of the global village there still remain significant differences in what is permitted. As this is our Oriental issue, it seems appropriate to mention Japan in terms of how the well-known restrictions on what can and can’t be shown there has affected things. Up until very recently, there was an absolute taboo against the depiction of pubic hair, with a small army employed to remove all such traces from foreign publications with electrically-powered erasers. This is now gradually slackening – ‘La Belle Noiseuse’ was allowed to play there despite containing hitherto unpermitted amounts of nekkid Emmanuelle Beart – but only for ‘serious art’. Magazines such as ‘Beppin’ (which my spellchecker keeps wanting to change into ‘Beeping’) still have to operate under serious restrictions.

What’s intriguing is that, in practical terms, it makes no difference. While UK aims towards a gynaecologically driven Holy Grail, Beppin’s major forte is in being populated by women of quite jaw-dropping beauty, even taking into account my predilection for Oriental cute. In the issues which have drifted across my bookshelves, I can’t recall a babe less than about an 8.5. The poses seem carefully designed to conceal rather than expose, saving needless airbrushing, and the overall effect is thus certainly at least as pleasing on the eye, if not more so. Which is perhaps what elevates Beppin above most of its’ Western counterparts; purely sexual stimulation is not it’s sole raison d’etre. I’ll come back to this point later.

The major problem with Beppin is that I now have a vague belief that, should I ever get to bed a Japanese girl, she’s going to take her panties off and…there’ll be nothing there at all, just a pristine airbrushed region of flesh, or if there is, it’ll be flashing computer-processed squares. It might be worse; perhaps it’s infectious, and I’ll wake up the next morning with a digitised dick.

Which brings me neatly to one potential area of concern, the deleterious effect of pornography on one’s sexuality. Well, like many of my schoolmates, a fairly hefty percentage of the non-biological side of sex was first encountered in magazines, generally nicked from local newsagents by those brave enough to do so. Has this affected me? I wouldn’t have said so – the only effect that comes to mind is a touching, if short-lived, belief that ten minutes into any date with a girl, I should be getting a blow-job under the table. Needless to say, this fondly-held fantasy evaporated with near-vampiric speed in the cold daylight of actual experience. Far more important in creating my sexual psyche was, I feel, wearing glasses for my entire formative years.

Ah, they say, you might be able to handle it, but not everyone can. What about Ted Bundy, who repeatedly claimed pornography was to blame for his crimes? Well, pause to consider what happened to the co-eds dumb enough to believe Mr. Bundy – icky, isn’t it? Then, ponder how the imminent prospect of execution must concentrate the mind wonderfully when it comes to finding scapegoats. Finally, bear in mind the enormous numbers of drooling killers, most recently Mr. Koresh, who proclaim that God told them to do it, yet no-one suggests banning religion.

My views on such things are distinctly libertarian – people should be able to do what they want, but must be fully accountable for their actions. It’s like drunk driving; you should be free to drive after any amount of alcohol, but if you then kill someone, it’s murder, just as much as if you pointed a gun and pulled the trigger. Not ‘causing death by reckless driving’, but murder. This would be a somewhat severe deterrent, I think. Absolute freedom, with absolute responsibility.

Censorship and pornography go hand in hand. The problem is that in ‘polite society’ very few people are prepared to admit that they actually like the stuff, which makes it hard to find champions. Horror films have a similar problem, once you go beyond the ultra-mainstream ones. But pornography faces an additional handicap, in that most of it is very hard to justify from an artistic point of view, because it’s basically crap.

While this is mostly seen in movies, it also applies to other media as well, comics, for example. One need only reach up to the top shelf and browse a couple of the Aircel comics line (if they’re not utterly sealed in browse-proof plastic – and that’s if they’ve got past Customs at all). Poorly drawn or what? The problem is that blots of ink on paper don’t turn me on, and if porn fails to do that, any inherent flaws become grossly conspicuous. The only such comic I like is ‘Cherry’ (previously known as ‘Cherry Poptart’, until the name was changed – as a “design decision” and not due to any pressure from Kellogg’s!), probably because it has a sense of humour sadly missing from most pornography.

Sex is entertaining (if not, you’re doing it wrong!), and smut should reflect this, especially because it’s such an inherently daft concept. It certainly needs something, as otherwise there’s not much spiritual enlightenment to be gained from watching two (or more) people thrashing around. That’s a generally tedious experience, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of skin films I’ve seen without having to resort to the fast-forward button.

The cause of this was mentioned above: most porn goes beyond having a main purpose of sexual excitement to the stage where that’s the only purpose. Everything else is forgotten about. For movies, this results in an total absence of production values, script, acting, characters, technical quality and anything else that would attract your attention for more than five minutes.

The problem is that almost all films are either 0% or 100% porn. Yet there would be, I suspect, a massive market for something that leavened the hardcore with a significant volume of other stuff. I was watching ‘Gothic’ recently, and there’s a film just begging for such treatment – it would definitely be an improvement over watching Julian Sands going mad. Pornography is basically a lost opportunity. It’s a chance to do absolutely anything, tear into any sacred cows you like – religion, politics, whatever. What are they going to do, ban you?

There are one or two films which do deserve mention. Borowczyk’s movies, such as ‘The Beast’ and ‘Within Convent Walls’, happily shot-blast any target within reach – the Roman Catholic Church is a favourite. I’d also class ‘Nekromantik’ as pornography – albeit of a rather specialised nature. Some American films do show unusual imagination, see later in this section. And there are a number of anime which mix porn and other genres with ease: the long-running Cream Lemon series are the best known. Respect is due to all these films, even ‘Caligula’, a movie that tries to cross the borders, but fails in almost every conceivable way with spectacular style. Though Malcolm McDowell seemed to enjoy himself a lot!

Soft-core is, or can be, just as bad. Anyone with satellite will undoubtedly have tuned into channels like RTL; once you get over the novelty value of seeing entirely gratuitous breasts (as opposed to breasts necessary to the plot), it rapidly gets dull and repetitive. The major-benefit of such movies is that you can sometimes convince proficient people to work in them, on both sides of the camera. There’s a definite charm in seeing the early indiscretions of today’s stars!

Is there any hope for change? Not really. Even if we still had a film industry, we British are basically ruled out thanks to the “sex is dirty” doctrine that seems to be part of our consciousness, in contrast to our European neighbours. In France, “Betty Blue” was rated ’12’, and it’s no coincidence that they produced perhaps the best smut peddler, in Just Jaeckin. ‘The Story of O’ is an impressive descent into the depths of S/M, and of course there is the awesome ‘Gwendoline’, a film that sums up everything pornography could, and should be; classy, fun, well-made, imaginative, entertaining…the list continues, basically the same qualities we look for in ‘normal’ cinema.

The Channel Tunnel opens soon. Paris will be three hours from here by train. Can’t wait….

The Birthday Present

by D.F. Lewis

The town centre was near empty of shoppers. Its covered walkways echoed with the cold steps of no more than a few others.

Fitful waste paper, in all shapes and consistencies of stickiness, had managed, piecemeal, to climb from the wire containers … and this, despite the wind, if anything, having dropped along the funnels of the precinct.

Trails of quarter-inch proud footsteps, bearing the cross-hatch pattern of heavy boot-soles, were avoided by end-of-day shoppers, gingerly picking their way between them towards the exits.

Darkness, even in these shop-windowed cloisters, crept relentlessly toward the last late-night shopper. And there always was a last shopper, who provided the only bait for monsters born from the common-law marriage of bestiality and sundown.

Today’s last shopper on a spree was a teenage girl. She screamed before she saw any monster. She had read her big brother’s horror books, Stephen Kings, Clive Barkers, Ramsey Campbells, even H.P. Lovecrafts. She had not understood all the words, but the fear in them had stood out nevertheless and borne the test of childhood’s endless past.

The man who she had passed appeared to her to be a designer antique lamp-standard, so popular in shopping-centres. She did not know that his bones, lusting after flesh to cushion them, were putting out feelers, as they simultaneously planted tapering, crackling roots through the boot-leather, even though the upper crust of civilisation’s concrete veneer – heading towards their own mindless version of the Earth’s core where unadulterated, unwritten horror flourished with the craving jaws of its own jump-lead.

Not understanding, she did not even realise that the figure she passed was a man at all.

Her elder brother had said the shops stayed open so late on certain nights of the weeks, you could never find them shut. So, she had taken the last bus to town, in search of her mother’s birthday present which she had uncharacteristically forgotten. Maybe she was growing up, just old enough to be relatively independent … despite the media-led dangers of the world. The concerns of such fledgling adults tended to obliterate earlier, more innocent preoccupations–like remembering birthdays, playing pass-the-parcel or hunt-the-thimble, reading Enid Blyton, Capt. W.E. Johns, Richard Crompton … Wurzel Gummidge the scarecrow…

She looked back. The darkness stained the shop windows with moving lines of soldier words, in strict spit-and-polish. Other shadows moved closer, taunting her with a brother’s typical back-chat. “Go away!” she screeched, thinking he had followed to frighten his little sister.

She suspected the shops had always been shut and never properly opened–the glorious sunlight only seeping in from the outside as some celebrity had snipped the ceremonial opening-tape with heavy-duty snicker-snackers, clacking, clacking blades, the tape being made of some alien fibrous stuff that could never be cut.

She shook her head vigorously as if to clear it of something. She had been fed too much pap at teenage “slumber parties”–all night films in Dutch Elm Street, the images of splatter flickering over the huddled shapes upon the settees, petting heavily but falling short of humping, desperately seeking carnal secrets amid the concert crescendo of screams from the screen which had no erotic context but pain.

She tried to shake herself free of all this.

Could her brother have tricked her here to test some outlandish theory of horror which had been bugging and buzzing in his head ever since the fast-forward, sharp-zagged trails of the Evil Dead. Even when he realised that true horror could only be found in books–not videos–the neat straight lines of print merely wound, coiled, rippled tantalisingly towards meaninglessness.

She panted. She was determined not to scream again. That would only tell the monsters where she was. The shop-window dummies stared in disbelief. Many were undressed. She had often wondered why they had such small heads and stylised black-and-white bodies. The nippleless breasts moved as if hands were feeling them from within glove puppets. Flecks of pulsing blood-light stained the inner thighs. The glass between them and her drained the light from the now slow-flashing Coca Cola sign.

The upbedded patterns of the footprints surrounded her like hour-glass cowpats. There never were invisible monsters in Stephen King, she thought. This was more like an old black-and-white B movie. But she had never seen one and could not draw the comparisons which life left clues about at every turn of its pages.

The waste paper, like discarded manuscripts for stories, crawled back to its bins, scaling the wire meshes with the aid of lolly-sticks and can-tabs. They had not the shadowing subtleties of Cat People, Mannequins and Ghosts, all good value at double the cost.

The roots shrunk back, as she suddenly smiled.

Her brother’s eyes stared at her from behind the impenetrable shop-front glass where he had found himself trapped inside a dummy, in a dream worse than any of his nightmares.

The invisible monsters took up their print-marks and placed them towards the squally night outside the precinct–where all was boarded up for the night, even the bedrooms.

The lamp-standard man eventually stepped free, his bony roots fully withdrawn from the ground. The man indeed knew that she had forgotten her mother’s birthday present–but the best possible present now would be the daughter’s return next morning after a night away. He took the girl’s hand and chuckled at his own good will.

He did not hear the rattling fingertips on glass somewhere behind, frantic though they were. Nor did the girl.