Old red eye

Skin for Sale
TLA releasing

The average female porn star makes 200 films in three to five years before calling it quits. Judging from Skin for Sale's conversations with actors, directors and producers of the Barcelona porn industry (the Silicone Valley of Europe), the high burnout rate isn't because of drugs or scandal but simple, inescapable loneliness. Years of lying to parents, avoiding romantic relationships (except with other porn stars, who are also too damaged for lasting love) and dampening the natural emotional response to sex for the sake of on-the-job sanity takes a bigger toll than any physical wear and tear. While such big names as director-producer Nacho Vidal and Spanish porn star Bibian Norai speak profoundly about the isolated, love-hate position they occupy in society, it's a shame the terse and sometimes misspelled subtitles don't share more than the gist of their good points. Director Vicente Pérez Herrero doesn't shy from the adult visuals, but all the exposed flesh looks affected and silly when contrasted with the honesty of the interviews conducted without makeup and fully clothed. "We create fantasy," one director sums up ruefully. "It doesn't mean we live it." —Violet Glaze

Horrors of Malformed Men

What was it about Teruo Ishii's Horrors of Malformed Men that appalled Japanese audiences and compelled distributors to pull all prints from circulation for decades? Was it the rampant female nudity? The avant-garde bizarreness? The themes of deformity and mutilation? The hints of perversity? Or was it just the creepy voodoo vibe that permeated the story like blood seeping through the ceiling, making even mundane scenes vibrate with heebie-jeebies? Whatever the reason, this DVD is the first time Ishii's ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) cult classic has been released, according to the liner notes, in "any commercial format, anywhere ... until now."

The going gets weird from the very first scene: Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) is surrounded in a mental institution by cackling hordes of topless madwomen stumbling drunkenly and jabbing at him with a spring-loaded theatrical knife. He escapes, but soon hears news of the death of a man who looks exactly like him, right down to the swastika carved into the sole of his foot. Hitomi figures if he assumes the stranger's identity and insinuates himself into the family compound (including dallying with the dead man's widow) it's the perfect way to cover his tracks. But soon a series of mysterious murders leads him to a strange rocky outcropping where a wraithlike man with webbed hands insists he help him expand his twisted menagerie of deformed freaks.

Based on a story by Japanese mystery horror writer Edogawa Rampo, the film isn't horror in the slasher-flick sense – rather, it's got a spooky flavor of subsumed Gothic depravity somewhere between Psycho and Carnival of Souls, with a heaping spoonful of fringe-theater weirdness (the legion of freaks were portrayed by performance artists from a Butoh dance company) and exploitation-film verve. It's easy to unsettle audiences with severed limbs and buckets of gore, but Ishii eschews those cheap tricks in favor of art-film-worthy images like a phalanx of nude, chalk-white women cresting a hill, thrashing their coarse black hair and yipping like dogs in hot pursuit of our hero, or a sadistic punishment for an unfaithful woman that involves a very subtle and sublimated cannibalism. By the film's denouement, where a descent into a cavern visually reinforces the Freudian depravity of how all the story lines converge, it's obvious this film is too strange, too deep and too unique to be lumped in with other low-budget shockers. Horrors of Malformed Men is a must-see unburied treasure for Asian cinephiles, mondo-cine fanatics and all connoisseurs of a slow-burning scare. —Violet Glaze

Surf School

Surf movies used to be an excuse to string together a bunch of great rock bands miming tunes on the beach, super stock footage of surf champs and big bikinis into a standard boy-meets-girl/boy- meets-another-girl story. Now you just get the standard boy-meets-girl story and a whole lot of sucky background music that sounds lifted from a How to Care For Your Pool video.

Anyone who's never seen a surf 'n' summer movie (i.e.: the PG Disney demographic that The Surfer King is aiming for) will probably mistake it for a suspense film. Does the new kid on the beach have what it takes to beat the reigning Big Kahuna? Will he be able to spurn the advances of the reigning hot superficial girl? And will his good virginal girlfriend take him back after he learns his lesson, which in real life would be a wicked case of the crabs? Anyone over 14 can amuse themselves wondering which beach baby will be the next young Hollywood starlet turned rehab recruitment poster. Anyone over 40 will just pine for Frankie, Annette and anyone with the character depth of Eric Von Zipper. —Serene Dominic

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