GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Rated R, 81 minutes
Leather Jacket Love Story
Unrated, 85 minutes
Many queer critics think it's a good thing that our movies are branching off into more mainstream genres. Does this have to include slasher films? History has shown that most of these movies require no thought. Put a bunch of horny teenagers into an old dark house or a summer camp, let them get killed one by one by a masked killer with little or no backstory, allow the virgin to survive at the end. Straight filmmakers have cornered the market on this already, can't we come up with something original? Mindless splatter flicks are no less mindless just because they feature gay beefcake rather than topless women.
|Which brings us to a recent film by low-budget horror schlockmeister, David DeCoteau, entitled Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. DeCoteau is an out director with an eclectic filmography. His credits include The Brotherhood and its homoerotic vampire sequels, two of the Puppetmaster movies, 1988's Sorority Girls In The Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama, and a not-bad 1997 borderline-porn romance entitled Leather Jacket Love Story (which will be discussed later). One of his latest is Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, a beefcake horror film that has nothing to do with Poe's classic poem. It was produced for here! TV.|
|A group of 20-somethings gather for a party at an old dark house way out in the English moors. Ravenwood, the huge manor, is seen from a distance as an atmospheric matte painting that looks nothing like the house that our partygoers drive up to. The soiree is being thrown by Roderick (Rick Armando), a spoiled ivy league graduate who thinks it would be fun to hold a big masquerade ball on the 50th anniversary of a mass killing. Ravenwood was the site of another costume gala in which scores of guests had their throats slashed by a robed figure wearing a raven mask. A traumatized young boy was forced to witness the carnage. The house is said to be cursed.|
Two of Roderick's friends arrive early, only to get murdered by a man in a black robe who is wearing a raven mask. (Cue scary music here.) The others arrive. Roderick seems shaken when Drake (Traverse Le Goff) shows up. Drake and Roderick are former collegiate lovers, and each holds a longtime grudge. Old hostilities come out into the open while, in the meantime, each of the guests are dispatched one at a time by the maniac in the mask.
The Raven is no different from your typical formulaic slasher flick except that it tries to channel those stylish 1960's Roger Corman Poe flicks with Vincent Price (which also barely resembled Poe but at least retained some connection). This Raven fails to satisfy on every level. It sports a ludicrous and sometimes incoherent script, and let's not even talk about the acting. There is no suspense or big scares. It doesn't help that most of the characters are such blank ciphers that you don't care when they get eighty-sixed. The music is overdone and signals every killing before it happens - which is each time some guy in his underwear wanders off alone.
Horror film fans who want to watch creatively violent and gory slayings will feel robbed and most of the appearances of the killer are almost funny because of that absurd bird mask. At one point I found myself thnking about Howard the Duck. Those who are watching it for the beefcake will get their fill but have probably seen better. The gratuitous sexual interludes, a big staple of the genre, are even more gratuitous than usual. Unfortunately, these are so vanilla that they will probably put most voyeurs to sleep. Some nice kissing though.
Quite honestly, The Raven isn't even a good guilty pleasure like here! TV's erotic vampire series, Dante's Cove. You know you are watching a bad horror film when the body count escalates and you haven't even jumped once.
Also missing is a good payoff at the end. The script vainly attempts to inject some depth by including some bad Merchant Ivory-styled flashbacks of Roderick and Drake's ivy league days. We actually see them run hand-in-hand in slow motion, and they are briefly depicted as Leopold and Loeb wannabes. The cinematography tries to create mood by emulating the camera angles from films like Robert Wise's 1965 The Haunting, but even Stanley Kubrick couldn't infuse any life into this dead screenplay. This has to be one of the most boring and unfrightening horror flicks this reviewer has ever seen. Finally, aside from the bird mask and a few verses from The Raven that are droned on a cellphone by the killer, there is no connection whatsoever with Poe and it has always annoyed me when filmmakers attach the famed writer's name to the titles of their otherwise unmemorable movies.
|To be fair to the director, DeCoteau is capable of showing some sensitivity on the screen and this is evident in his 1997 film, Leather Jacket Love Story. This low budget, black & white film is a mixed bag but satisfies on many levels. Compared to The Raven, Leather Jacket Love Story seems like it was directed by Ingmar Bergman.|
|Kyle (Sean Tataryn) is 18 and wants to be a poet. Bored with his libidinous best friend Ian's endless pool parties and clubbing, Kyle moves out of his mother's house in the San Fernando Valley and moves to the artsy community of Silver Lake. Once there, he becomes a regular at a bohemian coffee shop and is befriended by a trio of drag queens who act as a Greek Chorus throughout the film. He also meets Mike (Christopher Bradley), a 29-year old construction worker in a leather jacket who looks like rough trade. Fully aware of being cruised by the young poet, Mike almost pounces on Kyle and, before long, they are enjoying marathon sex that lasts until the sun comes up. The next morning, Kyle asks Mike if he will help him pick out a leather jacket of his own. The budding wordsmith establishes a new look and a new identity.|
|And then a little drama sets in. Kyle isn't happy when he discovers that Mike is a big time flirt and indulges an open relationship with his long-term, older boyfriend, Sam (Hector Mercado). It is clear that Sam reluctantly tolerates his younger lover's insistence on having extracurricular adventures and that this is a cause of friction between the two. Their screentime together is heartfelt, and provide the film's most honest and realistic moments. Mike is a likable rogue and the actor seems so natural in the part that it's very easy to be won over by his charm. Kyle is confused by the mixed signals he receives from his new leather-clad lover but he is also plainly in love.|
|Leather Jacket Love Story's grainy B&W photography is effective and works in the film's favor, giving it a gritty and old fashioned feel like an old Route 66 episode. Some of the early attempts at humor, mostly involving numerous drag queens, are a bit forced (and at times annoying) but things improve significantly as soon as Mike enters the picture. The director seems like he was just having fun during the early scenes; otherwise why else would he use music that invokes Leave It To Beaver when Kyle's mother tells him not to "let those tops push you around" before he leaves home to seek his muse?|
|It is also quite an explicit film and viewers will certainly not be bored by the sex scenes between Kyle and Mike, (not to mention a lengthy interlude in a back room), nor will they be disappointed by the ample displays of Mike's impressive penis. Leather Jacket Love Story gets a few more points for Sam's lengthy 40th birthday party which takes place in a rough trade leather bar. The leather scene is played for laughs in too many movies and it was refreshing to see leathermen celebrated in a queer film for a change. An interlude in which Mike talks Kyle into getting his nipple pierced is both humorous and informative. A subsequent episode is both sexy and scary when Mike handcuffs Kyle and the naive poet is suddenly scared by the fantasies he had earlier (while having a wank) in which he was strapped to a cross and whipped by the older leather stud.|
|The contrast between the leather men and the drag queens is a nice touch, especially since we seldom see both communities sharing the screen together. A few stereotypes get turned upside too when the trio of drag queens rescue Kyle from a gang of gay bashers. Writer Rondo Mieczkowski also has some fun with the coffee house poetry underground. I liked the older poet who advises Kyle to write about what he knows. This was following a delicious scene in which the poet overly emotes during the reading of his sexually explicit poem, "Tired Sphincter Boy," after which Kyle is disappointed that the poem wasn't the author's "polemic against a corrupt American value system." Give the director another gold star too for casting John Waters veteran, Mink Stole, as the mistress of the coffee shop.|
|This is by no means a great film but it is a very pleasant and honest one that does a terrific job examining the dynamics of an open relationship and the effects on each member of the triangle. It's a tad goofy in spots but its strengths outnumber the flaws. Some of the 50's sitcom-ish music makes it clear that the director wasn't taking himself too seriously and this actually adds to the likability factor. Before I first saw Leather Jacket Love Story, a few years ago, I had wrongly thought it was just soft porn with a minimal plot. The explicit sex works in this movie, and the black & white cinematography helps to give these scenes more of an artsy feel. Unlike many other films, I found none of the sex gratuitous and even felt that these scenes furthered the plot in much the same way that the sex did in Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris.|
Parts of the film feel spontaneous and this adds to the appeal of Leather Jacket Love Story, making this a far better movie than you would think. It is for this reason that I wish the director didn't waste his time on stuff like The Raven and made more films like this one instead. Still, I thank The Raven for prompting me to watch Leather Jacket Love Story again. This, by the way, is a great date movie for those who want to get laid. And for those who are interested - which means probably every gay man who watches it - check out the 30 minutes of erotic outtakes.
Bradley appears briefly in:
Stole appears briefly in: