5 Surreal Moments in Pornographic Film History

The old school, scary way to watch pornography.
The old school, scary way to watch pornography.

The production of pornography has marched along with humans since the dawn of man. Pornographic cave paintings have been found, which confirms that humanity has wanted to see depictions of sexual acts since the very beginning of human society.

When cameras were first invented, their use to create erotica followed closely behind. Hardcore pornography went from back room illegal stag films to a semi-respectable status in the '70s, which is not surprising. When home video took off in the latter part of that decade, pornography was one of the things that helped drive the sale of VHS players.

The kinds of pornography that a person enjoys is a very personal thing. It seems to me that, for most people who will even occasionally enjoy viewing some professionally made erotica, porn falls into four general categories.

There's the stuff that person likes (the type of porn that they personally enjoy), the stuff they just find boring, followed by things they think are kinda gross, and then the dreaded "leaving the room screaming" reaction.

But there's another category that has reared its weird head from time to time - The particularly strange, "how did this get made?" porno. I'm not talking about some odd sexual fetishes on parade. In a post-Internet world, almost nothing surprises me anymore. People are turned on by stuff I'll never understand, and that's fine.

No, these are films where the underlying concept is just weird, not the sex acts on display. There's a vast difference between thinking that a filmed sexual act or some obscure fetish is creepy or strange, and a film where something is inherently odd about the film itself, and the sex is just another thing all together. Let's look at a few of these glorious train-wrecks of porno history a bit more closely.

5. Sodom and Gomorrah The Last Seven Days (1975)

Jim and Artie Mitchell were pioneers of pornography during its 1970s golden age. Shortly after they propelled former Ivory Snow soap model Marilyn Chambers into porn stardom when they gave her the starring role in 1972's "Behind the Green Door," the Mitchell Brothers decided that what the world needed was a pornographic film rooted in the Old Testament. We needed that right?

So, in 1975 the Mitchell Brothers released "Sodom and Gomorrah The Last Seven Days," which is a weird mix of Biblical history, hardcore sex, space aliens, and just sheer weirdness. There's a lot of explicit, sex of course, but the film jumps back and forth between well executed scenes that could've been in some normal movie covering the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, then onto a spaceship where a guy and his talking space chimp are watching the people on Earth. The total effect isn't titillation as much as "what the hell is going on in this film?" 

The real Caligula. There's a whole lot less fellatio happening in this photo than there is in the movie.
The real Caligula. There's a whole lot less fellatio happening in this photo than there is in the movie.

4. Cafe Flesh (1982)

This is a very strange and downbeat skin flick that takes place after a nuclear war has rendered most people into Sex Negatives, unable to physically have sex. The few remaining Sex Positives are forced by the government to perform sexual acts in special clubs for the pleasure of the Sex Negative audience. There's a really unpleasant look and feel to the whole film, which manages to capture the bleak, dystopian vibe of films like "1984" or "Mad Max." "Cafe Flesh" is a porno, and it's nowhere as good as those films, but it's dark and interesting in its own right. People get off in this movie, but they don't particularly look like they're having a good time doing it.

3. Caligula (1979)

While originally envisioned as a serious historical epic about the famous Roman ruler, "Caligula" ended up one of the strangest movie disasters of all time. I'm fascinated by this film, as the final product seems like such a weird mix of elements.

How is it exactly that a film scripted by Gore Vidal, and starring Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, Helen Mirren, and John Gielgud could go so horribly wrong?

The answer is simple. When trying to fund such a movie, it's probably best to avoid getting funded by pornographers. Penthouse maven Bob Guccione became a producer, and eventually took control of the production after the principal shooting was done. He had the epic length film re-edited, and also had hardcore pornographic footage shot so it could be inserted into the mix.

The result is a jarring mishmash of elaborate sets, well respected actors, violent set pieces, and porn. It's a glorious tossed salad of extreme violence, sex, and spectacle that will elicit strong reactions from just about anyone seeing it. I always wonder who Guccione thought the primary audience for such a film would be. It's got good acting and interesting sets, but is long and drags in places, and there's enough pornographic action to make sure its theatrical release would've been limited, but not quite enough to make it an enormous hit with fans of pornography. It's a real mess, but interesting to watch if you're up for something pretty strange and generally offensive.

Needless to say Malcolm McDowell and the other A-list actors involved were none too thrilled when the final X Rated cut of "Caligula" was released, and almost universally panned by critics and audiences alike. 

"Remember that time in the '70s when we were in that musical porno movie? Good times..."
"Remember that time in the '70s when we were in that musical porno movie? Good times..."

2. Alice in Wonderland - An X Rated Musical Fantasy (1976)

This oddity came out during the Golden Age of Porn, and is definitely a product of its time. Kristine DeBell, who would go on to roles in mainstream films like "Meatballs," stars as Alice in this adaption of Lewis Carroll's story. After having an argument with her boyfriend, Alice falls asleep and is awakened by the most lecherous version of the White Rabbit I've ever seen, who leads her into Wonderland. The plot loosely follows the book's storyline, only with goofy musical numbers and hardcore sex scenes sprinkled in for good measure. Something like this could only have happened in the '70s, and it's quite the journey into weirdness.

1. The Devil in Miss Jones (1973)

Widely accepted as a classic adult movie, this is a strange dark film. Georgina Spelvin plays a depressed, middle aged single woman who decides that suicide is the only way out of her dull, meaningless life. After drawing a bath, Miss Jones slits her wrists and dies as the tub fills with her blood. Miss Jones ends up in Limbo because, although she committed the mortal sin of suicide, she had previously led a pure life. Angry that she can't enter Heaven, Jones argues with an angel that she be allowed to return to Earth as an incarnation of lust, so she can earn her place in Hell.

OK, first of all, that's all a pretty creepy and dark way for a porno to begin, with a bloody suicide and then a deal to earn entrance into Hell? Wow.

So Miss Jones ends up back on Earth and a variety of sex scenes follow before her allowed time runs out, and she is faced with her imminent eternal damnation. Fortunately for her, Miss Jones is assured that the agonies of a Hell are a human myth, and that she will be comfortable in her afterlife.

She ends up in a tiny room with a strange man that only seems interested in catching flies. Miss Jones is by this point completely addicted to sex, and begs for him to have sex with her. The man has no interest in such activities, and Miss Jones is left screaming for eternity, unable to satisfy her lustful drive.

Pretty bleak sounding, huh?

The history of erotic cinema is dotted with really weird pornographic films, and these are but a few. Whether or not a person finds them to be "erotic" is almost secondary to the other factors that make them a few of them interesting.

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