Saturday, July 4, 2009

"I'll Come Again": The Penetrator (1991)

Being a porn fan is a special kind of experience, akin perhaps to other low-budget genre fan experiences such as action and horror. But, in my opinion, porn is unique in regard to the film often failing to live up to its box cover. For those of you not familiar with the porn consumer's woes, think of all the times you picked up a horror movie from the bottom shelf at Blockbuster, got home, put it on, and found out that the whole film takes place in one apartment room and filmed on a cheap camcorder. Multiply by ten, and this is similar to some of my experiences with porn. 

This is pretty much the attitude I had going into The Penetrator. I had seen this movie on the shelf of my local porn store about a year ago, picked it up, put it back, picked it up again, then thought "It's too good to be true - it must suck," and put it back again. Then it disappeared for 12 months, and I had a weird feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. 

Last week, as if by magic, it reappeared. Casting caution to the wind, with the knowledge that this movie is really probably very rare, I immediately purchased it, and boy am I glad I did. I've always said that being a horror fan can be depressing, but that it's all worth it when that gem comes along; with porn even more so. 

The Penetrator is admirably faithful to its source material - as the prologue tells us:

“Man rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. The struggle to stop the tyranny of the machines and to procreate the human race raged for decades…

But the battle would not be fought in the future.

It will be fought here in the present….

Tonight.”

Cut to a naked man rising from a cloud of dry ice, appropriating a car from a group of punks, and eventually the "Kyle Reese" of the movie, Ron Jeremy, rising from a dumpster with banana skins on his head. I have to say, I laughed out loud at a lot of this movie - but at intentionally funny moments. I was impressed. Ultimately, I felt like I had underestimated the film, and that it was way ahead of me on multiple occasions. When a naked Ron Jeremy tells the hobo to give him his clothes, I said out loud that it was stupid, and that there was no way the clothes would fit Ron. Cut to a very funny shot of Ron walking away in a humiliatingly small outfit. 

I have to say, it's a pleasure to be outsmarted.

Essentially, The Penetrator is The Terminator, but with a neat twist that actually makes sense for fans of the original series. The Penetrator (complete with a rather impressively-maintained Arnie voice - even during sex scenes) must inseminate "Farrah Gonners" in order to ensure the survival of the future world. This means that the pop shots that usually go unremarked in porn, as though a part of everyday sex, are commented on by our anti-hero as detrimental to his mission: "It's all over you! It's supposed to be inside you!" Leading to the inevitable, "I will have to come again."

Aside from the plot though, this is a showcase for a car - a car that is so badass that I don't blame the filmmakers for all those extended longshots, closeups, and everything else. The car really is very cool.

But on to the queer/scholarly side of things. Those of you familiar with my post on The Italian Stallion might experience a touch of deja vu here, but what really struck me about this movie was the queer/homosocial elements involved - elements that were present in the original Arnie movies, but covered up with violence and machismo for the indulgence of the male spectator. I would say the same for most action movies, especially those of the "hard body" genre (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, JCVD et al). When movies such as The Penetrator show up, suddenly these elements become overt rather than covert, and a whole host of issues come up that can shed light on male-male viewing relations in popular cinema. A more overt moment that comes to mind is when the punks first see the Penetrator. One of the guys looks up and exclaims, "Check out this dick!" in a way reminiscent of the original movie, but with a more loaded meaning when the camera cuts to a naked (dick included, as opposed to the coy Terminator) Penetrator. These overt moments, in my opinion, are pointing to something much more subtle about the hard body genre - the "hetero" male enjoyment of the male body in a homophobic world, necessitating the mediation of action, hypermasculinity, and all the rest of it. 

Finally, I want to restate that this movie is a ton of fun. And, happily, it spawned a sequel: Penetrator 2: Grudge Day, which I must check out along with the Rambone series. 

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