From Abel Ferrara to Wes Craven: The Mainstream Directors Who Dabbled in Porn

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From Abel Ferrara to Wes Craven: The Mainstream Directors Who Dabbled in Porn

The porn-to-mainstream trajectory isn’t an uncommon one for filmmaking professionals. For some in the indie world (and those that came from the world of exploitation cinema), the distinction drawn along that path has always been a blurry one. Titillation is the whole battle in the grindhouse horror, and unsimulated sex acts bring realism to films by Michael Winterbottom, Lars von Trier, Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Verhoeven, Bertrand Bonello, Wayne Wang, Vincent Gallo, Joe Swanberg, Tsai Ming-liang, John Cameron Mitchell, Gaspar Noé, Yorgos Lanthimos and Catherine Breillat. And let’s not even get into the playful nudies, where everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Roger Ebert got in on the action.

Some of the most recognizable and familiar names in movies got their start—or at least dabbled—in pure adult films, even if they’re not the true-blue hardcore stuff the urban legends make them out to be. Actors like Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone had early appearances in softcore, Skinemax-like movies. Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld got his start as DP (here standing for “director of photography,” thank you very much) for a handful of adult flicks. Parody Flesh Gordon boasted the makeup effects of legend Rick Baker. Actress Bella Thorne made her directorial debut with the hardcore Her & Him before becoming a crass OnlyFans tourist. Those who’ve stayed safely behind pseudonyms could fill a book.

As porn slowly destigmatizes, the adult industry finds its way back to the big screen in films like X and Pleasure, and as Letterboxd begins allowing users to log reviews and rate hardcore films, it’s a good time to remind cinephiles that some familiar names (or at least the makers of some familiar movies) also shot sex. Quite a few directors who’ve worked porn went on to make cultish, genre-laden, exciting films that might make you want to check out their horny beginnings—or vice-versa, we’re not here to judge.


Wes Craven

The Movie You Know: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Hills Have Eyes, The People Under the Stairs

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The Scream King and one of our modern horror masters, Wes Craven wore a lot of hats before giving Freddy Krueger his fedora. When he delved into genre filmmaking, he wasn’t just leaving behind a career in academia, but graduating from a varied career in porn. We don’t know the titles of most of his pseudonymous work, but one particular feature stands alone for Craven completionists. Craven’s extensive, genre-defining work in horror has kicked off franchises, inspired uninspired remakes, and poked fun at some of its own biggest tropes. Only someone with a true mastery of his craft could so comfortably navigate all these angles with a consistently brainy, smarmy, clear-eyed style. Aside from creating Ghostface and Freddy Krueger, Craven approached intense and gritty exploitation (The Last House on the Left), psychological thriller (Red Eye), and even early superhero adaptations (Swamp Thing) with style, charm and economy that wasn’t afraid to hit you in the gut.

The Porn You Should: The Fireworks Woman

Written, edited and directed by Craven under the name “Abe Snake,” incest porn The Fireworks Woman came out between his feature debut The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. The filmmaker appears as a kind of red-lit, fireworks-based Satan/ringmaster figure throughout the film, which follows Angela (Jennifer Jordan) lusting after her brother Peter (Eric Edwards). The taboo-flaunting piece of hardcore opens with a thrumming psychedelic dance, and inspires discomfort in its religiously-tinged sex scenes with Jacques Urbont’s droning score and dissonant sound effects. More flagellation than you might think violently flavors this psychosexual Fourth of July romp, which uses Pachelbel’s Canon just as effectively as its intense close-ups. Dreamy and unsettling despite its surface appeal, The Fireworks Woman is undeniably Craven.


Abel Ferrara

The Movie You Know: Ms .45, King of New York, Driller Killer, Bad Lieutenant

Indie provocateur Abel Ferrara hasn’t slowed down since the ‘70s, cranking out dozens of crunchy projects ranging from full-on grindhouse (initially gaining notoriety for The Driller Killer’s placement on the U.K.’s list of banned video nasties) to moody crime thrillers. An education in urban grime cinema wasn’t complete without a few Ferrara films. More recently, his work has become a bit more contemplative as he’s continued a fruitful collaboration with actor Willem Dafoe in films like 4:44 Last Day on Earth, Pasolini and Siberia.

The Porn You Should: 9 Lives of a Wet Pussycat

Ferrara directed 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, his feature debut, under the name “Jimmy Boy L.” Written by his longtime creative partner Nicholas St. John and scored by his frequent composer Joe Delia, the porn recently received a full restoration from Vinegar Syndrome. The funky, breakneck soundtrack and sometimes inventive cinematography (one colorful mirror shot recalls Bad Lieutenant’s Harvey Keitel; a stairwell attack is framed to evoke desperate claustrophobia) fills the porn anthology with energy—even a segment where Ferrara himself performs as a gray-haired father to a pair of repressed daughters. With a tarot reader (Dominique Santos) as its host, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy has a little bit of everything for those looking to engage with Ferrara’s original foray into sleaze.


David DeCoteau

The Movie You Know: A Talking Cat!?!, many Puppet Master movies

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One of many Roger Corman disciples who dabbled in the hornier side of cinema, David DeCoteau is, as Flavorwire called him, “the hardest-working schlockmeister in the business.” With 177 directorial credits to his name (and with more to come), the founder of Rapid Heart Pictures is pounding out the pics—be they entries into a semi-beloved horror franchise or entries into The Flop House canon. The business-focused filmmaker started adding “1313” to some of his steamier projects to boost their placement in streaming libraries, phone book style, and filmed many in the same nondescript McMansion. Updating the Corman efficiency and mercenary spirit for the streaming world, DeCoteau turns ‘em around fast and simple.

The Porn You Should: Mansplash, Making It Huge

The openly gay DeCoteau (hunks populate his homoerotic exploitation films, from the 1313 series to his highly successful Voodoo Academy; his black-and-white Leather Jacket Love Story is highlighted as a passion project) directed a handful of hardcore films ahead of his non-porn feature debut for Full Moon Pictures, Dreamaniac. Mansplash and Making It Huge are representative of DeCoteau’s laissez-faire attitude towards things like plot and performance while still getting the job done—and often being unintentionally hilarious along the way. Rarely do even stereotypical porn actors come off as disinterested in the “acting” part of the job as they do here, but hey, this is the guy that got Eric Roberts to record all his lines for A Talking Cat!?! in just 15 minutes.


Wash Westmoreland

The Movie You Know: Still Alice, Quinceañera, Colette

Wash Westmoreland transitioned to non-porn filmmaking in unique fashion by using his experience to make a movie—alongside his late filmmaking partner and husband Richard Glatzer—about the porn industry. After breaking out with festival hit The Fluffer, Westmoreland continued working with Glatzer for a series of indies with strong female leads—most of which were based on real-life people (Colette, The Last of Robin Hood). Still Alice, about a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 50, reflects Glatzer’s battle with ALS. With strong performances and pared-down filmmaking, Westmoreland’s work leans on its leads.

The Porn You Should: The Hole

While Westmoreland shot a decent handful of hardcore films, The Ring/Ringu parody The Hole is perhaps the most fun. Cheeky humor fills the straight-to-gay movie, winking with self-awareness not only at typical elements of the sexual subgenre but of the horror genre it’s aping. The video in question, which turns the viewer gay seven days after they see it, is filled with amusingly on-the-nose black-and-white imagery—which makes the brightly lit, extended sex scenes all the more entertaining. The 109-minute film jams plenty into its runtime (The Hole is perhaps too singular in its description), but its diverse and engaging tone makes it stand out from its cash-in knock-off peers.


Lloyd Kaufman

The Movie You Know: The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Tromeo & Juliet

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Half of Troma Entertainment’s leadership and the co-director behind B-movies so stylistically recognizable as to be marked as Troma films, Lloyd Kaufman has that Roger Corman spirit flowing throughout so many of this list’s membership. Splattery, horny, nasty and unabashedly silly, Kaufman’s Troma work exploits with the best of them and gave starts to Hollywood mainstays like James Gunn, J. J. Abrams, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Naturally, before turning to Toxie and Poultrygeist, Kaufman needed to make some cash in the film world and had no qualms about porn—which eventually led to some of Troma’s series of exclamatory sex comedies (Squeeze Play!, Waitress!, Stuck on You!, The First Turn-On!).

The Porn You Should: The Divine Obsession

The early ‘70s saw the filmmaker turn to the hardcore, and The Divine Obsession has plenty of Kaufman hallmarks. Not only are there plenty of messy yeast-infecting food gags in the Julia Franklin-starring rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of a wannabe star, but its early sex scenes are filled with enjoyably corny jokes and cartoonish choices (a guy getting a blowjob makes a face that’s as close to a Looney Tunes “awooga” wolf as a human can). A stop-motion frog hops along a nude woman’s leg, a ridiculous fountain of cum spouts from an ogling job interviewer, and a piss joke goes on for a very long time—and yet the juvenile tone often enhances the action and drama, maintaining its confidence until the bleak finale.


Doris Wishman

The Movie You Know: A Night to Dismember, Let Me Die a Woman

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She’s “the greatest female exploitation film director in history,” according to Joe Bob Briggs. In her words, “When I die, I’ll make films in hell!” Doris Wishman was an astonishingly prolific multihyphenate, operating in the world of oddball indies and skin flicks. After breaking through with the beachy sci-fi “nudie cutie” Nude on the Moon, she was all over the noirish world of softcore “roughies” before helming the quasi-doc Let Me Die a Woman—a pioneering film about the transitioning experiences of people like Deborah Hartin—and the slasher A Night to Dismember. Her sometimes surreal style and DIY spirit suffuse her filmmaking, as does a spark of middle-fingered feminism.

The Porn You Should: Satan Was a Lady, Come With Me, My Love

Ahead of her films that weren’t completely nudity-focused, Wishman went the opposite direction, helming a pair of hardcore features starring Annie Sprinkle and some inverted-color effectwork. Satan Was a Lady is a straightforward bunch of banging that takes a ridiculous plot turn at the very end (as soon as some color-warped dream-sex has stopped). Think a Psycho-style explainer…but one retrofitting all sorts of winding story shenanigans onto random pornography. Come With Me, My Love is far weirder throughout, being a horny ghost story about a vengeful, murderous and long-dead cuckold doomed to haunt a sex-filled apartment, killing the men and having sex with the women. Some odd effects cap things off, making the cheap and nasty little movie feel like it’s a few substantial cuts away from an enjoyably strange giallo.


Jean Rollin

The Movie You Know: Les Raisins de la Mort

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A director whose hardcore work was woven into the heart of his career, prolific French filmmaker Jean Rollin kicked things off with four vampires movies in a row before diversifying his art into myriad fantastical directions. However, the cult auteur’s dreamy and often erotic films rarely strayed too far from the porn he used to finance his more mainstream endeavors—in fact, Rollin actually shot two versions of Lèvres de Sang, with Suce Moi Vampire being its hardcore mirror. The gory zombie flick Les Raisins de la Mort saw star Brigitte Lahaie’s crossover from work like Vibrations Sensuelles and helped reestablish the filmmaker as someone operating in the non-horny (or at least, less horny) horror sphere. It and other of his more effect-driven work, like La Morte Vivante, provided representative glimpses at some of Rollin’s exciting genre imagery over the course of his half-century career, though his filmography is almost evenly split between mainstream and sexually explicit work.

The Porn You Should: Phantasmes

The sole porn Rollin allowed his own name to be attached to (rather than relying on a pseudonym), Phantasmes features many Rollin mainstays, including twin sisters Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel. Gothic, castle-set sex scenes, inventive lighting set-ups, a moody score and an ending on a beach? Check. A cameo where Rollin plays an unsuccessful rapist who gets clobbered with a log? Oui oui. A hazy giallo feel in between its standard ‘70s mustachery? You better believe it. All it needs is a vampire and it’d fit right into the rest of the Rollin canon…though it’d be a lesser entry, for sure.


Radley Metzger

The Movie You Know: The Cat and the Canary

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Ok, this one’s a bit of a cheat, but c’mon. One of the defining figures of the Golden Age of porn, Metzger’s glam erotica is probably what you think of when you think of the all-out ‘70s porno aesthetic. In fact, of all the people on this list, he might be the most artistic eroticist of all. The journeyman—he did everything from editing Bergman and Antonioni at Janus Films to making Korean War propaganda films to distributing softcore—started out trying to make dramatic indies. He succeeded with Dark Odyssey (in that it was completed and technically screened in theaters), but it didn’t pay the bills. But his John Willard adaptation The Cat and the Canary did, somewhat off the strength of its cast: Carol Lynley, Edward Fox, Daniel Massey, Wendy Hiller, Wilfred Hyde White, Michael Callen, Honor Blackman and Olyvia Hussey. A familiar horror-thriller (heirs in a castle with a killer), Metzger’s keen eye and inventive jack-of-all-trades mind make his The Cat and the Canary both enjoyably pulpy and unexpectedly restrained.

The Porn You Should: The Opening of Misty Beethoven

As the Golden Age turned away from the popular distribution of titillating Euro-arthouse and the world of on-screen intercourse, Metzger adapted. As he says of his softcore erotic work, “With all the elegance and the nine weeks of shooting and all the light in Yugoslavia, it couldn’t really compete with what some guy could do for $20 in his basement as long as it had erections and cum shots.” So he gave into the business pressure to go full hardcore under the name Henry Paris. That led to The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, which was shot much like his other films, and his breakthrough, The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Combining Pygmalion with Metzger’s years of expertise filming, acquiring and shooting softcore, Misty Beethoven was a smash in its pursuit of turning an unimpressive sex worker into the Goldenrod Girl. With the ever-evolving talents of Constance Money and the charisma of Jamie Gillis emphasized by Metzger’s wry sense of humor, capability with plot and extravagant camera, Misty Beethoven is funny, charming, engrossing and, above all, hot.


Shu Lea Cheang

The Movie You Know: Fresh Kill

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A radical multihyphenate mostly working in the queer sci-fi space, Shu Lea Cheang has been messing with genres and gender dynamics (not to mention racism) on the big screen since her 1994 festival hit Fresh Kill. Starring Sarita Choudhury, Erin McMurtry and the idea of hacktivism, the cyberpunkish lesbian slice-of-life put Cheang on the map beyond video installations. That said, it also encouraged further videographic experimentation with form. She did the first web-based project for the Guggenheim, then moved onto a commission that intrigued her: Porn.

The Porn You Should: I.K.U.

A riff on Blade Runner, I.K.U. was the first hardcore movie to screen at Sundance. Cheang benefactor/producer had wanted a softcore “pink” film to fit into a traditional Japanese censorship lane, but…well, Cheang disagreed. There’s plenty of sex in I.K.U.—in fact, so much that seven different stars portray the lead. Neon colors (bright pinks and greens) in its bright set and rubbery costume design back up chaotic camera moves, digital effects and sound/editing that feels like being overwhelmed with pop-ups at a rave. This is The Lawnmower Man of porn.


Joe D’Amato

The Movie You Know: Beyond the Darkness, Antropophagus

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The extraordinarily prolific Italian filmmaker, Joe D’Amato AKA Aristide Massaccesi worked on hundreds of movies—ranging from producing the legendary Troll 2 to helming nunsploitation flicks to lensing movies with compelling titles like 2020 Texas Gladiators—but is best known for his work in the horror/exploitation/porn space that became semi-permeable in genre and form during the ‘70s. Two of his more famous non-hardcore works—Beyond the Darkness and Antropophagus—were shot at the end of this era. The latter was a certified video nasty for its gorey depictions of cannibalism (including that of an unborn fetus, which was actually a skinned rabbit covered in blood). Naturally, as with anything banned by officials, it became a cult favorite. The Goblin-scored Beyond the Darkness was another splatterfest, but doesn’t quite boast the barfbag bonafides of its cannibal cousin. Yet, both showed D’Amato for a sensationalist showman who knew how to hook and shock an audience—and give those nasty freaks exactly what they want.

The Porn You Should: Porno Holocaust

Interspersed among D’Amato’s 200+ credits are a slew of hardcore films. Many come from his later career, where he collaborated with stars like Rocco Siffredi for genre pastiches (riffing on Robin Hood, Nero, Tarzan, pirates and more), but his most successful came early—right around the time he was making his best horror movies, in fact. Namechecking Cannibal Holocaust, Porno Holocaust was one of the first wide-release porn films in Italy and it fit squarely in D’Amato’s wheelhouse. More trashily enjoyable than his Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, which also did a porno riff on a known horror property, this monster-attack film is barely held together by its ridiculous plotting. The over-the-top soundtrack and surprisingly long shot length are as indicative of the time period as the body hair, and the angle choices can be as amusingly off-the-wall as the monster make-up, which is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. What can I say? It’s the kind of cheapy Italian nonsense that was cranked out half a dozen features at a time in the same location, but there’s something distinctively charming about that fact.


Danny Steinmann

The Movie You Know: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

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While not the filmmaker behind the absolute worst Friday the 13th movie, Danny Steinmann’s entry into a hallowed horror franchise was described by our Jim Vorel as pulling “a Halloween III: Season of the Witch, ditching the real Jason to morph into this half-baked whodunit, a curious if pointless addition to the overall canon.” It was also the last film of his career, and one that he fittingly described as matching his career’s start. “I shot a fucking porno in the woods there,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the nudity they cut out.” And there’s plenty of lurid shlock left, even if it didn’t amount to a killer flick. Beyond that, the filmmaker helmed another horror film, The Unseen, and an action movie starring Linda Blair. He’s got some cult clout for sure, including a long below-the-line resume that includes working closely with Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry, but his most well-received film was also his first.

The Porn You Should: High Rise

After working around the film industry, Steinmann (under the name Danny Stone) wrote and directed the hardcore High Rise as his debut after seeing Deep Throat in theaters. Shot in two-and-a-half days, the 16mm film was blown up to 35mm and a friend provided the (surprisingly solid) funk-soul soundtrack. The result was a unique and tongue-in-cheek series of vignettes linked together by a loose skyscraper-scaling plot. Some extended tracking shots, choppy editing and an orgiastic lightshow of a finale gives a hint of a young gun artist looking to make a splash; the deluge of sex emphasizes that it was here to take financial advantage of the new Golden Age.


Tom DeSimone

The Movie You Know: Hell Night

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Speaking of Linda Blair’s post-Exorcist career, here we have another director who cast her in an ‘80s cult film—a man who, in fact, is listed as an uncredited co-director on Danny Steinmann’s Blair project, Savage Streets. Tom DeSimone also made a name in the horror world with episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares, but his cinematic legacy remains linked with Hell Night. A cult hazing slasher that boasted an early credit from Frank Darabont as a P.A., it earned Blair an unwarranted Razzie nomination as its moody cinematography, Gothic style and solid performances earned it a standout place among the decade’s schlocky horror. But DeSimone had a massive, decade-long career before gearing up to horror.

The Porn You Should: Hot Truckin’

Under the name Lancer Brooks, DeSimone was a gay porn pioneer. “When I got out it was the early Sixties and things were still being run by the old boys academy,” DeSimone said. “The only work I could get was making X-rated movies.” His 1970 film The Collection was the first feature gay porn to include the typical trappings of plot and dialogue that would become standard during the decade. Of his dozens of hardcore features, Hot Truckin’ is one of the more accessible and fun. Originally composed of four 8mm films, this crosscut highway of denim and diesel includes minimal plot but plenty of action—linked together with enough skill and well-shot exteriors that you’d think “hey, this filmmaker could be onto something” if you weren’t too busy watching so much hot truckin’.


Jesús Franco

The Movie You Know: Vampyros Lesbos, The Awful Dr. Orloff

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Yet another B-movie workhorse, Jesús Franco kicked off Spanish horror with The Awful Dr. Orloff and worked with such genre luminaries as Christopher Lee. But his legacy of exploitation lies with one of his best films, the lesbian vampire horror-erotica Vampyros Lesbos. The well-scored film remains a sterling example of a classic queer trope, with our Shayna Maci Warner calling the 1971 movie “an incredibly sexy, sensual and bloody dessert.”

The Porn You Should: Justine and the Whip

Like Joe D’Amato, Franco’s genre-spanning exploitation work dabbled back and forth into hardcore. Most of his porn efforts, including the Marquis de Sade-influenced Justince and the Whip starred his longtime companion and eventual wife Lina Romay. Showing the small-worldness of the Euro B-movie crowd, D’Amato actually re-edited a version of the film for a 1979 Italian release, which became the film we now know. Drenched in the garish colors of giallo and peppered with Franco’s favored handheld camerawork (the guy loved a zoom!), Justine and the Whip is slow, sensual and moodier to look at than your run-of-the-mill hardcore flick. It also has an outrageously, hilariously morbid ending involving a self-inflicted gunshot wound that would puzzle the most seasoned coroner.


William Lustig

The Movie You Know: Maniac, Maniac Cop

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The filmmaker behind the similarly named yet equally beloved (in some circles, that is) horrors Maniac and Maniac Cop—as well as the underappreciated sequels to the latter—William Lustig knows what sells. His violent, indie non-hardcore debut employed Tom Savini for splatter effects and a let-loose Joe Spinell (a personal friend of Lustig who’d frequent grindhouse movies with him), all beefed up with a media frenzy surrounding its MPAA-flouting status. His Cop follow-up was a sillier yet somewhat more palatable slasher, but laid the groundwork for a franchise—indicative of the late ‘80s horror landscape. Now Lustig has mostly backed into the exec role: Producing, distributing, CEO-ing. But it goes back, like it does with so many, to the Golden Age.

The Porn You Should: The Violation of Claudia

As with many filmmakers on this list, Lustig was swept up in the burgeoning, Deep Throat-driven porn industry of NYC by family friend Peter “Savage” Petrella, who knew Lustig’s uncle Jake LaMotta and helped write Raging Bull. After plenty of random set gigs, Lustig used the proceeds from his pair of hardcore directorial efforts—Hot Honey and The Violation of Claudia—to pursue making Maniac. But he made a name (albeit the name “Billy Bagg”) with his debut, The Violation of Claudia, alongside rising star and XXX legend Sharon Mitchell. Alternating between dreamy tension and realistic grime, the story of a housewife-turned-sex-worker favors extreme close-ups and a funny freeze-frame twist ending—not to mention a kind of something-from-nothing competence that any indie filmmaker needs.


Matt Cimber

The Movie You Know: The Witch Who Came from the Sea

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Matt Cimber has many claims to fame: Noted genre director; final husband of Jayne Mansfield; co-creator of the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) show who inspired Marc Maron’s character on GLOW. He made a string of well-liked Blaxploitation films and the movie Butterfly which featured such a bad performance by Pia Zadora (the film was financed by her rich husband) that it exposed a culture of bribery when she won a Golden Globe. But perhaps his most lasting cinematic contribution is the video nasty The Witch Who Came from the Sea. A haunting and psychological thriller shot by Oscar-nominated Jurassic Park and The Thing DP Dean Cundey, the film features a great turn from Millie Perkins and was Cimber’s stab at a “legitimate” film.

The Porn You Should: Sex and Astrology

But before that, directed under the pseudonym Rinehart Segway, was Sex and Astrology. Part of a string of sexploitations he filmed alongside titles like The Sexually Liberated Female, Sex and Astrology is a Rome-set bit of zodialogical silliness with a hilarious narrator straight out of a “How-To” Goofy cartoon. Over-the-top costumes, makeup and sets make the tone clear—a nude male dance featuring a python is just one of many sequences that’ll keep you guessing. This one’s as eclectic as its director, a film for the Co-Star crowd that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


Arthur J. Bressan Jr.

The Movie You Know: Buddies, Gay USA

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An early figure in queer indie cinema, Arthur J. Bressan Jr. was the first to deal with the AIDS crisis in feature film form with his 1985 movie Buddies. This came after his similarly novel documentary Gay USA inspired the likes of Harvey Milk with its on-the-ground exploration of queerness in the country—and the threats facing it. Buddies would be his last production before he died of AIDS-related complications, though Bressan is noted to have said that, “Every once in a while you get the chance to make a statement on film that has nothing to do with your career, with ego, with money—but only with the issues of life and love and death. If Buddies turns out to be my last film, it’ll be a fine way to go.” Throughout his life, his films blurred the line between documentary, fiction and pornography.

The Porn You Should: Passing Strangers

Bressan’s feature debut—after two short films, one of which formed the basis for what would later become Gay USAPassing Strangers is the rare entry on this list not shot and set in New York or L.A. The San Franciscan tale of two gay men falling in love is extremely wholesome, far more focused on characters and drama than hardcore action. Half black-and-white, half color, the film’s palette reflects its emotions. Heartfelt and lonely at times, but with plenty of sex, the joyous final act—flying kites, visiting Pride—seals the film with an aesthetic kiss.


Ray Dennis Steckler

The Movie You Know: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies

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Ray Dennis Steckler’s claim to fame is one that is surprisingly unique among filmmakers listed here: His nuttiest movie was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, a 1963 “monster musical” featuring two notable camera operators (Vilmos Zsigmond and László Kovács), is one of the worst movies the crew ever riffed upon. From its ridiculous musical numbers, dismal stand-up set, unprofessional cast, incomprehensible…well, everything, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is rough going—but possibly enjoyable for the right kind of masochistic crowd.

The Porn You Should: The Sexorcist

As Steckler’s weird genre wheelhouse stopped turning a relatively guaranteed profit, the filmmaker turned to hardcore. Filled with Satanic paintings and goofy plotting, The Sexorcist is ironically much better, objectively, than Steckler’s best-known film. For one, the colors are brighter and cleaner, and the whole thing just looks more like a movie. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still super weird, the product of an undeniably strange mind. But there’s still plenty of laughs, often from the sheer number of times people say “sexorcism,” “sexorcist,” or any other derivation. Unfortunately, it’s not quite fun enough to be the Z-grade trash befitting its maker—or the porn parody befitting its title.


Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

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