Flash (1981)

Destined to remain a footnote in the annals of adult, San Francisco’s Jack Genero burst onto the West Coast scene in the flurry of overcompensatory excess which characterized sexploitation’s last gasp as softcore simulation was pushed to its very limits in the face of full color penetration.  Reluctant to show penis entering pudenda, the industry resorted to knives puncturing soft female flesh and replaced intimacy with outrageous kink in a symbolic stand against the inevitable.  Genero definitely did his bit to make the exit memorable with the convincingly grimy kidnap caper San Francisco Ball, monumentally sleazy Mondo movie Deviations on Gratifications and, by far best of breed, ripped from the day’s headlines Commune starring Jefferson Airplane’s Bill Harvey as Charles Manson !  Along with his oddball Climax aka Kitty’s Pleasure Palace, a veritable epic by early ’70s skinflick standards featuring fence-straddling Maria Arnold pushing the boundaries of permissiveness as a hardbitten hit woman heading an army of rape victims hellbent on retaliation, these movies hinted at their director’s burning desire to make a “real movie” with sex but one of the attractions rather than its reason for being, like Jack Horner from Boogie Nights or his industry inspiration Bob Chinn, although ambition was admittedly sometimes outstripped by actual ability.

Staging an action set piece with all the aplomb of any ’70s TV cop show like Mannix or Starsky and Hutch, Genero quietly compiled a body of work that should have garnered him the respect of his peers as well as the general adult audience yet passed virtually unnoticed.  Foxy Lady proved a perfectly honorable attempt to integrate intrigue into copious carnality as a young John Leslie plots a bank job to meet his abducted wife’s ransom demands.  Ironically, his most popular film Pro-Ball Cheerleaders was an uncharacteristically undemanding girlie show for the big boob crowd displaying the ample endowments of Lisa DeLeeuw, Susan Nero and Candida Royalle.  The less said about the supremely silly Ann Perry penned Star Babe, toothlessly spoofing a certain space opera while it was still doing the rounds, probably the better as the director fought a valiant battle against a shitty situation.  Always his own cameraman, out of economic necessity as much as creative convenience, Genero finally won some richly deserved praise albeit under the (transparent) alias of “Jack Mathew” for his sterling achievement on the elusive Stanley Kurlan’s 1977 John Holmes/Lesllie Bovee blockbuster Eruption, bringing breathtaking visuals to this adult take on Billy Wilder’s classic noir Double Indemnity, shot on location in Hawaii over a three week stretch, an unheard of luxury for the genre then as now.  Persistant rumour had him handling much of the mysterious director’s chores as well as the material certainly played to his proven strength.  He was a strong supporter of the Adult Film Association of America (AFAA) and its initial investment in improving the industry’s stature in mainstream media, serving a stint as Vice President and proudly proclaiming his membership in most of his movie credits.

So what went wrong ?  Clearly, video killed more than just the radio star as it squeezed every last ounce of ambition out of an adult industry on the skids as cinemas closed their doors and movies were scaled down in every conceivable aspect to meet cathode ray contours.  Perhaps disenchanted with dirty movies, on which he had tried so hard with so little to show for, Genero arbitrarily embraced the new medium and never looked back, churning out cheap features for the hardcore home viewing crowd with only an occasional nugget hinting at erstwhile excellence like the early Christy Canyon showcase Treasure Chest or The Immoral Miss Teeze, coasting heavily on the considerable charm of much missed Erica Boyer.  Arriving at the peak of porn’s pinnacle period anyway, 1981’s Flash was his last 35mm project to the best of my knowledge, inevitably to be interpreted in hindsight as something of a last hardcore hurrah.  A recurring feature at the fornicatory flea pits it has been my good fortune to frequent over the years, occasionally still playing at the Brussels ABC theater, valiantly holding down the fort as we speak, there’s good news as well as bad.  Production values are probably at an all time high for Genero with his customary glowing cinematography a particular standout, artistically augmented by extensive aerial footage shot from a helicopter and convincingly generated suspense in a number of impeccably staged chase sequences.  Unfortunately, Michael Stott’s clumsy screenplay proves unnecessarily vague on various key plot points, creating confusion detracting from the porn’s potency.

You certainly can’t fault the film’s casting, the bad guys really looking the part, helped rather than hindered by the fact that the legitimate action swallowed up most of Genero’s budget so he had to dip into the porno pool of supporting players and also rans rather than adult’s A list, their unfamiliarity adding to the credibility.  Mike Eyke, a reliable loop performer furtively featured in Suze Randall’s Kiss and Tell, has no trouble convincing as duplicitous Mark Fischman, chief editor of floundering Flash flesh rag with a sideline in abduction and extortion.  The same goes for former sexploitation mainstay (pretending to pork for John Hayes in All the Lovin’ Kinfolk and the Don Davis classic Marsha the Erotic Housewife) and subsequent TV walk-on veteran Marland Proctor as his grizzled henchman, probably substituted for his brief blow job from star Hillary Summers.  Latter had forever forsaken the mousy look that marred earlier performances in Svetlana’s 800 Fantasy Lane and Jourdan Alexander’s Taxi Girls in favour of a platinum peroxide ‘do that only emphasizes her remarkable resemblance to current cinema crowned head Drew Barrymore.  Spouse of loopmeister Howard Ziehm, appearing in both his Flesh Gordon and Star Virgin, she was already pushing the ripe old age of 30 when she essayed the teen virgin title role in Roberta Findlay’s Justine : A Matter of Innocence which may account for a somewhat affected turn.  As goes for most of the Golden Age adult actresses, she had no trouble handling dialogue but required guidance to keep from overacting, unlike say Georgina Spelvin or Veronica Hart whose unfailing instinct and talent could easily compensate for a filmmaker’s failing in this department.  Since Genero’s attentions were more focused on surface slickness, Summers’ turn careens spectacularly off the rails at regular intervals on this occasion.  Yet it’s impossible for me to come down too hard on her as she was the shining star of the very first adult film I ever saw, Ron Sullivan’s glossy period pic and All About Eve take off The Budding of Brie.

Prime photographer for the aforementioned tabloid, Jessica’s interest is piqued when she spots a handlebar whiskered heavy (Lance De White) perusing their latest copy upside down while nervously guarding the entrance to a bank.  Next thing you know, she watches and conspicuously snaps shots of him and an accomplice brusquely escorting an exiting customer to their car.  While the girl looks familiar, it’s not until she turns on the news she realizes it’s Denise Rockland (angular Jane Lindsay), daughter of a governor making a bid for Senate.  In what must be one of the most thoroughly planned blackmail schemes ever, Jessica’s evil editor shot a porn film of the drug-addicted daughter and her boyfriend years ago with the intention of extortion in case dad ever hit the big time !  Though Lindsay did a number of loops for Swedish Erotica, the scratchy footage appears all original still suitably worn to implement the illusion, indicative of the director’s eye for detail which elevates his endeavors.  Eyke’s every inch the slimeball as he forces the dainty Denise to witness her unsavory past whirring through the projector while he shamelessly shtups Connie Peterson, ever the exhibitionist.  Sensing his roving reporter on his tail, Mark orders his henchmen to capture Jessica’s visiting best friend Maxine (Raven Turner) while she’s catching her breath at Antoine’s beauty salon.  Lacking the necessary warmth for the stardom she was obviously being groomed for, Turner has been obnoxiously whiny and abrasive in each of a mere trio of porn performances prior to calling it quits, the other two being Anthony Spinelli’s Nothing to Hide and Tony Kendrick’s Hot Dallas Nights.  Her humping hairdresser Tommy La Roc (an under the radar blond bulb working on both Ann Perry’s Ballgame and Undercovers) provides mostly visual interest as Genero highlights their milky complexion against an inky black background.  A glass table partition ends the scene with mutual masturbation rather than any actual penetration.

Hung but hardly a hunk, there’s a distinct blue collar roughness around the edges to scrunchy-faced stud Don Hodges, playing his biggest part in a checkered career as Jessica’s everready chauffeur and somewhat surprisingly pushing Summers’ buttons big time in the process.  Their backseat and bathroom quickies rank as unlikely hot ‘n heavy Hillary humdingers which is a good thing as her Sapphic soothing of Lindsay’s a non-starter, spoilsport baddies bursting through the door, and an enforced airborne BJ looks suspiciously faked.  All of this serves to transport Jessica to her employer’s lair in the middle of nowhere, where Eyke’s on the receiving end of an excellent hummer from single shot cutie Rose Emor before taking liberties with a convincingly cowering Turner.  Summers saves the day, demonstrating physical prowess of a different kind by running and climbing all over the property and inadvertently assuring her dastardly boss gets his comeuppance in an ironic final twist, regrettably seguing once more into an extraordinarily annoying theme song by the usually reliable Chet and Jim Moore who did a superior job scoring Stu Segall’s superlative Summer School and Charli.

Directed by Jack Genero. Written by Michael Stott. Produced by Genero for Liberty Films. Photographed by Genero (as Jack Mathew). Music by Chet & Jim Moore. Starring Hillary Summers (Jessica Collins), Raven Turner (Maxine Collins), Jane Lindsay (Denise Rockland), Mike Eyke (Mark Fischman), Don Hodges (as Don Bruce) (Marty, the Chauffeur), Tommy La Roc (Antoine), Connie Peterson (Crystal), Marland Proctor (as Lloyd Allen) (Kurt), Rose Emor (Judy, BJ Pool Girl), Lance De White (Jackson), Steve Reiley (Seymour), Bud Wise (as Bob Turner) (Dave, Male Model) & Skip Roppe (TV News Anchor). Running time : 78 minutes.

By Dries Vermeulen

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