Since this title is rather unusual compared to most modern adult entertainment offerings - a straight feature from 1981 - the review format will be modified a bit to reflect that.
Director: Cecil Howard Cast: Lysa Thatcher, Kandi Barbour, Veronica Hart, Arcadia Lake, Jody Maxwell, Linda Vale, Jamie Gillis, Eric Edwards, Roy Stuart, Ward Summers, Jake Teague, Ashley Moore Length: 87 mins Production Date: 1981
Whenever anyone wants to argue about the validity or viability of modern pornography, they immediately set their sights on the adult entertainment of the past, and wax nostalgic over its supposed superiority to what is being made today. Before video violated every mandate of the hardcore manufacturer, most flesh peddlers considered themselves filmmakers first, providers of quality XXX entertainment second. As much time and attention was paid to scripts as to snatch, occasionally choosing characterization and narrative over carnality and nookie. Individuals raised on the VHS variety of smut would probably start snoring at the unrushed level of eros expressed in these films, while people with a penchant for gonzo and other higher levels of gratuity would balk at how boring these titles could be. Somewhere in the middle between amazing and average is the so-called classic Neon Nights. Featuring many of the superstars of the era (Veronica Hart, Jamie Gillis) and using their terrific talents in service of a fantasy-based plot, this is a very peculiar film. It's not quite an arousing tour de force - indeed, it contains some of the most mundane suck and fuck this critic has ever come across.
As her mother (Linda Vale) is getting fisted by her depraved lover Robert (Jamie Gillis), slutty little Sandy (Lynda Thatcher) gets off on their sex noises. She grabs a hairbrush and puts the non-business end up her snatch. Satisfied, she heads for the shower. Suddenly, a naked Robert walks in, and attempts to seduce her. When Mommy catches the couple, Sandy becomes persona non grata around her bawdy abode. She decides to run away and join her sister in the Big Apple. She calls her equally skanky pal Bonnie (Kandi Barbour) for some advice, but her friend is too busy trying to pork the tennis pro (Ashley Moore) to care. With mad Mommy in hot pursuit, Sandy hits the road and is picked up a magician (Jake Teague). He takes her back to his hotel room, and hypnotizes her into watching him make it with his paid paramour (Jody Maxwell). The next day, the couple is gone, and Sandy is left to fend for herself.
Eventually arriving in New York, Sandy decides to look up her twin sister. The relative works for Rhonda (Veronica Hart), a flesh peddler with a jaundiced gigolo named Snow (Eric Edwards) doing all her dirty work. Turns out Rhonda hires out Sandy's sister to a mystery man. When Snow stops by to deliver a new set of sexy photos to Mr. X, the boss's mistress (Arcadia Lake) puts the moves on him. It's not long before Sandy is drawn into this weird web of sexual fantasy. Is it real? Is it all in her mind? Did Robert try to fuck her, or is this all some warped way of remembering a father (Roy Stuart) who left home in a hurry under equally strange circumstances? We never do learn the answer as Sandy finally lives out her lustful desires. Apparently, under the naughty Neon Nights of New York, fucking fills all gaps - except for those in the plot.
If anyone is looking for an example of why contemporary cock and cunt extravaganzas are sexually superior to the adult entertainment of the past, Neon Nights is an excellent case in point. Dirty movie directing legend Cecil Howard, known for his elegant, sumptuous smut films, notoriously relied on scripts over sex to sell his ideas. He worked with many of the industry's then giants, yet the final results barely did the mega-stars justice. When viewed through the veil of our post-millennial manner of vice, it's easy to understand the dynamic at play. Porn was definitely not as mainstream as it is in 2006, and legitimacy had to be maintained in some form or another. Since the hardcore fuck and suck couldn't be used to provide decorum or decency, it was up to all the other elements in the movie to do so. That is why production values were high, acting was more or less excellent, and the overall feel was glamour mixed with gratuity. Neon Nights is loaded with elegant sets, wonderful performances, and oddball aspects (the whole magician angle) that really are intriguing. Too bad it doesn't add up to something more memorable.
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One of the reasons why Neon Nights is less successful than other Howard productions is the lack of lustful sex. Sure, we get some good hardcore action interspersed amongst the numerous narrative threads, but there is more plot than porn here. A perfect example is the opening act. Jamie Gillis gives Linda Vale a handful up the honey hole, but after a couple of quick penis pumps (doggy style) he's ready to unload his man moisture. Another scene with our star meat puppet is all foreplay and no penetration. True, it's supposed to be a taboo moment between Thatcher and her mother's lover, but we no longer live in a 'tease, don't please' XXX parameter. Fans want to see fucking, not just fantasy. This simplistic sex concept even carries over to the other actors. Kandi Barbour spends endless minutes trying to seduce Ashley Moore's torn tennis pro, but when we finally get to the fun, it's oral, a couple of positions (mish and spoon) and a money shot on the mons. Talk about your weak "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" moments. We want variety in our vice, not more introspection from our cast.
Granted, things do take a turn for the better when Jody Maxwell and Jake Teague take center stage. As the way out weirdo magician and his paid partner in poon, this couple cranks up the eros with their sensational 69 tongue tricks. There's even a little deep throating tossed in for good gratuitous measure. But, again, the positions are pathetic. Teague takes Ms. Maxwell in the missionary manner, and then when he cums, we barely view a pop (frankly, it looks like he didn't have much to offer in the nut nougat department). That means Veronica Hart and Eric Edwards must save the day, and they almost do. Providing the only anal in the entire film, this couple really looks good together. Sure, the scene still seems to fly by, and Ms. Hart really gives off the vibe of being one Helluva horny bitch, but the lack of luxuriant, long sequences of balling keeps the passion in passive mode. Even when Eric takes on the tantalizing Arcadia Lake, the scene stumbles under a single pose paradigm. If you like minimal blowjobs and derivative cunnilingus, this film is loaded with it. But if you desire any aspect of the cowgirl dimension, or want to witness a little pooper plowing, you're not going to find it here. Howard wanted to make films with fucking, not just fucking on film. He truly accomplishes this concept with Neon Nights.
The final scene almost saves the whole enterprise, however. The Dirge doesn't find lead lady Lysa Thatcher all that arousing, but those who do will love what she does when Veronica breaks out the double-headed dildo. These gals give the plastic peter a real ride, and it's one of the more inventive sequences in the entire motion picture. Then Eric shows up to face fuck our star performer and the lack of aggression is novel. Finally, Jamie finishes what he started at the beginning of the movie - he finally parts Lysa's loins. But, wouldn't you know it, the single-minded mish brings everything to a screeching halt. No amount of penetration angles can make the standard male superior act anything more than rudimentary. Once Gillis gives up his ball brine, Neon Nights have overstayed its original wanton welcome. While we don't expect glorified gonzo, or a standard smoker ideal where individuals just show up on screen and fuck like rabbits, we hope that the idea of old school porn has some excitement and enticement, since some examples of flesh peddling from the past clearly do.
Sadly, Neon Nights just didn't do it for the Dirge. Veronica Hart's firebrand fuck and suck can't single handedly save this otherwise mundane movie. Lysa Thatcher has a nice body, but she tends to look like Liz Phair after a particularly bad performance on the Lilith Fair tour. Kandi Barbour is interesting, yet she only has one scene, and while Arcadia Lake looks like the perfect Me Decade model of petite sexual smolder, her lack of a potent onscreen persona doesn't help matters much. Cecil Howard is definitely a skilled filmmaker - this doesn't look like some cobbled together crap from a series of sloppily shot setups - and he does have an interesting way of make his sexuality both serious and surreal. But unlike Babylon Pink, that provided one sizzling sequence after another, we get too much sparse sex and not enough lingering moments of loving. Those who adore the pre-video vibe of filmed fornication will probably dig this dirty dreamscape with all its faux fantasy froufrou. Give it its due as a testament to a time in XXX when moviemaking was as important as the money shot, but Neon Nights is largely a let down.
Command Video offers up a two disc special edition of Neon Nights that places a wonderful emphasis on the technical specs of the release. The movie is not without its age issues - some occasional scratches and dirt, and a few awkward moments of grain - but overall the 1.33:1 full screen image is immaculate. You can stare in shocked dismay as gals grab their groins and wade through a veritable bush of beaver. The exterior scenes are expertly shot and the interiors are well lit and without problem. On the sound side, Command offers an unusual feature - the chance to hear the film in its original Mono mix, or in a brand new, remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo presentation. Opening up the sonic scenario is not really necessary in porn, since there are not a lot of atmospheric or ambient elements utilized. So, if you want to hear the horrid soundtrack in full rock-like rolling, or if the idea of listening to Veronica Hart moan throughout all the channels really stirs your shorts, you may enjoy the audio upgrade.
One of the best parts about this DVD release is its wealth of extras. Treating the title more like a movie and less like some sex product, we get an interesting commentary, a collection of outtakes, a series of interviews - even a look at the cable TV version of the film (sans 30 full minutes of smut). As a slice of softcore, Neon Nights is practically nonexistent. Take away the penetration and you've got a confusing collection of non-interlocking vignettes. Disc 2 also offers the Q&As, with the highlight being a sit down with adult industry veteran Veronica Hart. More a lesson in the changing face of XXX than a walk down memory lane, Ms. Hart discusses her ethical issues with the genre (she has a big problem with rape fantasies) and the 'rebel' element of early porn. Star Jamie Gillis also shows up for a sit down, and he is wonderfully self-effacing and open about making this movie. Cinematographer and editor C. Davis Smith is also interviewed, offering interesting technical anecdotes about adult filmmaking. Our last subject is actor Eric Edwards and his reminiscences about working in the adult industry are just priceless.
Disc 1 houses the commentary track featuring Howard (it is moderated by DVD Drive-In critic Casey Scott). A fairly definitive discussion of the film (though our subject is a little sketchy on the facts some 25 years later), Howard has a great many things to say about his time as a maker of major hardcore features. He talks at length about the ease at getting talent (they would call HIM when they learned he was prepping another film) and jokes about the confusing aspects of the narrative (like David Lynch, he has an explanation for everything, but refuses to divulge it in public). Add to this insightful conversation a full 30+ minutes of outtakes, bloopers and various filmed ends. Offered sans sound (but with Howard as narrator), we get to see how big league adult movies were made. Along with some trailers and a nice still and poster art gallery, this is a quality digital presentation, and a nice way to preserve the history and heritage of this movie.
Disco Dirge Peter Meter Rating:3 out of 5 (Recommended) Cohabitation Certification: Granted
So here's the bottom line. Porn pre-VHS was complex and well crafted, attention to cinematic detail all part of the demographic design. Once video, and the possibility of portability came along, individuals no longer needed to strive for filmic facets. Just get a couple of willing kids, a secured place to shoot and let them fuck their blitzed brains out. If you want to see what all the nostalgia and wistfulness is about, give Neon Nights a try. It might have left the Dirge a tad cold, only earning a rating of Recommended, but others may enjoy its wistful wantonness. This is tasteful, erotic XXX material, delivered with directorial flare and a true moviemaking mentality. Neon Nights may not be a masterpiece in today's big gang bang business, yet it argues that our modern flesh peddling is overly concerned with concepts like positions, scene length and cock size. While it is fun to look back at what made the "members" of society past stand up and take notice, this is all still rather dull, at least by dicking standards. Cecil Howard is definitely a porn legend. Neon Nights might not be the best way to witness his genital genius, however.