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“Horror Of Sex” by William Hellfire

GATW Guest Writer

March 30th, 2012

William Hellfire was an independent exploitation filmmaker from 1996-2004,  producing and directing over 30 features for the home video market, and is a featured host on the monthly alternative cinema podcast at alternativecinema.com. Hellfire is  currently in the midst of uploading his indie music and horror film soundtrack archives to freemusicarchive.org, where all music will be free to play, download, share, and abuse.

I used to wake up in a cold sweat, feeling that I had seriously taken an absurdly wrong turn in life. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I did for a living, there was no reference point, and it didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem like it fit into modern day society. It wasn’t just what I did for money but it was also my life, my hobby, a way of bringing friends together and doing something productive. I killed my girlfriends over and over in shot-on-video micro-budget sexploitation horror fetish films. I made over 30 of these; mostly feature length cinematic atrocities from 1996 to 2004 for the Home video market. The majority distributed on VHS through underground catalogues and the horror convention circuit. It was weird. It felt very isolated.

This was before internet was the norm, before the horror/exploitation resurgence of the early 2000s and DVD gulch. Adding to the “out of place” feelings was that I never really intended on being a filmmaker. I was a telemarketer who happened upon this path by accident. I had little school training in communications and all the life experience I gained was from playing in noise-punk stoner-rock bands. I learned that even though I had very limited skill as a filmmaker that if I convinced my girlfriend and some of her friends to get naked in movies people would buy them. If these girls were young and innocent it added to the appeal and what drove the whole formula home was if they were in scenarios depicting sexual coercion, rape and finally ending in violent death! Raped, beaten, tied up and tortured. Abused sexually, spied on and forced. Stabbing, hanging, and electrocution. Strangulation was considered sexually stimulating by many of my customers hence a popular means of extinguishing characters in many of my movies. The waking fear would pass, I liked what I was doing, it was just “weird” but then again I was always “weird”. I liked scamming girls into being in subversive, sexually deviant videos; it beat growing up and getting a real job. Playing a serial rapist/murderer was fun.

But what got me into this, what made this all so easy a task to perform? What led me to this simple formula that would keep my below the belt, negative budget clunkers getting churned out and consumed…

The Ghoulies and The Roughies

The 1970’s were an explosive time for filmmakers to push and exceed previous boundaries, experiment and redefine film. Everyone was getting ‘experienced’ whether it was through spirituality, philosophy, new found permissiveness with sex or experimenting with marijuana, L.S.D. and Opium. Everything was a ‘trip’ and you had to ‘dig’ the full experience, ride out the good trips with the bad. Film was becoming a head trip for the viewer. More cerebral and more visceral than ever before. How far could you go and to what recesses of the human psyche would you travel for a thrill? Right to the base. Through the primal, dark, and intoxicatingly sexually perverse and all from the safety of your seat; from behind your eyes, inside your head. This revolution in the arts and culture happened so quickly there was no time for the conservatives to understand it, fear it and squash it…not for a few decades at least. It was this revolution in cinema, this gulch of unrestrained outlaw reckless filmmaking that would populate the video store shelves and the early days of cable television in the years to come, right when I would be ripe and wide-eyed enough to see it.

I was a rabid horror fan growing up. My parents, caught up in the permissive views of the seventies and me being born a boy, felt no need to shelter, censor or protect me from the TV, cable box or movie screen. I was allowed to watch any films I desired and enjoy the spoils of ‘hands-off’ parenting. After seeing a few horror pictures and being subject to that intense stimulation at such an early developmental age, I can only imagine that my brain was transformed. I was hooked like a junkie on a Chinese rock.

Sex is scary

I loved all the creepy horror classics, monster movies and TV shows but I really connected with HALLOWEEN and Michael Myers. I had seen HALLOWEEN on television and loved Laurie Strode. I had a crush on her, and I always pictured myself as Michael Myers. I too wanted to stalk and kill her. I used to make up scarecrows with old clothes and a stuffed toy for a head, sew them together and take them into the yard. I would take my father’s fishing knife and skulk around, crunching the leaves under my feet, stalking the scarecrow with my blade. I would repeatedly stab the scarecrow and dump muddy water down the wounds to make ‘blood spatters’. It was a real rush acting out my puppy love. I remember struggling to stay awake for the horror movie coming on HBO the night of my sister’s sweet sixteen party. Drifting off to sleep I was shocked awake by laughter and some ape-ish teenager smashing a plastic fork into the carpet. Michael Caine was on the television; he had disguised himself up as a female nurse and was strangling a real ‘female’ nurse to death. After she expired he propped her up on the hospital bed, posing and admiring her body. The whole experience was ‘ookie’ and uncomfortable to watch. I felt transported like I was there in the room with him and found myself making every effort not to be discovered. Watching him objectify her limp body; I knew it was something ‘sexual’, but couldn’t begin to grasp what, as I was only 8 years old. I loved horror movies already but none of them made me feel this freaked out and ‘ookie’, like wet bugs just crawled over my bare feet.

Make Them Die Slowly

Eighth grade. Standing around in Sound Exchange with a few friends admiring the VHS tapes lining the wall, about eye level up to the ceiling, out of reach. They had a really strange selection of cult movies and horror among the usual live concert fare one would find at a record store. One video in particular really stood out - MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. After the temptation finally conquered me, I found I needed to jump through hoops to get to this rental. I had to leave a check for $80 with the clerk so I could take it out for two days (some crap about not being a member and not wanting to pay a membership fee to a store which only a handful of titles interested me to begin with). Anyway, I convinced my mother to write the check with promises it would be torn up after the film was returned. My friend David offered to pirate the tape for me so we decided to watch and tape it at his place. I spent the night over at David’s and after excusing ourselves from his parent’s dinner table, we were off to the TV room for a private viewing. David had been exposed to little horror and even less sexually explicit rated-R fare. Luckily, his parents weren’t interested in our sleepover viewing. Halfway through the film, I think during the ‘hooks through the breasts scene’, David and I turned green. We both felt like we were watching something so taboo and possibly ‘evil’. I am sure he stopped recording the other copy at this point and stopped the rental tape. It was like someone was eviscerated in the very room we were sitting. His apparent panic started to make me panic but when the motion sickness calmed and the giggling started I think we may have finished watching the movie. After all it was only a movie - a movie graphically depicting violent sexual mutilation. I didn’t hear too much from David after that; never invited over again. It was all so much stimulation to take at one time, stimulating and revolting. Wanting to see more but feeling guilty for doing so.

By the time I was a teenager I was renting horror films every weekend and one particular weekend I had invited a girlfriend over for the night. We sat down to watch LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Having never seen it before and just going by the description it seemed like a fun and naughty choice to show my female friend. I had no idea what was about to happen next, no idea she was going to beg me to turn it off, which I did not, no idea our stomachs were going to turn over and over through the course of the film. Unbeknownst to me, my friend had been abused when she was younger and the film triggered strong feelings of anxiety and revulsion in her. To this day she doesn’t remember anything about that viewing, only the title of the film. The experience was so intense, like a roller coaster ride and unexpectedly ‘bad’. Like getting ‘the fear’ from some heavy creeper weed, it left a lasting impression on me. One that is hard to describe or fully recall, only the feeling that a bomb had been dropped; a taboo had been broken. The power of sexually motivated violence in cinema was undeniable. I would dare myself into renting it again, shocking more girlfriends and rock n' roll buddies. In later years I would grow to adore LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and identify with the outlaw villains… as well as discover the intended theme of the film which I too could appreciate…

Transcendental horror meditation

Alan Watts’ recorded classes relayed eastern philosophy on a free form NJ radio station, WMFU, and I used to listen to these programs driving to and from work, school, and band practice. One particular show stood out describing life like a dream and that we are all ‘God’ and we’ve come into the material world out of the boredom of ‘being God’, like entering a dream for entertainment. So if you could dream about anything you want an example may be to dream something very glamorized or romantic like being a knight, slaying the dragon and saving the princes and you would dream this over and over again until you were bored of that. To make things interesting you would change it up; be a knight, fight the dragon and be wounded, but finally kill the dragon, save the princess. Growing board of that; be killed by the dragon to experience the suffering and the death part and so on and so forth.

Going to the cinema is like entering a dream and experiencing it from the safe distance of the screen to your seat. So why always take the Disney adventure, or the watered down homogenized Hollywood version, why not the outlaw, the obscenely cruel madness of man’s inhumanity to man, man acting on primal animal instincts?!? Experience what you hoped to never experience outside the controlled environment of the movie theatre. Find a way to tap into the primal pleasures and fears you would normally be hung for or die from if you acted them out! Chiller Theatre was my 42nd street.

The 1990’s were an exceedingly dull time for horror and exploitation cinema output. The corporations were taking over like aliens in a bad horror film. Entertainment was being homogenized like a plan straight out of 1984. Independent theatres were already all closed down, the Drive-in was dead. Blockbusters were taking over video rental and the mom and pop shops started going out of business. The film selection was thinning out, far less choice and little ‘catalogue’ titles, just a quick turnover of new shoddy rentals.

In 1995, I found Chiller Theatre and the gates to Hell on video. The Euro exploitation films and their American counterparts that had populated low rent cinemas across the country in the ‘70s and ‘80s found a new marketplace here. Table after table of bootleg VHS tapes or beat up pre-records. Jess Franco’s psychedelic and seductive VAMPIROS LESBOS, Passalini’s fascist perverts in SALO: 120 DAYS OF SODOM, Japan’s rapist vigilante RAPEMAN, women in prison, escaped convicts, Nazi love camp depravity. Rape and sexual coercion, deviant taboo behavior played out over and over. Even the monster movies were full of rape and sexual coercion, TINTORERA: KILLER SHARK (JAWS rip off) had rape scenes; Italy’s WEREWOLF WOMAN got raped too! Rape was almost like a given in these films, a rite of passage, a part of everyday life. In this alternate universe of grindhouse cinema women would be raped and then shrug it off, go on with their day, like it was no big deal ‘just rape’. Just ‘men playing rough’. Sometimes the men played real rough and eviscerated the woman after sex or eviscerated them without having any sex at all. They would take pleasure in mutilating their naked bodies, deconstructing beauty and relishing in the screams of intense pain. Nipples split in half; vagina and womb split open, nipples chewed off, beautiful faces burned off…

In more realistic scenarios men would kill a woman after he failed to perform in bed, ridding the world of a witness to his humiliation or kidnap, rape then kill her eliminating the witness. Men would coerce women into prostitution by seducing them with drugs or with the promise of a relationship only to convince them to turn tricks with threats of violence if she protested. In these films there were also dark female characters, sexual blackmailers, jail house lesbian rapists, Nazi commanders who would castrate their failed lovers, humiliate their prisoners. Wild biker girls who would join in on a rape, criminal outlaws who relish in watching their sadomasochistic boyfriends abuse women and join in for a thrill. Vigilante mad women, who would snap from being abused, castrate and kill their rapists. Sometimes they would go on shotgun shooting sprees or form man-hater karate kicking vigilante groups.

Children were not safe in these films either; there were no taboos left un-highlighted. Schoolgirls would be fondled and murdered, rich perverts would attempt to seduce peasant boys, Priests would murder children to keep them pure and protect them from sinning. The children in these films were just as dangerous; sexually blackmailing adults, spying on and photographing naked women. From puberty to murderer in 90 minutes, using their doe eyed mystique to deceive the adults they were plotting to slaughter. Competition with the porn industry had something to do with the abundance of the sexually driven storytelling of its genre cinema contemporaries. In the ‘70s and ‘80s Porn cinemas and peepshow porn arcades were popping up all over. To keep up with the porn trend the genre pictures employed sex too. The story driven soft-core pictures explored the kink and perversions more deeply, which drove up the cerebral titillation of the films where hardcore porn needed little creativity to arouse its viewers relying vastly on the physical act of sex. Produced with more budget money and usually (but not always) with artistic craftsmanship, the exploitation films were open to a wider audience and lent themselves to a much longer individual life in the market.

But besides all that, what was the driving force behind the popularity of this kinky, dark, sexual exploitation? The audience. You and I. The human condition, Biology even. Not just producers and distributors competing for dollars but the inner workings of male and female anatomy and the competition for …sperm. The base motivations for life are food and reproduction. Everything else is just flair. The drive to reproduce has its tentacles in every aspect of our lives. There are plenty of studies being done that have concluded rape to be a part of our reproductive evolution, part of our programing. You may enjoy sitting, watching the titular horror movie in the theatre from the outside but do you know about the horror film going on inside?

Sex is REALLY scary

A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, a book by biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer, published in 2000, argues rape should be understood through evolutionary psychology and believes that the capacity for rape is either an adaptation or a byproduct of adaptive traits. You have all heard the story about the Cavemen and how they got lucky with Cavewomen. To back this up, they talk about how less than 2% of rapes end in serious injury or death to the victim leading to reproduction as the motivation and not violence. The writers don’t in any way condone rape nor have an opinion on its legal ramifications. They feel the motivation behind rape is misunderstood as violence and is rather a recessive biological programming...or something. I am no scholar so it’s all still pretty creepy to me, but not as much as evolutionary biologist Robin Baker’s Sperm Wars which proposes evolutionary functions for sexual habits, based on the competition between sperm of different men for the egg. The "sperm wars" refer to the physical battles between sperm inside a woman's reproductive organs, as well as figurative battle scenarios between men and women competing for mating opportunities.

Yeah, I read this horror story of a textbook and it put me off ‘reproducing’ for a while. It’s like we’re controlled by Scientology’s alien ‘Thetan’ boogeyman, only it’s a sex fiend bent on overpopulating the earth! It’s like I don’t have a mind of my own it’s just making me think I do so I go about impregnating females and spreading seeds everywhere. I don’t REALLY like BLACK FLAG but because I am skinny and have long hair my inner biology gives me a craving to listen to BLACK FLAG so I will buy a BLACK FLAG t-shirt so I may attract disaffected females with whom I have a greater mating opportunity with rather than the BRITNEY SPEARS ones…And what’s happening inside the women we all love and adore is no less than right out of the most ‘ookie’, gooey, sci-fi horror imaginable.

The Sperm Wars ‘world of horror’ describes how males release an army of sperm of which only 1% are tops impregnators or ‘runners’, the rest are just built for battle. A second group of warriors with fucking unicorn horns on their head, injecting poison into any foreign sperm they should encounter. Head to head combat, vicious little buggers. The remainder; a bunch of mutant blocker low life’s that are only produced to gunk up the reproductive track and get caught up in the crevices and folds of the flesh. Born to die and block any foreign sperm from getting in and save the good special ‘runner’ sperm from getting miss directed and trapped. The girl grease lubricant is acidic to sperm so the weak die off early. The majority of the surviving sperm is deposited or more accurately “trapped” at the far end of the love socket in a seminal pool. When the female reaches a certain level of arousal this horrid, awful, elephant trunk like tube extends down over the pool and powered by her orgasmic pulsing, sucks up the sperm like something out of “War of the Worlds”!

Only the members of the 1% (runners) get through to the egg so I guess that makes us all the 1% but, here on the outside of the womb, we continue to compete, fight and struggle. A bunch of mindless sex crazed werewolves like in a Tex Avery cartoon, whistling and hooting with hearts beating on the outside of our bodies… And to that effect, probably why I could get away with making micro budget, sexually violent pictures and get them distributed for so many years. No pop, no style - all strictly roots. Voyeuristic virtual rape; right through the main line “the eyes” and into the brain. Having sexual control over someone is not just a fantasy but a subconscious goal (mating opportunity) and to varying degrees masked and manipulated in tune with social norms.

Sexual interaction comes with its many layers of anxiety and fears and it is shocking when we are confronted and reminded of them. Sexual manipulation is part of our everyday life (some major, mostly minor) and their exaggerated fantasy video counterparts, even
in their most simplified forms, are hypnotically engaging. Erotic exploitation and horror films are so popular and loved by a devote fan base cause they speak to the primordial jelly that continues to be the drive which propagates our race. Though horrifying they are the mirror fantasies of all mankind, the terrible truths we have been trying to forget and unsuccessfully evolve from and separate. We are all creeps and we secretly like it! (Or in my case not so secretly).

Watching the films is a “high” a “turn-on” the most intoxicating fun one can have without selling your soul, and condemning your
freedom by viciously acting them out. These movies ignite a fire in the brain. They are intoxicating and safely habituating. Peeking through the keyhole into a film world come and gone too fast, we see a world that articulated the desires and fears of our psyche, bubbling up from our biological programing. Experiencing these fantasies in the safety of the couches womb is cathartic for our brains, works out the kinks in our kinks and shines a spotlight on the dark corners of our nightmares.

Find out more about the films of William Hellfire below.


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