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Opinion - A Requiem for Smut

There’s a meme that’s been floating around on the internet (I’ll try to attach it to this article) that shows a scrambled cable TV image that says something along the lines of ‘If you know what this is, you were a bad kid.’



I was a bad kid.


Why do I bring this up? Well, in this age of streaming, I’m discovering that we’re losing something: late night cable soft-core.


Look, if you have testicles and are of a certain age, this is how it went: First you discovered that one channel where you couldn’t see anything through the scrambled signal but you heard a lot of moaning. Then, eventually your parents sprung for one of the premium channels. Now, your chances were best on Showtime and Cinemax (so much so that it got the moniker “Skin-a-max”), but those with HBO and The Movie Channel (especially in Joe Bob Briggs’ stint there) still had their chances…just not as frequently. And while this was never any sort of full-blown pornography, let’s face it, a LOT of boys in my generation learned about sex this way.


Those days might be coming to an end.


Part of the reason I decided to write about this is to echo what many have said about a transition to purely digital entertainment…with all our movies on the cloud…but another reason was, just as any old person does, to lament another aspect of my youth fading into history. I guess I should get into what led me down this particular rabbit hole.


Yes, there’s no shortage of porn out there. Between that and pet pictures [And hatemongering and disinformation. – Ed.] it’s the only reason the internet exists! But, and maybe this is just me, sometimes you don’t wanna go full bore with it, you know? There’s something about a 90s erotic thriller or a 70s or 80s Emmanuelle (or Emanuelle) movie that still hits the right notes without the sounds or zoom-in on the working bits.


Even these were wars of attrition. With a more liberated sensibility a lot of early porn in the 70s was not considered smut but 'artistic'. Of course, there was only so much ‘artistic-ness’ that these films were allowed. As with many things, we really don’t hit our golden age until we get into the development of the direct-to-video market in the 80s (as these were typically labelled as ‘Special Interest’ in video rental stores and thus not included in The Back Room) and the cable TV boom of the 90s. And if I had to pick one, it’d be the 90s if only for the development of the aforementioned “erotic thriller” genre. But as the 90s ended and we entered the new millennium, things started to change. The heyday of the Erotic Thriller started to wane and for all the various ‘Bikini’ pictures (that oddly didn’t have much in the way of the mentioned swimsuit in them…unless you count the ones laying on the ground by the bed, if you know what I mean and I think you do), turns out those usually had two versions: the soft-core cable version and the hard-core actual porn versions. Now, I mention this because here in the streaming age, those scissors have come out again. You still get the beginning, usually when the breasts come out, and maybe the ending post-coital cuddle…but that’s it. Not that these segments were all that long back in the day, but at least 5-7 minutes-ish. A suitable quickie. But as these scenes are butchered now, unless you’re a “minuteman” (and I don’t mean those schmucks that shoot at immigrants…or maybe I do…), there’s really no point.


Of course, the argument I made at the beginning of this opinion holds true: “Dude, if you want porn, that’s what the internet is for”. True. But for me, it’s something a bit more disturbing: we’re losing a cinematic genre. [“Cinematic” being used loosely, of course. – Ed.] And it’s being willfully done. Sure, these films are being whittled down…but you’ll only notice that IF YOU CAN FIND THEM. Streaming doesn’t make these films easy to find and, even if you do, you end up with the “expurgated” versions, trimming what might have been a 70-90 minute…ahem…”movie” down to right around or just under an hour. In all fairness, my sample size here is rather small, only finding a handful of these movies on Amazon’s Freevee service. Unfortunately, it looks like the usual hangout for horror movies, Tubi, also shares these extremely truncated edits.


But what about the big gun? What about Cinemax? You know, the channel that gave name to the genre, as mentioned above. A quick free trial of their streaming service revealed…zilch. Zero. Nada. Bupkis. It seems they’ve turned away from all that, favoring instead the more standard definition of ‘Action’: muscles, guns, explosions.


Ah, ye mighty, how you have fallen.


All hope is not lost, thankfully. Rather unsurprisingly, given how much of this particular type of content he’s created either himself or via his various film companies, Charles Band’s Full Moon Streaming service does indeed have the goods…and seemingly in spades. While obviously not exhaustive, to be able to find any home for not just “Skin-a-max” content, but also 70s Eurosleaze? Yes please! While I certainly hope this isn’t the last bastion and that others must exist…I’ll admit, beyond this, I’m coming up empty.


To echo what I said in my earlier Physical Media opinion piece, quoting Joe Bob Briggs yet again, “it won’t be the crusaders, it’ll be middle management types using diversionary language…’oh, let’s not talk about that’”…who will be the ones that slowly sterilize our movie watching options. And while he’s mostly associated with horror, remember, Joe Bob’s Drive-In has always been a sanctuary to these films as well. [Although, as he once said, “There’s only so many Emmanuelle (one and two ‘m’) one person can take!” – Ed.] So here’s to Fred Olen Ray, Andy Sidaris, Jim Wynorski and of course good old Charlie Band. Pour one out…or…you know…to Julie Strain, Donna Spier, Michelle Bauer, Tane McClure and, of course, Shannon Tweed. There are so many other names I’m missing here, so please forgive, but as this genre fades away, the only ones that will notice are the dirty little drive-in mutants like me, nostalgic for the days when just boobs and simulated sex were enough.


[Post Script: While this article has focused mostly on streaming, it's worth noting that these films are seeing at least a slight resurgence on physical media. Boutique DVD/Blu-Ray disc publishers like Blue Underground, Severin, MVD, Vinegar Syndrome and, of course, Charlie Band's own Full Moon Video...amongst others...are plumbing the depths in order to save these films from oblivion. So, for further viewing, start checking out their catalogs and follow the rabbit hole to wherever it takes you.]

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