I love genre cinema. I will always have a soft spot for horror, action, sci-fi, and all the subgenres that exist inside those larger categories. What I have never felt any real connection to are those films that exist in the realm of pure sleaze. You know the ones: the films from the ’70s and ’80s, filled with ugly violence and sex that is the opposite of titillating, usually shot on cheap film stock with semi-amateur casts. But knowing these films have a large following and several companies devoted to restoring them makes me wonder what I am missing. So, armed with a subscription to Vinegar Syndrome’s Exploitation TV, I am going to do a deep dive into the world of sleazy exploitation. This is My Exploitation Education.
There seems to be a real reconsideration these days about the merit (or lack thereof) of shot-on-video (to be known as SOV for the rest of this piece) movies that were made during the VHS boom of the ’80s. But where SOV genre flicks like THINGS, TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE, and PHOBE: THE XENOPHOBIC EXPERIMENTS maintain a loopy charm due to the people behind them working their asses off to make handcrafted, idiosyncratic pieces of outsider art, VENUS FLYTRAP proves that SOV movies could be just as soulless and hollow as big budget, studio films.
Low-rent criminals Turk (Steve Malis), Wimp (Michael Capellupo), and B.B. (Darlene Hartwell) rob a record store and meet Ginger (Kimberley Kates) and her boyfriend Danny (Henry Harris) in the process. Ginger and Danny are preppy types, while the criminal trio of Turk, Wimp, and B.B. are supposed to be nihilistic punks, but look like suburban kids dressed up for Halloween. Ginger thinks it would be “exciting” to bring the sneering trio to a party at their friend’s apartment and sets in motion a night of—well, a night of a lot happening but still feeling like a damn chore to sit through.
At the party, Rod (Kevin Glover) and his girlfriend Arlene (Deirdre West) are introduced. If anything, they are more uptight then Danny, and they chafe at Turk’s lewd behavior, especially when he endangers Arlene’s pet Venus flytrap. But before long, booze, the conflict of Turk and Rod to be the only alpha male in the room, and good old-fashioned hormones kick in and the group is engaging in activities that escalate from playing “strip darts” (which is exactly what it sounds like) to Russian roulette in record time.
Director T. Michael tries to pound the audience over the head with ideas about desperate kids turning into feral criminals and wealthy people who do not see how bad life actually is for the have-nots of the world. But his attempts at social commentary are so shallow that they come off as disingenuous and cynical. If VENUS FLYTRAP had been upfront right from the start about its true goals of getting as much of the cast as possible out of their clothes, I might actually respect it more.
For a movie so packed with exploitation elements such as gratuitous nudity, badly simulated sex (unless it was supposed to be bad sex, in which case it was well simulated), repeated beatings, attempted rape, and the trio of snarling “tough punks,” it’s extraordinarily tame and dull. Despite some attempts at ugly violence during the climax, the only point during VENUS FLYTRAP where it comes close to reaching the level of sneering hatefulness it seems to be reaching for is in the roughly three dozen gay slurs Turk uses to insult everyone else. But even that touch quickly becomes old and almost laughable—as though Malis was trying to win a bet with someone over how many times he could use such terms in the movie’s mercifully short sixty-three minutes.
The main problem is how Michael and screenwriter Marvin Jones try to make the movie a character-based exploitation drama where each group is forced to confront their preconceptions about the other, only to reveal all that attempted character building as bullshit with a twist ending that can be seen coming from the second scene. Of course, that ending technically fits in well with the disingenuous nature of the production.
VENUS FLYTRAP actually looks slightly better and features decent sound for a SOV production, but it lacks the soul of a rougher looking, but far more interesting flick like PHOBE. There is never a point here where it feels like this story is a burning passion for anyone involved. Instead, it comes off as a mercenary exercise in mimicry of equally empty studio sex comedies. That lack of passion is all it takes to turn a SOV flick from something I root for to something I feel insulted by.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)
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Tags: Darlene Hartwell, Deirdre West, Exploitation.TV, Henry Harris, Kevin Glover, Kimberley Kates, Marvin Jones, Michael Capellupo, My Exploitation Education, SOV, Steve Malis, T. Michael, Venus Flytrap, Vinegar Syndrome