"The story of this place will curl your pubes!" --- the last descendant of Countess Sexcula
Sexula is legendary in so far as its mention in Calum Vatnsdal’s seminal overview of CanCon productions, They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror (2004), pricked the interest of film connoisseurs with a specific appetite for indigenous productions – especially the neglected Canadian films that have vanished from circulation, or at best, are available only on European or American DVDs.
What makes Sexcula so novel is its ‘lost’ status: after the producers screened the film for cast, crew, and potential buyers in 1974, its content – hardcore footage – reportedly offended any investors, and sent it to oblivion. A worker at the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa found a copy - largely because regulations stipulated a print of any production that enjoyed a tax write-off be deposited at the National Archives. This apparently included Sexcula, which may be the first hardcore porn film to benefit from any government’s tax shelter schemes.
The print sourced by Impulse Pictures comes from its producer, building contractor Clarence Neufeld (who also has a small role as a stagecoach driver in the film), and after 39 years, the big question is whether Sexcula lives up to the intrigue that’s fomated since Vatsndal’s recognition of its existence.
The answer is both yes... and no.
After an amusing setup that has the descendant of a countess (Debbie Collins, sprawled naked on a picnic blanket) reading her ancestor’s diary to her boyfriend (screenwriter “David F. Hurry,” reportedly a writer on TV's The Littlest Hobo), the narrative switches almost exclusively to flashback scenes, and that’s where the script starts to dissolve, making room for scenes that increasingly shift from the past to the present (or read another way: a bevy of continuity blunders).
Not unlike the non-porn film Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977), Sexcula has cheeky humour and occasionally literate dialogue that teases viewers into expecting a witty genre hybrid, but standard to North American adult flicks is a series of short scenes which lead up to the obligatory big orgy.
The basic story has Countess Sexcula helping her cousin Dr. Fallatingstein (Jamie Orlando) problem-solve a servant’s inability to rise to the occasion. When several rudimentary tests fail to uplift Frank’s (John Alexander) libido, she zips off to the netherworld and takes sanguine nips from the erect members of a lumberjack (“Bud Coal”) and a porn actor in the midst of a wedding scene shoot; the latter sequence not only breaks the film’s 19th century time period, but opens the narrative into a film-within-a-film-within-a-film.
At this stage, Countess Sexcula’s flash-and-she’s-gone appearance on the porn film set feels almost perfunctory, because it’s obvious at this juncture Hurry’s script ran dry. Sexcula pretty much stops cold to make room for for the first part of an epic wedding orgy sequence. Prior sex scenes (actually, just one that’s split in half by the editor and extended through multiple lap dissolves by director John Holbrook) were part of the film’s initial flashback structure, but the two-part orgy eventually takes over the narrative, and Holbrook includes cutaways that show not only the crew, but cameramen filming shots that appear in the montage. Sexcula’s finale ends with a dressed performer leaving the porn set, and giving a knowing wink to the camera before sliding the set's barn door shut.
This playfulness may be a little innovative and self-serving (the latter allowed the filmmakers to break from the script’s strictures and deliver the mandated hardcore goods trough some unique perspectives), but the switch to plain porn also jettisons the more amusing material that makes the film kind of fun. With just mechanical sex scenes, what’s lost is the more cerebral pleasure of watching non-actors delivering tongue-in-cheek dialogue with lackadaisical, stilted gravitas - aka, bad acting in delberately conceived bad scenes.
The copulating and teasing sequences tend to run twice as long than necessary, there are some gems: lab assistant Orgie (Tim Lowery) fails to fully take advantage of Dr. Fellatingstein’s pleasure robot (Marie McLeod) because of a jealous caged gorilla more intent on pulling Orgie's pants down than fondling the robot; and the gorilla (which resides in a perpetually unlocked cage) interrupting a striptease the Countess staged to see whether Frank has any active balls. (The answer is a great big NO.)
Sexcula is essentially a cheesy adult film whose makers had some fun by riffing vampires and mad scientists using the barest of props, story, and acting talent (many of whom have visibly bad acne, perhaps from 'health issues'). Perhaps the reason the film’s shifting perspectives feel refreshing - breaking the wall by showing the crew lies - is the director, who became a camera assistant on episodic TV series, and an occasional second unit cinematographer (First Blood) and lead cinematographer (Ghostkeeper).
Impulse’s DVD features a decent transfer, although the film stock looks cheap and very grainy. Most of the soundtrack seems to be filled with stock lounge jazz (it seems a little far-fetched the slickly orchestrated cues were conceived for the film by director Holbrook and co-credited composer Keith Woods), and the sound effects tracks were obviously laid in to mask the camera noise and a persistent generator hum in much of Dr. Fellatingstein’s ‘basement lab.’
"Porn Archeologist" Dimitrios Otis provides concise liner notes with a few amusing anecdotes, but it’s odd producer Neufeld didn’t provide any detailed production data to embolden this release. One would suspect Neufeld has some amusing stories and further thoughts on his fleeting involvement with showbiz, but perhaps Sexcula, being a porno, is kind of embarrassing. (Note: Holbrook recently spoke to Will Sloan at Hazlitt about his involvement, and explains the film’s “schizophrenic” quality.)
The film’s mystique certainly endures in Rick Trembles’ Motion Picture Purgatory comic strip (reproduced in the inlay card), but the next Holy Grail for the film’s fans is Overnight, a 1986 film by artist / filmmaker Jack Darcus about the production of a XXX vampire film.
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan