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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Second perhaps only to the likes of Shaun Costello when it came to
making the most out of a modest budget, Carter Stevens had been
tirelessly toiling in the trenches since adult's earliest days before
hitting the comparative big time by decade's end, leaving a string of
somewhat lavishly produced porno programmers for his legacy. He enjoyed
an estimable degree of formal training as a director, having studied
photographic science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, serving
him well in stretching each dollar he managed to wrangle out of frugal
funders' tight pockets. In order to retain a degree of creative
self-sufficiency that's the trademark of a true 'auteur', he would
supplement his income by regularly performing (usually as "Steven
Mitchell") for other people, most memorably portraying the pivotal
rapist in Roberta Findlay's thoroughly plotted TIFFANY MINX.
Very much from Carter's salad days, HONEYMOON HAVEN takes a premise that SEEMS formulaic and embellishes it with surprisingly elaborate scenarios and period detail that raise this little number from the ranks. He had the good sense to hire the services of Radley Metzger's unsung music editor George Craig whose encyclopedic knowledge of public domain library tracks effortlessly guides an episodic narrative from the late '40s to the present day, well the '70s anyway. Sandwiched between Mendelssohn's Wedding March and Here Comes the Bride, this pleasingly paced porno charts the fate of the many newlyweds passing through the titular abode (just South of Intercourse, PA) ever since it set up shop in 1949 as loyal receptionist Bob Bolla reminisces to blue balls husband Wade Nichols whose virgin bride Erica Havens has nervously locked herself inside the bathroom.
Even longtime fans might need some help in identifying the furtive starlets, Marlene Willoughby being the only one to approach porn prominence. Essaying an over the top Southern drawl, she's well-matched with fellow ham Roger Caine for a very funny skit that has her waxing lyrically post coitus, comparing her orgasm to an elevator going up "and up...and up..." Sporting an appropriate hairstyle, Lisa Marks (star of Roger Colmont's curiosity looking for a cult WHITE FIRE) is the motel's first customer, her husband scurrying out the door prior to consummation (his presumed dead first wife having just been located on a desert isle in the Pacific !), leaving her to the tender loving care of best man Leo Lovemore. Kudos for the tastefully applied trickle of blood accompanying Lisa's alleged loss of cherry ! One day wonder VENTURE INTO THE BIZARRE's Marcia Minor's the '50s hausfrau cheating on commuter husband Michael Gaunt.
The sex heats up considerably with single shot starlet Karol Kaye doing a beatnik DP with Herschel Savage and Pepe Valentine. Gloria Todd, the East Coast's answer to Desiree West, shines as the sweetie from housekeeping comforting malfunctioning and therefore deserted groom David Williams who's on the verge of cutting off his useless member. The following foursome involves '60s spouse-swapping and highlights the easygoing comedic capabilities of Bobby Astyr and Paula Morton (the future Mrs. Gerard Damiano) who carry along the clueless combo of Susaye London and Peter Andrews. Toothsome London graduated from "roughies" to upmarket fare with Chuck Vincent's haunting VISIONS and Antonio Shepherd's highkickin' hardcore musical CHORUS CALL. Erica finally gets over her wedding night jitters, dropping to her knees to eagerly inhale Wade's engorged manhood when...Carter cuts aways to a group grope already underway between a bunch of the Honeymoon Haven Reunion Club members, watching their potential latest additions making up by makin' whoopee on closed circuit TV.
The adult talent pool already being a small pond to start with, Stevens liked to surround himself with familiar faces on both sides of the camera, none more so than his faithful DoP Bruce G. Sparks a/k/a "Prudence Prevails" who passed away a couple of years ago. Cutting his teeth on Joe Sarno's moody soft-core classics from the '60s including the classic INGA, he was to become the director's perpetual partner in slime throughout his '70s heyday, his unerring eye for detail and composition contributing extensively to the effectiveness of scenes both sexual and expository, imbuing the latter with a noirish lighting scheme to compensate for occasionally dire dramatic content. In keeping with the flick's lighthearted demeanor, he keeps the colors bright and blazing for the occasion, punching up the patterns of the motel's tawdry furnishings and garish bedspreads in contrast with the blinding white wedding gowns and delicate lacy finery adorning actresses generically displayed in other dirty movies but elevated to princess perfection here.
I'll never understand the pre-posthumous (yes, he's still alive and
kicking) appreciation that has accrued to Carter Stevens long after his
porn movie career ended. HONEYMOON HAVEN is praised to the skies, but I
saw it back in the day, and rather reluctantly giving it a second
viewing through the magic of DVD was bored stiff. No pun, please.
Stevens and his screenwriter Richard Jaccoma pour on the turgid dialogue, not witty but giving the impression of a movie being made, rather than wall-to-wall sex. I categorically prefer narrative cinema, but incumbent on folks working in that medium is the delivery of interesting scenes, a luxury that "sex is all" pornographers don't have to worry about.
Not much is delivered here, as we must stomach the endlessly repetitious structure Jaccoma/Stevens have erected. Wade Nichols on his wedding night faces a recalcitrant bride Erica Havens, who went through with the ceremony but locks herself in the bathroom of their motel room rather than have sex with hubby.
The rest of this tedious exercise has Nichols regaled with tall tales by the title motel's owner R. Bolla, supposedly a wise (if overly talkative) old geezer who's seen it all. Bolla as usual tries very hard, but is unconvincing as to the character's age and experience, and is merely boring, overstaying his welcome on screen at least three reels too long.
Where the filmmakers went wrong in the short-story format is a lack of development or twist in the writing. Every short story has, beyond the requisite atmosphere, characterizations and use of language, a structure that provides an interesting switch, or at least some revelation that creates that bit of satisfaction in the reader at the conclusion. Even modern (21st Century) vignette-dominated porn has a bit of this quality. But in HONEYMOON HAVEN a desultory premise for each story is laid out, and then the players execute the sketch, with hardcore sex as its centerpiece, and nothing else happens -it's just straightforward, unfunny and often insultingly stupid. As they say in the computer world: Execute, Repeat -it's back to Nichols and Bolla shooting the breeze to set up the next sketch.
Case in point: an idiotic depiction of beatniks checking into the motel circa 1959 for a threesome instead of the expected blissfully wedded couple. The styling and lingo is beneath the level of a failed SNL TV sketch, and Herschel Savage has to contend with an ugly woman and inept actor in the triumvirate. Dialog is peppered with "like" and "you know" every third word, a speech impediment not so much emblematic of the Beat Generation, but rather of epidemic proportions among young people in the 21st Century as well. Nichols doesn't believe this story, and neither did I.
Beyond Savage's mate, the female cast in HONEYMOON HAVEN is dreadfully unattractive, even by the low (read: skanky) standards of its time of production. Perhaps the beauties were mainly concentrated on the West Coast at that time (certainly my favorites like Joan Devlon and Annette Haven), but surely Stevens could have rounded up some more presentable femmes than shown here, particularly the paper-bag worthy leading lady Havens. When Nichols is ready to give up the prospect of bedding her in the final reel, I couldn't see any reason for him to relent when predictably reverse psychology set in to make her suddenly want to get it on with him.
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