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A hired killer goes on the run after being caught in bed with the wife of a mob boss. While he's holed up in a scuzzy Times Square room waiting for the hitmen he knows are after him, he reflects back on his life and what brought him to the situation he's in now. Written by
With the sole (relative) exception of his amazing CORRUPTION, the late Roger Michael Watkins a/k/a "Richard Mahler" who tragically passed away in 2007 was dismissive of his adult work, due to his insistence that he got royally screwed over by an assortment of lowlife producers and distributors cheerfully siphoning away any revenues rightfully his. Anyway, that was his version of the facts, related to yours truly via ferocious e-mail rants. Too bad he died before a much deserved and long overdue career rehabilitation could take place. Best known in cult circles for his anything but mainstream horror movie LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, on which he was credited as "Victor Janos", he dropped into porn as independent film-making was not too far removed from the skin flick industry at the time, both operating on the fringe of legality and outside the unions, avoiding the red tape that stalled many a mainstream project indefinitely. To anyone familiar with DEAD END STREET, it should come as no surprise to learn that Watkins was not the happiest or indeed most well-adjusted of men, a social deficiency that fueled his artistic creations, leaving audiences with some of the darkest and downbeat films ever subjected to the scorching light of a projector beam. This tone is particularly jarring in his porno output, a genre built on the belief that sexual satisfaction could provide the cure for all of society's ills. In a handful of hardcore endeavors, spanning roughly one decade between 1979's HER NAME WAS LISA and 1988's hard to find DECADENCE, Watkins labored hard to expose this conviction as just another pipe dream, one more misguided step on the road to depravity and degradation.
The director's bleak world view has never been more prominently on display than in MIDNIGHT HEAT, a fiercely misanthropic masterpiece making virtues out of limitations imposed through budget and production schedule, modest being the polite term to describe both. The bulk of the action takes place in a single cheap motel room where mafia hit-man Alan (Jamie Gillis in a typically intense performance that ranks among his all time best) awaits his inevitable fate. In flashbacks we learn that he has an auto-destructive streak, intentionally courting trouble that could all too easily upset an already volatile existence. He has slept with both daughter (radiant Tish Ambrose) and wife (appropriately hard-looking Dixie Dew from Ron Sullivan's underrated G STRINGS) of his employer (Fred Rain) who walks in on them and plants the kiss of death full on Alan's lips. Knowing that someone will settle the score when he least expects it, he has sought refuge in the dingy, dirty room that functions as a prison of his own making, a waiting room in hell perhaps. Taking time out from watching the bums and winos littering the street outside, he leafs through the Bible, finding not spiritual salvation but cynically the business card for an escort agency instead. He calls in a couple of girls, dyed in the wool Shirley (Joey Carson, a fly by night starlet who did a memorable threesome with Joanna Storm and Ashley Moore in Sullivan's underrated WIDESPREAD SCANDALS OF LYDIA LACE) and inexperienced Diane, the latter a surprising career turn by the usually underwhelming Champagne, the frequently forgotten third party along with Samantha Fox and Lisa DeLeeuw in Chuck Vincent's hit but mostly miss LUSCIOUS and NOT to be confused - as is usually the case though physical resemblance is fleeting at best - with carnal comedienne CHERI Champagne who had a scene-stealing part as the butch catalyst in that same director's very funny PUSS 'N' BOOTS. After the ladies have performed for him in a professional capacity, Alan dismisses Shirley but decides to keep Diane around.
Thus begins the second, more melancholy movement of the film with the introduction of a second lead character in Diane, to be given equal dramatic weight. Both reminisce about their failed marriages (she to a fellow mob hit-man, played by the late Michael Bruce ; he to Sharon Mitchell who accuses him of keeping his emotions bottled up) and their subsequent inability to connect with anyone else. There's a particularly touching flashback to the always vulnerable if physically imposing Susan Nero, who did the tragic tart bit to perfection in Vincent's indelible IN LOVE, as yet another hooker with a heart of gold offering solace rather than sex to the tormented Alan. Meanwhile, Watkins is tightening the noose around necks of characters and audiences alike, leading to a twist ending that hits you like a kick in the teeth. With the artistic equivalent of having his hands tied behind his back, DoP Larry Revene nevertheless delivers the creeping claustrophobia the director was aiming for, effectively eschewing his more customary glamor from the movies he traditionally shot for Vincent. The slow motion images of the derelicts stumbling about on the streets, like zombies closing in, are particularly haunting, their impact augmented by the foreboding score by "Andrew James" a/k/a James Flamberg, a regular Watkins contributor - now gone mainstream - ever since the days of LAST HOUSE and SPITTOON, a rare (sort of) mainstream credit for porn goddess par excellence Vanessa Del Rio !
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