As I’ve written before, I love exploitation films for their ideological messiness—they’re often more difficult than mainstream films to classify in terms of, say, political position. Is Blood for Dracula a progressive film? A reactionary film? Is Score feminist? Let’s isolate a single element—representations of homosexuality—and see how this breaks down.
Chief Nellie, Flesh Gordon (dir. Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm, 1974)
PROFILE: Her name notwithstanding, she’s the butch lesbian leader of a gang of underground resistance fighters. Benign at first, she soon sics one of her lesbian minions on nubile blonde captive Dale Ardor.
FATE: Is overtaken by Our Hero, Flesh Gordon, and his sidekick Dr. Jerkoff, who save Dale and shoo the “dykes” (the men’s phrase) into a corner.
ASSESSMENT: Nellie is in some ways your typical butch villainess (a trope that hearkens back to the pre-Stonewall days), and she and her underlings are presented as predators and rapists—even though the forced girl-on-girl action is clearly intended to titillate straight male viewers (a juvenile double standard). The line between camp and homophobic stereotype is difficult to determine here.
Prince Precious, Flesh Gordon
PROFILE: A kind of gay intergalactic Robin Hood, PP befriends Flesh, gets him out of a few scrapes, and (as a reward) gets to go down on him.
FATE: Waves goodbye to Flesh and co.—with a friendly pat on the crotch for Flesh—as they head back to Planet Earth.
ASSESSMENT: Unlike Chief Nellie (see above), PP’s homosexuality is non-threatening and treated with remarkable casualness. He’s also remarkably stereotype-free. Together, PP and Nellie represent the exploitation film’s somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward homosexuality. (Flesh Gordon is an example of how such contradictory attitudes can exist within a single film.)
Bobby McCoy and Billy Schaffer, Blacula (dir. William Crain, 1972)
PROFILE: This somewhat fey interracial couple buys Count Dracula’s castle for the kitsch value and unwittingly awakens Blacula from his slumber.
FATE: After being bitten by Blacula, they become vampires themselves and are eventually staked.
ASSESSMENT: Overall, this film takes an un-hysterical attitude toward its gay characters, who are casually (but not really derogatorily) referred to as “fags,” and who are understood to have lives and a subculture within the world of the film. Their homosexuality simply becomes a matter of fact.
Eddie, Score (dir. Radley Metzger, 1974)
PROFILE: A bi-curious ecologist frustrated in his marriage, Eddie is initiated into the world of man-love by married friend Jack. (He’s played by ’70s gay porn star Casey Donovan, of Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand.)
FATE: After some morning-after guilt, Eddie and his newly liberated wife settle on an open marriage and look forward to sex with a hirsute telephone repair man.
ASSESSMENT: In Metzger’s pan-sexual utopia, anything goes—men and women are more or less freely available and open to anything, including same-sex play. Eddie’s attraction to men is presented as deserving of exploration and acceptance. An example of the left-leaning (s)exploitation film’s frequent willingness to address social and sexual issues with candor and open-mindedness.