Devil in the Flesh

From painful sex to foul-mouthed revenge fantasies, a meaner brand of pornography takes the back door to commercial success.

The fact that gonzo rentals have largely eclipsed the slick "couples porn" of major companies like Vivid and VCA is no small coup in the booming video world. By the '90s, a decade of obscenity prosecutions and anti-porn activism had rendered mainstream porn tame compared to its nastier, headier days in the late '70s to early '80s--the so-called "Golden Age" mythologized in Boogie Nights. But while gonzo was a relief from the usual air-brushed Playboy Channel fluff, it also represented a kind of male revenge against the starlet system. As Susan Faludi observes in her 1995 New Yorker piece, hetero "porn... is one of the few contemporary occupations where the pay gap operates in women's favor." If most men in porn had become dick-props--the "object of the object," as Faludi puts it--then gonzo made them subjects again, putting them in control of the scenes and the sex. Not surprisingly, a number of actors eagerly made a grab for the director's chair, and directors began appearing in more of their movies. (The company Stagliano co-founded, Evil Angel Video, is home to a number of renegade auteurs, with actor-turned-director John Leslie in the forefront.)

This might explain why Max Hardcore's foul-mouthed revenge fantasies and clumsily staged deflowerings struck such a responsive chord in 1992, when the director introduced his Stagliano-inspired Anal Adventures of Max Hardcore series, then whipped out Cherry Poppers, a series exploring every last variation of the stranger-picking-up-little-girl-with-candy scenario. Over-aged and under-endowed for a would-be porn king, the sweaty Hardcore compensated by using younger and smaller actresses, mostly unknowns, to inflict the most painful sex possible without employing overt violence. (His videos now commonly begin with "a message from Max" that advises, "Never use violence to get what you want, especially from women.")

Having entered the business under the wing of pro-am producer-director Bobby Hollander, Max took the gonzo premise to lurid extremes: With little pretense to realism, a typical "plot" prelude might consist of nothing more than our hero driving around Hollywood Hills picking up "schoolgirls" in his van. During sex, he'd soundtrack a scene by talking a blue streak instead of using music, and his lexicon came to include such coinages as "cum-belching whore" and "teenage ass-fucking party."

But it was Hardcore's way of filming rough and graphic anal sex that rocked the industry, and his techniques have been endlessly copied by other directors. He invented at least one new anal position--called the "piledriver"--which has caught on in gay porn. The director also popularized the truly bizarre use of speculums as S/M instruments, turning a product of the women's health movement into a tool of torture. As his notoriety grew, surviving a Max Hardcore scene became a badge of endurance, and the Net buzzes every time he's rumored to pair with some actress considered to be too prim--like "good girl" Marilyn Starr. Hardcore's work is male revenge in both form and content.

Max Hardcore's profound influence on porn is comparable to, and contemporaneous with, gangsta's influence on rap or Tarantino's influence on film. When I recently asked portly porn superstar Ron Jeremy about the state of porn, his response was swift: "I don't like it at all. It's too extreme. These days it's all about how many dicks can you stuff in one ass." Jeremy finds Hardcore's popularization of "choke-fucking," or gripping a woman's throat during sex, the most distasteful. "If a girl's not smiling, if she's not enjoying it, then I don't like it."

Jeremy can afford to be critical of the industry now that he does predominantly non-porno roles, cashing in on his cult-figure status to make countless movie and music-video cameos. In the early '80s, the generously endowed Jeremy--known as "the hedgehog" in the industry--helped perfect the three-porn-a-day conveyor-belt style video-making, all under the direction of porn emperor Mark Carriere, whose '80s passion for surgically "perfecting" women is one reason breast implants have become the industry norm. A sign of porn's more demanding '90s workplace is the depressing phenomenon of faded actresses coming back with new hair and new breasts to do all-anal videos (Bunny Blue pops to mind). These days, if you don't do anal, you don't do porn, though most actresses only earn about $300 a scene--a drop in the industry's $8 billion-a-year bucket--and the conservative Screen Actors Guild bars them from joining the union.

While Jeremy and other stars specifically cite Max Hardcore as the trendsetter in this more brutal environment, they also point to competition from Europe, where censorship is more lax and harsh sex the longtime standard. Every scene in Sweden's video line, Private, has anal sex, and other European studios are making inroads in the American market. Max Hardcore was a big fan of German porn, taking his name from a German video line. But he set a new standard for humiliating women: Now the Germans imitate his technique of positioning an actress so her anus or vagina becomes a gaping hole; his use of "facials"; his abusive language, speculums, and throat-grasping; and his quick switches from anus to mouth without editing cuts. With his hair-pulling performances, Italian import Rocco Siffredi typifies the new blood in porn super-stardom.

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