Color, 1982, 74 mins.
Directed by Rinse Dream (Stephen Sayadian)
Starring Pia Snow (Michelle Bauer), Andy Nichols, Paul McGibboney, Marie Sharp, Darcy Nychols, Kevin James
VCA (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
The only hardcore adult film that gained a substantial “straight” cult following outside the raincoat crowd, Café Flesh was the last gasp of mainstream theatrical porn before shot on video productions killed the market in the mid-'80s. While some '70s films like The Opening of Misty Beethoven featured lavish production values, excellent writing, and genuine plots, Café Flesh pushed the genre even further by incorporating elements of surrealism, avant garde, pop culture, black humor, and science fiction. The result is truly one of a kind and, love it or hate it, deserves to be seen at least once.
In a post-nuclear future, the majority of the world's population has been afflicted with an inability to function sexually. Called "Negatives," these morose survivors flock to clubs where they watch the few "Positives" perform sex shows onstage. At Café Flesh, the same crowd goes every night to observe the verbal lacerations of emcee Max Melodramatic (Andy Nichols), while the club's owner, Moms (Darcy Nichols), keeps a tight rein backstage. Two of the regulars, married couple Lana (Pia Snow, aka scream queen Michelle Bauer) and Nick (Paul McGibboney), ponder why they subject themselves to this madness; however, Lana has a secret. She's actually a Positive but doesn't want to hurt Nick's feelings, so she pretends to be sickened by sexual arousal. Furthermore, as a Positive, she would have to leave him and join the circuit as a sex performer, a fate which befalls the innocent, virginal Angel (Marie Sharp). How long can Lana possibly hold out until his secret is discovered?
A bleak, visually striking vision that operates like a neon-lit porn take on A Boy and His Dog, this compelling oddity features much better acting and technical credits than audiences could have possibly expected. Those who remain clothed contribute the best performances, with Andy Nichols getting the finest moments in his catchy monologues. He had previously appeared in the excellent Night Dreams, also by "Rinse Dream" (actually Stephen Sayadian, director of the bizarre Dr. Caligari). Satirical writer Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight) co-wrote the incisive, tight screenplay with Sayadian, with sharp dialogue that sometimes seems far beyond the grasp of the performers. Bauer doesn't exactly set the world on fire with her acting here, and she even seems to use a body double for her climactic sex scene; however, it's odd enough seeing her in a XXX film at all, and just for the record she did the deed for real, sort of, in Bad Girls. The outstanding electronic score by Mitchell Froom is so good it was later released in its entirety as a pop album, The Key of Cool, and is well worth seeking out.
A popular video title since its initial release from VCA, Café Flesh became a high selling title on laserdisc and became an obvious choice for DVD. Fortunately the adult studio has created a dramatically improved new transfer for DVD, with much purer and more stable renderings of the black, hard-edged lighting which consumes all of the film. Some flaws in the source material still show through, not surprising for a title of this vintage, but this is the best it will look outside a movie theatre. And yes, it did play legit theaters (usually at midnight) during the '80s, often with the "money shots" trimmed out at Sayadian's request. Actually, the film wouldn't suffer at all with the omission of its hardcore footage-- a rare feat indeed for an adult title. Despite the claims of stereo sound on the back sleeve, the mono audio sounds about the same as the laserdisc, though curiously (and thankfully) the opening female narration has been adjusted to flow in sync with the written crawl on the screen. While a running time of 80 minutes has been reported for the film since '82, it actually runs only 73 minutes. The extras on the disc don't amount to much, mostly a photo gallery and the usual VCA weblinks and title listings; one can only imagine what a commentary track with Sayadian, Bauer, and Stahl would sound like!