Friday, 1 January 2010

Book Report: Crimson Orgy


I never thought I would ever say this ever, but I've been on a bit of a exploitation/snuff kick of late. Mostly it's just a lot of heavy thinking with a few movie reviews here and there. And then a friend handed me a copy of Crimson Orgy by Austin Williams. She told me I'd like it. She was right.

Set in 1965, the story follows pornographers Gene Hoffman and Sheldon Meyer as they embark on a new project, their first gore film, Crimson Orgy. Hoping to capitalize on the success of the recent and ground-breaking splatter-fest, Blood Feast, Hoffman and Meyer are pulling out all the stops to make Crimson Orgy truly spectacular. The ultra-low-budget production, however, suffers problem after problem as the cast and crew are strongarmed by the local police, film goes missing, and a hurricane blows through town. To make matters worse, writer/director Meyer is slowing losing his grip on sanity as he pushes for ultimate realism in what is, essentially, a poorly-written and badly acted B-movie.

Though Hoffman and Meyer have been in business together for some time, enjoying relative success with their drive-in nudie pics, the production of Crimson Orgy is slowly driving a wedge between them. Ever the peacemaker, Hoffman is a natural at diffusing tension, but he finds that he can no longer get a good handle on Meyer. For his own sake, Meyer has become so obsessed with realizing his vision, that he can't get a good handle on anything. Talented director though he may be, he's got no flair for dealing with people and he runs into trouble with his leading lady, Barbara, who poses a serious threat to Crimson Orgy's completion.

Crimson Orgy deals with themes of obsession, trust, and motivation in a double-layered narrative. As Austin Williams' characters take shape, so too do Meyer's as he writes and re-writes his movie. But the real issue at the heart of the book is morality. Because the story is set in the mid-1960s, gore is still very new. Though Hoffman and Meyer are eager to jump on the horror bandwagon, their cast is less comfortable with the film's premise and promise of blood and guts. Barbara is particularly opposed to Meyer's vision and she needs constant convincing to see the movie through to the end.

What I found most interesting about the story is the anticipation I felt while reading it. The book begins with an excerpt from what's supposed to be a film history book that gives the reader a brief rundown on Crimson Orgy's history and notoriety; it might be the world's first snuff film. By starting off the book in this way, Williams creates an expectation that the story is barreling toward a dramatic and bloody end and the reader can't wait to get there.

It's a great set-up, but the execution of story suffers a bit from uneven characters and lack of detail. Barbara, for instance, is a bit of mess. She exudes a kind of wholesomeness that has everyone questioning why she's even working with Hoffman and Meyer, and her moral opposition to splatter films further alienate her from the production. And yet she makes no bones about sleeping around and posing nude--two equally unwholesome activities. Opposite Barbara is Jerry, the film's villain. Though he revels in his role as the murderous Ace Spade, who he is as a real person remains a complete mystery to the reader while his character in Crimson Orgy is fully fleshed out with ample backstory (none of which, by the way, makes it into the actual movie). Moving on from cast to crew, Cliff the Grip figures prominently, mostly as a doomsayer, while the two other crew members are just names on a page.

In spite of Williams' somewhat clumsy characterizations, the story is solid and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys character-led horror, and books about movies. Unsurprisingly, Crimson Orgy has been optioned--the book reads like a movie. Rights were acquired by Scott Kosar, who wrote The Machinist, and the TCM, Amityville, and The Crazies remakes. Only time will tell what becomes of Crimson Orgy and its quasi-snuff credentials, but I'm personally hoping Kosar goes more Machinist than Chainsaw. Ultimately, the source material would benefit either.

2 comments:

Dannie said...

I heard about the film option the other day, and it seems to be in good hands (I've never known the director to make a truly horrendous movie, but you never know.) My issue is that the studio might change the title because, you know, the word orgy will make our children's ears bleed (or something)

The Divemistress said...

You're right about that, but I can't imagine what they'd call it. In the book they suggest swapping "crimson" for "blood". lol