The Golden Age of American hardcore was at an end by 1985, as technological advances had begun to alter the production and consumption of adult films. Ultimately video would supersede celluloid, and the consequences – both economically and artistically – were enormous. Of course, there’s a danger of succumbing to crude materialism here, and we shouldn’t ignore the importance of human agency when discussing these matters. The cultural landscape of the mid-eighties was quite different to that of the mid-seventies, and more than anything else, it was the sensibility of the author(s) that differentiated the early the Dark Bros. films from that of their predecessors. Comprising director Greg and producer Walter (Gernert), the self-proclaimed ‘purveyors of fine filth’ have attained legendary status over the years, and New Wave Hookers remains their signature work.
“These movies are really weird.”
Jimmy and Jamal (Jamie Gillis and Jack Baker, respectively) don’t exactly exude entrepreneurial vigour, sitting in unkempt surroundings, drinking beer and watching pornographic videos. Nevertheless, the benefits of a business venture is casually discussed as the pair envision a future as pimps. “We could really lay some pipe.” Presumably exhausted from the exertion, they fall asleep on the sofa and succumb to a curious – apparently shared – dream. Suddenly our hapless heroes are in an office – an appropriately low-rent office – and Jimmy is talking with an oriental accent; Jamal is wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit and the pair are referring to a fully grown man (Steve Powers) as their dog. More importantly, they’ve realised their ambition of becoming successful pimps – sole proprietors of New Wave Hookers Incorporated. The secret of their success – unlikely as it seems – is to brainwash unsuspecting females by playing them New Wave music. Soul music won’t do it, but under the influence of New Wave, apparently normal women are transformed into insatiable vixens.
Reeking of the eighties of many levels, it must have looked like a paradigm shift had taken place when this was initially released. While movies like the Grafenberg Spot represent the dying embers of the halcyon days of adult cinema, New Wave Hookers signalled a conscious break with the past, and in particular, a rejection of its inclusive/ mainstream aspirations. One of the most obvious manifestations of this disjuncture is the film’s distinctive aesthetic – an eye-popping, post-punk amalgam of garish colours, hairspray and studded apparel. While the outré costumes look horribly dated now, it’s worth considering the role they would have played in differentiating the film from its contemporaries. For better or worse, it’s obvious at a glance that we’re not watching a Chuck Vincent feature here. The set design is also rather unusual – with sparse props adorning otherwise-barren, dimly-lit sound stages. Structurally speaking the film’s nothing more than a loop-carrier, but stylistically it’s got more in common with a music video than something that would have played in adult bookstores a decade earlier.
While the films visual palette is not going to be to everyone’s taste, its dialogue – specifically its politically-incorrect vocabulary – is even more controversial. Jack Baker’s ethnicity is referred to in terms that remain taboo to this day, and women are routinely described as ‘bitches’ and ‘ho’s’. Of course, this is in the context of a self-consciously provocative, absurdist comedy, but it’s still going to be a problem for some viewers. In terms of the racially-charged language, it’s worth bearing in mind that members of ethnic minorities occupy significant roles in most of the early Dark Bros. films, and the portrayal of Jamal is no more negative than, for example, that of Jimmy.
Unfortunately, the treatment of women is problematic – even if we’re prepared to leave linguistic concerns to one side. None of the female characters are afforded a semblance of a personality – in fact, some of them aren’t even given names. Our titular hookers are robbed of their freewill and reduced to compliant sex machines, which may not be unprecedented but it is remarkably blatant. Whether or not this constitutes a genuinely sexist agenda is, of course, another matter. Personally, I’m inclined to put it down to simple shock tactics – a bit of liberal baiting – but I could be wrong.
So we’re faced with a potentially offensive, somewhat surreal comedy that – truth be told – isn’t very funny. And yet New Wave Hookers remains popular more than twenty years after it’s original release. Part of the explanation doubtless lies with the aforementioned originality – the movie would have looked and sounded very ‘new’ in 1985 – but that alone isn’t enough to explain its enduring appeal. I think the key is that this is a defiantly low-brow affair – and there are many who will tell you that’s exactly what adult films should be. While the more accomplished Golden Age films retain a certain cultish appeal, the rise of ‘Gonzo’ in the nineties is evidence of the market for hard-edged, unapologetic adult entertainment. New Wave Hookers, with its pseudo-anarchic sensibilities, with its gleeful depictions of anal and interracial sex, will be welcome relief to people alienated by the soap opera’s of Spinelli, Pachard and Paul Thomas. Personally I find it all a bit puerile, and would take something like Roommates any day.
The other major factor in the film’s success is its impressive cast list – particularly it’s bounty of so-called ‘video vixens’. Kristara Barrington, Ginger Lynn and Traci Lords all appear, albeit the latter’s scene has been edited from North American editions of the film since it emerged she was underage at the time of filming. Tom Byron and Peter North, both of whom would go on to become stalwarts of the industry, are also present, but like their female counterparts, they’re not required to do much aside from the obvious. In fact the only meaningful acting comes courtesy of Messers Baker and Gillis, both of whom are suitably over the top here. Gillis, incidentally, would have been around forty at the time of shooting, and is thus far too old to have been charging around in leather trousers and a studded dog collar.
I’m in danger of sounding like a snob, and maybe I am, but ultimately New Wave Hookers is proof that historic significance and quality don’t necessarily come as a pair. There’s a certain rebelliousness to the film but the frat-boy humour grows tiresome quite quickly. Frankly, it’s all a bit one-dimensional, and it really doesn’t stand comparison with the genuine masterpieces of the genre. I suppose it’s possible Greg Dark’s intention was to ridicule the basest desires of his fellow man, but the end result seems merely to pander to them. Whatever, the director would go on to do more interesting work within this franchise and others. The legacy of New Wave Hookers, however, lives on without him, thanks to Eon Mckai’s ‘alt porn’ extravaganza Neu Wave Hookers.