Please Do Disturb: Defiance of Good

Like any facet of the entertainment industry, pornography has evolved quite a bit over the last forty years, and in many ways similar to its mainstream cinematic counterpart. The auteur-driven output of the ’70s (along with is revolutionary spirit) gradually ceded to marketplace demands and a “product” mentality that put formula ahead of artisitic expression, resulting in films that were more technically sophisticated or satisfying but bereft of directorial vision. (It’s not for nothing that the explosions which punctuate action scenes today are often referred to as “money shots.”) Even a casual viewer of porn films–or, for that matter, someone opposed to them–can see they don’t make them like they used to.

Consider the “roughie,” a particular subgenre that emphasized violence, despair, and all manner of abuse in its attempt to titillate the audience. Made popular by Lee Frost’s 1965 softcore outing THE DEFILERS, this type of film had numerous pornographic approximations–with varying degrees of intensity–throughout the ’70s with such films as SEX WISH, FORCED ENTRY, and THE VIOLATION OF CLAUDIA before becoming obsolete in the glitzy, silicone-enhanced VHS era. (Ironically, the porn of today–specifically that of the “gonzo” variety–has embraced many of the roughies’ attributes, though the point now is the humilation and endurance of the actress, and her various orifices, than any dramatic effect.) Among the most notorious of these pictures is Armand Weston’s DEFIANCE OF GOOD.

Echoing such films as THE SNAKE PIT, this 1975 picture stars Jean Jennings as a young girl institutionalized by her overbearing mother when she’s caught experimenting with cocaine. Exactly what kind of hospital she’s sent to is unclear (a mental treatment facility? drug rehab?), but we know for sure it’s bad news, as Weston presents it as a grim, almost desolate place populated by efficient but uncaring nurses and leering orderlies. Inevitably, Jennings is subjected to a cavity search upon her arrival, where we learn she’s, unsurprisingly, a virgin and dumped in a rec room filled with sex-crazed deviants. But her torment doesn’t truly begin until later that night, when she’s overpowered and raped by a trio of inmates.

What makes this sequence uncomfortable to watch isn’t the assault itself, unpleasant though it may be to witness the forced deflowering of a young girl as something sexually exciting, but the ways in which Weston portrays it. Draping Jennings’s cell-like room in shadow gives it an almost gothic atmosphere of dread, overwhich the soundtrack presents her muffled cries of discomfort and protest. Weston’s camera is blunt and unveering, focusing away from the shots of penetration just long enough to catch close-ups of Jennings’s tear-stained cheeks. And while there’s never any doubt that what we’re seeing is ficticious, performed by a consenting actress, the scene nonetheless has an uncomfortable documentary-like fly-on-the-wall feel. Curiously, the gang-rape (the first real sex scene in the picture) doesn’t occur until somewhere around the twenty-minute mark, which is heard of for a porn film, even in those narrative-friendly days; by delaying the moment Weston increases our dread–and, presumably, our excitement–as we wait for the inevitable.

(It also reminds me of how Meir Zarchi waited 25 minutes to present Camille Keaton’s attack in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE; the audience has plenty of time to squirm because we know something awful is going to happen. Of course, that sequence is supposed to outrage, though I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who find it gratifying. And if you’re one of those people, please don’t share that with the rest of the class.)

Oh, and did I mention the rape is capped off with a “joke,” as the orderly interrupts the proceedings only to quip, “Shit, I was hoping to be first.”

Jennings is granted a reprieve when she’s released into the care of Dr. Gabriel, a Mark Twain lookalike who wants to transfer her to his private clinic. Given that Gabriel is played by Fred J. Lincoln (best known to genre fans as Weasel from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), it should be no surprise that Jennings simply trades one hell for another. Gabriel’s idea of therapy is to initiate her into the world of sadomasochism (“In order to be free,” he intones, “we must unlearn all the moral values that your misguided parents have taught you.”), subjecting her to the stocks, bloody whippings, and the occasional orgy (which features porn legend Jamie Gillis and Sonny Landham of PREDATOR, looking extremely uncomfortable).

The remainder of DEFIANCE is not quite as harrowing, but it still maintains an aura of skeevy foreboding as Jennings slips further under Gabriel’s influence and begins to enjoy the degradation she’s put through. (It turns out that Gabriel’s actually a former priest now shepherding a new congregation toward spiritual enlightenmnet through pain; but other than justifying the story’s framework, not much else is made of his cult-like philosophy. One wonders what Weston’s motivation was, if he was making a statement about organized religion or was merely attempting to shock. Considering how little his “teachings” play into the overall film, I’m guessing the latter.)

To illustrate her transition, Weston makes each sex scene more enjoyable than the one before it (while keeping the kinkier edge, incorporating bondage, group sex, and other porn standards) until the climactic tryst, a tender coupling between Jennings and her teenaged girlfriend–the one she was snorting coke with, who’s also been placed in Gabriel’s care. Her transformation complete, Jennings is now so comfortable in Gabriel’s thrall that she refuses to leave him despite his permission to do so. She agrees to help her friend escape, setting up a downbeat twist (and very, very ’70s) ending that brings its creepy gothic ambience full-circle.

Filled with several unsettling touches–how many erotic films do you know in which the heroine offers blood-spattered sheets as evidence of rape?–DEFIANCE OF GOOD could just as easily fall underneath the “Horror” banner. (In fact, Weston went on to direct the legit supernatural yarn THE NESTING in 1981, which featured the ghosts of dead prostitutes. And John Carradine.) While not recommended for the overly sensitive (but then again, none of the movies reviewed under “Please Do Disturb” are), it’s still worth checking out by fans of vintage sleaze, both the hardcore and horrific variety. It has a great dark-old-house vibe that compensates for the unpleasantness of some of the sex–and, to be fair, it’s the same vibe that gives those unpleasant sex scenes their power–and the production values are surprisingly solid, given its origins.

(Excerpt SFW–well, nudity-free, anyway.)

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