The 13th Floor

Gay Porn and Blue Murder: Making the True-Crime Biopic KING COBRA

The stylishly subversive and hyperkinetic re-imagining of the infamous Brent Corrigan/Bryan Kocis porn murder case KING COBRA (based on the true crime book COBRA KILLER by Anthony E. Stoner & Peter A. Conway) has ushered in a powerful new voice in independent queer cinema by the name of Justin Kelly. It was while conducting hard research on his debut feature I AM MICHAEL that he stumbled on the true story behind KING COBRA, and thereafter earmarked it as his new cinematic venture.

Initially, Kelly didn’t believe the film would get made; queer films are often difficult enough to finance, and KING COBRA was about gay porn and murder. But Kelly hoped to work his connections in independent film to make it happen: he’d previously worked as an editor’s assistant on Gus Van Sant’s biopic MILK, which led him to an association with James Franco, with whom he’d collaborated on I AM MICHAEL.

 

Franco loved the concept, and fast-tracked it; Kelly penned the screenplay, then showed it to Christian Slater — who also loved it, and hopped aboard the project as well. Kelly then began to assemble his cast, with Disney’s Garret Clayton essaying Brent Corrigan, Keegan Allen as Harlow, Franco as Harlow’s manic daddy-pimp Joe, and Christian Slater as doomed porn mogul Stephen. Corrigan himself had been approached to participate, but refused.

KING COBRA is a meditation on queer identity, sex and scandal, told through the prism of a crime-drama narrative and filtered through the alpha-dog perspectives of Slater and Franco’s characters. The flick has shades of Michael Haneke (FUNNY GAMES) and Francois Ozon (SWIMMING POOL) in its execution, and its resistance in appealing to mainstream audience demographics.

 

There are two distinct storylines in KING COBRA told in tandem: The first revolves around Brent Corrigan (Clayton) being approached by Stephen (Slater, equal parts pathetic and poignant in his role), a director in gay porn who specializes in “twinks” — boys who don’t look the legal age-of-consent — who are willing to participate in bare-back group sessions. Brent is a fresh-faced, boy-next-door-type who has Stephen drooling, and he invites the boy to come live at his house. The other storyline follows Joe (Franco) and his dim-witted escort/boyfriend Harlow (Keegan Allen), whose obscenely lavish lifestyle has landed them in hot water.

 

The film charts Corrigan’s rise to porn stardom, and the tempestuous and exploitative relationship with his manager Bryan Kocis (Slater’s character is based on him). It later transpired that Corrigan (real name: Sean Paul Lockhart) had lied about his age, and was a minor when he appeared in several of Corrigan’s videos.

Kocis and Corrigan parted ways when this information came to light, but not before Kocis had copyrighted the name Brent Corrigan to his own company. [For those who don’t care about spoilers, the story is outlined in great (and grisly) detail in Rolling Stone.]

Justin Kelly wanted to be a director since he was a kid, and took after-school filmmaking classes in high school, where he began to hone his craft. He cut his teeth in film school at San Francisco State, making short films and low-budget music videos, which landed him an editing gig at Current TV; a few indie films later brought him to the attention of Van Sant, one of Kelly’s idols. Van Sant watched Kelly’s thesis short film and loved it, bringing him aboard as an editor’s assistant on the Harvey Milk biopic MILK.

Four years later, he was working as an editor and trying to get his first feature off the ground when Van Sant introduced him to Franco, who decided to help get Kelly’s debut I AM MICHAEL off the ground — and Van Sant suggested Kelly direct the feature himself.

 

The film premiered at Sundance in 2015 (exactly a year before KING COBRA was made), and Kelly has recently wrapped on his next film, WELCOME THE STRANGER. The latter is Kelly’s first film that isn’t a based on true story of queer lives, and sounds inspired by the writing of Shirley Jackson [THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE] by way of Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS. The psychological thriller involves sibling rivalry, and stars Caleb Landry Jones (ANTIVIRAL) and Abbey Lee Kershaw [NEON DEMON]. Production has recently wrapped.

 

Kelly should be applauded for choosing divisive queer lives for his films, drawing from the most divisive (and not so) LGBTQ people in the public eye. Next up he’ll be covering one of the most controversial figures in literature — the pseudonymous JT LeRoy — and is working with Savannah Knoop, the public face of the enigmatic author, as a consultant.

So… what other LGBTQ lives could Justin Kelly immerse himself in for a future project? I have a few suggestions:

Luka Magnotta

Reality TV star, escort, plastic surgery addict and sadistic cannibal killer, Magnotta has a compelling background and was a master manipulator and social media-obsessed queer sociopath!

Pantigate

Pandora Bliss is The Queen of Ireland. She was instrumental in the winning of Ireland’s marriage referendum, has appeared in a documentary, and even penned a memoir. That would make an amazing movie, and Justin would be a perfect fit behind the camera.

The Boys in the Canal

Over the last few years, a number of young men have perished in the canals that parallel Manchester’s Gay Village Canal Street. Authorities believe a serial killer is operating in the area. The press have dubbed him “The Pusher.

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