The 13th Floor

STORMSWEPT: The Line When Horror Becomes Porn

Blockbuster Video once stood astride the home video market like the Colossus of Rhodes. In the mid 1990s, if you wanted to see a film after its theatrical release, then you had little choice but to visit a Blockbuster Video. It’s where many people began their film education and where the masses went to check out all the new releases.

A notable and unfortunate feature of Blockbuster Video, however, was their staunch refusal to stock NC-17-rated films and pornography. Wanting to be a family-friendly company, the CEO dictated that certain ratings were not allowed in the store. This declaration led to rumors that Blockbuster was also shaving down and censoring some of their sexier and more violent films, all against the wishes of the studios and filmmakers. This rumor was not true, but it was easily believed in 1995 and difficult to disprove.

This anti-adult mentality led to the rise of re-edited R- and NC-17-rated movies, as well as a whole cottage industry of softcore porn that, thanks to clever packaging, could be slipped onto Blockbuster Video’s bottom shelves without the stigma of “porn” attached to them. Many home video companies began producing increasingly sexual and nudity-packed “horror” films and “thriller” films that were meant to function as the family-friendly version of the hardcore stuff you could get at your local newsstand or liquor store. This was where the success of THE RED SHOE DIARIES came in, the Full Moon-produced FEMALIEN movies, and the notable flick STORMSWEPT.

As a video store rat, I was always on the lookout for anything daring, weird, dark, edgy, culty, or horrific. In 1995 in a Blockbuster Video, I stumbled upon the R-rated horror film STORMSWEPT, directed by David Marsh. While the video box claimed the film was about a haunted house, the box art depicted a half-naked women and the eyes of what looked to be a gigantic eagle/owl monster. I remember pondering that a giant owl was not a horror movie monster I had yet encountered. So I rented STORMSWEPT.

It’s a good thing I didn’t watch the film with my mother in the room, as STORMSWEPT proved to be a surprisingly explicit softcore porn movie about a haunted house that infects its denizens with free-floating and undeniable sexual arousal. Various sexual pairings ensued.

STORMSWEPT did not feature any of the usual close-ups associated with hardcore porn, and there was actually a surprising percentage of film plot and character set-up surrounding the sex scenes; it was probably only about 20 to 25% sex. But its intentions were clear: This film was made with the specific intent of slipping sex into notoriously chaste video stores.

Horror, of course, has always had a tradition (I hesitate to call it a stigma) of grindhouse exploitation. Some horror movies, at least since the heyday of Herschell Gordon Lewis, have often sought to provide audiences with extreme images and taboo subject matter. Sex folds directly into horror, and there’s a reason so many horror movies feature sex and nudity: It was the genre where filmmakers could most naturally get away with it. In that tiny epoch of the mid 1990s – before SCREAM re-popularized horror for mass audiences – straight-to-video horror movies were plentiful, filmmakers often sold films sight unseen to Blockbuster Video, and enterprising pornographers found a new venue.

Indeed, David Marsh was merely the credited screen name of one David I. Frazer who had been making hardcore pornography exclusively since 1980. Frazer is credited on IMDb as the director of SEX BOAT, four BAD GIRLS movies, and a few others with surprisingly classy names. His history or what became of him is difficult to track down, but I can say that STORMSWEPT appears to be his only “legit” non-hardcore film.

It’s entirely possible that the sudden influx of porn into the home video market in the early 1980s hampered the careers of a lot of the old-guard pornographers like Frazer. As depicted in BOOGIE NIGHTS, pornographers also had to be, at least in a limited capacity, actual filmmakers. Home video allowed any amateur with enough gumption to make pornography. Frazer, perhaps, felt the need to expand his repertoire and took the most obvious route, a horror film with more nudity and sex than usual.

That puts STORMSWEPT, and other films of its ilk and vintage, in a strange nether-place in cinema, a very narrow line that separates sexy horror from actual porn. Horror aims to scare, and porn aims to arouse. STORMSWEPT aimed for the latter by way of the former. It is an erotic thriller in the truest sense of the word. It’s a genre with its own tropes, its own tone, and its own cast of regulars. STORMSWEPT featured Kim Kopf (WITHCCRAFT 8), Melissa Moore (SAMURAI COP and SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II), Kathleen Kinmont  (HALLOWEEN 4), and Lorissa McComas (LAP DANCING, THE BARE WENCH PROJECT, and VIRTUAL DESIRE).

I’d describe more of the story about how there was a torture chamber in the basement where ghosts lived, or how one of the young women was hypnotized into having a sex fantasy about Alex Trebek (seriously), or how the pretense of the film’s action was that the characters were in the haunted mansion to shoot their very own erotic thriller (how meta), but none of that is as interesting as STORMSWEPT’s place as an object.

STORMSWEPT is most notable for how, well, good it is. It’s shot on film, paced well, and actually tries to build sexual tension rather than merely jumping into the nudity. For an erotic horror film, it’s surprisingly patient, well-lit, and weirdly atmospheric. As I said, its primary function was a breast delivery system, but Frazer actually stopped to make something that looked like a real movie.

Frazer has not made a film since, although many of the actors actresses are still working to this day in various films and TV shows. As we all know, softcore horror has essentially vanished from most peoples’ consciousnesses, relegated to the realm of nostalgia. There are plenty of straight-to-Netflix horror movies (many of them bad), and hardcore porn is readily available to anyone with an internet connection, so we now have better outlets than the coded, hidden sex flicks of a bygone era. As someone who grew up in a pre-internet world, it’s hard to describe to the uninitiated the thrill these sexy flicks provided to lustful adolescents. STORMSWEPT, despite how trashy is may be, is weirdly special. Its kind will likely never be seen again. To it, I raise a glass.

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