Lost for over forty years and recently rediscovered by film historian Elizabeth Purchell, J.C. Cricket‘s erotic shocker Sex Demon returns to the screen this weekend with a special engagement from Ask Any Buddy and Dirty Looks. The story of a gay couple (Steve Spahn and Jeff Fuller) whose world is turned upside when one gifts the other a cursed medallion, this intriguing piece of queer history combines the sexy and the grotesque to create one of the wildest and most unique adult films you’ll ever see. We caught up with Purchell, one of the hosts of the Ask Any Buddy podcast, to talk about this amazing find.
Tell the folks who haven’t listened to your podcast a little bit about how you discovered Sex Demon…
Earlier this year I went up to New York City to do a screening of my personal 16mm print of the Hand in Hand Films anthology Good Hot Stuff at Light Industry. About a week before my trip, I was able to connect with another film collector up there who’d just acquired a large collection of original 16mm theatrical prints of gay adult films as part of a larger lot of mainstream movies and TV shows. We were able to make a deal, and I picked all of them up while I was in town. Once we had an inventory of the titles, we were able to deduce that most of the films came from a number of legendary New York gay theaters like the 55th Street Playhouse and Adonis. Sex Demon had long been at the top of my ‘most wanted’ lost films list — I mean, how could it not be? It never had a video release and there are no other confirmed prints in existence, so this is a really exciting discovery.
That’s incredible. What’s the restoration process like? What do you have to do to clean up the print for a theatrical experience?
I was so lucky to have Vinegar Syndrome co-founder Joe Rubin go with me to pick up the collection because he was able to take the print with him and quickly make the beautiful 2k scan that we’ll be screening. The big challenge in restoring these films is finding usable elements — the original camera negatives for just about every gay adult feature ever made have either been lost or destroyed over the years. Because of that we often have to resort to theatrical prints, which were often run over and over again day after day, and are usually in… not great shape. And because we’re talking about a subgenre within a subgenre, just finding these theatrical prints is incredibly difficult!
What were you expecting before watching Sex Demon, and how did the film live up to that? I was surprised not just by how dark and chaotic it gets, but also its racial diversity.
Yeah! I was really taken by just how diverse the film’s cast is — it’s so rare to see people of color in these films, especially in non-stereotyped roles. Cricket’s later films also feature really diverse casts, too, so it’s something he was always conscious of. I’d known about some of the film’s more shocking moments ahead of time from reading contemporary reviews, but I think the other big thing that took me by surprise was just how raunchy it is! I’d always kind of wondered why the film never got a home video release, and now I know why.
What else sets Sex Demon apart from the The Exorcist and other 70s possession joints like The Omen and Abby?
I think it’s notable for a bunch of different reasons — that it was made by a very young first-time filmmaker, it’s an incredibly rare 70s example of openly queer horror, and that it actually has something to say about gay relationships. The fact that it’s probably more viscerally effective than any of those other films despite being made for very little money is a big thing, too.
J.C. Cricket was a 20yo stripper who later became the manager/booker at the Gaiety burlesk in New York. What are some other interesting tidbits about him and how he got this project off the ground?
I’m not sure how exactly this film came to be, but Cricket’s position at the Gaiety played a really crucial role in its production — there’s a scene that was shot there and some of the theater’s dancers worked on both sides of the camera. Something I find fascinating about Cricket is how he was able to transition from being a stripper and adult film director into producing gay cable programs in the 80s. His first show — Christopher Street After Dark — began less than a year after the groundbreaking Emerald City went off the air, and he’d continue producing things like gay morning shows, dating shows, AIDS forums, and so on.
Did everyone in the crew also work as a stripper? I heard you mention on your podcast that the sound guy also jumped onstage and did a show..
It’s hard to tell because the turnover rate at the Gaiety was so high, but yeah! The film’s sound man had the memorable stage name ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ and when the film eventually made its way over to the Gaiety he was the featured dancer. Cricket would continue drawing from the Gaiety and other burlesk theaters like the Ramrod and Big Top for all of his later films.
I’ve never seen Cricket’s other film Coming out New York Style. How does that compare to Sex Demon?
Coming Out is very different, but I’d say even more ambitious — it’s a series of vignettes themed around New York locations, like picking up a guy in Central Park, or having sex with the projectionist at a porn theater. The showstopper, though, is a scene where two guys make it on the roof of the World Trade Center!
Amazing. What’s your personal holy grail in terms of lost gay adult films? I’m dying to see Manholed.
Too many! I’ve long wanted to see Tom DeSimone’s first film The Collection, which was a softcore gay s/m remake of William Wyler’s The Collector. And A Short Game, which was supposedly a hardcore gay remake of The Seventh Seal. There’s also Canada’s first (and only?) gay feature Angel Johnny, which, going from the only review I know of, seemed pretty wild. One of my biggest wants was actually recently found — I can’t say anything right now, but there’ll be an announcement in the next few weeks.
Looking forward to that. What are the chances of finding the others?
You never know! I’ve been able to calculate that around 1,000 gay adult feature films were produced during that era — and about half of those are considered lost. So there’s lots out there to find.
Does Him [a lost all-male film about Jesus Christ] really exist?
It very much did and it played all over the country in the mid-70s, so it’s kind of surprising a print still hasn’t turned up. I was able to find out that video pioneer Christopher Rage was one of the film’s stars through my research into his life for a biography project, so the film is very much of interest to me.
Halloween is just around the corner. What are some other horror-themed gay adult films that we should be watching this month?
My answer is always going to be the two Falconhead films, which Bradford Nordeen from Dirty Looks always describes as being “the gay porn version of Hellraiser” — which is completely accurate. Each of the two is completely different, but both are stunning. The first — an ultra-atmospheric, creepy take on the Narcissus myth — is my personal favorite.
Sex Demon screens tonight in Los Angeles and next weekend in New York