A group of theater employees watch a movie after closing time and unleash a succubus in Porno (2019). After directing this, his first theatrical release, Keola Racela directed the apparently made-for-TV horror movie Beast Under the Bed (2020).

Porno opens with Abe and Todd peeking into a window of a couple having sex as they head to work at the movie theater, played respectively by Evan Daves and Larry Saperstein. Jillian Mueller plays the newly-promoted manager Chaz. Her boyfriend Ricky is played by Glenn Stott. Robbie Tann plays Heavy Metal Jeff, the high-strung projectionist. And Bill Phillips plays the owner or manager, Mr. Pike.

Most of the theater employee cast have bit parts, short films, documentary work and some small regular TV bits. Phillips, who plays the theater manager, started in the 80s with bit parts in a few major films and after a long hiatus returned to film and TV acting. Racela has gathered a good experienced cast all of whom could use a chance at showing their skills with characters that have a lot of screen time and Porno is it.

After Pike leads a prayer circle, he leaves them for the night, reminding them that he will return to pick up Heavy Metal Jeff at midnight. A bum breaks into the theater, and the kids find a boarded up theater screen where they find adult film memorabilia and a short 35mm film, harkening back to the theater’s former incarnation as an adult movie house. Unlike regular adult movies when they play the film they unleash a Succubus played by Katelyn Pearce.

Pearce has been working hard in shorts, features and TV shows since 2013. She plays this role topless nearly throughout the film and bottomless at one point with what looked like a very bad pubic toupee. Katelyn Pearce, however, could’ve played the role fully clothed. For a part with little dialogue, the character’s presence adds tension to each scene as she seduces nearly everybody in one way or another, and Pearce isn’t just walking through the role B-movie topless and leaving it at that. She’s chewing up the scenery each time and giving a horror performance almost as unhingingly creepy as Alice Krige in Ghost Story (1981), almost. Pearce isn’t the only bad guy as the original owner Lord Beekman played by Peter Reznikoff appears to give himself fully to the succubus.

I have to admit I’m perplexed at some reviews claiming slow spots, but the pacing of the film remains steady throughout with rising action and higher and higher stakes along with some revelations. The script by Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli is well-paced, with some genuinely creepy moments and some really exceptional dramatic moments that the actors perform perfectly. In fact, Glenn Stott brings some good and actually original moments with his pretty-boy jock Ricky in the type of role we’ve seen a million times. And at the darkest moments Larry Saperstein’s nerdy passive Todd really shines with some surprisingly twisted moments.

The score by first time horror movie composer Carla Patullo is sufficiently haunting, though her background is mostly in TV shows, specifically The Young and the Restless and All My Children. The practical special effects were great with one looking-through-your-fingers-like-they’re-window-blinds moment. Greg Pikulski and Brett Schmidt created the effects, and they have impressive backgrounds in well-known TV shows, backed also by Esther Kim.

The cinematography is by John Wakayama Carey who also shot Racela’s Beast. It’s time to stop calling bright primary colors in horror films Argento-esque or whatever. He doesn’t have a copyright on colors in cinematography. Carey’s cinematography is production color. Both the film the employees watch and the red and blue scenes in the theater are production colors like sound is production sound when it’s coming from the narrative. It’s a theater. Theaters are dark. Creating a blue look is justified while a red look as a demon from hell appears is justified. Carey adds a great look to the film here.

The performances make the film worth watching as is the plot which should be a heavily overused trope but isn’t. The one location formula is exploited well as are Racela’s choice in picking good actors who could use a good breakout role. The most interesting aspect about this is that Fangoria bought the world distribution rights, and I’m shocked to like a Fangoria film. I remember watching a few unforgettable ones long ago, but this was before Cinestate acquired the magazine, and Cinestate itself is a Texas-based production company run by Dallas Sonnier, and I don’t think my liking this one is a fluke because Cinestate also produced Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018), Satanic Panic (2019) and VFW (2020), only the last of which I have seen and it’s great, though the other two have piqued my interest. Keep an eye out for Sonnier and Cinestate and I daresay, Fangoria.

Porno, however, is certainly not a perfect film, but it’s pretty damn good. The whole Christian angle seemed unnecessary and the prayer circle unbelievable. Oh, and I forgot to mention it’s set in the 90s which also doesn’t really matter. Those aspects could’ve been written out somehow. Occasional mixed tones like goofy moments during hard core gore effects and funny one-liners during tense moments tend to negate the mood that was building so well. And while the practical effects looked great, the CGI flesh cutting looked like CGI flesh cutting.

While all the actors get a lot of screentime and their own arcs, I am not sure who the main character is. Jillian Mueller’s Chaz seems to drive the story forward, but I would’ve liked to have seen more of her. She seems to be doing the Michael Caine thing and re-acting to everybody, which is a great skill for an actor who wants a long career, but maybe we’ll have to wait till her next movie to see her shine brighter.

The movie is good enough to make me curious about Racela’s Beast Under the Bed. He could be a horror director to look out for. Whew! Every other article I read in my research used the word “titillating.” So glad I didn’t. Also, as of this writing we are experiencing the 2020 Pandemic, and Porno is streaming for half price on some sites, but good luck finding it by typing Porno into the search bar.

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