TLA Releasing // 2004 // 47 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 11th, 2006
Sex can be heaven...or it can be hell.
Vanilla is about a young photographer named Jeff (Ryan Allen, Flirting With Anthony) who discovers the dead body of a gay serial killer. The criminal had come to the river to blow his brains out after taking lives from several men who met their end during his overzealous erotic asphyxiation (choking at climax). The killer had been named The Bay Side Strangler, and had a taste for the young and hung. So is it any wonder that even in death he haunts Jeff's dreams and sexual fantasies? Or that our young virginal hero is visited in his room by the strangler's victims? You see, to Jeff, sex is death. He can't separate the two, and he's aching to shake this mortal coil with the ghost of a killer.
Vanilla reminds me of the works of noted sex shock author Dennis Cooper. If you're familiar with Cooper, you'll know he likes to mix sex and death to gruesome results like in the novel Frisk. Sex and death are primal themes that extend back to the very root of the arts. Shakespeare seemed obsessed with them, as did Greek poet Homer. In gay cinema, the two are inexplicably and forever linked. There are many probable reasons for this: homosexual acts are considered on the fringe of society, anal sex can hurt, the act is not one of procreation, and in the last several decades the specter of AIDs has overshadowed everything.
If there's one thing gay directors don't know how to do, it's horror. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a queer-themed film helmed by an out director that was even slightly scary? Vanilla has a creepy enough killer married with some well executed make-up gore, but when the sex scenes start the tension is released. There's something about naked men that doesn't conjure scary -- just vulnerable. Add to that, these naked men are gym-buffed and preened like male peacocks. The only thing that's scary is that nobody has touched a carb since 1995.
Yet Vanilla isn't trying to be a traditional horror story: It's an exercise of sexy style. Complete with black and white passages and hyper color dreams, it creates a fantasy world for our freaky killer and victims to inhabit while showing off fabulous bodies. The film reeks of film student gone gay. Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Batman Forever) would be proud at the attention to stylish kink. It's an interesting experiment in talking to dead people, but not quite The Sixth Sense. And considering how far these ghosts can go I would have to call it The Sexth Sense. If you're in the mood for something silly with a lot of style and skin, Vanilla will be up your alley. The film doesn't achieve many chills, but it has enough thrills of another kind to be fine for anyone looking for skin rather than goose bumps.
TLA does an outstanding job bringing this release in to your home. The transfer is crystal clear, and we get full surround for Vanilla. They've taken care of this short film quite well, and special features are extremely robust for a forty-seven minute feature. You get a making of featurette that features outtakes, on the set location shooting, and more nudity than the film proper. There are a couple of deleted sequences that are only interesting in that they really do belong on the floor (think about scenes so bad they didn't make it in to a short feature). There's an interesting black and white film called Unfinished which was an earlier attempt to make the story by the same filmmaker with a bona fide street hustler who disappeared before filming was completed.
Then there is a whole second feature which runs just under forty minutes called A Little Comfort which should be retitled Naked French Boys Getting Their Freak On. It's about two friends, and one is troubled while the other is gay. There is no thematic link to Vanilla, but plenty of teenaged skin on display for fans of that sort of thing. It's brief and ironically features many shots of people in their briefs.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 47 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Making of Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Unfinished: The Short Film
* French Feature A Little Comfort