Judge Brett Cullum is a simple, normal guy who often attaches battery cables to his nipples for the rush it gives him when he connects with his car's battery. Truly, it's merely refreshing.
Plug in…Get off!
What would happen if David Cronenberg came crashing out of the closet and decided to make an exclusively gay movie in his signature sci fi, erotic body modification genre? What if Videodrome showed homosexual images rather than straight ones? Independent gay horror writer/producer Sean Abley (The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror) has decided to answer that question for himself in a loving homage to Cronenberg called Socket. This is his directorial debut, and he shot the film over nine days on a modest budget in Los Angeles. It's a fascinating idea and makes for an interesting experimental evening if you decide it's up your alley. Socket doesn't always work, but it's definitely one of the most intriguing gay movies to come along in a long time. Film buffs and Cronenberg fans will get the most out of it, and those in search of sexy naked men will come in second and probably run screaming first.
Everything starts with Dr. Bill Matthews (Derek Long, The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror) being brought into the hospital he works in after being struck by lightning. He seems like he's going to recover fine, but a sexy young intern who goes by his last name, Murphy (Matthew Montgomery, Gone, But Not Forgotten), takes extra special care of him. And just when the doctor is going to be released, Murphy slips him a card and encourages him to call when he realizes "he needs something." Dr. Matthews convalesces at home, but things feel off. He goes nuts organizing his bachelor pad meticulously, but when he's not cleaning and sorting, he feels exhausted. He calls the number Murphy gave him, and ends up at a meeting for people who have been struck by lightning or electrocuted somehow. They get together to engage in their fetish of using electricity like a sexual drug.
Dr. Matthews takes everything too far once he joins the group. He lets Murphy move in with him, and the two engage in a relationship that enables their ever-growing addiction to AC/DC current. The good doctor figures out a way to surgically implant a socket and prongs in to his and his lover's wrists to allow easier access for their drug of choice. But for some reason, Dr. Matthews is beginning to change. His personality is being altered in dangerous ways as the current courses through his veins. Somehow his own personal demons are coming to the surface as he spirals into the classic psychosis of an addict who will do anything to get a better fix.
Much like the gay slasher film Hellbent, Socket takes an established genre and simply homos everything up several notches while leaving everything else intact. Director and writer Sean Abley navigates the tricky terrain of paying homage to and ripping off one his favorite directors. You'll notice sequences reminiscent of Cronenberg's Videodrome, Crash, and Rabid scattered liberally throughout the film. What's interesting is Cronenberg has never shied away from the homoerotic in his own films, and it never feels like that much of a stretch. Check out James Spader sodomizing Elias Koteas in Crash, or watch Viggo Mortenson fight naked in a bathhouse during Eastern Promises. This experiment is about pushing that element even further with two male leads who lose their clothes frequently, and are attracted to each other and the same gender exclusively. We get to see Cronenberg's style married with gay exploitation, and that aspect of the film seems to translate just fine. Socket works as a simple gay metaphor, since we've heard "PNP" as a term in personal ads that means "party and play," but could double as "plug and play" in the tech world. "PNP" symbolizes a dangerous trend with gay men where drugs are often mixed with unsafe sex. The electricity and the sockets are like crystal amphetamines mixed with unsafe penetration, and certainly Cronenberg taking on that topic would be interesting. They've got a brilliant idea bubbling up through the themes of the plot.
Problems come in from the lack of budget and a half-baked script, which prevent Socket from being a truly satisfying experience. The entire project was shot over nine days in four locations that have to stand in for over 20 separate geographical spots. The end product feels rushed, and the acting and photography could have benefited from more care being taken. Cast and crew try hard enough, but the seams often show from scene to scene. The script itself meanders all over the place, and it rushes to a conclusion that feels like it wasn't thought out. The finale doesn't pay off everything established, and it simply ends rather than offering closure. Too much is crammed in to the 90 minutes, and it never gels. The dialogue is never as smart as Cronenberg, and the manifestations of the metaphors are far more blatant and basic. Another interesting problem crops up when you consider there are people in the gay community who are into electrical sexual play. So while the film is trying to be as shocking as Crash, in which we had a group that got off on car crashes, the fetish here is pedestrian and real. The key to a good fetish movie is to be able to take it with a straight-faced stoicism, and that's not what gets shown in this case. Without dangerous seriousness, the kink just seems like it is executed in a silly way that is more goofy than scary.
The central theme of erotic electricity is never played out as well as it could be, and a lot of the effects are downright laughable and rushed. While the idea of creating biological sockets and prongs is inventive, it doesn't play out well. People literally plug into each other during sex with these added modifications, but did we need that? I mean come on, during sex you already have that penetration of a male prong and female socket (even during gay sex). The wrist prongs, while executed well enough as a makeup illusion, look damn silly. You end up giggling rather than getting goose bumps whenever somebody reveals the shiny metal wrist teeth. There had to be a better way to do this, and the movie suffers from making the choice to go to ridiculous extremes.
In contrast to the sillier mishandled elements, there are great editing techniques, and they make everything far more effective. David Kittredge (Fairy Tale) has taken nine days of footage shot on a dime and made it all look a lot more glossy and almost expensive. He sets up visual flashes during the erotic electro-stimulation scenes that amp up the sex scenes and give them gravity. There is only one intriguing problem in that it looks like memories are sometimes being transferred between people when they are plugged in to each other. I wish the story had picked up on that, and then we'd have a great reason for the group to be closer knit as well as an interesting problem for the lovers. What would happen if you knew all your partner's secrets?
TLA Releasing gives Socket royal treatment for the DVD edition. The transfer is well done, but source problems crop up continually. The cinematography is purposefully drained of colors, and sometimes it all looks too washed out and at other times overly saturated. Sound is delivered in either full surround or simple stereo, and while everything is clear, sometimes the onset recording of dialogue is muffled or distorted. Where the DVD excels is in the great extras that generously explore the film making process and what the intentions were. There is a 30-minute "behind the scenes" featurette that is fun as hell to watch, and includes all the major players talking about their roles in the film. There is also a group commentary that is equally entertaining. Still galleries and trailers round out the well-designed package.
Socket is an interesting idea wrapped inside a flawed film, and it
manages to entertain and frustrate simultaneously. If the idea of a gay
Cronenberg exploitation film excites you, then it's definitely worth checking
out. Anybody looking solely for sexy eye candy will love the two male leads, who
commit to frequent casual full frontal nudity, but might have a rough time with
the queasier sci fi and horror elements. The sum of its parts is more
fascinating than the whole, but thankfully the film skirts around typical gay
movie territory. It is a daring experiment, and hopefully with a better script
and budget, the next project from this group will be a step above this one. GLBT
cinema needs radically different films, and Sean Abley and his cast are heading
in the right direction. They don't seem to wholly realize their aspirations, and
that's what makes it seem directionless, especially toward the end.
Socket works best if you have the right expectations, and simply
anticipate a gayed-up dead-on parody of a Cronenberg film done on the cheap. TLA
Releasing provides us with a great DVD to experience it, and it's worth a look
if you're a sci fi horror fan.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Making of Featurette
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