Stephen Sayadian and Mark S. Esposito chose not to have their names appear on screen as the directors of this nightmare. Cafe Flesh takes place after the end of World War III, which is referred to in the film as the “nuclear kiss". Humans huddle together in a post-apocalyptic dystopia that seethes with smoke, shadows, and awful dialogue. The film was made in 1982. A time before anyone had ever heard of AIDs, and we went to bed each night listening to the rattle of Reagan’s Cold War saber.
Imagine the film Cabaret with a soundtrack written by Kraftwerk, and hardcore sex skits inspired by a mix of MTV and Cronenberg. Now, picture a far less interesting version of this mixture, and you have Cafe Flesh. The premise of the film is that after the war, humanity mutated into two different genetically altered groups: the sex-positives and the sex-negatives. The sex-negatives desperately want to have sex, but cannot because if they get aroused, they have a Clockwork Orange sort of nauseous fit. The government then forces all the sex-positives to become performers in clubs where the negatives can go and watch. It doesn’t really make sense because, obviously, watching these performances would arouse the negatives. Don’t ask me, I didn’t make the movie.
This awful film accidentally trips and falls into a vector for all kinds of socio-political and cultural forces. The whole thing seems to not only predict the rise of AIDS, but it seems to predict the interpersonal fallout of the crisis. It describes the fear, nausea, paranoia, and desperation of a community being torn apart by sex.
Cafe Flesh also seems to speak to the alienated incel movement. We see lonely and depressed sex-negatives, forced to watch from the sidelines while the lucky sex-positives parade their sexual indulgences for all to see. It also drags in the growth of the porn industry and the rising tide of capitalism. The film is a disgusting, little time capsule that resonates not only with 1982, but wrestles with issues and problems that have yet to happen.
The sex skits that the sex-positives perform don’t really seem as if they are intended to arouse the audience watching the film. At least, I hope they aren’t. Instead, the vignettes are the filmmakers' sophomoric attempt at avant-garde performance art. One skit stars Mr. and Mrs. Sane. Mrs. Sane is at home with her three crying babies, represented by three grown men in baby bonnets and bibs, sitting in highchairs, waving around bones, and wearing plastic vampire teeth.
Mrs. Sane is then accosted by a half-man, half-rat creature, and they proceed to have sex on the floor. At one point, the rat’s tail winds its way between Mrs. Sane’s legs, making it appear as if she has grown a big, hairy member. She seems to be very pleased by this, and proceeds to stroke her new appendage with erotic gusto, or a poor facsimile of erotic gusto. All the while, the camera cuts to reaction shots of the sex-negatives in the crowd, who seem to watch with equal parts horror and arousal. One of the reaction shots inexplicably includes Richard Belzer.
There are equally bizarre and horrific skits that follow. There’s one where giant pencils fuck secretaries, and lesbians perform a 69 to the sound of air raid sirens and marching soldiers.
The worst part is the sleazy and vicious MC, Maxie. Between skits, he stands on stage and derides the audience. He mercilessly taunts them with insults, as if their mere existence disgusts him beyond description. He is the pernicious super-ego, not only shaming the sex-negatives, but the film’s audience. He is the dominator torturing the submissive. He is the voice of the cynical producer who despises his patrons.
Cafe Flesh does not succeed at being erotic, nor does it manage to be artful or dramatic as a narrative. It wants to be avant-garde, but only succeeds at being weird. As a whole, it is a miserable film, but as a document of the 1980s, it provides a pretty vivid depiction of the darker side of urban American culture.
I was about to pronounce this review done when, unfortunately, I found there was a Cafe Flesh 2. It came out in 1997. Fortunately, I couldn’t find a way to view it, but unfortunately, there was a third sequel to Cafe Flesh entitled Cafe Flesh 3 that came out in 2003, and unfortunately, I found a way to stream it. The lengths I won’t go to in the pursuit of … I wish I knew what I was in pursuit of. Anyway, I watched it.
The foul MC has turned into a disembodied brain floating in a glass tank. It offers up an unceremonious exposition that explains the same premise about the war and the sex-positives, which are now called possies, and the sex-negatives, which are now called neggies. Then, we cut to a graveyard. We see The Grim Reaper as he wanders between the gravestones in his hooded cloak, carrying his trademark scythe.
The Reaper stumbles across a hunky guy who happens to be taking a midnight stroll in the graveyard. The specter of death drops his cloak and reveals that he is not a man, but a woman, to be more precise, a babe dressed in garters and undies. The two strangers waste no time in getting it on. For reasons unknown, there is a giant light table in the middle of the graveyard which the couple uses as a platform for their escapade.
This sequel to the sequel to Cafe Flesh has a very different approach to its depiction of sex. The sex scenes are much longer and are clearly the main purpose of the film. There is an attempt at some kind of eroticism, with sleepy eyes and lascivious lip licking, but what truly sets the film apart from its predecessor’s predecessor is the two actors.
Both the male and female of the species are carefully manicured, mannequin-like representations of humans. Both are completely hairless, save for their heads. The woman has bleached blonde hair and silicone breasts. Her skin has been powdered and painted so that it is smooth and completely unblemished. She looks like a cartoon. No part of her body is left unaltered. Even her poor little anus is bleached to a lovely peachy pink. That just can’t be a fun procedure to endure.
Only a decade earlier, the men and women of the porn industry were wild and wooly, devil-may-care enthusiasts. In Cafe Flesh 3, what was once a hunk of Wisconsin cheddar fresh off the farm, is a homogenized, pasteurized, hermetically sealed brick of Velveeta.
Cafe Flesh 3 was directed by Anthony R. Lovett. You may remember him from such titles as New Wave Hookers Seven, Cap'n Mongo's Porno Playhouse, Facesitters 2, Let Me Tell Ya 'Bout Black Chicks, and White Bunbusters.
Cafe Flesh 3 changes the premise a little bit. The cafe has closed down and Cafe Flesh is now a television show that presents sex vignettes, similar to those that used to play live in the old Cafe Flesh. There is only one sex-positive woman left on earth, and her name is Mayhem. Unfortunately, she suddenly explodes and Cafe Flesh is forced to send a couple of neggies back in time to find a new porn star.
The show goes back on air and the skits begin again. They are still weird, but they no longer try to emulate the chic of avant-garde performance art. The last skit, however, does deserve a special mention. An all-American, large-breasted blonde woman dressed in star-spangled sequins has a foursome with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Richard Nixon in front of a giant presidential seal. Like the original Cafe Flesh, this sequel seems a bit prescient. There is something about three presidents humping Miss America that seems to hint at the Trumpocalypse to come.
I thought I could finally wash my hands of this whole cinematic debacle but, regrettably, I stumbled across a copy of Cafe Flesh 2. Actually, upon viewing it, it looked like a VHS copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy of Cafe Flesh 2. The sound was out of sync, the contrast was blown out, and both the image and the sound were fuzzy. But at this point, I had to finish what I had started.
This one was filmed in 1997, and from the opening credits, it seemed that everyone involved used a pseudonym. The exposition is a voice-over presented by a dancing toy skeleton and a narrator who sounds like Tom Waits on sleeping pills. The premise continued the oddly clairvoyant quality of the film trilogy. It explained that the reason there were so few possies left was because most of them had been killed by a pandemic. Fortunately, our narrator, who turns out to be an obese steampunk sewage worker, finds a cryogenically frozen possie in the sewers.
Cafe Flesh 2 is even darker than its predecessor, both literally and figuratively. Every scene emerges as if lit by a flashlight, and the cynical and jaded characters snarl their way through the movie, as if they really inhabit a dystopia. The cryogenic ingénue turns out to be a virgin, and provides a small ray of innocence in the mercenary darkness. Before her psychedelic sex scene in front of a projection screen, we hear the echoey interior of her mind…
“Did you ever wonder what it would be like if you could travel through time? I did. I imagined being Cleopatra, or Marie Antoinette, or Eva Braun, now she was a real woman. But I never imagined it would be like this. It's like you’re listening to Led Zeppelin, and you close your eyes and you doze off, and then you open them again, and you’re in a really fucked up horror movie. Only it's not a movie, it's real life. At least I think it is.”
Later, when you are watching a latex minotaur with penis horns vigorously “gore” a female matador in a flaming bullring while flamenco blares in your ears, the ingénue’s words seem like an unheeded warning. The matador skit is both the most horrifying and most creative of the skits. There's a rockabilly noir skit, and a wedding ceremony skit. The wedding ceremony features two witnesses that seem to prefigure Harley Quinn, but after 3 Cafe Flesh flicks, I may have been hallucinating. I certainly wasn’t able to follow the plot anymore.
Having completed the trilogy, I feel as though I am finally emerging from an onerous, odorous tar pit of depravity, from which I shall never be cleansed.
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