OVERLOOK Review: SEX MADNESS REVEALED is a Visual Radio Drama
I’ve always been fascinated by Public Domain films. With few exceptions due to legal issues, like Night of the Living Dead, most films that fell into public domain are lower than B-Grade exploitation flicks. Who wrote and directed these flicks? Are these professional actors or just rando’s they picked off the street? And speaking of acting, has any of this been rehearsed? From flubbed lines, set accidents, disastrous eye lines these “actors” make Nicolas Cage look like John Barrymore. While the advent of the internet has cleared up a lot of these mysteries, the history of exploitation cinema is still riddled with holes, so who are we to know if that is just an actress on screen or, in the case of Tim Kirk’s Sex Madness Revealed, really a pawn in a deadly apocalyptic global conspiracy theory that is being forced to perform. We don’t, and that’s what makes this visual radio play such a fresh, and dare I say genius, concept.
Sex Madness Revealed is the type of film that makes you kick yourself saying “Why didn’t I think of that?!” The conceit is that we the audience are tuning in to The Film Dick, a snarky genre podcast hosted by Jimmy Morris (Patton Oswalt, who for everything he’s gone through personally in the last few years never misses a performance beat). The opening shot may remind audiences initially of Unfriended as we view an open internet browser clicking through the ever familiar IMDB as Patton Oswald narrates us through the opening of his show, dragging himself through cringe worthy sponsorship copy that he has to read (something any podcast fan or host will know the woes of too well). Jimmy Morris has a very special episode of The Film Dick for us as he has on the grandson of the director of Sex Madness, the spiritual sequel to Reefer Madness. The mysterious guest, voiced by Rob Zabrecky, promises to expose the truth behind the cheap exploitation flick that involves torture, blackmail, and above all else: venereal diseases.
Tim Kirk cut his teeth on this type of metafiction with Directors Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein in 2015 which was described as “Mystery Science Theatre meets Jean-Paul Sartre”. MST3K and What’s Up, Tiger Lily (but without the grossness of Woody Allen’s racist Asian stereotype humor, natch) were actually the first points of reference I had when trying to parse through the experience of watching this quasi-film. But the film feels less like spiritual successor to MST3K and more the natural progression of the original radio dramas of the late 1940’s like Quiet Please, Light’s Out and Suspense. But also, in the powerhouse age of podcasts, we are much more accustomed now than a decade ago to crave audio dramas. From shows like Lore, Welcome To Night Vale, Limetown, the Inside series, and Tales From Beyond The Pale, we want to feel immersed in these spooky worlds, and Sex Madness Revealed gives us that while giving us something to watch too. The way Kirk, co-screenwriter Patrick Cooper, and the rest of the team including Rodney Ascher (Room 237, The Nightmare) world build from the conversation between Morris and Holloway about the film to give reason behind all the strange plot and acting choices is equally funny and fascinating. It’s as if they gave meaning behind every strange choice or accident, so the odd background noise or bad lighting isn’t poor filmmaking, but rather the sounds of a sadistic director electrocuting the father of the lead actress. Or an actor standing off to the side of the screen slowly stripping away his clothes to show the legions on his body of untreated syphilis to the horror of the actor we’re watching on the screen, giving us a reason for why the real actor chose to stare directly into the camera for most of the shot. On paper it sounds like a corny mess, but in action it’s all rather chilling as the secrets that Holloway reveals become more outrageous. Kirk has used a brilliant idea to upcycle these essentially free films to create art out of exquisite trash.
Ultimately this film is for the fans of genre cinema that love to ingest any and all analysis they can on their favorite movies, be that from a commentary track or a podcast. If you have ever listened to or recorded your own podcast, the small knowing jokes are incredibly pointed. How many of us have listened to our favorite podcast, just to hear one of the co-hosts cough for a good 10 seconds into the microphone? Or what about calling out to an off mic sound tech to ensure the recording is running smoothly. These attentions to detail coupled with the intriguing gimmick makes Sex Madness Revealed not for everyone, but for those that get the metafiction you are in for quite a treat.