A pornographic parody of Jaws, this twisted comedy mixes satire and sex with some stunning results. If you are looking for something to get you hot and wet, throw back this film. However, if you are fishing for something different hunt down Gums. It’s a keeper.
We all laughed when Jaws 4 came out and it had a tagline that read, “This time…It’s personal.” Did anyone care? We needed Jaws 4 as much as we needed a pornographic parody of shark attack film. Still Gums exists. Most people have no reason to watch Gums? But for me…It’s personal. First off, there is the guilty pleasure that comes in watching a crude porn film made by one of my former college professors. Then there is my personal obsession with the dark comic brilliance of Brother Theodore. I’ll admit that I go to strange lengths and put up with some awful films just to see one whacked out performance. Thankfully, Gums is worth the trouble.
Made before the age of VCR’s and home computers, equipped with high-speed Internet access, Gums comes from an era of grungy, sticky floor theaters. Gums probably played in the small theaters that made 42nd Street an infamous hang-out for the lower dregs of society. Today, the adult bookstores and grindhouse theaters of Times Square have been replaced by Giuliani’s wholesale beautification program. Disney now owns the Deuce and films like Gums have been replaced with video and digital porn. Kids today forget that back in 1976 most folks had to put on their trenchcoat and venture out to the theater to get they jollies. Everything wasn’t always a click away.
Many 1970’s porno films are insufferable. We all know the stigmas. Bad music, murky camera work, piss-poor acting, and puerile narratives used to string together a series of seemingly unrelated carnal escapades. While the 70’s might have been a banner year for X-rated films. The arthouse and the grinhouse started to blend together. Last Tango in Paris gave us Brando getting intimate with butter and curious couples came out to see Linda Lovelace’s (Deep Throat) special talents. All the hullabaloo about porn going mainstream did little to stop most 70’s porn from looking like home movies shot by money hungry producers with connections to cash-strapped strippers.
Technically speaking, Gums is no exception. However, Gums might be the first porn film to try and parody a blockbuster film. Later the porn industry would make parodies a tradition with titles like Forrest Hump and Schindler’s Lust and Lord of the G-Strings hitting adult video store shelves soon after the release of the films that inspired these little nuggets of stupidity. Trying to strike while the iron is hot, it still remains a mystery just who rents these cheap knock-offs. The films hold little or no resemblance to the mainstream movies they mock. Gums is an not only ground-breaking, it is an exception to the rule.
Just like Jaws, this burlesque send-up starts in the ocean. Instead of a blood-thirsty shark we have a cock-hungry mermaid who sucks the life out of her victims. When the private parts of the latest victim wash up on the public beach, the Sheriff (Paul Styles) closes down the beach. With tourist season about to begin and the Mayor of Greathead demands that the Sheriff re-open the beach. Calling upon his old friend Dr. Sy Smega (Richard Bolla), the world’s leading fellatiologist and with the help of Captain. Carl Clitoris (Brother Theodore), the commander of the S.S. Cunnilingus, the Sheriff sets out to capture his sex-crazed sea monkey.
Though it’s a silly hardcore porno flick, Gums stays true to the basic plot of Jaws and even goes so far as to create characters that mirror their blockbuster counterparts. Styles takes over the Roy Schneider role of obsessive police chief turned shark hunter. Veteran porn actor Richard Bolla is bearded and bespectacled making him a perfect match for Richard Dreyfuss’ role of scientist Matt Hooper. Then there is underground comic, Brother Theodore filling in for Robert Shaw’s grizzled boat captain, Quint. Of course, the nymphomaniac Mermaid (Terri Hall) looks nothing like her mechanical Great White doppleganger, but the way she devours innocent swimmers is no different…Okay, it’s slightly different and a lot more graphic.
Compared to today’s modern porno parodies that are connected to their source material only in name, Gums follows the narrative of its inspiration with its team of heroes setting out for an epic battle between man and beast, or in the case of Gums, beauty. Besides impersonating Jaws, director Robert L. Kaplan and producer, Paul E. Cohen, decide to take porno to strange new places. Rather than pad their narrative with tension inducing drama, the guys behind Gums load their story with daft humor, wholly unexpected in even the cheesiest of porno flicks. It would take Robert Downey (Pound, Putney Swope) to come up with anything similar to what Paul E. Cohen and Robert J. Kaplan have put to film.
Since it was filmmed others have ventured into waters similar to Gums, but most do it with a more clear-minded goal of producing laughs. Gums feels like porno first and a comedy second, but there are many moments when lines get crossed and intentions get blurred. I am not well versed in porn, but I can bet you that few other porno films have a naked mermaid coming out of the ocean to do an interpretive dance before she pleasures well endowed handpuppets. You may want to read that again. Watching a real female satisfy a crude puppets that just happens to have very real looking appendages makes for some very unsex, nightmare imagery. But, if that’s the strangest thing you ever envisioned you may want to then consider this. At one point in the film the Mayor of Greathead allows the Sheriff’s secretary to give him a debriefing. For inexplicable reasons the town’s very white Mayor has black genitalia. Is this the biggest continuity error ever or a miss directed joke? You make the call.
While not all of the humor in Gums hits it target and much of the humor can be rather juvenile, the inclusion of Brother Theodore in a porn film is insanely genius. Perhaps the only sit-down comic in the world Brother Theodore’s grim, pessimistic look at life somehow invoked laughter in his audience. From his chair he used to rant and rave about the mysteries of life and death. A survivor of Dachau, Theodore faced horror from a young age. Reaching America he worked dead-end jobs in California and started putting on one-man performances. Catching the eye of Merv Griffin he became a regular on Griffin’s show. Theodore’s dour dress style gave Griffin the inspiration to start calling his guest “Brother” Theodore. The name stuck, but it wasn’t until he moved to New York that Brother Theodore found a fitting audience in Bohemian bars of the lower East Side. A staple of the underground theater scene, his midnight shows packed them in as he spat forth his sour views. Later in his life, Brother Theodore would find a newer, younger audience on the David Letterman show, but he got his biggest taste of the mainstream in the Tom Hank’s comedy The ‘Burbs. Eventually, finding peace at the turn of the century Brother Theodore passed on from this world with few people still knowing of his comic genius. Sadly, his most insane performance sits buried on a low-budget porno flick.
Dressed in full Nazi regalia Brother Theodore’s Captain Carl Clitoris steals the picture. Except for its ties in with Spielberg’s Jaws, Gums would be all but forgotten – to some extent it is forgotten. With less than known porno stars and set-up that is more comedic than erotic, Gums relies on Brother Theodore’s performance to make this film a comic pearl waiting to be discovered. Goosestomping his way into the Greathead town meeting the Captain tells the Sheriff and all the townfolk that he’ll go out to sea and capture their over-sexed mermaid. “Let me rip apart her entertainment center,” screams the Captain as an astonished audience sits slack-jawed. When asked his price, the Captain replies, “No American dollars. That’s for sure. Oil, that’s my currency.” No description can aptly explain the lunacy of every scene that Brother Theodore graces. His grumpy face lighting up as he barks at his fellow shark hunters, “Where they were during the war?” The Captain’s riding crop is constantly cracking away as he sneers at the world and the Great White Man-Eater he sets out to slay. It’s piss and vinegar in a porn film and it’s like nothing you’ll ever see, X-rated or not.
There is no getting around the hardcore elements of Gums. I’ve heard of an ‘R’ Rated version of the film that covers up the most graphic details with large comical words, much like the action sequences in the old Batman television program. It’s unclear whether or not some of the more absurd pornographic moments, such as the Sheriff getting is pistol dunked in coffee, a scene where Dr. Smegma shares his inflattable girlfriend with the Sheriff, or a loop of two canines going at it, are included on the ‘R’ rated version of the film. Surely designed to arouse laughter (not hormones) these scenes make Gums lean more towards comedy than porn. I happened to watch the full ‘X’ rated version. Belive me, it was not out of some perverse desire to see Gums in all its pornographic glory. Hardly anyone could find the sex in Gums that attractive, especially when you compare it to the products of today’s multi-million dollar porn industry. Jaws is probably sexier than Gums and scenes in Gums are more graphic and horrifying than most of Jaws. I was just lucky (or is it unlucky?) enough to get a gray market VHS tape of the ‘X’-rated version. This version probably isn’t for everyone, but remember my reasons for seeing this film were personal. I wanted to see if the rumors were true, that one of my college professor had been a one time porn producer and he got Brother Theodore to be in a porn film, but I also found out that Gums is quite the sunken treasure. For those who can take the raunchy bits and for those who like their humor harebrained this movie is well worth the dive.
I never asked Cohen how he ever convinced Brother Theodore to be in this low-budget porno and to play a former Nazi. Paul, didn’t like to talk about Gums. Porn is not the sort of thing a college instructor brags about or puts on their resume.