LaBruce Takes on Zombie Porn

By Corey Scholibo

Originally published on Advocate.com August 16 2009 11:00 PM ET

In an unmarked gallery space in Los Angeles just below the I-10 freeway I find director Bruce LaBruce sitting unassuming in a yellow folding chair in the corner, laptop balanced on his knees, checking his e-mail or maybe reading the news. Everyone is milling around. Boxes are scattered against the empty white walls. A single folding table holds, in no particular order, a few bottles of water, some candles, an empty box of KY lubricant, and a couple of yards of red and black rope. Four larger-than-life actors are dressed in an array of leather briefs with zipper backs, harnesses, Jag boots, and torn T-shirts. They are preparing for the last day of shooting for LaBruce's latest film L.A. Zombie, which had been shooting for just seven days. In this scene the four men in question will engage in an orgy and then decide to order drugs. When the drug dealers arrive, played by the rap artist Deadlee and Trevor Wayne (other non-porn actors appear in the film as well such as Santino Rice from Project Runway ), they shoot the four men dead. But never fear, because moments later L.A. Zombie 's star Fran├žois Sagat will arrive on the scene and fuck them all back to life. Of course, he is an alien zombie -- or maybe just a delusional homeless person.

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"When I arrived in Los Angeles again I noticed how many homeless people there seem to be here, even more so now," LaBruce tells me. "My main character evolved from what was originally this alien zombie into what can be viewed as a homeless person as well." So what LaBruce has actually ended up making is a not so thinly veiled treatise on the state of homelessness in America? He laughs, "Yeah, I guess so." What makes L.A. Zombie all the more interesting is that it's not just another film in which LaBruce walks a thin line between what is art and what is porn -- it is in fact a porn film.

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LaBruce has been working back and forth, blurring boundaries for years, following the success of such films as Hustler White and The Raspberry Reich, independent films with an art-house and festival appeal that nonetheless brought the sometimes gory underside of sex to the screen. He recently completed a new script called Gerontophilia, about the fetish of having sex with the elderly, he tells me with a smile. In his last non-pornographic film, Otto; or, Up With Dead People, also about a gay zombie, LaBruce was equating graphic sexuality, including one zombie literally penetrating the entrails of his lover/prey, with the deadened feeling he was getting from young people, as he told me at Sundance when the film premiered in 2008. I get the impression that although L.A. Zombie is being produced with porn distributor Dark Alley, LaBruce has no less vested interest in making some sort of artistic statement about society.

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"You never think of the homeless in sexual terms," LaBruce says. "But they are just like everyone else. They have sex. They have relationships." He cites Samuel R. Delany's novel The Mad Man, about a gay man who goes around New York City having sex with homeless men, as the inspiration for L.A. Zombie. But let's be clear: Even though this film will have a less-graphic version to be screened where it will, LaBruce is making porn this afternoon, and as the cast members take their Viagra and we wait for the effects so that cameras can start rolling, it is obvious LaBruce has no illusions about that. "This is my fun summer project," he tells me. "I like to keep shooting because it is good to practice your craft," he continues, after I ask him why he's doing it at all. "Some film directors do TV, and I have nothing against TV, but that just isn't my thing. If I waited between films I would be shooting once every three or four years." LaBruce just loves to create things, and this afternoon he does it with amazing calm. Even as the special-effects guy is three hours late and Sagat has yet to get into his zombie makeup, LaBruce keeps his cool. Producers flutter around and Sagat is visibly annoyed, but the beauty of a LaBruce film is that there is always room for flexibility. "We have shot him in various stages of being just a homeless man to being a complete zombie, so we are lucky to have a lot of leeway," LaBruce says. The show must go on.

The special effects in the film will set it apart from almost every other porn film out there. An implied car crash reveals a man with an exposed beating heart in his chest; a man is shot in the back, leaving a cavernous hole that is visible on-camera; and at one point there is a big artificial alien penis that ejaculates black ink. Today, there are gallons of Karo and maple syrup to be made into blood when the real killing begins.

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"This is the most demanding film I have ever done," Sagat tells me in a heavy French accent, occasionally looking down to reveal his signature tattoo, which gives the illusion of a hairy scalp. "Normally I have one sex scene a week and have a week to recover. In this, I have like five a week." Like LaBruce, Sagat hopes to straddle both the porn and mainstream film worlds, and he has recently shot a scene in the upcoming Saw VI, in which he plays a junkie begging for a prescription. "But I have lines," he is quick to point out. He says he's not planning an exodus from the adult-film industry anytime soon. First, he likes it, and also, he says, "When you have done pornography at any point I don't hope too much."

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In a room toward the back, lit and lined with plastic, a man wearing a black latex hood is bound in the aforementioned ropes and tethered to a wall. The actors block out how they will sit on white sawhorses around the three cameras in use before they walk up and cut the bound man down from the wall and carry him out of the frame. After that perfunctory scene, which is probably relevant at some other time, they are ready to get down to business. Actor Erik Rhodes has the brilliant idea to open the scene with him on the floor and the other two actors engaging in water sports above him. "Perfect," LaBruce agrees. "I have been wanting to get some of that in the film." LaBruce has accidentally spilled a bottle of poppers while blocking out the scene on-camera and one of the producers quickly clears it. "No words," is LaBruce's only real direction to the actors. Otherwise it seems the actors know exactly what to do. LaBruce seems to just sit back and let them work, knowing exactly how to make whatever they do work for his own ends. They enter the room and start to get to work. As the reader can imagine the rest and so could I, I slipped quietly out the back door, leaving LaBruce to his summer fun.

For more information on L.A. Zombie go to the film's official site.