From its start, the film is audacious.
A blue-green zombie — who at times suddenly appears as an ordinary, if singularly muscular homeless guy (François Sagat) — emerges from the Pacific Ocean. Soon he’s at the scene of a messy car accident where a young man’s extruding heart stops beating amidst the blood and wreckage. The zombie produces a gigantic, mutant penis — director Bruce LaBruce says, “he’s supposed to be an alien, so he has to have an alien-looking cock” — and proceeds to fuck the corpse’s chest cavity. The cock slides in and out of the wound with a graphic explicitness that would do Tom Savini proud.
For the cumshot, the zombie ejaculates a blackish fluid, which, like Aristotle’s version of the male seed, serves as an animating force. The young man returns to life — actual life, not the undead sort — while the zombie staggers away; his work is not yet done.
This is the unforgettable opening of Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie, playing in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. It mirrors the gut-fucking in his previous venture into gay zombie cinema, Otto; or, Up With Dead People, but the two films have a completely different look and feel.
“The thing is, on paper, the two films are really similar,” LaBruce told Xtra, “because they could be both interpreted as being movies about homeless, schizophrenic gay guys who have the delusion that they’re zombies.
“They have the same basic plot, so I wanted to make them as different as possible, beyond that description,” he explains.
“The whole point of making LA Zombie was to fulfill this promise of making a hardcore gay porn zombie film, which was supposed to be the idea behind Otto.” But LaBruce ended up with a bigger budget and better camera package than expected for the latter film, which turned into something more akin to a quirky neo-Godardian arthouse film.
In contrast, LA Zombie is structured like a porno, with “narrative pretexts strung together that provide opportunities for these actors to fuck.”
LaBruce aligns himself with the work of ’70s gay pornographers like Fred Halsted.
“It seems to me that gay pornography still exists as one of the last spaces of radicalism and that kind of militant, adventurous representation of, or focus on, sex that the gay movement used to be all about,” he says.
There are underlying subtexts of homelessness and AIDS visible in LA Zombie.
“The zombie metaphor is always about a certain amount of AIDS paranoia,” LaBruce says. Before the cocktail of drugs, body-withering syndrome “really made gay men look like zombie corpses before they died.
“I think with this film, without making it overt, I was trying to make gay sex a more regenerative, redemptive kind of act,” LaBruce adds, with the zombie literally fucking the dead back to life.
Vancouver audiences should note that what we’ll be seeing is the “softcore” version. In the hardcore version LaBruce is working on, we actually see Sagat’s real cock. “He actually has sex with most of the guys, and there’s an additional 40 or so minutes of just fucking,” LaBruce says.
What of LaBruce’s comment in a previous interview that the film offers a “monstrous representation of gay sex?”
“I guess it’s sort of a taste thing,” LaBruce says. “It’s the same thing in Hustler White with the stump-fucking. Some people find it unbelievably grotesque and sickening, and a minority are kind of turned on by the idea.
“All the pornstars that I used, they couldn’t wait to get into the blood and gore because they’re so sick of doing the banal sex,” he notes.
“There’s the scene in Otto where he has sex with the guy [who] ends up torn apart, completely, and he says, ‘That was amazing, can I see you again sometime?’” LaBruce recalls.
“It’s like a metaphor for amazing sex, completely destroying them with sex. So for me, even the whole idea of zombies in Otto — acting like gay guys cruising at night in parks and saunas, acting like zombies — it’s kind of a critique of that kind of behaviour,” he says.
At the same time, there is something exciting and sexy about “that kind of somnambulistic sexual trance that people get into,” LaBruce admits.
“It is something that’s meant to be ambivalent.”