42nd Street Cinema

The Story of Prunella (1982)

The Story of Prunella (1982)

Phil Prince's The Story of Prunella is a notoriously grim and ruthless affair, in fact most of Prince's output can be adequately described as "grim", among other unpleasant adjectives, combined they are a body of work that conclusively puts the "rough" in "roughie".

Starring: Ron Jeremy, Ambrosia Fox, George Payne, Cheri Champagne, Dixie Dew, David Christopher, Joey Karson and Martin Patton.

Unlike other porno directors that may exude an air of style, professionalism, care, or inject a little heart, class and tenderness into their fuck scenes, Phil Prince does not. He is the primo auteur of dirt, filth, and degeneracy with a distinct cavalier, devil may care approach to everything, from the shoot to the plots to the characterisation; men are often borderline cro-magnon, grunting and huffing away whilst the women don't really seem to mind all that much about being abused by them. He throws it all onscreen without compunction and an attitude that screams: well if that's what people are paying to see, that's exactly what you're gonna get.
To quote the man himself: "I'm not here to infect society, just to cater to needs."

The company behind such grotesqueries was Avon Productions, associated with the chain of New York grindhouse theatres; the Avon 42nd St, the Avon 7, and the Avon Love, all owned by Murray Offen, or as he was “affectionately” referred to, “Murray the Jew”. Produced on budgets that seldom exceeded $15,000 Avon would crank out a plethora of NYC-grown smut from the mid '70s through to the early '80s from directors such as Carter Stevens, Joe Davian, Shaun Costello, and Phil Prince.

The Avon films were cited by the Meese Report - an investigation into pornography ordered by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and led by U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese - as being “the most extreme examples of violent, disgusting pornography”. With movies that are rich in sexual deviance; BDSM, incest, rape, and torture, they are in effect the cinematic antithesis of those lauded and esteemed productions by directors and who achieved a modest critical acclaim and helped garner a semblance of acceptability from the mainstream.

I read that the script for The Story of Prunella was bought for something like $200 from the wife of the cinematographer Phil Gries and what I'd really like to know is when the fart sounds got added, but more on that later!

The film begins in earnest with Paul (Ron Jeremy), a seemingly honest cop who's set to marry his sweetheart, the pint-sized Prunella Kincade (Ambrosia Fox). Offset against this picturesque romance are three scumbags who've flown the coop, they're now on the lam with the leader's girlfriend, Vendette (Cheri Champagne), in tow. The film switches from sweet to sour to full on home invasion territory when the convicts hold-up a passing car that just so happens to be driven by the prison warden's wife, Denise (Dixie Dew).
The crooks crash the bride-to-be's wedding shower and begin to sexually assault the occupants. Jimmy (George Payne), the apparent leader of the convicts, decides to to strike back at the warden by sodomising his daughter. Paul visits the park where the cons stole the car and finds Denise's wallet alongside their prison clothes. Now, in a race against time Paul heads to the bridal shower to save his beloved Prunella. Shakespeare, eat your heart out.

The Story of Prunella greatly benefits from its svelte short runtime, clocking in at just under an hour, the plot moves along at a lovely brisk pace. Granted, there's not a convoluted narrative structure, there is however a sudden and bizarre daydream/fantasy sequence that Prunella's mum has. It comes out of nowhere and at first I wasn't sure if it was a flashback or if I'd missed something. Basically, Denise daydreams about having it off with Paul, a scene in which Ron mugs for the camera and pulls some of the most ridiculous expressions I've ever witnessed in a porno and could have easily netted him first prize in any gurning championship.

It's worth pointing out that Cheri Champgne's character, Vendette first meets Jimmy (Payne) by responding to an ad in Screw Magazine - yeah really - they have a torrid session of kinky sex; clothes pegs on nipples and a bit of verbal degradation, and she's immediately enthralled by him. I really dug the scene between these two, it may be the only scene in The Story of Prunella with any genuine heart or feeling. I was surprised to learn that it wasn't actually shot for The Story of Prunella either. Its inclusion was born from the need to extend the original runtime of a meagre 50 minutes without stumping up any more cash for reshoots, so the footage was lifted from another Phil Prince movie, Tales of the Bizarre (1982).

The following excerpt is taken from Brian O'Hara's "Loose on the Deuce: The Prince of Porn", the accompanying article to his short documentary - The Prince of Porn (2002).

"I proposed to George that the movie could be lengthened by 10 minutes if Phil shot a scene in a jail cell with George mistreating and screwing one of those life-size inflatable love dolls. George’s eyes lit up and he told me a story about the very first thing he’d done on film – a loop where he fucked a love doll. This was kismet! Only he was wearing a sailor suit in the loop.

Unfortunately when I broached Phil with my brilliant idea he said forget about it, Murray would never pay for reshoots. But Phil was worried. He couldn’t tell Murray the movie was only 50 minutes long. So I came up with another brilliant idea. George and Cheri Champagne were both in Prunella and an earlier Avon production titled Tales of the Bizarre. So I’d use outtakes from a scene between them in Tales and insert it as a flashback in Prunella. The scene in question had Cheri playing a bored and horny unattached female who hires a call-boy played by George. He shows up, dominates Cheri, and makes her bark like a dog before he fucks her in the ass. This was mild abuse by Avon standards and at the end of the scene they almost seemed like a happy couple. In Prunella Cheri appeared as George’s girlfriend who helps him hijack a getaway car. So it made sense that she’d ended up as his gun moll. When I added the Tales flashback into Prunella it brought the movie up to 60 minutes. Then I cut a five minute slo-mo montage of dribbling dicks after they’d spewed their loads (also from outtakes). And voilà! The film was up to 65 minutes. Phil thought I was a genius. And I was beginning to think at the rate I was coming up with brilliant ideas I’d have the cure for cancer within a month.

An oddity or distinctive quirk I've noticed throughout a few of Phil Prince's movies is that some lines of dialogue are repeated on the soundtrack. It has an uncanny, confounding effect, how one is meant to interpret it? Is it just rough editing and the fact not enough lines of dialogue were recorded? or is it played for laughs? Personally, I can't tell which although I'm erring on the side of humour as throughout the film there are moments of genuine comedy. For instance, there's a brief scene in which Vendette comes to pick up the escaped convicts, only for her to tell them she got a bus.

To confuse matters again, are scenes that can be interpreted as funny that come totally out of left field. A prime example are the fart sounds, the seemingly impromptu farts noises on the soundtrack... The offbeat moment in question is a short scene where Ron Jeremy looks over at a fellow officer in the passenger seat and while the camera is on his partner there's a fart sound, it doesn't just happen once either. Jeremy then proclaims over the radio that "They're probably fuckin' the shit outta the girls right now", looks at his partner and he farts again. It's an outrageous juxtaposition of intense, urgent drama and absurdist toilet humour.

"Shut up bitch, take off your fuckin' clothes. We're gonna have a party!" - 'Quick' Jimmy Connors (George Payne)

Now, after a little digging I've actually got the answer to the bizarre inclusion of fart sounds present in The Story of Prunella and several other Phil Prince movies. I reached out to Brian O'Hara who edited most of Phil's work and later made the documentary, The Prince of Porn (2002) about the enigmatic figure behind some of the Deuce's scuzziest porno movies. Brian conclusively puts to rest the peculiar presence of flatulence...

As Brian writes in his accompanying article to the Prince of Porn documentary:

"Probably due to my antipathy towards Jeremy I decided to have a little fun when editing The Story of Prunella. In the film’s climax, Jeremy’s fiancée and the other sluts are being ravaged by the rapist convicts at the bachelorette party while Jeremy and his cop partner are racing to the rescue. You could cut the tension with a knife – more or less. So I added fart sound effects. This way every time Jeremy glanced over at his partner with anguish written on his face it appeared he was reacting to his sidekick’s excessive flatulence. Just a way for me to have fun mocking Jeremy’s acting chops. Funny, I thought. In fact, I couldn’t stop laughing as I played the scene back and forth on the Steenbeck.

After Murray and Phil screened the finished movie at the lab I got a phone call. Phil said Murray was ranting and raving about the farting in the car.

I played dumb: “Farts? Are you sure it isn’t just the tires screeching?”

“No! Jeremy’s partner is farting at him!”

I continued to play dumb, saying it must be a mistake made at the audio mix. Phil gave up, let me off the hook, somehow placated Murray. And the farts stayed in. Not that Murray was gonna put up the bread for a remix anyway.

According to O'Hara, the farts are "a continuing motif" and made it into several of Phil's movies that passed through his Steenbeck. The sound effects even made it into the "muck men" scene in Spookies (1986), the infamous cult horror movie produced by Michael Lee which Brian cut the sound effects for.

It could then be considered another quirk, or rather a calling card to know - definitively - that you're watching a Phil Prince movie, or at least one edited by Brian O'Hara! I asked Brian what the deal was with the repeated dialogue, citing the Jeremy line: "They're probably fuckin' the shit outta the girls right now" as an example; the same audio is played in two different scenes, his response was: "Well I can't say I actually remember - it was 40 years ago - but a line like "They're probably fuckin' the shit outta the girls right now"... It would be my sense of humor to repeat that every five minutes if I could get away it."

"Momma's gonna die!" - 'Quick' Jimmy Connors (George Payne)

Ron Jeremy does his thing, hedgehog pinch et al, along with an abundance of facial expressions in and out of the boudoir. However, Jeremy is greatly outshined and upstaged by the raw talent displayed by George Payne. The man is a powerhouse, stealing the show and bringing such an intensity by channeling an impressive amount of "wild man" energy in his scenes that's nigh on impossible to match.
It could be argued that Payne actually outdoes himself with the height of vehemence he reaches in The Taming of Rebecca (1982), another Prince outing and "sister" film to The Story of Prunella, an absolute dirtfest that stars Sharon Mitchell and features an excruciating scene where the business end of a safety pin meets a chicks' nipple. Yikes!
Oh and you can spot Phil in a blink and you'll miss it role as an idiotic newbie prison guard who informs the warden that the convicts have escaped.

There's an undeniable residual influence from the then emerged rape-revenge cycle that seeped into the plot, but it does away with convention and lacks a final act of revenge, perhaps imploring one to use their imagination for what could happen once the film fades to black. At times I felt reminded of Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972), it may have something to do with a group of cons running amok and getting sick kicks from their perverse behaviour. Hell, even Last House was originally conceived to be a hardcore film, and I can't be the only one who would love to know how that would have turned out.

The final act and ending is notably bleak; watching Payne scream a string of obscenities at the diminutive Ambrosia Fox while the two other crooks and Vendette are engaged in their own acts of depravity in just about every corner of the room. The climax, so to speak, is devoid of a happy ending and there's no attempt at a pleasant resolution, or a morally justified act of retribution (spoiler: Prunella grabs a gun and blows her brains out in front of Paul), it goes a long way to truly cement the film as a work that pulls no punches. Phil was oft accused of "going too far" and The Story of Prunella is no exception. It's fast, grubby, nihilistic, cold, and irredeemably sordid.

For those who desire more insight into Avon Productions and the work of Phil Prince, check out Brian O'Hara's The Prince of Porn (2002) documentary, it features a Q&A with Phil as well as the players, and those involved behind the scenes. It also has invaluable and hilarious outtakes from several of his features, including The Story of Prunella. Click the title of the documentary for the link & the password is: letmesee

Three stars

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