MidnightHeatThe most famous of the handful of porno features made by the late Roger Watkins, and fairly impressive in its way, but be forewarned: it’s a profoundly dark film in every sense of the word.

Following the dissolution of his mainstream filmmaking career, which saw his low budget opus THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL released in severely truncated form as LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (which remains the only way to see it) and entailed a severely unpleasant experience making the slasher flick SHADOWS OF THE MIND, Roger Watkins turned to the porn world of the 1980s. 1983’s MIDNIGHT HEAT, starring porn mainstay (and Watkins regular) Jamie Gillis, was the most successful of Watkins’ porno flicks.

A skuzzy NYC hitman guns down a businessman in an office building, and then unwisely beds down with the wife of a local mob boss. Inevitably the latter walks in on them, and is none-too-happy with what he sees. The hitman is forced to sequester himself in a grungy hotel room, during which he flashes back on his debauched life. One of his first flashbacks is of a tryst he had with a powerful man’s twentyish daughter, after which he called up the man and gleefully reported on what he was up to–an exercise, he claimed, in “the nature of truth.”

Growing bored, the hitman calls an escort service. They send over two whores who the guy orders to have sex with each other while he watches. When they’re done he asks one of the gals to stay with him–specifically to sleep beside him in his bed, and not have sex.

Another flashback shows the hitman banging his wife, from whom he’s grown estranged. Later the two confront their deteriorating relationship, spurred by his growing isolation from her and the world in general.

Back in the hotel room the man espouses his bleak views to his call girl companion. Eventually the two have sex, and it seems the man might actually be coming (pun intended) out of his depression. But that’s far from a certainty, as the sound of a police siren over the final scenes signifies.

This film’s subversiveness is evident early on: it’s a porno movie, yet there’s no sex until five minutes in, with the early scenes serving primarily to evoke a suitably grungy big city atmosphere. That gritty aura saturates the remainder of the film, which radiates a powerful sense of bleakness and despair despite all the sex scenes; the sound of rumbling thunder is a constant, as is mournful violin music.

Jamie Gillis is surprisingly strong in the lead role. Clearly he related to the character, a severely depressed man at the end of his tether. The fact that this tormented character registers as a reasonably complex individual further removes this film from the porno norm, as do the frequent Biblical quotations, lengthy philosophical discussions and lines like “Only someone in a state of constant annihilation can experience life the way it should be experienced.”

That’s not to say the film is without its share of annoying eighties porn conventions. Note the distracting up-tempo music played during many of the sex scenes, and the gratuitous cut-away to a fellow hit man getting banged in an adjacent room (thus allowing Watkins to cram in an extra fuck scene). The low budget is evident throughout, particularly in the verite shots of downtown NYC, which are repeated over and over, and also the crummy single source lighting, which renders many of the fuck scenes difficult to make out. The film works, but it’s far from perfect.

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Director/Screenwriter/Editor: “Richard Mahler” (Roger Watkins)Producer: Robert Michaels
Cinematography: Larry Revene
Cast: Jamie Gillis, Howard Feline, D.D. Burke, Fred Rein, Tish Ambrose, Joey Carson, Champagne, Sharon Mitchell, Michael Bruce, Susie Nero