Water Power (1976) Water Power / Waterpower / Enema Bandit / The Enema Killer (1976) **

     This is a real thing that happened on Earth. I looked it up. So can you if you doubt me. One morning in March of 1966, Michael H. Kenyon donned his red argyle ski mask, let himself into a house in Champaign, Illinois, through an unlocked window, and administered enemas at gunpoint to the two teenaged sisters he found within. Kenyon then tied the girls up with torn strips of their bedsheets, lifted $70 from their father’s wallet (he apparently wasn’t home at the time), and scampered off, assuring his victims as he left that he’d make an anonymous call to the police so that they’d be rescued shortly. Over the next three years, he would repeat that astonishing crime as many as a dozen times on or about the University of Illinois campus, where he was studying accounting. Then upon graduating, Kenyon joined the army. You might think that would straighten him out, or at least make it prohibitively difficult to keep practicing his grotesque hobby, but apparently not. Spates of similar enema attacks occurred in Manhattan, Kansas, in 1970 and 1972, exactly when Kenyon was stationed at Fort Riley just outside of town. Kenyon’s military duties also placed him in the vicinity when college-aged girls reported forcible colonic cleanses in Los Angeles and Norman, Oklahoma. Then, in 1975, Kenyon settled in Lincolnwood, a suburban community just north of Chicago, and found work as an auditor for the Illinois Department of Revenue. An office job left him plenty of leisure time, with predictable results. The legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit started to grow and grow— Frank Zappa even wrote a song about him!— but as with most criminals, fame was the prelude to capture. Soon after his “greatest” exploit (a raid on a sorority house in Urbana), Kenyon was busted in connection with a string of conventional burglaries, and confessed to his more lurid crimes during questioning.

     This is also a real thing that happened on Earth, which you can look up as well if you desire. A few months after Kenyon got sent up the river, prolific porn filmmaker Shaun Costello was called into the office of Sid Levine, one of the frontmen for Star Distribution. Star was an appendage of the Gambino crime empire, so naturally you never talked to the people who were really in charge when you dealt with them. The way Costello tells it, Levine said to him, “I’m a grandfather, and I’m ashamed to ask you what I’m about to ask you. They need an enema movie.” By “they,” Levine mainly meant Robert De Bernardo, boss of all the Gambino family porn interests— the Capo di Tutti Porni, if you will. De Bernardo was as disgusted by the idea of enema porn as Levine, but the man knew his market (or so he believed), and he wasn’t about to let that market’s desires go unfulfilled. Costello got the job because he was the Gambino mob’s star producer of “one-day wonders,” short, crude hardcore features shot in a single day. Mobsters, after all, like a guy who can bring in a project on time and under budget at least as much as any studio head. Costello was sent home from Levine’s office with a magazine article on the Illinois Enema Bandit for research purposes, and with explicit orders from De Bernardo himself never to talk to him about the movie he was about to make. Unsurprisingly, Costello was as mystified as his employers regarding the supposed appeal of enema porn, and he not unreasonably took De Bernardo’s command as tantamount to a grant of total creative freedom. The movie he handed in therefore bore little resemblance to an ordinary porno flick, even for the much more expansive reading of “ordinary” that prevailed in fetish porn. What Water Power most resembles is an impossibly cheap and unimaginably skuzzy riff on Taxi Driver, in which the demented loser loner attempts to clean up the streets not with a pistol, but with an enema kit.

     Burt (Jamie Gillis, from The Seduction of Lyn Carter and The Vixens of Kung Fu) is basically a walking Madonna-whore complex, obsessed with sex but revolted by it in equal measure. He lives alone in a dingy Manhattan apartment heavily festooned with pages clipped from porno mags, and his main contact with the opposite sex seems to consist of spying on the pretty stewardess (Clea Carson, of Maraschino Cherry and Bad Penny) who rents the flat across the street from him and a couple floors down. The guy even keeps a telescope set up in his bedroom window for the purpose, trained at all times on the windows of the stewardess’s living room. One night, Burt gets himself so worked up perving on the neighbor girl that masturbation isn’t going to do the trick— not even masturbation to his topless photos of the stewardess, garnered via months of diligent surveillance. Marching down to Times Square, Burt screws his courage to the sticking place, and pays a visit to a brothel called the Garden of Eden. From his timid, nervous demeanor, I gather that this is his first time doing anything of the sort. The hostess (Gloria Leonard, from The Farmer’s Daughters and The Opening of Misty Beethoven) pairs him perfunctorily with a hooker named— what else?— Eve (Sharon Mitchell, of Captain Lust and The Secret Dreams of Mona Q), but it’s obvious that this isn’t really what the troubled man wanted. On the way back to Eve’s bedroom, Burt notices a girl in strange, severe makeup, dressed as a nurse (Marlene Willoughby, of The Trouble with Young Stuff and A Woman’s Torment); Eve enigmatically tells him she’s dressed that way for a “Special.” (The capital S is audible.)

     This notion of Specials occupies Burt’s mind all through the rather dispiriting fuck session that follows, but Eve will say only that she isn’t permitted to discuss the subject. If Burt wants to talk Specials, he’ll have to ask the hostess. He does that very thing, and is presented with a dizzying menu of perversions to which the Garden of Eden is equipped to cater. Midway through the list is something he’s never even heard of, and can barely pronounce— something called a “high colonic.” Burt stops the hostess a moment later to ask her what that is, and is told that he’s in luck if he’s interested in high colonics. There’s one going on right now, and the customer who ordered it (Eric Edwards, of Blue Summer and Sexual Freedom in the Ozarks) often enjoys an audience. Burt soon finds himself observing a complicated roleplay scenario in which the “nurse” he saw earlier helps a man dressed in hospital scrubs administer an enema to a nude girl (amputee porn queen Jeanne Silver, also in Peepholes and Maneater) strapped to a gurney in a room tricked out to simulate a hospital operating theater. It’s pretty far out, but what sticks with Burt most is the lecture the “doctor” gives explaining the rationale for the procedure. The “patient,” he says, suffers from a buildup of “vile humors,” which manifests in such symptoms as disobedience, disordered thoughts, and immoral behavior. But by cleansing the body, it is possible to cleanse the psyche as well, returning the patient to correct ways of thinking and being.

     Those words return forcefully to Burt a few nights later, when he observes his beloved stewardess having sex with her loutish, goblinoid boyfriend (Leo Lovemore, from The Mount of Venus and Kathy’s Graduation Present). Burt never even knew this guy existed, and given his pathology, it drastically changes Burt’s opinion of the stewardess to see her with some slouching slob’s cock in her mouth. She’s dirty, despite all prior appearances to the contrary— but thanks to the guy at the Garden of Eden, Burt knows just how to make her clean again! After equipping himself with a handgun and an enema kit, Burt breaks into his neighbor’s apartment, rapes her very thoroughly, and then orders her into the bathtub for a good purge. It ends up being a transformative experience for him. Suddenly, Burt realizes that he has a mission in life— for isn’t the world just filled with young women living under the influence of vile humors? Damned right, it is! But now Burt knows just how to fix every last one of them…

     Of course, one can’t just appoint oneself the Travis Bickle of the large intestine without attracting attention. This is the kind of weirdo shit the newspapers thrive on, for one thing, and for another, a crime spree like Burt’s would absolutely make the career of any cop that put a stop to it. The detective assigned to the case is Jack Gallagher (John Buco, from Keyholes Are for Peeping and High Priestess of Sexual Witchcraft); some sense of its importance in the eyes of the higher-ups is suggested by the fact that Gallagher’s captain (Philip Marlowe, of Voluptuous Predators and Odyssey: The Ultimate Trip) pulled him off of the homicide squad to catch the enema fiend. The detective regards it as the next best thing to a demotion just the same, so the captain partners him with a cop who takes an intense personal interest in the case. That would be Detective Irene Murray (C. J. Laing, from Slave of Pleasure and Sex Wish). Perhaps what Gallagher’s investigation needs is a woman’s touch, eh?

     Meanwhile, we learn something utterly astonishing about Burt: the twisted fuck has a girlfriend! Barbara (Crystal Sync, of Punk Rock and Gums) hasn’t seen much of him in the months since he launched his enema crusade, and she finally drops in to find out what his deal is. She should probably count herself lucky merely to be rousted rudely from Burt’s apartment, all things considered. Lord knows Candy (Barbara Belkin) and Ginger (Susaye London, from Teenage Pajama Party and Appointment with Agony) don’t get off a quarter of a percent so easily when Barbara’s departure permits Burt to turn his attention to them. The two sisters are enjoying a bit of lesbian incest when he lets himself into their flat, and you can imagine the frenzy that sort of debauchery provokes from him. The attack on Candy and Ginger coincides exactly with Gallagher and Murray’s discovery that they’ve come to think of each other as more than professional partners. Perhaps, then, it’s guilt over the realization of what else was happening during their romantic evening together that goads Irene to change tactics in the hunt for the enema bandit. Enough of this reactive shit! Using what she’s learned of the criminal’s favorite haunts, Murray offers herself as bait in a trap for the sicko. About the best that can be said for her plan is that it doesn’t go as badly awry as the similar stakeout in Fantom Kiler 2.

     I’ve said before that the notion of a Golden Age of Pornography has been oversold, but I can’t deny that nothing like Water Power would even be attempted within the adult film industry much later than the turn of the 80’s. This is a film that challenges the very premise of porn, using explicit, unsimulated sex not to titillate, but to repel and horrify. Every coupling except that between Gallagher and Murray is knowingly squalid and unappetizing, and even that one is lent a queasy edge by the intercutting between it and the travails of the lesbian sisters. At no point, either, does Water Power trot out the old exploitation movie standby of women surrendering to their violation and realizing halfway through that they’re actually enjoying it. Indeed, the attack on the stewardess is almost impossible to watch in its unflinching and uncompromising brutality. Never is Burt presented as an audience identification figure, an enviable exemplar of sexual potency, or anything at all except a warped, dysfunctional zero whose appalling deeds will never successfully compensate for his social unfitness. The expected “any excuse for a fuck” porno logic surfaces only during the scene between Candy and Ginger—and Burt puts the kibosh on that right quick! Water Power can’t even be dismissed as a parody of movies like Taxi Driver in any conventional sense. I grant you, there’s a certain grim absurdity to Jamie Gillis’s narration of Burt’s diaries, and Shaun Costello says that absurdity was deliberate, but even there it takes a black sense of humor indeed to see the funny side.

     Where Water Power really transcends expectations, though, is in the careful and astute characterization of Burt himself. For starters, notice that whatever variations circumstance may require or permit in his crimes, he’s always perfectly consistent on at least one methodological point: rape first, then enema. To do it the other way around would defeat the purpose, since Burt aims to leave his victims clean of sexual impropriety. Only while they’re still sullied by sin (although he never uses the term) can he justify fucking them under the terms of his bent worldview. Meanwhile, I’m still grappling with the implications of Barbara. Are we to take it that something in her relationship with Burt sent him into the downward spiral of failure and neurosis we see here? Or is she just a bystander to the whole thing, somehow insulated against his madness by lingering affection? And just how did the two of them hook up, anyway? Did Burt use to be better at hiding his maladjustment? Or can Barbara really be just that oblivious? In any case, it’s unsettling to see that there’s an entire other side to Burt’s life, never directly visible to us but clearly important just the same. To my considerable surprise, I find myself extremely impressed with Jamie Gillis’s performance. He probably got a boost from the phenomenon (which we’ve talked about before) whereby bad actors are good at playing twitchy weirdos, but he unmistakably took the part very seriously, and gave it his all.

     Now some of you have probably noticed that I’ve not said word one about Gerard Damiano, even though the movie poster above and to the left describes Water Power as “Gerard Damiano’s newest and biggest hit!!” In truth, Damiano had nothing whatsoever to do with this movie. It turned out, somewhat reassuringly, that Robert De Barnardo was wrong. The Gambino family didn’t need an enema picture after all, because nobody wanted to see any such fucking thing. The Times Square porno houses couldn’t give tickets to Water Power away, and Star Distribution was left with a product that did nothing but take up space in their warehouse. Putting Damiano’s name on it (after negotiations with the other mob that held his contract) was the first of several attempts by Star to make Water Power seem attractive to somebody. It didn’t work. What did work was— that’s right— sending it to Germany and the Netherlands. There Water Power made plenty of money, and that’s why the bootleg version I saw (a somewhat half-assed attempt to reconstruct the film as it originally ran in New York, spliced together from several badly mangled prints) has German and Dutch subtitles that come and go without warning. I’ve read that the legitimately available DVD (sourced from a French print) is more watchable, but also heavily trimmed. Tell the truth, now. If you’re going to watch something like Water Power at all, don’t you kind of want it to be in a punishingly shitty presentation, complete with baffling artifacts of its travels around the most disreputable parts of the world?



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