Ghost Town (1996)

Considering that the American movie industry was more or less built around the mythos of the Wild West, it is surprising how few porn movies look westwards for inspiration – and how fewer still have emerged with their dignity even half as erect as the cocks on display. We think fondly of such Seventies fare as Ramrodder and A Dirty Western, fine examples of the genre’s early need to portray sex as rape and little more, and Jamie Gillis’ Showdown” was as twisted as any of his post-Misty Beethoven standards. Yet even the current parody boom has yet to look in westward direction… so before you all float off in a This Ain’t Gunsmoke-shaped reverie, or start imagining A Fistful Of Titties, spare a thought for Ghost Town, a 1996 Lori Michaels effort that at least tried to catch a cowpoke-shaped wave.
     The plot itself is threadbare but captivating; Michaels and her geeky boyfriend (a painfully over-acting Bobby Vitale) are driving through the desert when the radiator blows. They ease the car into a deserted huddle of semi-derelict buildings, and Michaels is just kicking off the first of the bad-tempered rants that are her main contribution to the dialogue when an old timer emerges from one of the shacks, to warn them they need to get out of Dodge.
     Of course they ignore him, instead bedding down for the night in one of the buildings… and that’s when things start to happen.
     Okay, this is not a great movie. The costuming is fine, the sets are good, the sex is powerful. But the scenes simply drift without any real forethought and writer/director Toni English clearly had more fun fashioning the old timer’s lines than she did any other aspect of the movie. Indeed, the old guy doesn’t simply emerge as the movie’s most memorable character, he also has lines and timing that would put any established comedians to shame – which is a strange recommendation for a porn film, but it’s one that’s worth following up on regardless.
     Peter North, billed as one of the movie’s stars, is little more than a vignette player, shoehorned into the action to tempt Michaels into staying in town, but not exactly offering one of his most virtuoso performances, and the other name players… Sahara Sands, Melissa Hill, Christi Lake… are under-used too, showgirls who put on a period show, but only really shine when they are converting Michaels from a bad-tempered stranded motorist into the star of a lesbian munch-fest.
     And yet… there is something strangely lovable about this movie. Michaels, in one of her first starring roles, is always watchable, and her scene with North allows her to pull some very hot tricks out of the box. But more than that, Ghost Town appeals not for what it turned out to be, but for what it could have been. Like I said, the sets are great, and the action that takes place around the action, with the hoary old cowboys drinking and cussing and gambling, is a constant reminder of what a movie like this should be built upon.
     So you forgive its faults for exactly the same reasons as you forgive those of the legion mainstream cowboy clunkers that turn up on late night television. Because it’s not just the American movie industry that was built on westerns. Modern America was as well, and like it or not, the tumbleweed, stetsons and six-shooting sheriffs are a part of our DNA. And Ghost Town is a red-blooded part of that.

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