“Go Ahead, Eat Me With Your Eyes” — The Films of Rinse Dream, Part 1

If I asked you to come up with a short list of directors whose works are instantly recognizable, who would be on it? Tim Burton? Wes Anderson? John Waters? Rob Zombie? A name I bet doesn’t spring to mind is Rinse Dream, the pseudonym of Stephen Sayadian. Love him or hate him, you always know when you’re watching one of his movies.

They’re filmed in warehouses on dark sets made of theatre scenery built at weird angles. His characters routinely break the fourth wall, delivering beatnik prose directly into the camera. They wear plain, bright colors and move like interpretive dancers. They have uncomfortably close conversations so their faces can both fit in frame. They exit scenes by ducking, and sometimes float without walking. There’s a preoccupation with everyday objects, and, in one memorable instance, product packaging. Nightmarish. Bizarre. Perverse. Indelible. These words come close. Sayadian refers to his style as “pop-art noir”.

He was active as a filmmaker from 1981 to 1993. All but one of his nine movies have penetrative sex, making them “porn”. The thing is, they’re too weird to be fully erotic. The first three are considered “cult” movies. Even the six decidedly-more-porny, doing-it-for-a-paycheck titles that followed confuse my penis.

Nightdreams (1981) (writer/producer)
Cafe Flesh (1982)
Dr. Caligari (1989)
Nightdreams 2 (1990)
Nightdreams 3 (1991)
Party Doll A Go-Go! (1991)
Party Doll A Go-Go!: Part 2 (1991)
Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West Part 1: The Pillowbiters (1993)
Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West Part 2: Jammy Glands from the Rio Grande (1993)

With the announcement that Mondo Macabro is putting out Dr. Caligari on Blu-ray this year and Cafe Flesh is on the way, I figured now would be as good a time as any to revisit Rinse Dream’s filmography. Before I go any further, I’ll issue this warning.

Credit: Dr. Caligari, Excalibur Films DVD

Now, I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but men like to engage in what’s known as “sex”. If sex can’t be had, we settle for looking at no-nos. This can be a strange concept for women. Our shameful, primal urge led to pornography. It wasn’t long after the first camera was invented that one man turned to another and said “You know what this could be used for…” There are nude films dating back to the 1890s. Georges Méliès, the man responsible for that goddamned horrifying image of the moon with a rocket lodged in its eye, showed his wife’s derriere in After the Ball, albeit through a very thin pair of tights.

It’s true, historically, films have been told from a straight male perspective, with the camera being our gaze (that’s why I always enjoy a good wanger — it bucks the system and lets the ladies in on the fun). Rinse Dream doesn’t try to subvert this convention, he just pulls back the curtain, smashes the wall concealing us from the actors, and says We know you’re there, welcome to the show. His movies examine our fascination with porn, the relationship between viewer and subject. They hold up a mirror, confronting us with the fact that we are by definition voyeurs ⁠— presumably a reaction to breaking into the arts at a porn magazine.

His movies often have meta plots about (mad) doctors observing their patients in various states of undress or performing sex acts through one-way mirrors. At times, it feels like they’re also trying to comment on Cold War America – the paranoia, pop culture, family ideals, repression of female sexuality, things of that nature. Or maybe it seeps out subconsciously.

Until recently, very little was known about the elusive director. In fact, for a long while, IMDd thought he and two of his collaborators, Francis “Frank” Delia and Ladi Von Jansky, were all the same person. Actually — checking — they still think he’s the latter. To be fair, “Ladi Von Jansky” does sound fictitious. Thanks to a few long-overdue interviews, the misinformation was cleared up for good.

It turns out he was knocking on death’s door for over a decade. In 1995, Sayadian was diagnosed with liver failure due to Hepatitis C and given six to ten months to live. Miraculously, he hung on for thirteen more years until undergoing a liver transplant. He’s been healthy again for as long as he was sick, so that has to feel good. I’m happy for him. He comes off as a wonderful, genuine dude.

I’m not saying his condition was caused by intravenous drug use, but that’s the most common mode of transmission, and one of Sayadian’s closest friends and collaborators, Jerry Stahl, wrote a whole book about slamming heroin, Dilaudid, and other drugs called Permanent Midnight. Besides that, I know wrestlers get it from bleeding on each other.

“To make a long, tortuous saga bite-size, I got hep. C, like every other dope fiend lucky enough not to get AIDS…”[1] Stahl told Literary Hub in 2015.

Before working with them, Delia shot 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy for Abel Ferrara as “Francis X. Wolfe”, and Ferrara was a notorious junkie. That whole art-porn scene, it seems, was involved in illicit activities. However, Sayadian hints at some other obscure explanation for his illness in an interview given to ScreenAnarchy at the 2013 Etrange Film Festival in Paris, France.

“I got a rare strain of Hepatitis C, and the Center For Disease Control did this great story about how I caught it, but that’s a whole other story and we don’t have the time.”[2]

I’m two-hundred pages into Permanent Midnight and so far Stahl has only twice briefly mentioned “Rinse Dream” and the “cult” movies above, which he co-wrote with him. They’ve also written as-yet-unproduced scripts titled Hormone Alley, Rapid Eye Movement, May’s Renewal, and Hell is Tender.

The two met at Hustler, although you wouldn’t know it from the book. Sayadian started out as a photographer and fortune writer for Bazooka Joe bubblegum. He submitted concepts to National Lampoon, who told him to talk to Hustler. Hustler was in the process of dropping all their advertisers so they could use the space to sell their own products — coffee mugs, dildos, “love dolls”, etc. They liked Sayadian’s work and brought him in to create the ads. Hustler head Larry Flynt didn’t care if the products sold, he just wanted the ads to be entertaining. According to Sayadian, within half a year, Hustler was making almost as much off the ads as from the magazine itself. This earned him total creative freedom.

While he knew photography, Sayadian considered himself a “conceptualist”/”art director” and preferred imparting his visions to other photographers. So, he hired Delia, who, as I already mentioned, had shot porn for Abel Ferrara, and later, Von Jansky, a former Czech actor.

When serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin unsuccessfully assassinated Flynt, confining him to a wheelchair, Sayadian and Delia left the publication, forming their own studio where they shot movie posters and album covers, including the posters for Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse and John Carpenter’s The Fog, as well as unused images of Kurt Russell as Snake Plisken for Escape From New York. They shared a building with the owner of a punk club across the street called The Masque. By way of adjacency, they became friends with the great New Wave band Wall of Voodoo. After hearing a pulsing electronic cover of “Ring of Fire” through the walls every day, they decided to use it in their first feature film, Nightdreams.

Nightdreams was written in a single day. It was financed by a former CEO of Hustler with money made from Times Square peep shows. Everybody involved was paid in socks full of quarters so there wouldn’t be a money trail. Pseudonyms were used for fear of prosecution. At the risk of alienating my readership, let’s take a look. Continue reading

Do You Like Scary Movies?

Yesterday marked the start of a new year full of new possibilities and hopefully the beginning of the end of this COVID nonsense. The only mask I want to wear this year is my Roy Burns replica from Friday the 13th Part V. I’ve been thinking lately about how there seem to be more horror bloggers than ever before on this platform and yet the engagement is down. How does that work? I don’t know, but let’s fix it. I’ll get the ball rolling by reintroducing myself. I’m always hesitant to put my real name on here, so I’ll just say I’m an average guy. I grew up in a place called Crystal Lake and my grandparents who babysat me lived on Elm Street. That was freaky. I’m married to my best friend, and have two beautiful kids. We live in a small town of a thousand people in the American Midwest. I’ve been watching horror my whole life and writing about it for nearly ten years. God that makes me feel old.

Credit: Scream, YouTube

In my teens, I found myself gravitating away from mainstream horror toward alternative types of movies — cult, exploitation, drive-in, B, Z, boring, bad, so bad it’s good, surreal, foreign, softcore, hardcore, softcore with hardcore inserts, shot-on-video, shot-on-8mm, gas station surveillance footage, you name it, I’ll watch it. The weirder and more obscure, the better. If it has less than five user reviews on IMDb, sign me up. However, most of my all-time favorites are horror from when I was younger. Here are some of them in no particular order to give you an idea:

  • The Last House on the Left
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Halloween
  • I Spit on Your Grave
  • Phantasm
  • Friday the 13th
  • The Evil Dead
  • Happy Birthday to Me
  • Ms. 45
  • Basket Case 1 & 2
  • The Thing
  • Sleepaway Camp 1-3
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Demons
  • House
  • Death Nurse
  • Hellraiser
  • Brain Damage
  • Child’s Play 2
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow
  • Puppet Master
  • Bride of Re-Animator
  • Frankenhooker
  • The Guardian
  • Graveyard Shift
  • It
  • Candyman
  • Dust Devil
  • Cemetery Man

This is my second blog. My old one was basically practice, a way to improve my writing and better formulate my thoughts. I don’t consider myself a good writer and don’t expect to get tons of engagement here — though, I have to admit, it’s more fun when I do.

I like reading reviews, opinion pieces, fan theories, and love letters to particular moments within movies, so that’s what I post here. Check out the “Recent Posts” and “Movies” widgets on the right 👉 You might find something you like. If you do, let me know. It goes a long way in motivating me. I always click on my visitors’ Gravatars to see if they link back to similar sites. If they do and I find something that speaks to me as a fan, I like, comment, or follow. However, I don’t follow news update sites as they clog my reader and stop me from getting to other cool stuff. I consider it a fool’s errand to try to keep up with the latest news anyway.

It would be rad to meet some more people who share my unhealthy interest, even if it’s through a computer screen. I don’t know anyone in my day-to-day life who watches the same kinds of movies I do. The titles I bring up at work or with friends are met with confused looks and laughs. My wife comes the closest. She’s into classic/popular horror, but she’s a good sport and humors whatever I put on out of love. She laughed with me at Troll 2. She made it through Psycho Pike. Hell, she gave Garden Tool Massacre a try.

So how bout it? Let’s talk horror+. This month, I’ll be posting reviews from my old site while I dive into a new project that may or may not work out. I’ll be back with some fresh takes in February, maybe sooner. Keep an eye out and thanks for stopping by!