The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009) – By Duane L. Martin

Belgrade, around the time of the war in Yugoslavia. All 30 year old Marko (Mihajlo Z. Jovanovic) wants to do is to make independent films with artistic merit that have social and political undertones in a horror setting. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately, he can’t seem to find a producer to fund his project because they just don’t understand his vision. One day however, he meets up with a man named Cane (Srdan Miletic). He and his police officer brother make porn films, and he enlists Marko to make porno films for him, which he does, at least for a while. Eventually, Marko gets the bright idea to take Cane’s money and make a porno film that’s both artistic and has social and political commentary. Unfortunately, Cane isn’t happy about having his money wasted on that crap, and he wants it back. What happens if he doesn’t get it back? Well, you can pretty much imagine what’ll happen.

While at loose ends, Marko is sitting in a theater one night trying to figure out what to do, when he sees a beautiful but failed actress up on the stage named Una (Ana Acimovic). The two ultimately hook up, and Marko gets the idea to create the world’s first traveling porno art theatrical production, and after recruiting a variety of people he worked with in the porn films he made, they all get into a van and take the new show on the road. Unfortunately, things don’t work out so well for the troupe, and after having numerous issues, they’re all about to give up. This is when Marko meets a man who offers him a way to make a fortune. He wants Marko to make snuff films for his clients in Europe and America, who will pay a tremendous amount of money for them. Marko isn’t interested at first, but the guy assures him that the people in the films will all be strictly doing it voluntarily and that their families will be well compensated. Eventually Marko gives in and the troupe agrees to stick with it, even though it’s obvious that none of them really have the stomach for it. What follows is more problems, more issues, and more troubles than any of them bargained for when they signed on for this traveling porn roadshow. Will any of them come out of it alive? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Ok, I’m afraid I’m going to have to buck a few trends on this one. I’ve seen a few reviews of this film where the people said how extreme it was and all that. I was actually not looking forward to reviewing this one at all. I’m generally not into "extreme" movies because typically they go out of their way to be shocking at the expense of the story. So much so, that it all just becomes a big jumble of extreme without a lot of substance. That’s what I was expecting with this one, and at least on that note, I’m happy to say, I was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find in this film, not only a coherent story, but engaging characters that each had their own story. Watching them interact with each other and the relationships that went on between them really made you feel for what they were going through in all of their misadventures. Each had their own background, and they felt like real people rather than an assemblage of cardboard cutouts.

Now, he’s another trend I’m going to buck. People say this movie is SO extreme. Well I must have a different definition of extreme than most people, because I didn’t find it extreme at all. There really wasn’t anything in here that was worse than what you’d see in any other horror movie. There were a few situations I guess that could be considered more on the extreme side, but other than that, there really wasn’t anything all that special about it in that respect. To be honest, in a film about making snuff films, you’d expect people to be dragged out unwillingly and killed for the camera. While there was one occurrence of that happening, at the request of one of the troupe members’ grandfather who asked them to do it to a drunkard who was terrorizing their village, all the rest, what few there were of them, were volunteers who either just wanted to commit suicide, or wanted money to help their families. The fact that they were volunteers made it all much tamer than it would have been otherwise. The kills were generally rather quick, and the gore was about what you’d expect in any average horror film.

I guess some people would find the sexual situations in this film to be "extreme". I didn’t. I don’t know if I’m just desensitized to anything sexual or what it is. There are some crazy sexual things in this film, and a fair amount of full frontal nudity, but I doubt in this day and age where porn is basically everywhere on the internet, that anyone except maybe someone who’s a total churchie would find it all that shocking.

This film was made in a documentary style, with Marko’s friend documenting everything with the camera. Typically I’m not a big fan of this style, but in this particular film, it really worked and made everything feel more real.

I’ve already said that the characters were great, but it takes great actors to bring that out of the characters, and the cast in this film really did a wonderful job of bringing a great sense of realism to their characters. If for no other reason, the film really works because of the great talent of the cast.

All that said, I do have to say that even though it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, it’s also not a film I would watch again. It’s one of those films that you finish watching it, and it was ok…and that’s it. You’re done with it. You absorb what you saw and then you move on to the next one. Some people might watch it more than once, but from my personal vantage point, I can’t really see a reason I’d ever want to. Not because it was bad, but because it’s just not one you’d likely go back to unless you were showing it to a friend or something.

So…great characters, great acting, decent story, normal gore, some strange sexual situations, and a lack of rewatchability. That pretty much sums it up. I think a lot of people might be interested in seeing it once, but the number of people who’d want to see it twice will probably be a far smaller number.

For special features, this Synapse Films release includes a feature length documentary on the Serbian adult entertainment industry by Mladen Djordjevic, a "making of" featurette, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer and explicit reversible cover art.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Synapse Films website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can pick up a copy of the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.