PHILADELPHIA—Once upon a time, AVN was just a 16-page, two-color, center-stapled movie-store giveaway, but in its sixth issue, June of 1983, it reviewed the tenth release from acclaimed XXX director Cecil Howard: Scoundrels.
"Scoundrels is certainly the most erotic hardcore film released so far this year," we wrote. "Thanks to Anne Randall's magnificent script, Scoundrels gives us three-dimensional characters that rarely find their way into adult plots. This family is sensitive and very normal in their feelings; the abnormalities come from the unstable setting. Scoundrels takes serious themes (the kinds that Taboo and Roommates tried to tackle) one step further, showing that its subject can be erotic and dangerous at the same time. ... Scoundrels classifies as thinking man's porn."
In the decade since videotapes have gone the way of rotary dial phones and laserdiscs, Scoundrels has been off the market ... but thanks to HotMovies.com, adult movie fans will now have another chance to see the film that won AVN's first Best Film award, and which garnered its first Best Director and Best Editing trophies also.
"I've been involved with Cecil Howard, who produced this film, going back for three or four years," HotMovies.com spokesman James Cybert told AVN, "and I'm the only one who's been able to do a deal with him in the last 20 years to get any of his product out on the marketplace."
Just two of Howard's masterpieces have ever been available on DVD—Neon Nights and Babylon Pink, both now available on HotMovies.com—but due to a disagreement with the DVD releasing company, Howard soured to the idea of releasing any more of his titles on disc.
"Being an artist/art director/photographer/filmmaker, I got turned off by the day-to-day video business, but hung in for a few years," Howard said. "Not wanting to depress myself further, I made a decision not to put my movies out in DVD format; I closed up shop. But in 2005 or ’06, I was contacted by Media Blasters and we contracted for them to distribute the two movies on DVD. The package they put out was very professional, all nice guys, but although they gave me a hefty advance, they failed to send me agreed reports. They were really not into the adult business as I know it so we severed the relationship. Too bad."
"After the Media Blasters situation, and after months of negotiation, we were able to get Howard to give us 10 or so products for VOD, including The Final Sin Parts 1-4 and Dangerous Stuff," Cybert reported. "Those were quite successful, so basically we came to the point of wanting to get more of his product out, and we were having a really hard time coming to terms. So what we've agreed is, he's giving us Scoundrels, and we've agreed to put an unparalleled amount of marketing behind this title. It's been out of print for 20 years, and now it's groundbreaking in VOD in the sense that it's the first movie any VOD company has ever released with the intention of it being a limited-time release."
Scoundrels will premiere on HotMovies.com on June 22, and will be available for viewing for just 28 days.
"We're going to be doing a countdown banner informing people of the number of days, probably starting a week or two before the release, of when the movie will be appearing on the site," Cybert said. "And when we get down to about a week left, we're going to run another countdown banner telling people how many days, hours, minutes they have left to watch the movie before it disappears from the site."
But that's hardly all the company will be doing to promote viewership.
"On our splash page, in the upper left-hand corner, we have a large banner advertisement spot that we originally adopted when we initially became the first company to offer Not the Bradys XXX," Cybert explained. "We actually redesigned our site to feature that, and it was so successful that we ended up never going away from that design, and ever since then, we've been using that spot to advertise a different product. But we've agreed with Howard that he's going to get that spot for the entire 28 days of Scoundrels being on the site.
“We're also going to have banners within the site and in our e-newsletter promoting the movie, and we're giving it feature spots on the index page, which is the main page of HotMovies after you get past the splash page,” Cybert added. “When you first come in and look at the site, it'll be the first movie that you see, and in Howard's case, we're going to keep Scoundrels as the first movie you see the entire time."
"What we're trying to do is cross-promote it across as many VOD sites as we can, or that make sense," Cybert continued. "One of our very popular custom VOD sites is ClassicVOD.com, a site that caters specifically to ’70s and ’80s erotica, and it's been very popular. Basically what we're going to do is just take advantage of the marketing spots we have within this site to promote the title, and it would include the 'hot stars' section where we'll be featuring stars from that movie, and also listing it as an Editor's Pick, featuring it on the front page and making sure the users of this site get exposed to that movie."
"Also, one of our most popular sites by far is our site for women, which is HotMoviesForHer.com. We have three or four ladies who work on that site, and right now they're working on an article or blog post which will focus on the early women involved in the adult industry. We've identified Anne Randall as someone who has writing credits on pretty much all of Howard's movies and someone that isn't necessarily well-known or that people think of, and though there's not a lot of information available about her, we think she'll be perfect to feature on HotMoviesForHer, which is a site that aims to be relevant for female porn fans and also be an empowering place for women who are in porn. And the last thing is, we also operate RonJeremy.com, and we did an interview with him, and we'll be tying that in as well. So we're going to rerun that interview in its entirety."
Indeed, Jeremy has fond memories of working with Howard on Scoundrels.
"Cecil Howard was one of the really good filmmakers," Jeremy told the HotMovies interviewer. "He never compromised. ... I love that guy! First he put me in Foxtrot; I had a small part. He goes, 'God, Ron Jeremy can really act! I’ll give you a lead in my next film.' So he gave me the lead in his next film, which was Scoundrels, 28 years ago.
“You liked working with Cecil Howard or some of these other big directors because they had big story lines,” Jeremy continued. Back in those days, when you worked on his films, you worked maybe 10 days as an actor and then maybe one day of sex. Wake up in the morning and feel like an actor that day, [someone] who understood dialogue. That’s why it was called the golden age of porn—the early ’80s."
Jeremy also notes in the interview that he enjoyed working with Copper Penny, a Penthouse Pet who "would never do porn, but she's in this porn film as the ultimate dream girl. ... She plays a cigarette girl and I see her by my apartment and I start fantasizing about her. … Then I leave with her and get stopped by a cop. It’s great: Abstract, esoteric, avant-garde."
Howard returned the compliment, terming Jeremy "professional and fun to have around. I'm glad we selected him for the lead. He looked handsome and his performance was excellent—and that goes for the rest of the actors and actresses as well."
Howard considers Scoundrels to be "one of my greater achievements."
"Anne Randall presented me with a synopsis of an infidelity movie, originally titled Rainbow Jam," Howard recalled. "I liked it and gave her the green light to write the script. With the business consuming all my time, having not digesting the 75-80 page script—being an artist, I always storyboarded my scripts—I made a decision to hire an outside director. My crew went up in arms about this, so at their insistence, I fired (but paid) him the morning of first day of production and decided to wing it myself. Before each scene I declared a break of 10 minutes or so to read the script and then proceeded to direct it. I adlibbed the entire shoot. It made me doubly proud for me to win Best Director of the year and Scoundrels the best movie."
"I don't watch adult movies," Howard continued, "but did once pay $5 to research and see what direction adult movies are going; that was in 1971. From then on, I didn't want to be influenced by other people's work—just do my own thing—although several well-known adult directors told me they'd watched mine to help further their careers. I took it as a compliment. When Playboy launched its cable show in the early ’80s with my movies, I took that as a compliment as well, along with compliments from Hustler, AVN and other publications who saw the movies I directed over the years and gave them those highest ratings.
Howard concludes, “I'm from the old school. Let my movies speak for themselves. There is a vast young audience yet to witness them. Let them see the writing, music, acting, editing and more. With today's videos, what they call "content" is mostly just sex. There's more to life than just fucking!"
Howard is in discussions with HotMovies to bring even more of his classics to the small screen, including Firestorm, Snake Eyes, Foxtrot, Platinum Paradise and Star Angel—but a lot will depend on how well HotMovies comes through with its push for Scoundrels.
"He's challenged us to market the crud out of it," Cybert said. "He's told me if he can't make the deals he wants for these movies, he'd rather take them to the grave than have them in the market. So it's been my angle to work really hard to see that that doesn't happen, and it's been a many-year relationship and it's taken a long time to build trust and to make the progress that we have—but also, it's tough for Howard because his product has been off the market for so long that the demand for it is not the same as the demand was for Behind the Green Door or other films that are much more a part of the collective consciousness. That's why we're giving Scoundrels everything we've got, in part because it'll give us some hard data to show him what we can do with his movies—we have 14 of them available on the site already—and to put a little spotlight back onto Howard, onto this forgotten gem, and on this movie's historical significance."