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Edward Penishands (1991)

I’d like to start this review with a brief history to put this important work into its proper context. For those who do not remember, by the late ’80s the U.S.’s post-feminist malaise caused a shift in relationship dynamics. A sort of unusual emasculation of the male gender occurred, trying to reconcile the sudden, male-like aggression of the opposite sex by embracing the softer so-called “feminine side” within themselves. This spawned an archetype designated at the time as “Sensitive Ponytail Man” or “Sensitive Man of the ’90s,” currently referred to by the less cumbersome “Pussy.” This type of person went into films like Wall Street and Point Break as affirmations of their machismo and intellectual superiority, but they invariably shed a few tears before the closing credits, often waiting long after the theatre emptied out, so they could wipe their tears and let the redness fade from their cheeks before leaving the dark theatrical womb.

Of course, such a drastic change in the male psyche also dictated a change in their adult entertainment. Watching the erotica from 1985 to 1995, you’ll see a radical shift in the type of sexual endeavors portrayed — gone is the “woo ‘em, bang ‘em, leave ‘em” attitude, replaced by a gentler emphasis on foreplay. Manual stimulation and cunnilingus became rote aspects of each sex act, rather than the “classic” model of stripping down for intromission.

It is with this in mind that writer/director Paul Norman crafted the story for Edward Penishands. This, obviously, falls into the “spoof” subcategory of full-feature adult films, taking its essence from Tim Burton’s 1990 dark fantasy Edward Scissorhands. Penishands is littered obvious homages (the first line of the film involves matriarch Patricia announcing, “Not Avon calling!”) and shares the same basic narrative, substituting razor-sharp scissors for enormous, erect penises. In the mainstream film, Edward himself obviously represents the sullen outcast trapped in a bland suburban nightmare. However, the scissors don’t appear to symbolize anything — they’re just something strange and vaguely menacing. Norman takes things a little further than Burton by imbuing the penis hands with a deeper meaning (in more ways than one): he’s literalizing the contemporary male fear of foreplay.

Why fear? Even now, men across the world share a deep uncertain about foreplay. They want to prove their skills without taking into account the myriad differences in each woman’s stimulative processes, often leaving their partners unsatisfied and disconcerted. This, in turn, increases male insecurity, spiraling the relationship toward a disappointing break-up. Communication is key in these situations, but the early Sensitive Ponytail Man lacked the awareness; he came of age in a world where women existed to lie back and enjoy it when a man decided to get his rocks off.

Although this might make Edward Penishands seem antiquated after 17 years, nothing could be further than the truth; even the most experienced men feel pangs of uncertainty when their usual moves fail to pleasure their partners. I should know. Unless sexual discourse (not intercourse) becomes much more honest in the near future, this internal conflict will allow Edward Penishands to resonate with men for generations. Edward’s struggle to realize the value and power in his hands carries the film much more than the bland, mainstream-aped subplots about Edward finding a job and fitting in around town. The portrayal of Edward by Nikki Sixx (later known as Sikki Nixx to avoid confusion with the Mötley Crüe bassist) combines the tics and vulnerability Johnny Depp added to the mainstream film with a strange sense of O-faced wonder as he discovers how women react to his manual-stimulation abilities.

Another interesting decision Norman made was to excise the mainstream film’s subplot about an abusive boyfriend (memorably played by Brat Packer Anthony Michael Hall). He misses an interesting opportunity to comment on the issues of masculinity Edward himself faces, and with a 73-minute runtime, Norman could have easily added this without affecting the tension or pacing. Instead, Norman opts to compare Edward’s fumbling inexperience with the marital bliss shared by Patricia (Alexandra Quinn) and Carl (Jon Dough). Norman opens the film with door-to-door salesman Patricia arriving at Edward’s mysterious castle, attempting to sell him sex toys. Out of politeness, Patricia allows Edward to touch him, which leads to an exploratory sexual encounter that starts with confused petting and ends with double-penishand penetration. Patricia seems to be in absolute heaven during this encounter; later, her encounter with Carl is much more banal, with Carl manhandling his wife without the tenderness or awkwardness of young Edward.

Meanwhile, Edward falls in love with their daughter, Susan (Jeanna Fine), who claims to be disgusted by Edward even as she steals her mother’s sample kit to have some sapphic fun with best friend Karen (Jamie Lee). When Edward is rushed off to a tryst with nosy (and easily aroused) neighbors Margaret (Ashley Nicole) and Louise (Dominique Simone), he finds himself longing even more for Susan. In one particularly bizarre sequence, he attempts in vain to use his Penishands to masturbate; failing, he simply rubs the hands together until they ejaculate. Susan catches him in the act and screams in disgust; when Edward runs away, Susan notices whose picture he was staring at. She wipes some of the semen from the frame and licks it contemplatively.

This leads to the strongest, tenderest scene. Susan seeks out Edward in his creepy, castle-like home. Echoing a classic scene from the mainstream film, Susan begs, “Hold me.” Edward replies softly, “I can’t. I’ll squirt.” Instead, as a tender love ballad throbs on the soundtrack, Susan dances alone while Edward raises his hands in the air, raining semen down on her. They make tender love — a nearly alien concept in an adult film — suggesting that Edward has finally accepted his ability to properly stimulate a woman, while Susan has finally accepted her need for stimulation. I hate spoiling the endings, but this one is too wonderful and well-written to ignore.

From a technical standpoint, Edward Penishands is a mixed bag. Although Norman does a lot with very, very little, the production design still has its baffling moments. Edward’s house, which looks like a marginally redressed abandoned factory, is a triumph of micro-budget production design, but the family’s home? It looks like your average cheap porno set, made all the more inexplicable by an enormous advertisement for Trident gum on one of the walls. Did they sponsor this film, was Norman attempting to make a subtle allusion to Edward’s three-pronged penile attack, or is this merely an oddity of the tiny budget?

I’d like to complain about some editing flaws in the print I saw, but first I have to make a confession. Although I usually view these films on restored DVDs in the privacy of my own home, the copy of Edward Penishands I ordered did not arrive in time for my review deadline. I had to go to my local adult store, which only had a VHS copy for in-store rental. For those unfamiliar with the “in-store rental” process, you pay them a nominal hourly rate to watch an erotic film in a private booth recessed away from the merchandise. There I sat, sipping an espresso and taking copious notes, when I noticed some awkward jump cuts during many scenes (most noticeable in Edward’s menage à trois with the neighbors) and, on one occasion, the sounds of the director cueing Ms. Fine from off-camera before the scene started properly. These technical flaws have most likely been rectified on the DVD release, but I can’t know for sure.

Although the technical deficiencies marred my enjoyment somewhat, the soundtrack redeemed this film. Edward and Susan’s love scene is accompanied by a gorgeous pop song with such beautiful melodies and lush production, I sincerely thought Norman chose to use an unlicensed, one-hit-wonder pop song in the film. My research shows that, while the score remains uncredited, the song “Just One Touch” is unique to Edward Penishands. The song is so powerful, it catapults alongside “If You Only Knew” (the love theme from Taboo 2) and “Theme from Bikini Chain Gang” in the pantheon of brilliant adult-film songs.

Despite its flaws, Edward Penishands is a gem of an adult film, worthy of its status as a classic. I’d recommend it especially to uncommunicative couples struggling with their sex lives. Watch the film together, and it will open a comfortable dialogue to rekindle the passion.

Click here to play “Just One Touch” (4:21, 1.99MB, 64kbps)

When you smile and hold out your hand
It’s the only thing that’s real in my life

I can’t stand tears in your eyes

After all that we’ve been through and sacrificed

And I know it’s late, but I’ve just gotta try

To make you realize

You’re only thing that matters in my life

Just one touch, and I’m lost inside your love

Just one touch means more than words can say

Just one touch, and I know I’m gonna stay

For always…

When you whisper your feelings inside

I know I’ll always need you near me

And I just can’t help wondering why

People have to live a lie

When you’re the only thing that matters in my life

Just one touch, and I’m lost inside your love

Just one touch means more than words can say

Just one touch, and I know I’m gonna stay

For always…

Just one touch…

Just one touch, and I’m lost inside your love

Just one touch means more than words can say

Just one touch, and I know I’m gonna stay

For always…

Oh, just one touch, and I know I’m lost inside your love

Just one touch means more than words can say

Just one touch, and I know I’m gonna stay

For always…

Always

Update – 10/30/08 — I am disappointed and horrified to learn that the song “Just One Touch” is an unlicensed song. Sung by Phoebe Cates and Bill Wray, it’s the love theme from Noel Black’s 1983 sex romp Private School.

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 19, 2008 12:00 AM  |   | Print-Friendly  | Sexual Velvet, Reviews

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