Monday, October 4, 2010


Initially published here

The tragic life of porn legend John Holmes (and the series of brutal drug murders he was associated with in the early ‘80s) has fascinated Hollywood for several decades. Director Paul Thomas Anderson borrowed many of the details of Holmes’ story for his career-making film Boogie Nights(1997), and Christopher Walken was rumored for years to be working on a Holmes related project with director Abel Ferrara and screenwriter/actress Zoe Lund. In 2003 director James Cox got the chance to make a film detailing Holmes’ involvement in the murders that took place on Wonderland Ave. in Los Angeles in 1981.

That film, Wonderland (2003) stars Val Kilmer as Holmes and a cast of terrific supporting actors including Lisa Kudrow, Eric Bogosian, Dylan McDermott and Ted Levine. Unfortunately, their talents are wasted in support of an undernourished story and lame directorial choices. There isn’t a single shot, angle, edit, or music cue that hasn’t been done before (and better). Split screens, rapid tracking shots, a pounding K-Tel Sounds of the Seventies-approved soundtrack; Cox throws everything but the kitchen sink at the story, but leaves us with thin characters and little reason to care about what happens to any of them. At a minimum Wonderland should be able to carry the audience forward on the sheer momentum of its terrifically lurid true-life crime tale. But the film is clumsy and trips over itself whenever things start to move forward. It ultimately plays like a very expensive episode of 48 Hours Mystery.

Much better is Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes, a full-length documentary included in its entirety as a bonus on this Blu-ray disc. Not even listed on the disc packaging and, I suspect, edited of any explicit pornographic imagery, it at least features interviews with many of Holmes’ contemporaries who provide a much more well-rounded and interesting look at the man and the circumstances surrounding the murders.

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