In celebration of Pride month, the Australian Monster Pictures will release “low-fi extravaganza” Fags in the Fast Lane, a sci-fi grindhouse caper that its creators describe as “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert mates with Rocky Horror Picture Show … in the style of exploitation masters John Waters and Russ Meyer.”
The film promises a “truly trashy, pansexual rock-and-roll adventure” filled with “magic golden cocks, anal nitrate sniffing giantesses, badass police, disco mutants, androgynous Elvis assassins, kickboxing drag queens and loud muscular men with big exhausts.”
Fags in the Fast Lane delivers a colorful toy box of queer misadventure — one that’s mostly fun-loving and good-hearted with beautiful art direction and a devil-may-care attitude towards good taste. It’s bound to become a cult favorite and has already been rounding the festival circuit with a few sold-out showings. But it may not live up to the groundbreaking transgression of the queer films and directors that inspired it.
To the film’s credit, it positions itself as a stick in the eye of boredom, bigotry, conformity and conservatism. It opens up on a black-and-white video collage of Dullsville, a city ridden with uninspiring highways and skyscrapers. It’s “a town that mundanes, that forbids, that penalizes,” the narrator explains. “A town that hides its secrets that breeds vice and corruption behind a veneer of officious respectability, a veneer that must be maintained at all costs.”
We soon learn that the gay residents of Dullsville have been terrorized by a gang of local gay bashers, leading one bloodied victim to summon Sir Beauregard the Cockslinger and his mustached, undependable sidekick Reginald “Lump” Lumpton III to help fight back.
Pursued by Dullsville’s homophobic police chief and his creepy, tech-savvy Lieutenant Hindlick, Beau and Lump set on a quest to reclaim the riches recently stolen from Beau’s mamma by a gang of female freaks known as The Chompers.
Among these riches is a lucky Golden Cock, a treasure that one of Kitten’s ladies stole from “a greasy eunuch.”
And this is where the flick slides into problematic territory. The Golden Cock, you see, was stolen from the “humble eunuch assassin Hijra,” a role played by Indo-Canadian born musician King Kahn. Apart from Kahn, all the other men of color in this film are violent pornographers (except for one black character who is a drug-fueled gay basher). One character played by an aboriginal native is a homophobic pimp named McBastard — hardly flattering roles.
The only women of color in the film include two brown blow-up sex dolls and an exploited Asian sex worker turned murderer. The other women are either disabled criminals or aging sex workers who’ve “been reduced to servicing old guys on pension and school boys on pocket money.”
To the filmmaker’s credit, all of the Middle Eastern pornographers are played by men of that origin and their roles, he says, are throwbacks to Indian Mafioso types from cheesy Bollywood action films of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
But later, when the heroes end up at an “Aztec” temple, it seems like another scene ripe for cultural appropriation. But, as director Josh Sinbad Collins explains, the “Aztec” stuff isn’t referencing real-life Aztec culture so much as old movies that are set in “Aztecish” settings.
“Costume-wise and set-wise they’re a mixed up blend of Mayan (principally), Aztec, Thai (and) Rhodesian,” Collins says. He compares the Aztec set and costume design to the lost civilization in Hammer Horror’s 1965 film SHE or the art design of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies from the 1930s and ’40s.
As for the “Aztec” actors, Collins says the primary ones are of South American descent. “The rest are of Singaporean, Irish, Swedish, Italian, Ukrainian and English origins,” he adds.
“When casting was underway, the title alone made the project an acquired taste,” co-writer Stephen G. Michael says. “That worked well in one way, as we ended up with a brilliant and passionate cast who gave their absolute all to bring Fags in the Fast Lane to life. But it also meant that sometimes we couldn’t be too choosy.”
He continues, “As for stereotypes, they’re caricatures by design: a dandy, a twink, a Marlborough Man, a corrupt sheriff, a slinky evil sidekick. Of course they’re going to be clichéd and derivative, but … they come together in one big giant rainbow soup and robustly promote the central themes: Diversity embraced will overcome bigotry. Also, you can find love anywhere if you’re open to it.”
The film does have a delightful sense of stage magic and a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse toybox sensibility, with visual effects by Stu Simpson, art direction by Tor Helland and costumes by Barbara Collins. Scale models, animation, remote control cars, action figures and other toys help convey the action, especially as Beau and his crew infiltrate Freaky Town, the hideout of the thieving female crew.
“Filmmaking is basically a glorious combination of playing and problem solving (plus tons and tons of hard work),”Collins says. “So often these methods were used for a laugh, and to see what we could get away with on our budget and emphasize the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ nature of the movie. Plus, we are reveling in the old-school magic of cinema and children’s television, where any way to tell the story is a good way.”
Collins partially developed this toybox approach through his earlier films Pervirella (1997) and Perv Parlor (1995). Both incorporated a lot of model shots and stop motion animation. He and Michael say they were ultimately able to incorporate all of their ideas — even those that seemed impossible and unaffordable — onto the screen.
“I’ve never written anything with such reckless abandon before,” Michael says. “And even though it cost less than your standard blockbuster, we still managed to take you to Dullsville, a granny bordello, a Tiki nightclub, a Bollywood-mafia-porn-producing hideout, a forest full of cocks, a torture shed with laser torture devices and, finally, to a freak carnival for the final showdown! Talk about stretching the dollar!”
And yet, while Fags in the Fast Lane conjures John Waters’ delightfully bad taste and Russ Meyer’s corny, over-dramatized dialogue and lampooning of conservative values, Fags in the Fast Lane mostly seems unique in style rather than message.
Yes, it features two queer sex scenes (an always enjoyable and rarely seen big-screen spectacle), and of all the film’s colorful villains, only the anti-queer bigots come off as truly evil. But madcap capers, while rare, aren’t exactly new, nor is its message against bigotry. So why make such a film inspired by directors whose heyday was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s?
“I suppose I am eternally looking at the past for inspiration towards the future, reimagining it and mining it for ideas,” Collins says. “I feel cinema, and queer cinema especially has lost an edge, a sense of humor about itself and most importantly its current state is seriously lacking in old-school glamour and sauciness. Where are the Rock Hudsons and Mae Wests of today?”
Michael adds, “To me, the point of making the film was to say to every corner, ‘Let go of your hang ups — gays, non gays, everyone in between — and just enjoy a bit of brave, camp, sexy comedy that makes you laugh and squirm and gasp and scream and that has a good message in the end.'”
He continues, “Anybody who hears the title and gets up in arms about the use of words like ‘fags’ needs to take a breath and look a little deeper into whether their criticism is stifling something which could otherwise be a shout-out to a community lacking edgy content made just for them.”
“At its core, we’re introduced to a team of gay avengers seeking equality through crazy vigilante justice. They’re let down by the law (as in life), sought out by bigots (as in life), they find strength in numbers (as in life), they represent a diverse sexual landscape (as in life) and they’re totally fabulous — as in real life! If you went into making this film worried about offending people, it simply wouldn’t exist.”
“Obviously we are at a great point in ‘queer’ cultural history where the new generations are looking beyond the past definitions of sexuality and gender,” Collins says. “Fags in the Fast Lane celebrates kookiness in all its forms.”