Movie: Water Power
Aka: The Enema Bandit, Schpritz
Type of film: A based on a true story hardcore porn crime film filtered through the twin lenses of Taxi Driver and enema fetishists.
The Pitch: A
borderline sexual sociopath visits a brothel and has his world turned
upside down when he sees an enema being administered. Walking out he
has a new mission in life: walk the streets of the city, find dirty
girls and cleanse them of their ‘vile humours.’
There was a real Last Days of the Roman Empire feeling about the whole Two Girls One Cup phenomenon, especially the minor YouTube fad of recording the reactions of people – including grandmothers! – to the infamous video of two girls shitting and puking on one another. This, surely, is the depths of depravity, a low point for our culture and society.
Watching Water Power, Shaun Costello’s obscene film from 1976, I realized that Two Girls One Cup was nothing. That was shock, the sleaze merchant’s version of the cat jump scare in a horror movie. Water Power… that’s the real thing, a movie of pure vile sickness. A movie that will disgust you to your very core, but is still bizarrely watchable. A movie that is so far beyond the boundaries of good taste and possibly sanity that it even scared off the pervert crowds in New York City’s 1970s porn theaters. It’s amazing.
To really understand Water Power you have to shed all of your modern concepts of porn. The overly-lit, professionally hair-done world of modern porn is related to the world of 70s porn in the same way that Grand Theft Auto IV is related to Pong*. Water Power came along at a strange time in the porn world, when the short porn loops were turning into porn features, and when the mainstream world briefly flirted with porno chic. Today’s world is one where porn stars are indistinguishable from mysteriously famous heiresses and celebutards, but once upon a time the straight world and the porn world did not meet. That began to change with the release of Deep Throat; cultural movers and shakers – even Jackie Onassis! – went to see the magical tale of a girl whose clit was located in her throat.
Porn and ‘straight’ films were, seemingly, on a collision course (the only place they really collided, though, was Blake Edwards’ SOB, which paralleled (or parodied) a potential hardcore Hollywood version of The Joy of Sex, starring Julie Andrews). Today porn stars want to cross over and make legit films, but in the 70s it was starting to look like porn could itself become legit. Water Power feels like a one-man effort to put a stop to that.
Shaun Costello had been working in the porn world for years when he made Water Power. His career included all aspects of the business, including acting in porn loops, and he directed movies under dozens of names, completely unbeknownst to the financiers who were delivering multiple paychecks to him per week. While Costello excelled in the world of One Day Wonders – porn loops with budgets of 5 grand or less, shot in a day and edited in two – he made his porn directing (he had been acting in porno loops for some time) debut with 1971’s Forced Entry, a film that itself is a candidate for a CHUDsploitation column. That film plays like a precursor to Taxi Driver, with Deep Throat star Harry Reems as a crazed Vietnam Vet raping and killing women. Forced Entry, as sick and twisted as it was, feels like a pretty tame picture in comparison with the magnum opus that Costello would eventually unleash.
Costello was shooting his porn for the mob, who were the biggest funders of the still technically illegal sleaze at the time. The money was coming from the Gambino crime family, and while Costello (or other porn auteurs) would often come to the goombah money men pitching quickie storylines, occasionally a request would come down from the top. One day Costello found himself chatting with a highly connected mob guy (who would later get his brains blown out by Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano) who made a very specific, very strange request. He had a tape of the police interrogation of the high profile criminal known as the Enema Bandit. This, the mobster told Costello, would be the basis of his next porn feature. He gave Costello carte blanche, with one proviso: he didn’t want to know (or see) what Costello ended up with. The mob thought there was money to be made with this sick story, but even they were too squeamish and prudish to deal with it. For Costello this was great news – he would get to make a movie so completely insane it still lives in infamy.
If you’re a fan of Frank Zappa you may already know the strange true story of the Illinois Enema Bandit, Michael Kenyon. Starting in 1966 with the forced enemas of two sisters, 16 and 18, he terrorized Champaign, Illinois (and a few other states where he lived during this period). Kenyon’s MO was to don a ski or gas mask and break into the homes of women he would see on the street, tie them up, give them enemas (at least one victim was forced to endure two enemas in one night) and then steal money or an item from their home, presumably as a souvenier. Kenyon got away with his bizarre proclivities for a decade, but over time got sloppier, obviously wanting to get caught. Right before he was finally busted in 1975 he hit his peak, assaulting six women in one night. Eventually he was arrested for unrelated burglaries and was unable to keep his mouth shut about the Enema Bandit. His subscription to Enema Digest (seriously) didn’t help him any, either. Because of weird vagaries in the law, Kenyon’s enema assaults were either past the statute of limitations or didn’t carry all that big a penalty, so the cops took him down for armed robbery, earning him six concurrent sentences of 6-12 years. He was questioned in the Tylenol poisoning case in 1982, but otherwise Kenyon has slipped away from the public eye.
Costello’s mandate was simply to use this sick fuck’s story as the basis of a film. He hired his friend and swing club partner Jamie Gillis to play the role of Burt, the Enema Bandit. In a rare display of fidelity to his craft, Gillis asked to be flown to Illinois so that he could interview Kenyon to get the flavor of his character. Costello, unsurprisingly, turned him down.
*which is a terrible example. Imagine that video games started out with Grand Theft Auto IV, but rendered in the crudest way possible, and has evolved into a spectacular looking version of Pong (which I think Rock Star Games actually did a couple of years ago). That’s a better analogy.
If Forced Entry presaged Taxi Driver, Water Power took the piss (or more accurately, the shit) out of it. Gillis’ Burt is Travis Bickle with a creepy obsession with the ‘vile humors’ of slutty women. The movie opens with Burt wandering through a Manhattan street fair; already the movie’s surprisingly well made as Costello gets some nice atmosphere shots of the crowd and Gillis standing in front of carnival rides. Then the movie makes its first bold statement – Burt stands in front of a Spirit of 76 American flag to get his picture taken and the camera freezes on his face, creepy eyes staring right into the lens as the stolen theme from DePalma’s Sisters plays on the soundtrack (Costello often stole his music from other movies, but he always chose great scores).
Burt returns home to his crummy, bare brick walled apartment. He watches some TV (70s kids will appreciate the snippets of commercials playing) before whipping out some porn, including a magazine called Water & Power. Unsatisfied by the pictures he heads to the window, where he has a telescope angled right into the apartment of a stewardess across the way. She’s his obsession, and he has a whole portfolio of pictures he’s taken of her. Worked up, Burt takes to the streets (passing a theater showing Carrie, adding to the disorienting DePalmaisms in the movie) and comes upon a brothel.
We’re already ten minutes into the film, and except for some photos in the porn magazines, there’s been no sex. It’s a slow burn, but Costello is just getting his groove on at this point, even if it requires sitting through a tedious scene where Burt is bullshitting with the brothel’s madam. He eventually makes his deal and, on his way to get some action with a hooker (the dialogue here is delivered wonderfully: ‘I don’t know if you’re aware of our ten dollar half and half special, which means I will suck you and you will fuck me.’) he runs into a nurse. Burt’s intrigued when he learns that the nurse is there as part of a special request for another patron. He leaves her in the hallway, muttering that no one can use twenty pounds of suppositories, to get a perfunctory blowjob.
That out of the way (Costello treats the sex scenes like bothers, or deliberately intercuts them with truly disgusting footage, like he’s daring you to jerk off), the movie hits its stride. Burt finds out that the nurse is there to aid a customer in giving a girl an enema. The girl is tied down and forced to take a rubber tube in her ass in excruciating detail as the customer talks us through the entire process of an enema, including the names of the equipment and the best recipe for an enema solution. He pumps a liter of liquid into her guts (‘Mind over matter, Pamela! You can always take more than you think you can!’) and then removes the tube. Bernard Hermann music plays while a sweaty, screaming Burt watches through a one way window, his mind getting visibly blown by the scene inside – the nurse is sucking off the client while the contents of the bound girl’s bowels are expelled graphically into a metal bowl.
It’s an amazing scene – Costello has crafted a moment that is funny and creepy and gross and actually sort of works from a storytelling point of view, as we witness Burt’s rebirth into the Enema Bandit. I guess whether or not it’s titillating is up to the individual viewer, and I’m not even sure how titillating Costello wanted to make this scene (or this movie).
A side note – as disgusting and offensive as Water Power is, the movie actually pulls a punch in this scene. The girl getting the enema is an adult actress by the name of Jean Silver, who would go on to gain some notoriety as Long Jean Silver. See, Jean has one leg, and in future films she would use her stump in innovative ways, like shoving it into other girl’s vaginas. Here you can see that she has a prosthetic leg as she’s getting laid out for the enema. I don’t know why Jean was used in this scene (well, except for the fact that she would consent to getting an enema on camera), and I really don’t know why Costello didn’t use her stump in some way. I feel like he missed an opportunity.
And we’re off to the races. It’s taken 20 minutes to get here – an eternity in porn terms – but at this point Costello just blows the doors off the joint, sending Burt on a series of enema banditry missions that seem to get more and more stomach churning. First he goes after the stewardess after he spies her getting it on with her hilariously mustachioed boyfriend. Burt’s heartbroken that she would be so dirty, so he decides that he has to clean her out. It’s Taxi Driver time, and Burt’s thoughts are shared with us in goofy voice over with Gillis’ nasally New Yawk accent – ‘She didn’t let men touch her with their cockfilth… She could be cleaned again. She could be alright. But now she’s dirty. She has shit thoughts, puke thoughts. But I could fix that.’ It’s the poetry of colonics, man.
Costello suprises again. After another perfunctory sex scene with the stewardess and her boyfriend (half the action is obscured by the fake telescope effect, and again is scored to the strains of the Sisters soundtrack), Burt breaks into her place in a scene that’s genuinely tense and creepy. She’s in the shower as he skulks around her apartment, and Costello cuts back and forth between the unsuspecting woman and her impending attacker, getting downright Hitchcockian in the way he uses his editing and especially the sound of the shower and a show playing on the TV. Things get really un-Hitchockian in a hurry, though, as Burt pulls the stewardess out of the shower and brutally rapes her. This is disturbing enough, but the horror is multiplied by the way the girl’s head is shoved into a dirty space between the toilet and the wall and Gillis keeps his eyes closed the whole time, telling her what a dirty pig she is.
I understand that this is a porno film, so you have to have some sex in here, but I feel like if the movie makes one mistake it’s having Burt rape the women. It undercuts the meaning of his mission to clean these women out. And it’s weird – I feel like having Burt break into homes and simply force a liter of soapy water up women’s assholes would be less offensive than seeing him rape them. But then again this is CHUDsploitation, and I’ve promised to bring you the vilest films ever made, and so you get Jamie Gillis raping women before making them shoot streams of watery shit onto his cock, which makes him ejaculate.
The movie gets really odd right around here (which is saying something considering what I’ve just explained to you). The enema aspect of the rape gets the cops’ attention in a big way. Costello continues his special flair by shooting the cops interviewing the stewardess in negative, and without dialogue. Weirdly arty yet again. Meanwhile, Burt’s girlfriend (!) shows up at his place complaining that he never calls her. It’s a strange development that he would have a girlfriend, but her ringing his bell does allow Costello to stage a no joke two minute long scene where Burt tries to hide all his Enema Bandit accoutrements. Other than that, I can’t quite figure what the fuck the point of this scene was. It’s not unusual for a porn film to have filler, but most of Water Power‘s filler is about the cops chasing Burt, and at least makes some sort of narrative sense.
As Burt begins stalking his next victims – sisters, just like Kenyon’s first victims – the gruff homicide cop who was angry to be reassigned to the rape case meets his new, hot female partner. This is a porn film, so they hit it off and start fucking, but Costello’s not letting us get off that easily. These two cops will be the only people in the film who have sex that isn’t forced or paid for, so Costello relentlessly intercuts their session with the assault on the sisters – who are incestous lesbos, presumably as a concession to the Times Square raincoat crowd that was about to be themselves assaulted by an enema scene so chunky that even I was getting a touch queasy. It looks like Costello asked his actresses to go our for Mexican before reporting to work that night.
The sister assault does give us Water Power‘s most immortal line – ‘There’s shit everywhere!’ one of the girls screams, and you can’t tell if that was scripted or ad libbed – but it definitely takes the movie right to the lowest, most repulsive level. As Burt rapes the sisters, Costello keeps cutting back to the face of the female cop in ecstacy. Paralleling the brutality and the sensuality is almost like a kick in the guts to the people who paid good money to come wank at this movie.
The female cop is predictably used as bait for Burt, and less predictably she gets raped and enema’ed, but Burt gets away. The final shot of the film is Burt outside of her apartment, bathed in the red flashing glow of a police light, looking into the camera in a nod to the opening credits. In many ways Costello’s finale is just as disturbing and nihilistic as Scorsese’s ending for Taxi Driver. By the end of Water Power Burt has come to view himself as kind of an enema vigilante, doing what needs to be done to clean out the dirty girls of New York City, and the impression we get is that he’s not going to be stopped. Costello thankfully doesn’t go quite so far as to make us side with Burt, but the Enema Bandit has bested the cops in the most personal way possible.
Watching Water Power a third (!) time for this article, I was struck by something that probably gives the film a lot of its degenerate power – while all of the acting in the film is just about on par with what you expect from a porn film (although the enema administerer at the brothel is delightfully funny. He would go on to direct A Pussy Called Wanda), the actresses give really convincing performances as rape victims. There’s pain and terror in their voices, and it can be chilling to have the funny flatness of porn acting suddenly cut with something all too real. I’ve read interviews with Costello, who did other S&M films, where he says that the key to getting these performances is editing, but Water Power feels like it crosses a line here. Which is great, of course.
The whole movie feels like an exercise in line crossing, like Costello took his freedom and used it to say fuck you to the industry and the audience. It’s easy to see Water Power as a reaction to the porno chic trend of the 70s, a movie designed to be so hardcore, so over the top, so despicable that it could never get traction in the suburbs. Of course it also couldn’t get traction in the seedier parts of town. Water Power was a disaster in the United States, and it played only one or two engagements before disappearing. Theater owners feared that a movie like this would force the local police to conduct massive raids, and besides the truth is that this is kind of a terrible as a porn film. It’s daring you to get your rocks off when the most heinous shit (literally) imaginable is being blasted onto the screen. The Gambino’s marketing arm tried to get some extra interest in the film by slapping Deep Throat director (and recently corpsed) Gerard Damiano’s name on the posters, but it seems that graphical, forced enemas was beyond the pale even in the slimiest shithouse on 42nd Street.
But that doesn’t mean the odyssey of Water Power ended when it tanked Stateside. The film found a new life in Germany under the wonderful title Schpritz. It’s one of those things that almost sounds too cliche to be true, but those wacky Krauts can’t get enough of the scheisse.
There’s something else that is obvious after watching Water Power three times for this article – how good it is, especially given the circumstances. Costello took a tiny budget and a cast better suited to taking facials than giving soliloquies and made a film that actually works on a suspense/horror level. Costello has said in interviews that he views the movie as a parody of porn, and that he thinks it’s the funniest thing he ever made, but he’s selling his movie short. If this film didn’t have explicit penetration I think we might be talking about it alongside transgressive classics like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, films with deranged subject matter but undeniable craft. I know that Costello set out to make a movie that was as sick and disgusting as possible, which is easy. He also managed to make one that’s truly unsettling, which is how an enema rape porn movie sidles up to the category of ‘art.’
Water Power is exceptionally hard to find in the United States in uncut form, partially due to content and partially due to the soundtrack. It’s not a film I recommend to neophytes – you should be able to laugh your way through Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS before even considering this movie. And when you’re done watching it, have a scalding shower ready. You, too, will feel like there’s shit everywhere.