Thursday, April 28, 2011
The Baroness #4: Hard-core Murder
The Baroness #4: Hard-core Murder, by Paul Kenyon
May, 1974 Pocket Books
This is a special volume of the always-fun Baroness series, as it melds three of my favorite genres: men's adventure, trash fiction, and toga porn. It takes a while to get going, but once it does Hard-core Murder proves itself as one of the best installments yet.
The threat this time out isn't as global as in previous volumes; rather, a snuff film has gotten into the underworld which shows a notable D.C. wife having on-screen sex while all sorts of anti-government images flash across the screen. A man in an animal mask takes advantage of the obviously-doped woman in what is intended as a "screw you" message to the Establishment. (What's interesting is this is the same plot as another novel I reviewed here, a few months back: Sexual Strike Force, a 1972 paperback original by Alex Henry. I'm sure "Alex Henry" is just as much a psuedonym as "Paul Kenyon," so were the two one and the same? Or is it just coincidence? Who knows.)
The Baroness is busy frolicking with an Irish filmmaker in Italy when she gets the call. Her assignment is to destroy all copies of this film as well as the people who made and distributed it. Assembling her vast team, she sends each of them off with particular assignments. The Baroness herself will try to infiltrate the world of pornographic films -- presented here as a shadowy racket controlled by the mafia. In fact two rival mob factions are at war to control this arena: the Org and the Syn, and both want ownership of the snuff film. Finally, it develops that the Syn is bankrolling the world's first million-dollar budgeted porn film, and they hire porcine director Sully Flick to helm it. Flick it turns out is the man behind that snuff film, but this is brushed over and it's never satisfactorily explained why he even made it.
The first half of Hard-core Murder focuses on the Baroness's search for existing copies of the film. This volume is unusual in that the graphic sex scenes aren't as freqent and page-consuming. It's a much more plot-heavy affair, but strangely moves slower than the previous books. The Baroness wants an "introduction" into the world of porn-watching and so recruits that very same Irish filmmaker she was boffing back in Italy. The poor sap flies across the world to meet up with her in New York City just so he can escort her to a party in an upscale suite in the downtown area, where a film-world friend of his will be screening a new porn film for his guests.
This turns out to be the snuff film in question, and while the guests are busy getting stoned on grass or wired on cocaine a bunch of mafia thugs bust in and start killing everyone in sight -- including the poor Irish sap. In this way the Baroness proves herself just as dangerous to her acquaintances as any other '70s men's adventure protagonist; and besides it's all kind of stupid as the Baroness, with her global fame and connections, could've easily gotten an invite to the party without the poor guy.
Anyway, this sequence is another of those thrilling Baroness-versus-mobsters scenes which features our girl plummeting out of the highrise building with the aid of a handy spy-fy floating device, only to storm back inside and trap the mobsters in a descending elevator, where she blasts them apart one by one. The scene continues on as the Baroness discovers that another faction of mobsters has escaped with the actual film; she follows them to their film-developing lab and launches a late-night raid on the compound, assisted by a few of her teammates as well as her handler, "Key."
One of the guests at that party was a notorious actor named Mitch (a trash fiction-esque analogue of the young Marlon Brando); sneaking back into the apartment in the battle's aftermath, the Baroness overhears him instructing the party-thrower to call the mafia to clean up the mess. The Baroness realizes then that this guy is her "in" to the porn ring. Conveniently forgetting her dead Irish lover, the Baroness "investigates" the best way she knows how: screwing Mitch silly for a few days.
When Mitch gets a late-night phone call that sends him out, the Baroness figures this is her chance. She follows his car all the way into the Nevada desert. Here Sully Flick is filming his million-dollar porno on the estate of a Howard Hughes-type baron. The place is colossal, with full-scale reproductions of the monuments of ancient Rome: the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, etc. Sully intends to capture the decadence and violence of the Romans: the gladiator combat will be as real as the sex, and he will throw his fake "Christians" to real lions and other trained animals which will tear them to shreds.
As expected The Baroness is captured, and Sully, inspired by her fame and beauty, decides to give her a featured role. Joe Skytop, one of the Baroness's top men, is also here; in a subplot his mission was to get a job as a porn cameraman, and after various trials of his own he too has ended up in Sully's desert funhouse. Kenyon only hints at the bloodshed of the ensuing scenes, where tigers and rams and other beasts rape and eat the extras while a chained "audience" in the Colosseum is forced to cheer.
Finally it's the Baroness's turn, but of course she proves herself more than a match for the various animals Sully sends after her, thanks to a hidden weapon or two. Hard-core Murder also features the longest yet scene of the Baroness fighting nude; indeed she's nude throughout the final quarter of the novel, Kenyon always sure to mention her "bouncing breasts." Once she and Skytop have created a riot by turning Sully's elephants against him, the Baroness chases the director into the desert, where we have a nice scene of our heroine fighting "mano e mano" with an equally-nude foe: the so-called "Iron Man," Sully's well-endowed and muscular leading man.
I preferred the globe-trotting feel of the previous volumes, but Hard-core Murder was still an enjoyable installment of this short-lived series. I also appreciated that less pages were taken up with endless sex scenes, and also the Baroness's teammates were for once given something to do. All told, this is just another 200+ pages of sordid, graphic fun.