OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Orson Welles. Martin Scorsese. D.W. Griffith. Andrei Tarkovsky. David DeCoteau. Which of these things is not like the other?

David DeCoteau is the kind of film director who isn’t ever likely to get written up in a textbook on the history of cinema, or to have his films released in limited edition DVDs from the Criterion Collection. He is, like Joseph Sargent, a “workhorse” director–one of the industry stalwarts who works a lot, usually in low-budget features, but who can at least be counted on to get the job done. If you look at Mr. DeCoteau’s IMDB sheet, you’ll see his film credits are a mile long. Most of the movies he’s made don’t sound like they’re going to win any awards, with titles like Creepozoids and Beach Babes From Beyond. He specializes in low budget horror and exploitation films.

But, in his own way, David DeCoteau is a sort of auteur. Some of his movies have a certain…well, shall we say, a quality about them that’s unusual than other low-budget horror films. Check out this trailer from his 2010 film 1313: Giant Killer Bees.

Notice anything, er…different? That the movie, ostensibly a monster flick about (predictably) giant killer bees, seems inordinately preoccupied with attractive young men in their underwear?

Yeah. You’re not imagining that. Here’s the trailer from one of his more famous films, the 2000 magnum opus Voodoo Academy, which spawned a sequel in 2012.

Oh, and about that sequel? Here’s the trailer for that.

So, you see what’s going on here. None of these films are pornographic. They’re not even particularly explicit. They’re all pretty much like the trailers: cheesy effects, hackneyed storylines, ropey dialogue, and lots and lots of attractive young guys in their underwear.

Although at first glance it’s not clear exactly who these films are aimed at–gay men? teenage girls? desperate housewives?–what is clear is that DeCoteau, who is actually a pretty talented filmmaker, knows exactly what he’s doing. I found it very interesting to learn that DeCoteau’s mentor in the film business was classic B movie producer/director Roger Corman, and if you watch a few of DeCoteau’s movies–Leeches! for instance, which is one of my favorites–you’ll definitely see a strong Corman-esque influence. These movies, cheesy as they are, are actually pretty well put together. Dialogue may be terrible and special effects courtesy of Mac Book Pro, but for what they are, these homoerotic horror films usually deliver 100% of what they promise.

I’ve heard David DeCoteau denounced as a “bad” director, and compared to Ed Wood, Phil Tucker or other legendary crash-and-burn directors over the years. I think those comparisons are totally off base. Ed Wood’s movies were so bad because he was incompetent, but he was famous because he didn’t know he was incompetent, and probably wouldn’t have cared. Take a bad movie made by a really good director–Heaven’s Gate, for instance–and you see the opposite effect: a movie that is technically brilliant, but utterly awful precisely because of the competence of its filmmakers. Heaven’s Gate is a bad film, but it’s an extremely well-made bad film, although its creators were under the impression they were making Citizen Kane.

You can’t say that about Leeches! or Voodoo Academy. Look, no one pretends these movies are going to win any awards. But for what they are, they’re pretty well done. And you can see David DeCoteau’s expertise as a filmmaker in fascinating interviews like this one, where he dissects a trailer from a famous 70s horror film:

As for the young guys in underwear caressing themselves, I think that’s the key to the whole thing. Here are movies whose plots or characters usually have nothing to do with homosexuality. Leeches! is a classic ’50s-style monster movie. Yet David DeCoteau is thought of as an important LGBT director–even though he doesn’t make “gay” movies in the sense of, movies dealing with gay themes. The brilliance of that! The subtlety of that! Who but a very skilled director can take a hokey script for a movie about rubber leeches killing people and turn it into a bold stroke for LGBT cinema?

David DeCoteau can.

And you have to admit, some of the guys in his films are pretty hunky!