Classic Florida Literature: On the Novelization of Porky’s II: The Next Day

 
ADVERTISEMENT
 

Sean Gill

 

There were three Porky’s films made between 1981 and 1985, and though each successive feature met with diminishing ticket sales, lagging public attention, and withering critical esteem, the first Porky’s (1981)—a slice of bawdy, teenage trash from Bob Clark (the director of 1983’s A Christmas Story)—was a genuine cultural phenomenon. It made more money at the box office than Blade Runner, The Dark Crystal, and the Best Picture–winning Chariots of Fire combined. For decades, it was the highest grossing Canadian film of all time. There was even an Atari video game adaptation, marketed alongside mainstream fare like E.T. and Star Wars. The film may have cribbed its wistful 1950s inspiration from American Graffiti (1973) and Grease (1978), but in the end, it has far more in common with its many imitators and descendants, such as American Pie (1999), Revenge of the Nerds (1984), or Private Resort (1985), most of which have aged about as well as the Salem witch trials. If you know about the Porky’s franchise at all, you likely remember it as a nostalgia-driven ’80s teen sex comedy whose cultural notoriety centers around a peephole in a girls’ locker room. Actually, the phenomenon is a lot stranger than that.

To truly appreciate Porky’s, it must be considered as literature. And so I find myself confronted with an objet d’pop culture whose audience and purpose are unclear to me. Is it possible there is a literary artifact less deserving of our attention than the novelization of Porky’s II: The Next Day?

 

“To truly appreciate Porky’s, it must be considered as literature.”

 

Before I can even attempt to wrangle with the questions that this novel provokes, I must address a moment from the first Porky’s film which has haunted me over the years.

Some background: the A-plot of the first Porky’s follows a prank-obsessed gang of pubescent, Floridian boys (portrayed by men in their late twenties) who feud with Porky (Chuck Mitchell), the hateful proprietor of a backwoods bordello who enjoys a cozy relationship with local law enforcement. The most iconic of the many B-plots is about the gang’s discovery of a peephole in the girl’s shower, turned into an impromptu glory hole by Tommy (Wyatt Knight), who wags his disembodied genitalia at a room of naked teenagers. Coach Balbricker (Nancy Parsons), who is portrayed cartoonishly as a crusading, unfeminine “battle-ax,” thwarts Tommy’s plans by grabbing his invasive penis until the authorities can arrive. Tommy squirms away and escapes, but not before Balbricker notices a distinctive “watermelon seed-sized” mole by which the offender might be identified (Tommy should probably get that looked at). Because Tommy and “the gang” have been hassling Balbricker for the entire movie, she already has a pretty good idea of who is responsible. She goes to the high school principal (Eric Christmas), who hauls Tommy, his co-conspirator Pee Wee (Dan Monahan), and Balbricker’s coworker Coach Goodenough (Bill Hindman) into his office. What follows is an unscored dialogue scene, shot as a single take. Its stark and unusual presentation helps it stand out as perhaps the most significant scene in the film.

In a room full of men, Balbricker pleads her case against Tommy, who is—at the very least—guilty of sexual assault. Because the penis in question is so distinctive, she proposes an anonymous genital lineup so that the offender can be identified and punished. At this, the boys begin giggling. “What are you going to do about it?” begs Balbricker. Even Coach Goodenough joins in on the cruel laughter. For more than three full minutes, the boys and their sympathetic male coach writhe and snicker and bite their knuckles while Balbricker calls for accountability with mounting desperation. Finally, the principal himself can’t hold back any longer, and he, too, erupts in laughter, prompting the swift and mortified exit of Balbricker. For twenty more excruciating seconds, the men laugh themselves red in the face as the camera slowly zooms in on a portrait of President Eisenhower wearing a smile which, in this context, seems to connote lechery and endorsement. The message seems clear: this boys’ club is protected from the very top.

While the YouTube comments suggest that this scene is considered hilarious ("Anytime I’m in a bad mood and need a good laugh I come back to this clip LOL,” “One of the funniest movie scenes I have ever saw,” “God, I wish I could have watched this scene in theaters. The mass laughing must have been like heaven,” “Even the picture of Eisenhower finds it humorous lmao,” etc.), I find the more than three minutes of forced, mean-spirited laughter––without any music or edits to soften the unease––to have an unsettling, distancing effect, as if initially daring the audience to partake in casual misogyny and then instilling a discomfort and guilt by association as it drags on. Three minutes are considered an eternity in unedited screen time. Could it be possible that writer/director Bob Clark is taking a moment to show true ugliness here, advancing a more enlightened point of view?

As far as I can tell, no one asked Clark about his intentions for this shot before he died in 2007, though shortly before his death he did tell the website Canuxploitation,“It's not the women who are the subject of ridicule in Porky's, not at all! It's continually the men who [are] made to be fools, while the girls are allowed to express their sexuality.” While I treat this claim with major skepticism (currently, the Blu-ray of Porky’s is sold with the tagline “It’s a HOLE new way to get GIRLS!”), perhaps it is worth bearing this authorial declaration in mind as I examine the jaw-dropping, inconsistent, but oddly relevant values on display in Porky’s II: The Next Day.

 
 

The novelization of Porky’s II was written by the American author Don Pendleton (under the pseudonym Ron Renauld), a WWII veteran best known for writing nearly forty novels in the Mack Bolan series (described as “James Bond meets Mike Hammer”). The novel was based on a screenplay written by Bob Clark, Roger E. Swaybill, and Alan Ormsby, and it follows the script quite closely, though it is far more coherently structured than the final cut of the film. Mainly, it is told from a third-person limited perspective, focusing on the character of Pee Wee (as if the ensemble storytelling of American Graffiti was told from Toad’s point of view, or The Breakfast Club from the perspective of Brian “the Brain” Johnson), though it somewhat lazily dips into third-person omniscient whenever it’s adapting a scene where Pee Wee is not present. For instance, the only time we’re privy to any female point of view is when a nude woman sits up alone in a graveyard, having pulled a prank on the teen boys who presumed her dead.

The prose itself is uninspired, with Pendleton drawing directly from the screenplay wherever he can, though there are a few passing moments where some actual effort appears to have been made: a dream sequence here, a description of a traveling carnival there, the history of the Angel Beach graveyard. Pendleton uses “undulating” to describe the female form more than once, and the phrase “shit-eating grin” pops up with enough frequency as to become distracting. The most colorful turns-of-phrase draw strained inspiration from hardboiled detective fiction, though these are more in the vein of Mickey Spillane than Raymond Chandler (“her lips looked like fornicating tomato slices”). The influence becomes even more clear when Spillane’s My Gun Is Quick is referenced as a character’s favorite book.

It is difficult to describe succinctly the plot of any entry in the Porky’s saga. Each one is a dog’s breakfast of one-off gags, semi-motivated pranks, and sexual conquests. In the first Porky’s, the most narrative attention is paid to the boys’ feud with Porky and the eventual dynamiting and complete destruction of his swamp bordello. However, the true essence of Porky’s II: The Next Day is even tougher to parse. As its various plots dovetail, it becomes primarily a saga about a battle between the familiar high school gang of friends and an unholy alliance of corrupt politicians, a megachurch called The Righteous Flock, and the Ku Klux Klan (!). There is an essential cognitive dissonance created when chapters like “The Master Baiter Lays a Trap” feature a daydream about putting a glory hole on stage in the school auditorium (so that female performers will accidentally fall onto a penis while doing splits) yet also feature startlingly canny insights into the darkest drivers of contemporary political thought.

There are many subplots in the novelization of Porky’s II: The Next Day, several of which do not appear in the finished film. True to its “next day” moniker, Balbricker is still on the hunt for Tommy’s deplorable penis, and she enlists a photography nerd to snap a photo vindicating her suspicions––an assignment which leads to several homophobic punchlines. Balbricker’s regimented digestive schedule is discussed entirely as a setup for a prank, so Tommy knows precisely what time to insert a snake into the school plumbing to ambush her on the toilet.

 
 

In another B-plot, Pee Wee—having just lost his virginity to his new and notorious girlfriend Wendy (Kaki Hunter, in the film)—is tasked by the gang with organizing an orgy. The gag is that whenever Pee Wee inquires about women who might be enthusiastic about group sex, their only recommendation is always his girlfriend (Wendy is later given a single scene to speak frankly about slut-shaming and sexual agency, but this is not enough to make up for the earlier unrepentant misogyny). Ultimately, Pee Wee decides to prank his friends by hiring a carny / donkey show participant named Sandra Le Toi (Cisse Cameron) to impersonate “Graveyard Gloria,” a fictitious, buttoned-up librarian who goes full-Messalina when in the proximity of a cemetery. The prank is that Pee Wee’s friend Steve (Rod Ball) will dress as a ghoul and scare the rest of the gang as they’re stripping down in the graveyard for group sex. However, the gang catches wind of the plan and also hires Sandra to fake her death, mid-prank, to therefore frighten Pee Wee, who will believe that she has actually had a heart attack. Finally, to complete this true Matryoshka doll of sex pranks, Sandra recruits local yokels with shotguns to impersonate cemetery security and chase away the entire gang, so that everyone gets pranked in the end.

I hope I have established the general, swirly-eyed nonsense which defines the alleyways and back roads of Porky’s II: The Next Day. However, the A-plot of Porky’s II is about Angel Beach High School’s production of An Evening of Shakespeare, a collection of the Bard’s greatest scenes, from Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear.

As you might expect, much groan-inducing low comedy is generated from the spectacle of men in tights, the use of the word “fairy” in Midsummer, the homoeroticism in the Mechanicals’ performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, and Macduff wielding a mannequin leg instead of a sword during a climactic duel. It is here that the story introduces the character of John Henry Jumper (Joseph Runningfox), a boy from the local Seminole reservation. Out of the entire school, he is the only student with a natural aptitude for acting, and he is therefore cast as Romeo, Macduff, and Laertes, among others. It is a stage kiss between John Henry and Wendy (as Romeo and Juliet) which triggers the central conflict.

Word of the interracial kiss filters into the Angel Beach community, and soon the school is being protested by local megachurch Reverend Bubba Flavel (Bill Wiley) and his Righteous Flock (names chosen solely so that there can be cringey jokes about “Bubble Flavor” and getting “the flock out of here!”). They believe Shakespeare is licentious and a “perverted poet,” whose words are grooming Angel Beach’s children for obscenity, a familiar argument that immediately reminds us that Porky’s II is set in Florida, the current nucleus of “Don’t Say Gay,” book-banning, and anti–critical race theory legislation. The principal defends Shakespeare, engaging in a freestyle battle with the Reverend, each of them respectively quoting the dirtiest bits of Shakespeare and the Bible at one another while a crowd of students wolf-whistle and applaud. The matter is considered closed—until the local chapter of the KKK gets involved.

 

John Henry Jumper is hung in effigy by the Klan on school grounds (“They like to do this sort of thing once in a while. Reinforces their masculinity. Or so they think”). When he refuses to quit the play, he is kidnapped by Klansmen (including Porky) who beat him nearly to death, shave his head (“A white man’s notion of scalping, I assume”) and burn crosses on the Seminole reservation. At this point, the reader would be forgiven for any psychic whiplash, as the condemnation of vicious hate crimes is interwoven with snakes-in-the-toilet, stag flicks, and characters named Meat and Pee Wee cracking dick jokes.

All of this re-emboldens Flavel and the Righteous Flock, who, with Balbricker among their ranks, storms An Evening of Shakespeare. They are joined by the KKK and a group of local commissioners up for reelection. The politicians are depicted as the most despicable of all, because they do not even believe in the revanchist nonsense being peddled by the Righteous Flock or the KKK and are simply afraid of losing their votes. In a kind of Liz Cheney moment which feels remarkable and rare in today’s climate, Balbricker breaks ties with the Reverend as he casts his lot in with the Klan:

As the shouting grew more intense, Miss Balbricker elbowed her way toward the reporters gathered around Flavel. Glaring at the Klansmen, she shouted to the reporters, “We disclaim any association with this riff-raff!” She finally made her way to Flavel’s side and appealed to him. “Reverend, tell them they’re not welcome. We don’t want them!”

Flavel shook his head. “We won’t refuse any right-thinking, God-fearing Americans, Sister Balbricker.”

“But this is the Klan,” Miss Balbricker beseeched him. “Cowards and trash…”

“Sister, I can’t be bothered with this,” Flavel said impatiently. “We’ve got the Lord’s work to do!”

 

With the play cancelled by the politicians, the gang—who has now inducted John Henry into their ranks—wants revenge. Because every problem in the Porky’s universe can be solved with pranks, a three-pronged, convoluted master prank is developed to destroy their reactionary enemies. The politicians, who have demonstrated their cowardice, meet weekly to watch pornographic movies (furnished by Reverend Flavel) in the basement of the municipal building, so the gang eavesdrops and records their spirited and masturbatory commentary for later use. Wendy accepts a dinner invite from their leader, Commissioner Gebhardt (Edward Winter), who, like a certain Florida representative, has recently been publicly accused of sexually trafficking minors. Wendy arrives at “the fanciest restaurant in the state,” pretending to be drunk and wearing an elaborate apparatus capable of spewing fake vomit through hole in her bra (whatever you’re imagining, it makes even less sense). She publicly announces that she's seventeen, accuses Gebhardt of fathering her (fictitious) child, spews the fake vomit, and Pee Wee photographs the humiliated and dripping Gebhardt for the newspapers, immediately destroying his political career (if only it were so easy today).

Meanwhile, during a joint rally between the KKK and Righteous Flock, the gang tricks the Klan into entering a darkened gymnasium. When the lights come up, the KKK find themselves surrounded by three hundred disgruntled Seminoles. Having thusly intimidated the Klansmen into surrender, the gang forces them, including Porky, to strip naked (though he is a primary antagonist in the novelization, Porky himself does not appear in the second film to bear his name—this was because the actor, Chuck Mitchell, refused to do the requisite nudity). Their heads are then shaved by an izmel-wielding Brian Schwartz (Scott Colomby, the only Jewish kid in the gang) who uses a ritual circumcision knife misidentified as a “zemel” in the text.

The confusing collision of racist and antiracist tropes continues. The Seminoles beat the naked Klansmen with tomahawk handles and send them squealing into Flavel’s big rally, whereupon the gang plays the commissioners’ pornographic commentary over the loudspeaker system. The reactionaries are publicly discredited. The gang plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” to commemorate their victory and the nude KKK members—who would otherwise prefer to flee—must stand at attention because . . . they still respect the flag? Porky vows revenge, thus setting up the final installment of the trilogy, Porky’s III: Porky’s Revenge.

 

All of this still feels relevant today, however distasteful it may be. The teenage misdeeds of a keg-pounding judge with friends named “Moose” and “Squee” were the subject of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. A bratty Porky’s character occupied the Oval Office, using the vernacular of 1950s bullies at his freewheeling Presidential rallies. In this post-Roe world, it often feels as if the Sons of Porky’s have inherited the Earth. They walk the corridors of power, clog our airwaves, peddle their snake oil, and bemoan their mistreatment from the safety of country clubs and private jets. They continue to bully us with impunity, announcing their ill intentions publicly to cheering crowds. However, in consulting the text, we see that at least the actual Porky’s gang knew what to do when it encountered fascists and Klansmen. And I think that's what’s behind a troubling feeling that I can’t quite shake: that Porky’s II: The Next Day might possibly be on the right side of history. There are modern political thinkers who might even benefit from the slight moral instruction that Porky's II could provide.

As books in Florida become banned with increasing regularity, it seems clear that Porky's II is a book worth defending—a true classic of Florida literature—that could provide both excitement and instruction for the cretins and hucksters in charge of America’s most confusing state. And who doesn’t like to see themselves reflected in art, displaying the specific values that evidently make Floridians proud: a love for pranks and sex, a hatred for pompousness, and an abiding need for cosmic justice in a world that all-too-often celebrates the worst among us while grinding down the young, stupid, and horny? Perhaps Porky’s II: The Next Day is exactly the book Florida needs right now, the book it most deserves. I await the prestige Disney remake.

 
 

Fall / Winter 2023



Sean Gill

Sean Gill is a Primetime Emmy–nominated writer and filmmaker who won Michigan Quarterly Review’s 2020 Lawrence Prize, Pleiades’ 2019 Gail B. Crump Prize, and the Cincinnati Review’s 2018 Robert and Adele Schiff Award. He has studied with Werner Herzog, documented public defenders for National Geographic, and currently video edits for Netflix’s Queer Eye. Other recent work has been published in the Iowa Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the Threepenny Review, and ZYZZYVA.



support evergreen

 
ADVERTISEMENT