Dave looks at Gary Graver’s final directorial outing and catches up with its writer, C. Courtney Joyner.
“Gary was a B-movie icon,” recalls screenwriter and author C. Courtney Joyner. “I’m very pleased that our paths crossed more than once, and that our names were paired on these fun, inconsequential movies that were made for late-night popcorn munching and six-pack downing”.
The films that Joyner is referring to are those of Surrender Cinema, the softcore sub-label of Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures.
Band had always flirted with titillation. Back in the day he produced the Michael Pataki-directed yarn The Other Cinderella (1977) as well as Harry Hurwitz’s ribald romp Adult Fairy Tales (1978) a year later. By the early ‘90s, the maverick movie-man felt the demand was there to establish a division that would cater to an adult audience, and with David DeCoteau’s Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000 (1994), Torchlight Entertainment was born.
It was a moderate success, but in the wake of Full Moon’s messy divorce from distributor Paramount, its lack of profitability ultimately saw its premature demise. However, Charlie wasn’t done with sultry stimulation just yet, and with the help of music mogul Pat Siciliano, Surrender Cinema was born.
“Siciliano was initially brought in to the Full Moon fold as a music supervisor to handle Moonstone Records, which was their own label,” wrote our co-author, Torsten Dewi, in the peerless Full Moon bible, It Came from the Video Aisle. “Since he also had a working relationship with the people at Penthouse, Siciliano soon took an interest in the early softcore output at Full Moon and swiftly identified its main flaw – Charles Band’s reluctance to go all in.” 
With a solid distribution deal in place with German pay TV giant The Kirch Group, and Cinemax waiting in the wings to snag the fruits of this new venture, Siciliano’s mission was to bring the sex into focus and leave the story on the periphery.
Virtual Encounters (1996) got this new endeavour up and running, and Surrender would go on to pump out in excess of thirty pictures before the dust had settled on the new Millennium. Although the majority remain formulaic and a little forgettable, the highlights remain the few where the mainstream Full Moon creatives have snuck in under the cloak of a pseudonym, and that certainly applies to those scripted by ‘Earl Kenton’ – aka C. Courtney Joyner.
In terms of Gary Graver, the fact that we’re talking softcore, 35mm and five day shoots is enough information to assume he’d be present. The more pressing query is the surprise that he’d never crossed paths with Charles Band over the quarter of a century that preceded him setting up the shots on Femalien 2 (1998). Nevertheless, he made up for it with typical breakneck pace, lensing ten Surrender movies between 1998 and 2001, and it’s here that Joyner and Graver would share credit space on Hidden Beauties (1999), Shandra: The Jungle Girl (1999), Diary of Lust (2000), and most interestingly, the only film that Graver would direct for Band, VERONICA 2030 (1999).
In the year 2030, after three years in development, Dr Felix Flankton (E.R Wolf) and his fellow scientist, Maxine (Playboy girl Stephanee LaFleur in her debut feature), are poised to reveal their latest creation, a fully functional pleasure droid called Veronica (hardcore regular Julia Ann). However, in a bizarre twist of fate, Veronica inadvertently stumbles through a time warp to 1998 where she meets Harry Horner (Joseph Roth), the boss of Harry’s House of Fetish.
With Harry falling head over heels and keen to utilise Veronica’s stunning looks to help revitalise his ailing business, it’s not long before they catch the eye of sworn rival Camilla Likenthrow (Nikki Fritz), who’s quick to lure this blonde bombshell into being the poster girl for Camilla’s House of Pain and Pleasure. Thankfully Dr. Flankton and Maxine are about to beam in from the future, and with the help of loveable nerd Harry, they set out to retrieve their invention from the clutches of the scheming seductress.
“I always thought that the director of Veronica 2030 was one of the Surrender writers who they’d asked to direct,” ponders Joyner. “I’d had no idea that Gary took over. I do remember there being an earlier problem though. Just for fun I’d named a number of the parts after characters in Mad Monster Party (1967), except for our gorgeous robot who was then called Veronique. I was given that name on a brief idea sheet, and I dashed out the script concerning the love robot and all the folks who follow her erotic path.”
“Now, one Saturday I got a call from Pat Sicilano regarding a name change because one of the actresses they hired couldn’t pronounce Veronique, and kept saying ‘Veroni-cue’. This was causing retakes and eating lots of time, but I had no issue with them changing the name to Veronica. I don’t think Gary had stepped in at this early stage, and I didn’t find out until quite some time afterwards when the VHS was eventually released.”
Whatever the circumstances in regard to taking over the reins of the picture, it’s clear from the outset that this was shot with Graver’s eye. As per usual, his camera never stops moving during any level of intimacy, which elevates the film away from the mundanity of its static contemporaries. With most interiors confined to a frugally dressed set, he’s able to make each individual set-up richer and more visually appealing than he has any right to. A brief foray into Camilla’s window-fenced boudoir is his sole opportunity to inject some real flair into the piece, and a lush sex scene between Veronica and Camilla is the carnal highlight of the movie: bright, colourful and impeccably lit (Graver’s son, Chris, is credited as the film’s lighting director).
Irrespective of Graver’s visuals, he’s given a treat of a script from Joyner that is genuinely funny. The best lines are shared between the two protagonists, as comic book geek Harry bemoans his lack of finances (“We’re in debt up to our bondage masks”) and the villainous Camilla attempts to pair her driver up with Veronica (“Take a look at my chauffeur. He’s young, dumb and full of… you’ll see for yourself”).
Veronica 2030 probably seems like a tiny-fonted footnote to a remarkable directing career; a near-anonymous feature from which to lay his megaphone to rest.
On the contrary, it seems quite apt:
Graver’s career had finally come full circle.
From starting out on whistle-stop sexploitation quickies, through to big budget porn, jobs for Paul Bartel, Curtis Harrington and Tobe Hooper, and then gently ending where it all began.
What a ride.
 It Came from the Video Aisle, by Dave Jay, William Wilson, Torsten Dewi, Matty Budrewicz, Dave Wain et al. Schiffer Publishing. 2017