Masseuse (1996): Rub-a-Dub-Dub

Matty gets frisky with Fred Olen Ray’s saucy yet surprisingly dark potboiler.

Produced by Walter Gernert and Andrew W. Garroni’s softcore stable Axis Films International, Friend of the Family (1995) was a big hit on video and cable and turned its star, Shauna O’Brien, into one of T&A cinema’s preeminent steam queens. However, the film was equally important for its co-star, Playboy model Griffin Drew, and distributor, Triboro Entertainment. Encouraged by Drew’s growing popularity among the heavy breathing set — which, in addition to Friend of the Family, was ballooning due to her stint as one of the original hosts of The Playboy Channel’s Night Calls [1] — and wanting to stay in the then-lucrative erotic arena, Triboro requested that producers Royal Oaks and director Fred Olen Ray cast her in their upcoming crotch opera, MASSEUSE (1996). Having forged a good relationship with Triboro — and with Ray having worked with Drew on Dinosaur Island (1994) — Royal Oaks and the helmer obliged. 

The result was another success.

Despite Masseuse initially falling short of Friend of the Family’s profitability upon its U.S. VHS release in January 1996 [2], it did well enough in the long run and on PPV and cable to warrant Royal Oaks assembling a pair of sequels and a spin-off franchise in the form of The Escort (1997) trilogy — which, in a bit of linkage indicative of how both sagas went on to crib footage from each other as they rattled along, was built around O’Brien [3].

As for the film, Masseuse is an arresting number. The first venture to sport his ‘Peter Daniels’ pseudonym, it’s of chief interest to scholars of Ray’s output. Written by frequent collaborator Steve Armogida, Masseuse boasts a similar feeling to his and Ray’s previous epics Bikini Drive-In (1995) and Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold (1995): that of a bunch of pals banding together and putting on a show with the fervour of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. To that end, you get a bunch of Ray stalwarts in front of and behind the camera including: the indomitable Gary Graver on lensing duty (quelle surprise); Peter Miller (Mind Twister (1993), Cyberzone (1995)) editing; welcome appearances from Hoke Howell, Peter Spellos, Brinke Stevens, and John Blythe Barrymore; and amusing cameos from Graver, Jim Wynorski, Brad Linaweaver, T.L. Lankford, Tripp Reed, and Steve Barkett. However, those expecting a wholly jocular romp ought to temper their expectations. Masseuse isn’t without a sense of humour (few Ray movies are), and there’s more bare flesh and simulated scuttling than a pause button is good for, but it’s certainly darker than its cheeky, oil-slathered hook — which doesn’t really factor until the hour mark, anyway — suggests.

Though not his most stylish picture, Ray delivers the meat and potatoes with an efficiency matched by the film’s fat free technical credentials. The crux of Masseuse’s surprisingly weighty drama rests upon the disintegration of a relationship — nice girl Kristy (the stunning Drew) and her slimeball fiancé Jack (Tim Abell) — and houses a few intelligent pokes at the nature of fragile men who use and abuse. Armogida’s dialogue and his embezzlement subplot are undercooked, but, in a creative touch that atones for such shortcomings, he and Ray ensure that each of Masseuse’s starlets get a suitably spicy sex scene in the film’s opening act that underlines their characters’ places within the story. Blind to her hubby-to-be’s flaws, Kristy indulges in a sensual bout of lovemaking before her world comes crashing down, when she spies Jack shagging their harried housekeeper (Amy Rochelle); Jack’s headstrong mistress, Diane (Gail Thackray), is rogered against an office door in a wilful act of faux-submission, prior to proudly joining the sisters-over-misters brigade when she realises that she too is being taken for a ride; and Kristy’s best friend, J.J. (Monique Parent), is a free spirit acutely aware of what a philandering dick Jack is, as exemplified in a moment of erotic fantasy fuelled by the same kind of dream-chasing gusto that she engages her pal with when they start plotting revenge. Naturally, said plan involves Kristy and J.J. setting up a high-class knocking shop. As you do. 

Performances are serviceable. The ladies look divine and equip themselves well with material that’s maybe slightly better in concept than it is in execution, but it’s the ever-excellent Abell who dominates. Nasty and smarmy and oozing raw sexual charisma, he’s a walking hard-on with a hypnotic gaze and a disarming smile, slithering around the place and casually manipulating the women in his life for his own nefarious amusement. Obviously, the coital gymnastics are Masseuse’s reason to be. However, the film is at its best when Ray, a master falconer, lets Abell soar like an eagle on the way to Jack’s inevitable comeuppance — the ‘happy ending’ if you will.

[1] Premiering on 25th August 1995, a little over two months after Friend of the Family’s tape debut on 20th June, the sexy phone-in show would go on to run for eleven seasons, wrapping in 2007. Drew presented the first episode with adult actress Juli Ashton. Curiously, the first call they fielded was from O.J. Simpson associate Kato Kaelin, then approximately fourteen minutes into his fifteen minutes of fame.
[2] As an aside, Masseuse landed on video store shelves just as Friend of the Family began making the rounds on cable as ‘Elke’s Erotic Nights’.
[3] Indeed, there’s an entire string of Royal Oaks programmers/erotics that the Masseuse and Escort follow-ups twist into a multiverse of sorts. In addition to the later Masseuse and Escort flicks interpolating scenes from them as part of their own narratives, they’re all connected by either: the talents of Ray, Jim Wynorski, Gary Graver or a mixture of any two of them; shared cast members; or the presence of Ross Hagen’s grinning detective character, Crank Gabovsky. The films are: Virtual Desire (1995), Over the Wire (1996), Night Shade (1996), Fugitive Rage (1996), Sexual Roulette (1997), and, of course, the Masseuse and Escort trilogies. To further muddy the waters, Royal Oaks, Ray and O’Brien also made an erotic thriller called Passionate Revenge (1996) which Triboro released as ‘Friend of the Family II’ and its British distro, Third Millennium, issued on tape and DVD as ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ in order to evoke Royal Oaks’ [A Woman] Scorned 1 (1993) and 2 (1997). Incidentally, Third Millennium distributed Virtual Desire as ‘Illicit Dreams 3’; nudged out Masseuse as ‘American Masseuse’; unleashed Masseuse 2 (1997) as ‘Black Stocking Diary’; and rebranded Masseuse III (1998) — yep — ‘Hell Hath No Fury 2’. To cap off the confusion, Masseuse’s exec producer, Alan B. Bursteen, flirted with the idea of titling the film ‘Masseuse: Part II’ despite there being no ‘Masseuse: Part I’ at the time. His reason? Sequels were selling.

2 thoughts on “Masseuse (1996): Rub-a-Dub-Dub

  1. Hey there, Matty…You asked me if I was thinking about getting the band back together again, and while that answer turned out to be no I kind of pulled a “David Coverdale” and got another band to play with. A preview for a video project I’m working on just appeared on YouTube this morning. It’s called THE PROTECTOR and it’s on Byron Rodgers’ YouTube channel. He’s a professional executive protection specialist and has his own company called Bravo Research Group. While these scenarios may be fictional, the tactics and techniques used in the video are authentic and everything was done for real. I play a mysterious client who is being blackmailed by the cartel for dubious reasons. It’s only a brief trailer at this time, but the final video is 8 1/2 minutes long. It should be out in a week or so. Thought you might get a kick out of this.

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    1. Hey, Shawn. Thanks for the heads up — and having watched it, you can colour both me and my Schlock Pit co-compadre, Dave, excited. It’s great to see you back in action territory again! I’ve shared the trailer on our FB. Hope you don’t mind.

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