Suzie Superstar (1983)
Directed by Robert McCallum
Starring Shauna Grant, John Leslie, Joey Silvera
This review is Part Three in our look at the life and career of Shauna Grant.
Less than a year after ditching Minnesota for the bright lights of the big city, Shauna Grant was already one of the biggest stars in the X-rated film industry. While other future superstars toiled away in shot-on-video stinkers or as anonymous orgy-fodder, Shauna Grant went from ingénue (THE YOUNG LIKE IT HOT) to full-fledged screen queen virtually overnight. Film after film was churned out to exploit her appeal, including award winners VIRGINIA and GLITTER (both 1983).
Was it dramatic ability or enthusiastic copulating that shot her to the top? Truthfully, no. Grant occasionally looks ill-at-ease before the cameras, and many times seems to be somewhere else entirely when in the midst of a sex scene. Yet, she had a certain indescribable something that made her insanely watchable. A girl-next-door vulnerability, bubbling just underneath a naive ambition, made you want to both root for her and protect her. Like Marilyn Monroe, one gets the sense that Grant’s brassy, painted lady film image was a mask worn by a little girl who just wanted to be somebody. In her short life, she accomplished this goal. More than 30 years after she left this world, she is still a star.
SUZIE SUPERSTAR stands as one of Grant’s most successful vehicles and is in many ways the quintessential 80’s shot-on-film adult outing. The direction and cinematography by Robert McCallum are on point, the cast is a who’s who of the era, the storyline holds interest, and the sex scenes are shot with pizzazz. Throw in some daffy rock numbers, a surprisingly-effective ballad, a couple of good performances, and you’ve got a decent evening’s entertainment on your hands.
Suzie Mitchell (Shauna Grant) and her band are riding high, thanks to the unscrupulous methods of their money-grubbing manager Z.W. McCain (John Leslie). Money and fame are all very well, but having their lives micromanaged by a tight-fisted handler is not the sort of price the band is willing to pay for success. Their contract is air-tight, and it seems as if they’re stuck. However, when Suzie spies on McCain frolicking with a crime boss’ daughter (Laura Lazarre, BEHIND THE SCENES OF AN ADULT MOVIE), she hatches a plan to dump their manager and take control of her own destiny.
SUZIE SUPERSTAR was a tremendous success upon its release, and it is easy to see why. It certainly is ambitious with its large cast, location shooting, and original songs. Among the A-listers joining Grant was the ubiquitous Ron Jeremy who would win a nod from the AFAA for Best Supporting Actor. The film itself took the top spot at the Adam Film Awards. Shauna Grant would get a nomination for Best Actress, though she would not take home the prize.
The director, the utterly-unique Robert McCallum, stands out in an industry filled with colorful characters. While many directors ventured into adult films to get their foot in the door and launch a legitimate film career, McCallum already had one. Born Gary Graver, he began as a cinematographer, lensing such dubious B-classics such as giant-gorilla opus THE MIGHTY GORGA and the Al Adamson sickie SATAN’S SADISTS (both 1969). Graver would soon set his sights higher and make an uninvited call to Orson Welles. His chutzpah paid off, and Graver would work alongside Welles on F IS FOR FAKE (1972) and FILMING OTHELLO (1978). Most importantly, Graver would have a hand in Welles’ infamously unfinished THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, which finally attained release 12 years after Graver’s death in 2006.
Despite the Wellesian pedigree, Graver toiled away for many years on B-Movies for Roger Corman and Fred Olen Ray. This unusual career trajectory made Graver one of the most qualified of adult film directors. He could turn out a well-shot, well-performed film on time and on budget. Among his lengthy résumé, you’ll find adult classics such as 3 AM (1975), THE ECSTASY GIRLS (1979), AMANDA BY NIGHT (1981), TRINITY BROWN (1984), and TOWER OF POWER (1985). Graver utilizes his considerable talents to make SUZIE SUPERSTAR into a much bigger film than it otherwise might have been in the hands of a less accomplished director.
Unusual for an adult film, even in the big-budget days before the video boom, SUZIE SUPERSTAR delights with an abundance of location footage. Much of the action…and the sex…plays out in fancy houses, on lush patios, at glittering theaters, and in expensive cars. Even the studio-bound scenes, such as the performances by Suzie and her band, are shot in a way that barely betrays the fact that there is actually no audience. Graver effectively uses crowd sounds and careful camera work in a way that viewers won’t notice that Suzie’s throngs of fans are but a cheat of the Foley Artist.
SUZIE SUPERSTAR is filled to the brim with original tunes in it’s AFAA award-winning score. While they are somewhat generic, the songs are effective within the walls of the film. Shauna Grant’s lip-synching leaves quite a lot to be desired, but she’s just so damn adorable and the camera is so in love with her, it really doesn’t matter. A couple of the songs do stand out from the herd. A sweet ballad between the characters of Suzie and Rick (Joey Silvera, THE YOUNG LIKE IT HOT) is a nice break from the cooing and gyrating of the on-stage rock numbers, and a country ditty mimed by Sharon Mitchell’s character Opal sets the scene quite nicely in a dive bar towards the end of the film. As goofy as the rock songs are, I caught myself singing one of them to myself at the grocery store days later, so I guess they had their intended effect!
The aforementioned ballad brings a few moments of sweetness to this bump-n-grinder. Finally having enough of of the machinations of lover/manager Z.W. McCain, Suzie runs into the arms of her bandmate Rick. The scene is well-acted, and it’s easy to infer that these two have not only a long-standing friendship, but a long-unspoken attraction to each other. Grant comes out of her shell here, acting with her eyes rather than through wobbly dialog. Silvera’s understated approach, and Grant’s obvious affection for him, no doubt contribute to her ease. It is a short, sweet, organic scene.
You can sample a few of these songs in the video below, the review continues beneath it.
The plot of SUZIE SUPERSTAR is wafer-thin, and McCallum struggles a bit to spread it out into an 87-minute feature. The story is told episodically, one scene occasionally not feeling related to what came before it. That doesn’t damage the enjoyment of the audience, as none of us are here expecting CASABLANCA-level storytelling. Those of us who spend a lot of time with adult films have mastered the knack of managing our expectations. The only real problem with SUZIE SUPERSTAR is that while it is undeniably intended as a vehicle for Shauna Grant, the film kind of forgets about her when she’s not on-screen. When we don’t actually see Suzie plotting to topple her manager, the film seems to veer off.
While this may be a failing of the narrative, it could also be because Grant shares the film with so many big names; long-time adult film favorites with the screen confidence our leading lady sometimes lacks. Strong personalities pepper the film, even in the smaller roles; including Laurie Smith (THE YOUNG LIKE IT HOT), Tara Aire, Jon Martin (HOT LEGS), Gail Sterling, Mai Lin, Laura Lazarre, and undisputed legend Sharon Mitchell (WANDA WHIPS WALL STREET). The familiar faces of Aaron Stuart (VISTA VALLEY P.T.A.), Ken Scudder (EASY), and Tigr (NOTHING TO HIDE) also turn up in non-sex bit parts.
Most of the non-Suzie scenes are simply to remind us what a snake Leslie’s Z.W. McCain is as he beds and discards the majority of the female cast. He goes from woman to woman with a sneer of deep disinterest in anything other than their naughty bits. Z.W. is a lot like John Leslie’s most famous character, Jack in the Talk Dirty To Me franchise, though with a goofier wardrobe. As in the Talk Dirty films, Leslie is the film’s sexual motor, appearing in half of the film’s eight sex scenes.
The film makes up for it’s disjointed plot with an abundance of heated trysts that don’t just pad out the narrative, they advance it. Grant does her best acting in a sex scene with John Leslie, a “grudge-fuck” that is the culmination of Suzie’s slow-burning fallout with her lover/manager. Where Grant would often be accused of being a less-than-enthusiastic sex partner on screen, she can’t be so accused here. Perhaps it’s because the scene gives her character some motivation? Far from a wet fish, Shauna Grant is uncharacteristically aggressive, even slapping John Leslie’s chops in a way that seems like an unscripted bit of spontaneity.
With the exception of a limousine-bound threesome that goes on far too long, the erotic scenes are enjoyable. While nothing particularly kinky happens in SUZIE, the cast shows enthusiasm for the task at hand and manages to generate a lot of passion. The story doesn’t grind to a halt for the sake of the grinding, either. A two pairings between John Leslie and Laura Lazarre as a mob boss’ repressed, buttoned-up daughter give us some great character moments.
Lazarre’s Priscilla wants to book Suzie’s band for her father’s birthday. Smelling a conquest, McCain asks for an obscene amount of money…and a few party favors. It’s all in Lazarre’s eyes that we see for Priscilla this is a way for her to shed her good girl pretensions and give in to her physical needs. These two sex scenes are among the best of the film. Their forbidden trysts also give Suzie the ammo needed to get out and get even once and for all.
With a great cast, cool tunes and hot sex, McCallum doubtlessly knew he had a hit on his hands. He deftly sets up a sequel by introducing Sharon Mitchell as blousy country-crossover starlet as the film unspools to its conclusion. McCain, utterly defeated by Suzie, doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson. He puts the moves on Opal who lets him knows who’s boss. She slaps him across the face, then they both strip off for a torrid shower romp where Opal and Z.W. both give as good as they get. Will she be the next big McCain discovery?
This denouement promised a sequel, and a sequel did obligingly appear. Three, in fact. By the time SUZIE SUPERSTAR 2 came along in 1985, Grant had left this plane, and Mitchell must have been doing other things because neither would appear. Instead, McCain discovers and un-covers not one, but two Suzies: Traci Lords and Ginger Lynn. The film was another hit, but would not have the shelf-life of the original. Less than a year after release, SUZIE SUPERSTAR 2 would be yanked from screens when it was revealed that Lords was underage when the sequel was filmed. Enter SUZIE SUPERSTAR…THE SEARCH CONTINUES (1988), starring Jamie Gillis and Sharon Kane, which became the de facto second chapter. The search would conclude with with the Aja-led SUZIE SUPERSTAR 3 in 1989.
SUZIE SUPERSTAR is more of a enjoyable blockbuster than a great film. It’s fun from start to finish, has a ball with an attractive cast having it off, and tops it all off with some hum-able tunes. For a good time…call SUZIE! RECOMMENDED.
PART ONE Introduction
PART TWO The Young Like It Hot
PART THREE Suzie Superstar
PART FOUR Glitter
PART FIVE Frontline: Death of a Porn Queen (Coming Soon)
PART SIX Shauna, Every Man’s Fantasy (Coming Soon)
PART SEVEN Shattered Innocence (Coming Soon)