an old black-on-white drawing of two men holding anguished their faces
Courtesy Music Box Theatre

J.C. Cricket’s Sex Demon is not for the faint of heart—it’s for the depraved of mind, and Chicago is blessed to have it showing one night only at the Music Box on October 26. In this 1975 porno from the gay underground, John, a demure and understated kind of guy, buys his lover Jim an ostentatious necklace at an antique store on Christopher Street. But when Jim puts it on, he finds himself possessed by a sex-crazed demon who compels him to hit up every cruising spot in town. This evil spirit’s got an insatiable thirst for hot homo fucking . . . and murder! Can Jim be saved? Or will John lose Jim to his newly uncontrollable urges?

While oft billed as the gay Exorcist, about the only thing the two films have in common is a demon and an exorcism. From the 60s through the 80s, porn was the easiest way for gay filmmakers to secure funding for films that represented gay storylines, and piggybacking on popular titles made marketing easier. What Sex Demon is really about is a tension that continues today between polite gays and raging homos.

Throughout the film, Good Gay™ John—who enjoys his quiet life of monogamy and tender hand holding with Jim—insists he doesn’t know the gay clubs or cruising spots. He’s not that kind of gay! Unfortunately, after one trip to Christopher Street, now his lover is. If you don’t know your queer geography, Christopher Street is a famously gay strip of the West Village; in fact, it’s home to the Stonewall Inn and was long a hot spot for gay rights organizing. When Jim puts on John’s Christopher Street gift, he can no longer pass as straight in public; the sheer flamboyance of the piece marks him, and he won’t take it off, even when John asks him to. 

Once possessed, Jim finds a gay go-go bar in the backpages of a newspaper (maybe his favorite alt-weekly?), and Shirley & Company’s “Shame Shame Shame” plays while he has his first anonymous male sexual encounter. Shots of Jim’s bathroom hookup alternate with shots of a man alone simply taking his clothes off onstage. The scene is profound for the way it evokes the shame associated with any kind of homoerotic sexual expression, even imagined or solo play. John eventually learns that, if there’s any hope in saving Jim, he must rely on the couple’s Bad Gay™ friends—you know, the ones who aren’t possessed by demons but still enjoy all the bad gay stuff (glory holes, orgies, etc.) that John has distanced himself from. 

As a sexually explicit camp masterpiece, Sex Demon has it all. The film only runs an hour but manages to deliver some incredibly tender dicksucking and artfully framed fucking. Will you witness a little fisting? Yes! And a wild, glittering orgy, too! At the film’s climax, you’ll also see a screwdriver jammed in a most sensitive spot. (The scene is jarring, sure, but the absurdist plot coupled with the actor visibly breathing through it reminds you this is all fiction.) And demons have long been metaphors for gateways to things that run counter to traditional Judeo-Christianity—for instance, magic, astrology, and luxury. Gay, much?

Of course, this screening—appropriate for queer history enthusiasts and horror movie lovers of all stripes—wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of film historian and archivist Elizabeth Purchell. She’s dedicated her life to preserving queer history through film. After observing Sex Demon repeatedly celebrated in adult magazines of the era—with gripping details unlike any other movies she was reading about—the movie landed on her “must-find” list. In 2020 she was contacted by a New York collector who invited her to peruse roughly 50 gay porn titles he’d acquired as part of a lot more germaine to his interests. It was there she found an original print of the fabled movie which hadn’t been publicly screened since 1981. With the help of Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin, she was able to make a 2k scan within a day of getting the print.

Sex Demon
Music Box of Horrors: Scared Stupid
Wednesday, October 26, 9:45 PM 
$11 general admission, $8 Music Box members

“He did an amazing job on the color correction,” she says. “The print we had was completely faded. Just red. He was able to bring a lot of color back.”

“I’ve always been a kind of obsessive collector-slash-viewer,” Purcell continues. “I got interested in this genre of all-male cinema—gay porn or whatever you want to call it—but as I started looking into these films, I found there wasn’t really much information about them online. Looking at old issues of magazines—like the Advocate or Drummer—I was realizing that these films were, at the time, a fairly large presence in quote-unquote gay life. They were on magazine covers, they were advertised, they were heavily reviewed. They were a big deal! And now they’re really, really hard to find.”

In 2018, that inspired her to start the Instagram project Ask Any Buddy, which has since generated a movie and podcast of the same name. In recent years, she’s observed an uptick in interest about gay life in the 70s and how it’s been documented through “adult” material.

“I think these films represent different types of nostalgia,” she explains. “For people who were alive at the time—it’s nostalgia for people who they’d maybe known who are no longer with us. For younger people, people around our age, I think it is more of a nostalgia trap. Like, God, the 70s would have been an amazing time to be alive as a gay person! Everything was wonderful! Look at all the bars and the bathhouses and porno films and this and that! But despite all that, I don’t think it was necessarily that great of a time to be gay in America. So I mean, that’s something I always try to be very conscious of. It was good in some ways, but it was also really bad in other ways. With the rise of PReP over the past few years, I think there’s been a kind of resuscitation of that sort of, like, open sexual culture after two, three decades of AIDS—I think that’s part of the reason people are interested in this history. At the same time, this history has been hidden from people for so long. I think queer people in general just want to know more about queer history, and they don’t get that anywhere else.”