A stag reel or stag party film is an erotic, often explicitly pornographic, film reel produced from the 1900s to the early 1980s. The term stag refers to single men ("to go stag" = "to go alone"). Some pornographic shorts made in the 1930s even had a fictitious "Stag Films" company logo showing the head of a male deer. These "blue movies" were originally shown in brothels, fraternal organizations and social clubs (hence the term "smokers"), private all-male parties (especially bachelor parties), as well as "members only" cinema clubs. (For more details, see The early years.)
Stag reels (aka film-loops) were initially highly illicit and nearly always produced anonymously for fear of legal prosecution. These "nudies" were primarily clandestine 8mm and 16mm silent, single-reel short films (5 to 15 minutes in length) made for private viewing and sold under the counter at adult book shops and via mail order.
Starting in the 1920s, nonpornographic reels featuring nudism, striptease acts, and various fetishes (bondage, spanking, role-play, etc.), were sold by mail order via discreetly-worded ads placed in mainstream men's magazines. This expanded in the late 1940s with the proliferation of underground fetish/spanking magazines (such as Bizarre, Exotique, Corporal, et al.) in the U.S. and Europe. Cheap film projectors and hand-held viewers were also sold through various magazines. In the late 1960s an 8mm fetish reel 200 feet in length sold for around $20-$25.
Fetish-oriented reels generally did not contain sex acts (or even nudity in many cases) while pornographic sex reels did not, as a rule, include fetishistic content. (Some films produced in France starting in the 1930s are the exception.) By the seventies, color films, some with audio music tracks, were introduced as the line between hardcore pornography and non-sex fetish reels began to blur.
Stag reels produced on film became obsolete in the early eighties with the introduction of the videocassette and VCR home-viewing technology. Many of the earliest bondage/spanking videotapes were compilations of silent 8mm stag reels converted to Beta/VHS format, often with public domain music added to the soundtrack.
Spanking in stag reels
The earliest stag reels with fetish and BDSM sexuality come primarily from France in the 1920s such as La fessée à l'école (The Spanking at School) and L'atelier faiminette (both released in the compilation Polissons et galipettes). Other countries soon followed. The Casting Couch (1924), which appears to be a U.S. production, is one of the first examples of a hardcore sex reel with Femdom content (a man is bound and beaten with a riding crop by a dominant woman).
Several Paris-produced spanking/whipping reels (some with explicit sex acts) from the 1930s-40s have been released on vintage pornography compilation DVDs such as the Vintage Erotica series from Cult Epics. At least three non-pornographic reels from the 1930s by well-known fetish photographer Jacques Biederer (Biederer Studio, Ostra Studio) have been preserved. These are: Sous Les Caresses du Martinet (Under the Caresses of the Martinet), Dressage au Fouet, and La Vase Brise (The Broken Vase).
Irving Klaw is the most well-known producer of underground film-loops in the fifties, many of which star fetish icon Bettie Page. His all-female featurettes, while containing no sex or nudity (for legal reasons), ran the gamut of kinky fantasies from foot fetishism to female wrestling, elaborate bondage, and spanking-domination scenarios.
Throughout the decade, fetish loops avoided nudity. Women were seen cavorting in various undergarments or leather ensembles, including fetish-friendly stockings, garter belts, and high heels. These precautions (along with the exclusion of male performers) were taken to avoid being classified as pornography which, at that time, could not be sent through the mail. Even so, many of these producers, including Klaw, faced continual problems with legal authorities.
The introduction of inexpensive, good-quality 8mm projectors in the late-fifties created a home-movie boom. Individuals could now acquire stag films for private viewing or men-only parties. Camera stores began stocking a few reels of stag films for rental to special customers.
The mid-to-late sixties saw a sharp increase in the production of bondage-spanking loops (the popular Super 8 camera was introduced in 1965) that were far more provocative due to less-stringent obscenity laws in the U.S. and Europe. Unlike the past, these films freely exploited nudity – but, like the men's magazines of the time, avoided full-frontal exposure.
The by-now-antiquated loops of the Irving Klaw era were mostly shot on simple sets with careful stage lighting and a static, tripod-mounted camera. By contrast, the sixties loops have a casual, home-movie style with practical locations (living rooms, bed rooms, basements, etc.), mobile hand-held cameras, and little regard for lighting and framing. The typical scenario involves pretty, topless women wearing bikini briefs and heels/go-go boots engaging in cat-fights and light bondage, culminating in a round-robin of energetic group spanking administered by hand, hairbrush, paddle, and flogger.
Most of the fetish reels from this period that have been preserved on DVD came out of the New York and Los Angeles underground. However, according to "The History of Sex in Cinema" (Playboy, November 1967), Britain was the largest foreign supplier of stag material in the U.S. And in particular, films featuring sadomasochistic activity (spanking, whipping, etc.). Many of these reels were disguised with French titles for marketing and/or legal reasons. Stag films, along with other pornographic materials, were sold on a relatively open basis in hole-in-the-wall London bookshops in the Soho area.
London photographer Harrison Marks established himself as a brand-name producer of loops, girlie photos, and even feature-length "nudie cutie" exploitation films. Starting in 1960, Marks directed scores of "glamour" stag films (buxom nude models in simple vignettes). With the loops Perchance to Scream (1967), The Lash, and Macabre (both 1968), he began exploring whipping, spanking, and other BDSM themes followed by a much-banned, barely released fetish-heavy exploitation film Pattern of Evil, aka Fornicon (1968).
The 1970s and beyond
The last wave of stag films in the seventies introduced color film, limited audio (usually just music), and much harsher, more explicit content. Now competing with X-rated feature films shown in theaters, loops began to specialize in a stronger, more realistic blend of sex and sadism.
Bondage Movie Review (1975-1983), Classic Fetish Films (launched 1976), and Spanking Movie Review (1979-?), all from Tao Productions in Hollywood, Calif., were among the first magazines based entirely on stills from kink-specific stag reels. They featured color and black-and-white photos of spanking, bondage, cat fights, enemas, etc. Similar 1970s publications include Fetish Films Quarterly (Roxbury Press/Platinum, 1976-1983), Fetish in Films and the French magazine Cinerotika.
Production companies began to come out from behind the cloak of anonymity. California-based House of Milan and Nu-West/Leda Productions promoted their brand and became well-known leaders in the industry. In the early eighties they were among the first to make the transition from 8mm spanking/BDSM loops to VHS/Beta mini-features (30 to 60 minutes long) released on videocassette. Nu-West also released compilations of its early silent 8mm loops on videotape.
At the same time in England, Harrison Marks and others were producing Super 8mm loops (mostly with a uniformed schoolgirl caning theme) which were advertised in British spanking magazines such as Janus, Roué, and Kane. Marks turned to directing full-length spanking videos in 1987.
Compilation DVDs of bondage and BDSM loops (as well as vintage porn) made in the 1960s and '70s have been released on a multi-volume Bizarro Sex Loops series produced by Something Weird Video.
Use in mainstream and exploitation films
Scenes from stag reels (and pornographic home movies) are sometimes used in mainstream films as a narrative device or atmospheric element. Stag loops provide clues in the period-era murder mysteries True Confessions (1981) and Mulholland Falls (1996), set in the 1940s and '50s respectively. Scenes from underground BDSM reels are glimpsed in present-day horror and mystery films Videodrome (1983), From Beyond (1986), Lost Highway (1997), 8mm (1999), Mercy (2000), and House of 1000 Corpses (2003).
The plot of Inserts (1975) concerns a Hollywood director in the 1930s who makes silent porn loops in his house. Of Freaks and Men (1998) depicts the making of early stag reels in Russia in the 1900s, including fetishistic F/F birching scenes. More behind-the-scenes views of the making of BDSM-oriented reels (with spanking, whipping, and bondage) are shown in the exploitation films Mondo Keyhole (1966), Starlet, Over 18... and Ready! (both 1969), Superchick (1973), Snuff Killer aka Snuff Trap (2003, video clip), Pimp (2010), and The Sex Merchants (2011).
Performance (filmed 1968, released 1970) shows flagellation/bondage clips from an actual '40s-era reel. The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and The Day of the Locust (1975) show similar spanking and whipping clips from what appear to be recreated stag films.
Still from Dressage au Fouet (Ostra Studio, c. 1930s)