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Wadd - The Life and Times of John C. Holmes

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 103 mins . E . PAL


In the world of adult entertainment, films in particular, few names are as well known as John Holmes. In fact, it is safe to say that Holmes is perhaps the biggest male porn star the world has known. He was not particularly good looking, or an outstanding actor, but he had one thing that few other men have, and probably few would want – an enormous penis.

John Holmes was born in Ohio, the youngest of four boys. His childhood is not particularly interesting, though he did enlist in the USA army at age 16 to get away from his violent father. He married young, his new bride was also ordinary in that she was quite conservative, intelligent (unlike John who was no intellectual giant) and quiet. Things first became interesting for Holmes when he was paid to pose nude for an adult magazine, which led to work as an actor in adult films. His films were popular for one obvious reason, and the character that was created for him, Johnny Wadd, became the star of a series of adult films that had a loose plot, plenty of sex and cheap production values. Dirk Diggler, the main character in Boogie Nights, is loosely based on Holmes.

The films earned plenty of cash for Holmes and those around him. Although a tee-totaller and drug-free initially, Holmes eventually became a part of the typical adult industry scene of the ‘70s and became a habitual cocaine user.

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"My, what big...nipples."

His wife declared she no longer wished to be a part of his sordid life, so Holmes hooked up with a young starlet who became his mistress and stayed with him for many years, eventually being subjected to much use and abuse.

As Holmes’ career faltered and stalled, he became mixed up in robberies, drug deals and eventually a murder trial. The police were keen to talk to him about his involvement in the deaths of four small time criminals, however Holmes was not keen to talk to them. He eventually stood trial, later returning to make a handful of films, though no longer a big star – so to speak. By this time Holmes was diagnosed HIV positive and he traveled to Italy to make art, sorry, adult films.

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So, do you come here often?"

However, his illness got the better of Holmes, and he died in 1988 with his second wife, herself a porn star, by his side.

Holmes is credited with having initiated HIV testing for actors in the adult film industry, even though he himself was one of its first victims. This documentary includes many interviews with those who knew him best, such as his family and manager and agent, as well as renowned industry folks such as Larry Flynt and Ron Jeremy, plus archival footage and interviews with Holmes himself. There are wildly varying memories of the type of man Holmes was.

There is nudity on display, hence the R rating, and this is in no way suitable for children or the easily offended. There are also graphic images from the murder scene that leave little to the imagination. If it is titillation, gossip and scandal you crave, this DVD delivers in spades.


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Unrecognisable with his clothes on.
The one constant throughout this presentation is the full frame aspect ratio that is, naturally, not 16:9 enhanced. Although the interview footage is mostly fairly recent, there is nothing to write home about as such. Sharpness is variable and colouring is mostly good with some evidence of bleeding and noise. However, as is to be expected, the footage of Holmes, both interview and from his films, varies wildly, and is riddled with poor colouring, blue-looking black levels, numerous artefacts, dirt and scratches. Considering the age and production values, this should not come as any great surprise.

This is a dual layer disc, although the feature manages to squeeze itself all on one layer. However, there is some evidence of compression artefacts, shimmer and aliasing is quite frequent, plus there is quite a lot of grain in much of the footage.


There is but one audio option (and no subtitles) and this is a Dolby Digital stereo. Much of the footage, however, is mono sourced, and it is really only the intermittent background music that displays any evidence of stereo activity. There is no great fidelity on offer here, while the archival footage is quite muted though always intelligible. There is also background hiss at times, though synchronisation and volume is not an issue.

There is no audio action from anything other than the front left and right speakers, nor any real separation or panning. The audio is spectacularly adequate.


The only real extra is 30-odd minutes of deleted scenes that is just unused interview footage offering further insight into Holmes, along with some Umbrella Propaganda. These four trailers are for some salacious DVDs of truly diabolical looking films and sex-themed movies and documentaries. They even make Benny Hill look tasteful.


John Holmes’ life was recently dramatised in the film Wonderland starring Val Kilmer. If you were not aware that this is a true story of a very interesting man, you could be excused for scoffing at the ludicrous plot and unlikely scenarios. That it is a documentary is quite amazing.

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      And I quote...
    "Do you see yourself as a star of the adult film industry? Check out Wadd to see if you measure up…"
    - Terry Kemp
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