Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2005)
For a look inside the world of legalized prostitution, Cathouse takes us to Carson City, Nevada. There we go to the “Moonlite Bunny Ranch”, where we meet owner/proprietor Dennis Hof, “Madam Suzette”, staff member Kent Wallace, and “working girls” Karla, “Air Force Amy”, Deanna, Sunset Thomas, Felicia, and Heather. We also get some comments from unnamed brothel clients.
In addition, the program presents lots of behind the scenes footage at the Ranch. Some of this shows the “girls” in between clients, but much of it comes from surreptitiously-shot material. We learn that “hidden cameras captured negotiations between working girls and their clients”.
When it examines the Ranch’s clients, the show breaks down into some neatly-titled types. We start with “Mother and Son” as we meet a 22-year-old virgin whose mom buys him his first lay. They say this was her idea and he needed to be convinced. It’s very odd to see the prostitute talk dirty to the kid in front of his mom.
Next comes “The Husband” and “The Wife”, both of whom come in together for separate sessions. “The Pimp” is a competitor who tries to recruit a “girl” during a session, and then “Two Brothers” both want a session at the same time with Sunset. Another virgin, “The First Time” introduces a 19-year-old kid who looks like he’s 12, while “The Widower” hasn’t been with a woman in two years and seems to just want to be held. “Anniversary Couple” presents a married pair of kinky, creepy rednecks who want a three-way, while the “Big Spender” tries to drop $15,000 on one session. (That may seem extreme, but since it appears the “girls” regularly get $1000 an hour, it’s not as steep as it might appear.)
In addition to these vignettes, Cathouse covers the nuts and bolts of running the business. We see what it’s like to work with the girls, their views of their clients and general statements about them, various attempts to land clients, Sunset’s special circumstances and Hof’s personal relationship with her, doctor visits, some of the girls’ initial impressions of the Bunny Ranch, and how women take the job.
This may sound bizarrely naïve, but I must admit I felt surprised by the way sex dominated Cathouse. The program creates in impression that no one there ever thinks of anything other than sex. The “girls” talk about how much they love sex and how they masturbate all the time when they don’t come to work. Every activity at the Ranch - even simple birthday celebrations - takes on a sexual air, and you’ll find no indication whatsoever that anyone here ever has a thought unrelated to sex.
I think some of this may be played up as simple PR for the Ranch. There was no reason for Hof to allow in the cameras if he didn’t think it’d be good publicity for his business, and Cathouse occasionally plays like a long commercial. I don’t know if I’d call the show sugarcoated, but it does nothing to reveal the seamy side of prostitution. At every turn, the “girls” and all involved emphasize how much they love the Ranch. You’ll not hear a single discouraging word or see an unpleasant circumstance. “The Pimp” turns a bit seedy, and that encounter is one of the few in which you can tell the “girl” is uncomfortable with the client. However, when she discusses it afterwards, Deanna laughs and pooh-poohs the whole thing.
This means that although Cathouse offers a very entertaining look at its subject, I don’t think it presents an honest one. Heck, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Ranch really is one big happy family with their tea parties and whatnot. Admittedly, if the comments from “Madam Suzette” about how many applicants they receive are true, it seems much more likely that the Ranch will have more well-adjusted prostitutes than average. Apparently the Ranch can pick and choose who they take, so that should mean they only hire the cream of the crop and not take in any messed-up women.
But I’m not sure how much of that I believe. For one, since this is such an authorized biography of the Ranch, it’s hard to know how much is real and how much is hyperbole. In addition - and at the risk of seeming mean - if the Ranch gets their pick of prostitutes, how come so many of them are only moderately attractive? With scores of applicants every week, I’d expect a consistently hotter roster. Granted, it’s possible they prefer stable, disciplined “girls” with weaker physical charms to babes on whom they can’t rely, so maybe I’m off here.
Still, I can’t help but feel that we’re being spoon-fed what Hof wants us to hear. The show gives us the impression that all the “girls” just love sex and they can’t wait to come to work so they can come at work. This leads to the program’s most graphic shot in which scary-looking “Airforce Amy” masturbates with a vibrator. Apparently Amy can’t wait for her first client - she’s gotta have it now! (In regard to graphic shots, we also see Sunset play with herself a little when she negotiates with the brothers, but the footage is so grainy that you can’t make out much.)
I’m sure some of the “girls” are there because they really dig sex, but it can’t all be as happy as the show makes it appear. We get the impression each “girl” is happy with each client and really loves her job. C’mon - isn’t there anyone there with a problematic background or issues that landed them at the Ranch? There must be, but you won’t hear it here. Instead, the happy tone dominates, and few signs of seediness emerge. Of course Hof wants us to believe the “girls” love their clients - who wants to pay money and then think the woman loathes you?
So this lands us with an entertaining show but not a particularly believable one. Clearly the hidden camera shots are the most interesting, though it’s too bad we only get ones from clients who consented to appear in the program. Again, this means we only get a semi-authorized view of things. I understand the legal reasons for this, though couldn’t they have featured some clients if they digitally blocked their faces?
Still, the clients presented offer interesting tales. Obviously they were chosen because they fit certain “boxes”. Who can resist a kinky redneck couple or a virgin whose mother will pay for his deflowering? The sessions usually don’t disappoint, though they occasionally leave us hanging - I want to know if the lonely old widower actually had sex or if he just wanted some companionship.
Because of their sanitized feel, the interviews with the folks who work at the Ranch are significantly less interesting than the hidden camera shots. Hof comes across poorly in my opinion. He likes to present himself as a businessman but he seems like a sleaze. For all his attempts to act like a caring father figure, he mainly appears like a fat perv.
I must say that Cathouse entertained me. It presents a lively and varied look at a legalized brothel that moves briskly and covers a lot of territory. I just don’t think it’s a very honest take and it doesn’t provide much insight into its subject.