The movie Poison (1991) is an American science fiction drama horror film written and directed by Todd Haynes12. It is composed of three intercut stories that are partially inspired by the novels of Jean Genet .
The first story, “Hero”, is about a seven-year-old boy named Richie who shoots his abusive father and then flies away12. This story is told in the style of an episode of a tabloid television news magazine .
The second story, “Horror”, follows a scientist who isolates the “elixir of human sexuality” and, after drinking it, transforms into a murderous leper12. This story is told in the style of a “psychotropic horror film” of the mid-1960s .
The third story, “Homo”, revolves around a prisoner named John Broom who finds himself attracted to a fellow inmate whom he had known and seen humiliated as a youth in a juvenile facility12. This story is an adaptation of part of Genet’s Miracle of the Rose (1946) .
The movie Poison (1991) is considered an early entry in the New Queer Cinema movement1. It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 11, 1991, and was released in a limited release by Zeitgeist Films on April 5, 1991 .
- Edith Meeks as Felicia Beacon (segment “Hero”)
- Larry Maxwell as Dr. Graves (segment “Horror”)
- Susan Norman as Nancy Olsen (segment “Horror”)
- Millie White as Millie Sklar (segment “Hero”)
- Buck Smith as Gregory Lazar (segment “Hero”)
- Rob LaBelle as Jay Wete (segment “Hero”)
- Scott Renderer as John Broom (segment “Homo”)
- James Lyons as Jack Bolton (segment “Homo”)
The film received a $25,000 completion grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. This caught the attention of Republican senator Jesse Helms, who in spite of not having seen the film declared it an abomination and a waste of taxpayer money3. John Leguizamo is credited as “Damien Garcia” due to an unspecified SAG rules problem3. The film was at one point called “H” according to James Lyons, on the film’s commentary .
A review on IMDb gave the movie a rating of 7/10 and described it as an experimental film that throbs with vitality, ambition, and knowing archness1. The reviewer appreciated the film’s multi-faceted cinematic triptych, consisting of three segments: Hero, Horror, Homo, all inspired by Jean Genet’s novels1. However, they also noted that the end result was far from flawless,
Another review on IMDb rated the movie as intriguing but flawed1. They mentioned that “Poison” was an extremely obscure art house film until Senator Jessie Helms, a known homophobe, publicly criticized the fact that it had been financed in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
On Letterboxd, the movie received a significant number of 4-star ratings (25%), with some users giving it 4.5 stars (7%) and others giving it a perfect 5-star rating (6%)2.