Tattoo (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tattoo is the classic Bruce Dern film, in which Dern gets the ideal opportunity to do his obsessive, wound-too-tight 70s kind of Bruce Dern psycho thing.

The Bruceman plays a lonely, reclusive, humorless man whose only claim to fame is that he is a magnificent artist in his own field. He's the Rembrandt of tattoos. He became obsessed with the tradition of full body tattooing when he was stationed with the military in Asia, so he learned as much as he could about the traditional art, and then took his obsession to the next two steps, first by covering his own body with tats, then by learning to do it to other people. Around the urban Jersey slums, he is now known as the top gun when it comes to creating the ornate and colorful skin patterns of the Orient. As you can guess, such a refined talent doesn't actually have much value in North Jersey, where the regular guys just want a basic anchor tattoo and the word "mom". His clientele consists of Joe six-packs who basically think that Mr. Tattoo Guy is a respectful man, and a talented artist, but a really strange guy. Not many people in the neighborhood really want to pal around with him. Indeed, it does seem that he might be a bit lacking in social skills, which is to say he makes Travis Bickle seem to have the gregarious wit and social Úlan of Oscar Wilde.

At any rate, Mr. Creepy Tattoo Guy seems to have some kind of long-distance crush on a supermodel, so his ultimate dream comes true when an assistant magazine editor shows up in his tattoo parlor one day and asks him to come to their offices to create body art for a swimsuit layout featuring his favorite dream girl. Suh-weet! This puts him on the psycho-nutbag equivalent of Cloud Nine. He gets to bring his two favorite obsessions, tats and supermodels, together under the same roof. It's a day to remember, tantamount for him to the glorious day when peanut better and chocolate first met.  Unfortunately, the magazine job is to be done with removable paint simulations rather than real tattoos, but the opportunity to paint on his favorite supermodel just sets his psychotic heart all in a tizzy!

Amazingly enough, he starts off on a good foot with the model and even gets to date her. In the due course of time, however, his psychotic personality manages to emerge, so he is forced to kidnap her. (Hey, you were expecting something different?) He imprisons her for various convoluted spiritual and carnal purposes which only he can fully comprehend but, unfortunately for him, he can't immediately make love to her because her body has not yet been ritually purified, which is to say that she isn't covered with tats. In his mind, skin decoration equals purity while naked skin is the mark of a slut. Thus, if he were to meet Mother Theresa, he would have to "purify" her until she looked like the offspring of Dennis Rodman and Pam Anderson.

Makes good sense.

Well, to him anyway.

After he finishes purifyin' the livin' daylights out of the supermodel by covering her skin with pretty purple dragons, majestic blue and gold eagles, pink hearts, yellow moons, and green clovers, he is then able to eat the traditional tattoo-master's breakfast of colorful Irish cereal. More important, he is also able to maintain an erection, so he rapes her. By this time, as you might expect, she's pretty darned upset with the whole pesky imprisonment and disfigurement thing so, just as he climaxes, she grabs his tattoo needle and kills him with it.

When he comes, he goes.

So to speak.

Although Tattoo was made in the early 80s, it's actually a leftover piece of typical 70s alienation fare, all arty and symbolic, and filled with disenfranchised characters who are tortured by their pasts and can't communicate with one another, kind of like an Edward Albee play, except with the added bonuses of hot babes and tattoos. Just imagine Albee writing for a biker mag, and you'll have the general picture.

It's not a good movie at all. In addition to its heavy-handed rendering of familiar 70s themes, its plodding pace, and its self-consciously arty approach, the film suffers from a complete lack of audience identification. The supermodel is a shallow bitch, Dern is mentally ill, and neither has a sense of humor.

Amazingly enough, I can list some things you might like about this project.

  • It's the classic career role for Laura Dern's odd dad.

  • Maud "The Bod" Adams, a supermodel, two-time Bond girl, and all-around babe, gets naked a lot, and shows everything there is to show.

  • The sex scene between Dern and Adams, with both of them completely covered in colorful body tats, is erotic just because it is so different from what one normally sees. As the camera pans around them, you will tend to watch the rather elegant movement of the dragons and eagles rather than the routinely grinding human naughty bits. This scene has the same kind of unique fascination as the Kari Wuhrer "paint sex" scene in Vivid.

  • There were rumors at the time that Dern and Adams might have been engaged in honest to goodness, non-simulated copulation. Maud Adams once "admitted" that Dern did want to do the nasty on camera for real, but she refused. Dern denied the entire charge, but I'm not sure exactly what he was denying. The fact that they did it for real? The fact that he wanted to? The fact that Maud refused? Anyway, it's still an erotic scene, whether real or simulated. Personally, I don't care about anything but the result on film, and I'm not convinced that real sex would actually be better on camera than professional actors faking sex.


This film is not available in a Region 1 DVD. The Amazon link to the left leads to information about a VHS copy. If you want to obtain a DVD, there is a fully licensed copy available in Australia with the following features

  • Region 4 encoding
  • full screen 4:3 aspect ratio (full 35 mm frame, not a pan 'n scan)
  • the colors are vibrant in this transfer, but it is grainy.
  • no significant extra features

The DVD info can be found here. The United States distributor's home page can be found here. If you are thinking of buying DVDs from outside your region, read this first.


  • Maud Adams shows her breasts several times and also shows her pubic are and buns while standing in clear light.
  • Anne Andersen shows her breasts while being painted, then shows her left breast throughout a lengthy modeling session.
  • B.J. Cirell wears a completely transparent blouse while performing in a peep show.
Trivia quiz for experts: can you identify the blond actress who played the underage hooker? Of the two girls, she is the one on the left in each of the three pictures above. The answer is on the bottom of the page, in yellow.

The Critics Vote ...

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The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. Take away the unusual sex and nudity, and it would be a very weak and uninvolving story, but it may be of interest to you if you want to see some offbeat erotica and don't mind sitting through a lame attempt to justify it! My suggestion - watch it, but use the fast forward button judiciously.

Trivia answer: the actress is Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda, the redheaded member of the Sex and the City quartet. Cynthia's natural hair color is blonde, as seen in the pictures above. She was 14 or 15 in those scenes and had obviously not yet reached her full adult height of 5' 10 1/2".

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