“Test”: A Plague Upon the City

Chris Mason Johnson's Test is set in 1985 San Francisco, when Walkmans were the preferred mode of mobile music, anonymous gay sex had stopped being so much carefree fun, and nobody was quite sure how the criminally under-researched AIDS virus was transmitted. It's very much on the mind of Frankie (Scott Marlowe), a smooth young understudy in a modern dance company who finds himself attracted to veteran dancer Todd (Matthew Risch), a hirsute sex worker whose trade Frankie strongly disapproves of. The first blood test to detect the virus has just been introduced, but that has its own host of issues for Frankie, not the least of which is confidentiality: Like many others, Frankie is not out to his family, and AIDS has bolstered the homophobic stigma that Gay Liberation fought so hard to overcome. Working with the tiniest fraction of the budget Gus Van Sant had to re-create the 1970s in Milk, Test director Johnson includes plenty of San Francisco scenery without revealing anything too post-1985. Herbst Pavilion and the Stud Bar provide key settings, and — appropriately for a story about mysterious forces at work — the Sutro Tower looms over all, eventually becoming every bit as spooky a presence through Frankie's window as it was in Fritz Lieber's Our Lady of Darkness.

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