Movie Review ~ We Kill for Love

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary that searches for the forgotten world of the direct-to-video erotic thriller, an American film genre that once dominated late-night cable television and the shelves of neighborhood video stores.
Stars: Andrew Stevens, Monique Parent, Amy Lindsay, Linda Ruth Williams, Kira Reed Lorsch, Jim Wynorski, Fred Olen Ray
Director: Anthony Penta
Rated: NR
Running Length: 163 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I’m a fan of the special features on home video releases, and while a behind-the-scenes featurette is fine and dandy, the making-of documentary gets me the most excited. Even better is when the documentary is retrospective many years after the fact. How a movie came together is fascinating, especially when you see it through the eyes of the filmmakers, stars who have had time to reflect, and fans who have carved out a place in their hearts for it over time. That’s why I love seeing the recent trend of “super-sized” documentaries that chronicle a specific genre. Among others, we’ve already had a massively impressive look at horror films throughout the ‘80s, which reminds me that you need to check out the In Search of Darkness films, I beg you.

Now comes, somewhat surprisingly to me, We Kill for Love, a look into the direct-to-video erotic thriller films that filled out the shelves (usually the top ones) in video stores throughout the 1990s during the true boom of VHS and early DVD market. I didn’t need much convincing to check this one out, but even I was gobsmacked at the 163-minute run time of this one, considering many of the films it covered barely cracked the 90-minute mark. I half expected this to be an excuse to show a lot of T & A in between interviews with starlets from the later less reputable skin flicks, but Andrew Penta’s thoughtfully compiled feature is a clear love letter to the forgotten genre.

Forgetting a silly framing device featuring an Archivist that almost threw off the entire balance of the doc, Penta quickly pivots out of this more cerebral dissection of the genre in favor of on-camera interviews with historians, writers, directors, and actors with insight into the growth of the business. The essential films of the era are discussed, both the Hollywood features (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, 9 ½ Weeks) and their low-budget counterparts (Night Eyes, Eden, In the Heat of Passion, Red Shoe Diaries) as well as the major players of the time (Zalman King, Andrew Stevens, Fred Olen Ray, Monique Parent). 

Penta rarely delves into the darker side of the era, with AIDS and hard drug use primarily avoided, but then again, the entire point of these films was to sell a fantasy to consumers. Following that logic, keeping things on one level makes sense, especially with an already lengthy run time that may be testing the patience of squirmy viewers. I could have watched another hour of interviews because Penta’s subjects are fascinating, and their stories are rich with insider knowledge.

There will never be another time for the home video market like the one documented in We Kill for Love. As someone who worked in a video store while these movies came out, I can vouch for their incredible popularity among all ages, races, and creeds. Now, with so many options to watch at the touch of a button and products being put out quickly, there is less focus on the type of erotic projects discussed in Penta’s doc. It’s not meant to be kept in amber (it’s too steamy!), but the direct-to-video erotic thriller is captured fondly in this sharp documentary.

Now Available On Demand

31 Days to Scare ~ The Fury (1978)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former CIA agent uses the talents of a young psychic to help retrieve his telekinetic son from terrorists who want to use his mental powers for evil.

Stars: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Amy Irving, Fiona Lewis, Andrew Stevens

Director: Brian De Palma

Rated: R

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I always find that I have a certain kind of soft spot for the movies such as The Fury.  Or, rather, the movies that come right after a director has scored with a monster hit.  There is always so much pressure and expectation because audiences are trained to expect the same type of experience and rarely does a bar raised so high get met on a second attempt…even if it’s quite good when taken on its own merits.  Often when we return to these features after enough time has passed, we can see them as the individualized projects they are if that’s indeed how they were intended and in all fairness there are clearly cases when you can tell a director or screenwriter simply tried to recreate what was so successful just before.

There’s a little bit of both going on in The Fury and that’s why I think viewers and critics might have been a little confused when it was released in early 1978.  Though overall it scored highly with critics and at the box office, the film about telekinetic teens shivered a bit in the shadow of its director’s film that came just before it, a little yarn from 1976 called Carrie.  Based on Stephen King’s book and featuring two Oscar nominated performances, Brian De Palma big screen adaptation of the bestseller was a smash and remains a thrilling classic even today while The Fury isn’t talked about nearly enough as an intriguing part of De Palma’s hit-or-miss oeuvre. 

Based on a 1976 novel by John Farris (who also wrote the screenplay), De Palma enlisted Kirk Douglas (still a virile leading man at 62) to play Peter Sandza, a father who watches helplessly along with his old colleague Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) in the opening prologue as armed men interrupt a vacation in Israel to abduct his son Robin (Andrew Stevens), who possesses psychic abilities.  An ex-CIA agent, Peter figures out quickly that he’s been double-crossed and vows to get Robin back by whatever means necessary.  Shifting the action to Chicago, we meet Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) just as she’s discovering her own psychic powers and how, when uncontrolled, she can be a danger to anyone that encounters her.

To help her control her growing abilities, Gillian is taken in at an institute for special children…. which just happens to be under the umbrella of the same people responsible for Robin’s abduction.  It’s only a matter of time before Peter and Gillian’s paths cross and after Gillian begins having visions of Robin, suggesting a psychic connection, the two work with Peter’s connection inside the institute (Carrie Snodgress) to stage an escape so that Gillian can locate the missing boy.  However, during his time separated from his father, Robin has been getting his own training from people that don’t have his best interest at heart and the family reunion Peter has been waiting for might not be as warmly received as he thinks. 

Even this early on in De Palma’s career, all of the hallmarks of what makes a “De Palma Film” were beginning to pop up.  The split screens, the visual angles, the healthy use of slow motion paired with a grandiose score from John Williams (a truly spectacular one in my opinion).  De Palma may be working with a similar theme of telekinesis run amok, just switching the relationship to be about a father and a son, but there’s more adult situations going on here as well, with the people possessing these powers truly seeing firsthand the consequences of their actions. In Carrie, the recognition wasn’t always there but here, there are some truly frightening visuals.

Speaking of visuals, get your remote handy for that finale because the ending to The Fury is maybe one of the most satisfying out there in the way it delivers exactly what’s coming to a character.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the film where I haven’t rewound it three or four times to watch it again…it’s that memorable. Where the movie could be improved is tightening up some of the action throughout.  There are strange comedic foibles for Douglas in the opening hour where he disguises himself as a way to evade capture and these scenes feel like they are out of a different movie all together.  I could also do without some of the lengthier scenes around the middle during Irving’s stay at the institute…but that would mean losing some of the work the great Snodgress was doing so I don’t know if I could bear to part with it. 

If you’ve only experienced the “big” De Palma films and haven’t yet made time for the ‘in-between’ films such as The Fury, you just have to give this one a go.  It’s got the thrills and an unbelievable ending that make it required viewing.