Thursday, August 31, 2023

We Kill for Love: The Erotic Thriller Doc

They were quite a thing in their time, but they could not survive the double-whammy of the collapsing video store market and the rise of puritanical woke-ism. Somehow, low-budget horror has weathered the perfect storm, but sexy thrillers with words like “deadly,” indecent,” “eyes,” “body,” and “night” in their titles just could not maintain market share. The filmmakers and stars who worked prolifically in the genre look back on their work in director-producer-editor Anthony Penta’s documentary We Kill for Love, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

The genesis of it all was Brian de Palma’s
Dressed to Kill, which established just about all of the genre’s tropes and motifs. Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat was its Citizen Kane and Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction were its Star Wars-sized hits. In between, there were a lot of cheaper films, promising, but not necessarily delivering naughty thrills, for customers of independent video stores and late-night cable TV.

The phenomenon was well underway during the mid-to-late-1980s, but it maybe reached its peak in the early 1990s. Andrew Stevens is a major reason why. He leveraged his notoriety as an actor (from films like
The Fury and Death Hunt) to get his screenplay produced. He also starred in Night Eyes, which is definitely one of the documentary’s touchstone films. To Stevens’ credit, he is a good interview subject, who can discuss his career with self-aware perspective and a sense of humor.

Occasionally, there is some horror crossover in
We Kill for Love, mainly thanks to Fred Olen Rey. Penta and his academics (whose political commentary on the 1980s is often dubious) also convincingly identify straight-to-video erotic thrillers as the disreputable offspring of film noir and hardboiled pulp on the male side and gothic romance on female side. (However, class envy played little role in the genre’s success. The characters’ luxurious lifestyles were just a further dimension of its voyeurism.)

Indeed, voyeurism often factored very directly in the storylines, but they were not X-rated. They were “naughty” rather than “dirty” movies. Yet, many of the actresses who frequently appeared in these films have had to push back when they were unfairly labeled “porn stars,” like Amy Lindsay (whose credits also include guest shots on
Star Trek: Voyager, Silk Stockings, and Pacific Blue), who explains what it was like to be smeared with the “p” word when she appeared as an average voter in a commercial for Ted Cruz. Give Penta credit for covering this incident fairly.

After watching
We Kill for Love, most open-minded viewers will give Lindsay and her colleagues who also appear in the film, including Jodie Fisher, Tant McClure (daughter of Doug McClure), Monique Parent, and Kira Reed Lorsch, credit for establishing their niche and maintaining their standards and boundaries.

For some viewers, the biggest surprise of
We Kill for Love will its 163-minute running time. In terms of thoroughness, it ranks alongside In Search of Last Action Heroes and In Search of Darkness. The curatorial approach is also similar, but at least 90% of the film clips Penta incorporates would qualify as “not safe for work.” He stays true to his subject, that’s for sure. Recommended for the 80s and 90s nostalgia, even if you weren’t watching at the time (and none of us were, right?), We Kill for Love releases tomorrow (9/1) on VOD, following a special LA screening tonight (8/31) at Vidiots.