Artificial lighting that splashes cool blues and magentas on naked bodies. Pseudo-Noir, saxophone-heavy scores. Seduction, femme fatales, sex, danger, double crosses, murder, and more sex. Such is the world of the direct-to-video erotic thriller. The new documentary “We Kill for Love” is an in-depth look at the lost “Art” of the long gone genre that once dominated late night cable tv and video store shelves.
The genre became popularized in the 1980s and lasted throughout the ‘90s thanks to at-home viewing through videocassette rentals and ever-growing Playboy and Showcase networks.
Director Anthony Penta painstakingly explores the history of his subject. Tracing its lineage from original Film Noirs such as “Double Indemnity”, through Alfred Hitchcock’s sexually charged female characters (and his repressed males), all the way to the reactionary pushback against the Reagan era control that begat this type of erotic thriller, the director has an obvious affection for the material.
Penta calls his work “part film essay, part documentary, and part casefile. It’s a record of my prolonged investigation into a forgotten but once lucrative film movement…”
The filmmaker spent six years tracking down the actors, directors, and writers of these movies. Producer/director/actor Andrew Stevens, Kira Reed Lorsch, Jodi Fisher, and the great Monique Parent are just some of the informative interview subjects that hold viewers’ interest, while screenwriter James Dearden, composer George S. Clinton, directors Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski and more, speak to the highs and lows of the creative side of the genre.
Adding to the perspective from outside the production arena, writers and academics give their studied takes on what made genre so appealing for viewers.
Penta works hard at keeping his audience’s attention; his only misstep being his (admittedly) clever filmmaking choices. Primarily a pastiche of on camera interviews and movie scenes, the director inserts himself as a private eye/detective, going through the case files of each segment of the film. Penta lights the moments in the manner of the movies he examines and narrates in a quasi-serious tone. I imagine these bits were fun to do, but in the scheme of things, they play as unnecessary intrusions.
Through his wealth of interviews with actors, composers, and filmmakers, ‘We Kill for Love” covers everything one could imagine. The film tracks the genre’s rise and fall (the rise fueled by films such as “Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct”, the fall brought on by budget cuts and producers wanting more sex and less story).
Actors speak on being comfortable with the intricacies of shooting the sex scenes and (once they got a bit of clout) the “dos and don’ts” they would put into their contracts regarding those moments.
Directors and performers laugh at the set designs, filmed in rich producers’ grandiose homes, and filled with ridiculous amounts of candles during the carnal couplings.
One of the most interesting things about the film is the way it reminds viewers just how many mainstream actors would do one or two (or more) of this type of film, in the hope of changing their image.
Actors from Molly Ringwald and Chris Sarandon, to William Forsythe and Ray Winstone have dipped their toes in the low budget, direct-to-video sex thriller.
It can be argued that each actor was hoping for their own lesser “Basic Instinct” by traveling in the easy to sell genre.
In the early 2000’s, the erotic thriller gave way to waning interest and a ridiculousness that ushered its downfall. In today’s Hollywood, the genre is officially six feet under. Puritanical thinking, conservative influence, and the invention of the ridiculous job of on-set “Intimacy Coordinator” are the beasts that killed the beauty.
Yes, many of these films were ridiculous and a good portion of their viewing audience tuned in for the sex and beautiful bodies, yet there is an argument to be made regarding their importance.
For this type of film during that era, it is unfair to label them “Softcore Porn”, as so many did.
In the early days, some of the films had good scripts and made for interesting thrillers and the sex scenes embraced their eroticism. Filmmakers really tried to do something that appealed to the interests (sexual and otherwise) of both men and women. From the directors to the writers to the actors, they took their work seriously.
Anthony Penta has crafted a quite wonderful documentary. Rich in information, his love and admiration for these films and the people who made them is evident in every moment.
Light hundreds of candles, open the windows, and let the billowing curtains blow. “We Kill For Love” is a consistently interesting and incredibly well-researched film.
Anthony Penta doesn’t look down on his subject, and his dedication brings a deserved respect to the bygone era of the erotic thriller.
We Kill For Love
Written & Directed by Anthony Penta
Starring Andrew Stevens, Monique Parent, Fred Olen Ray, Jim Mynorski, Kirs Reed Lorsch, Jodi Fisher, George S. Clinton, Anthena Massey
NR, 163 Minutes, Galaxy Club, Yellow Veil Pictures