I've had a strange fascination with the films of David DeCoteau since my pre-teen years tuning in to the USA network's Up All Night program, where I'd marvel at such lowbrow, upbeat offerings as NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1987; which actually had new "clothed" scenes shot specifically for airing on that program), SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA (1987) and DR. ALIEN (1989). Embrace is one of the director's only films from that era never to make the show's line-up; probably because when you remove all of the sex and nudity you're not left with much else. The film is one of the earliest examples of an erotic thriller made for the direct-to-video market and was made several years before the two Shannon's (Tweed and Whirry) began dominating late night cable and video erotica. Earlier mainstream films such as BODY HEAT (1981) and FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) laid down the groundwork for these types of films, but the genre itself wasn't really solidified as a formidable and profitable subgenre until the blockbuster BASIC INSTINCT (1992) hit theaters. The long-forgotten Embrace (which has yet to see the light of day on DVD) doesn't hold a candle to any of those bigger-budgeted films and unfortunately isn't even a good example of a low-budget erotic psycho-thriller. It's just bad. Plain and simple.
College student Chris Thompson (beefy Ken Abraham) gets a summer job as a live-in handyman for the Morland's; wealthy and almost always absent businessman Stewart (Jan-Michael Vincent) and his attractive, lonely, stay-at-home wife Charlotte (Ty Randolph). Stewart has been having an affair with his secretary (Ruth Collins) and wants a divorce from Charlotte once he can find a way out of the marriage and keep his considerable fortune in tact. In other words, he hopes to catch Chris and Charlotte in an affair so that he can use that to keep her from cashing in once they separate. It isn't long before Chris and Charlotte start crossing employer-employee boundaries but, strangely enough, it isn't Stewart who is monitoring things with hidden cameras placed around the home, but Charlotte herself. She uses a two-way mirror to keep tabs on her new boy toy and finally goes over the edge when Chris tries to call things off and invites his bubbly aspiring actress girlfriend Michelle (Linnea Quigley) over for a visit. A kidnapping and few deaths follow.
Utilizing a noir-ish framework featuring close-ups of hands holding cigarettes and gesturing and utterly redundant voice-overs to recount what is going on to pad out the slim-as-can-be storyline is really the least of this film's problems. The fact that none of the characters are adequately developed, the acting is highly uneven, the premise is anything but original and it's weakly scripted and directed are other clear problems, but the pacing being positively glacial is what really does the whole thing in. It drags so much and for so long that Charlotte's potentially entertaining psychotic breakdown is mostly relegated to the last 10 minutes (!) Even those scenes, with her tying up Quigley in the basement and threatening her with a gun, fail to build even the faintest amount of suspense. No one is really asking for depth in something like this, but is a tiny bit of excitement or tension really asking too much from a so-called "thriller?" Opting for filler instead doesn't quite cut the mustard.
Speaking of filler, numerous silent fantasy sequences featuring a fan-blown Michelle Bauer (the "Female Spirit of Sex" according to the credits) stripping off in slow-mo in an all-black room and having sex, plus some colorfully-lit clothes shedding from Quigley, were spliced in throughout the film. Even though these were clearly added to the mix as a way to pad out the time even further, I actually enjoyed these scenes more than the main storyline! Part of the reason could be that the voluptuous Bauer looks delectable sans clothing, but primarily because the scenes take on a bizarre and almost artsy-surreal quality after awhile. The film certainly does deliver on the promise of nudity; though this is one of the only films I've seen where Ruth Collins actually keeps her clothes on! And since this is a DeCoteau movie, ample time is also focused on the male star's physique, something not all that common in one of these things (though certainly common in the director's movies... even at this early stage in his career).
Though lead actress Randolph isn't given much at all to work with and is saddled with a poorly-written character, she at least manages to give a mature, somewhat subdued performance under the circumstances. Possibly best known for her bit as a horror movie actress in Brian De Palma's BODY DOUBLE (1984) - anyone who has seen that film remembers those closing credits quite fondly! - Randolph had a spotty career throughout the years in both exploitation and big budget Hollywood films, stretching back to the early 70s. According to some sources she also did a handful of X-rated films under the alias "Lisa Berenger." This is one of her only starring roles. All but one of top-billed Vincent's boring scenes take place in either his office or his attorney's (guest star Jack Carter) office, so his fans shouldn't really make this a priority. Abraham and Quigley also shared the screen in DeCoteau's low-budget ALIEN copy CREEPOZOIDS (1987) and in the Rick Sloane-directed comedy VICE ACADEMY (1988), another Up All Night staple.
The VHS was distributed through independent label Prism.