Sounds like one of those generic, interchangeable erotic thrillers you could stumble across flipping through the channels at 3am, right? Yep. Sure does. But titles can be - and often are - deceiving. This is actually something of a gem, made in the early days of direct-to-cable and video erotica when these movies, first and foremost, had to cut it as actual movies, with at least a semblance of a plot, actors with talent and / or some artistry. This one has all of that, as well as a sharp, funny and sometimes insightful screenplay. Though there's plenty of nudity, strip acts and some kinky sex thrown in for good measure, what this is really about is a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis who feels like he's living a lie and is ready for a reevaluation of what's truly important to him. Behind the pretty wife, the nice house in the respectable neighborhood and the cushy job with plenty of room for advancement lies a man who feels unfulfilled and bored by it all. City councilman Franklyn Carlyle (William Katt) is that man. He's on the fast track to becoming the city's mayor and, working in conjunction with an opportunistic lobbyist (Tommy Hinkley), has come up with just the project to seal the deal. Dante's Square, the "bad" area of the city filled with derelicts, drunks, prostitutes, strippers and other undesirables, could use a renovation. Eliminate the trash, build a mall, some condos and a church; "clean up the city" and the election is his for the taking.
Late one night, Franklyn decides to scout Dante's Square when someone yanks him out of his car, hits him over the head wth a 2x4 and steals both his wallet and his wheels. When he comes to, a homeless man named Sam Silver (Rick Dean) is hovering over him. Though a drunk, Sam is no idiot. In fact, he's intelligent, witty and has a real way with words. "Life ain't permanent. Don't take it so seriously," he tells the shaken politician before taking him to the seedy Ying Yang strip club. The pay phone's busy, so Sam buys Franklyn a drink instead and the two decide to sit down and enjoy the show. Beautiful, flirtatious dancer Lynne (Maria Ford) is immediately drawn to Franklyn and vice versa. After performing her routine and Franklyn's about to head out the door, Lynne shoots him such a shy, sweet smile that you just know Franklyn's not going to forget about her. In fact, he's back there the very next night, but not before trying to ignite some passion into his sterile marriage to the uptight Saundra (Wendy MacDonald), who's simply not interested.
Heading back to Dante's Square, Franklyn runs into both Sam and Lynne once again. He makes sure to pay Sam back for the other night with a bottle of booze (he prefers it blood red and warm) and decides to give Lynne a lift back home, where she introduces the reserved politician to the joys of oxygen deprivation sex. Though things get a little rough, both part ways happy. The following day, Franklyn - scared he might get exposed for the affair - returns to Lynne's apartment to ask she keep things confidential, only to discover her being hauled out on a stretcher with a rope wrapped around her neck. A detective (former 49ers linebacker Roger Craig) immediately chases after him until Sam intervenes and then things get even stranger as Sam proves to be not quite human and in possession of some otherworldly powers, Franklyn's wife turns out to be having an affair of her own with the lobbyist and other people turn up dead.
Considering I could probably watch Ford perform strip acts for 90 minutes and be perfectly content with just that, this has the added bonus of humor, originality and visual style (neon-lit nights and some interesting black-and-white sequences). The film is well-made, well-written, imaginative and unpredictable, and the cast is also pretty good, with Katt doing a fine job in the lead role and Ford bringing her usual sweetness and vulnerability to a role that would have come off as just trashy in most other's hands. Apparently the director was originally going to cast porn queen Ginger Lynn Allen in the role. Glad he didn't. The big revelation here, though, is Rick Dean as the wise, enigmatic vagrant who describes how all cities need a balance between the dark and the light to cater to an individual's unique taste and tries to convince Franklyn that he's better off learning to embracing his repressed dark side: "There's nothing wrong with the dark, you spend half your life in it. The problem is most people have their eyes closed." Talented character actor Dean (who sadly passed away in 2006) is great in this role; one of the largest and most memorable of his career. He'd play a somewhat similar part in STRIPTEASER (1995), which was also set in a strip club and again starring Ms. Ford.
It was produced by Roger Corman and released by Corman's Concorde / New Horizons label on VHS. Unfortunately, there is no DVD as of this writing. Hope that changes one day. Also turning up in the cast are Elena Sahagun as Franklyn's loyal and overly protective secretary, director Fred Olen Ray as the strip club MC, porn actress Madison Stone (who appeared in Ray's EVIL TOONS the same year) as a stripper and an unbilled Michelle Bauer as a table dancer.