Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Seduction, The (1982)

... aka: Tele-Terror

Directed by:
David Schmoeller

In her early 20s, Patsy McClenny moved from Texas to New York City, changed her name to Morgan Fairchild and landed a regular role on the soap opera "Search for Tomorrow" 6 months after arriving. A whole host of TV guest spots and made-for-TV movies like THE INITIATION OF SARAH (1978) followed before she caught her big break in the prime time series "Flamingo Road." Though the show was short-lived and lasted only two seasons, it earned the actress Golden Globe recognition and made her a household name. Fairchild is actually quite interesting in the pantheon on blonde Hollywood bombshells. Her husky voice, the air of refinement she exuded, her extensive work for AIDS and environmental charities and the fact she had no problem acting in live theatrical productions (and gaining good notices in the process) was something that certainly set her apart. She was not only beautiful, but also came across as classy; eschewing any "blonde bimbo" connotation one may attribute to her looks. It's no wonder producers wanted to get this glamorous blonde her own sexy big budget starring vehicle stat. Unfortunately, that vehicle (the actress' first big screen leading role) turned out to be a critical failure and wasn't much of a box office hit either, leading to production company Avco Embassy to be sold (it later reformed as just Embassy Pictures) and ultimately doing little positive for Fairchild's career. Afterward, she was driven back to TV (where she's been quite successful; albeit usually typecast in bitch roles) and a succession of mostly low budget B-movies.

The Seduction was likely made in response to Brian De Palma's Hitchcock-inspired shocker DRESSED TO KILL (1980) and the steamy neo-noir Body Heat (1981); two critically-lauded box office successes that combined a mystery / thriller plot with soft R-rated eroticism. Things begin with some very 80s opening credits - tacky hot pink cursive letters and a corny love song ("Heart to heart here were arrrrrrreeeee.... sharing secrets in the darrrrrrrkkkkk...") - sure to activate the gag reflex of many. Thankfully, the feeling of nausea is soon vanquished by the sight of Morgan swimming around naked in her pool. But someone living in a house atop the hill overlooking her home is looking down upon her, watching her, photographing her. The same guy has a wall decorated with her photographs. And the same guy doesn't hesitate to just call her up on the phone to tell her he's watching her, which she shrugs off to her older lover Brandon (Michael Sarrazin) as just another "admirer." Yes, just another admirer. From these opening scenes, Fairchild's character - Jamie Douglas, newscaster for KXLA, Los Angeles - is doing pretty much everything in her power to make the audience detest her. It's not really the actresses fault, though. It's more the script. After listening to Brandon gloat about how beautiful, rich and successful she is, she purrs "I have everything in life I want. I'm completely happy." Uh oh, here comes that queasy feeling again...

Jamie goes to work, where a bouquet of roses from Derek - aka the guy atop the hill - are waiting for her. He then calls. Several times. When she returns home, he calls her there and insists she meet him. She declines. He keeps calling. She goes to her actress friend Robin's (Colleen Camp) for a drink and he calls her there, too. The next day, Derek pops up in Jamie's dressing room armed with a box of chocolates and an apology. He claims he won't be bothering her anymore. Suuuure. I should stop here and note that Derek is played by Andrew Stevens, a handsome guy I'm sure a lot of women wouldn't mind being showered with affection by. Usually these kind of psycho roles are inhabited by grotesque, sweaty goons, so the casting of a hunk (who is notably much-better looking that Jamie's current beau) is somewhat interesting. And the film even hints early on that Jamie is kind of excited about the unwanted attention she's getting from this guy. Now that would have been an interesting angle to work: a woman falling in love with her stalker, or one who gets sexually excited by her stalker and his voyuerism. Instead, we get all of the usual psycho-killer clichés trotted out with minimal surprise, a slow pace, next to no suspense and even less depth.

So Derek keeps on doing his thing. He slashes Brandon's tires. He barges into Jamie's home, scaring her with an impromptu photo session. He follows her to the mall and buys a music box she was looking at in order to try to impress her. While all that's going on, our newscaster heroine is covering "The Sweetheart Murders;" a series of local killings of young women, at work. It's an open-ended subplot that is curiously dropped without further comment after a certain point. Finally fed up, Jamie and Brandon go to Police Captain Maxwell (Vince Edwards) for help, but he promptly informs them that he can't do anything because "the guy hasn't really committed a crime." Oh, really? Though anti-stalking laws wouldn't start going into effect until 1990, you'd figure they could at least get him on harassment, forced entry or breaking and entering. Maxwell instead suggests they purchase themselves a gun; a common 'call to vigilantism' trope seen in many similar 'empowering' 70s and 80s films. Brandon purchases a rifle ("If lover boy shows up again I'm going to blow his pecker off!") but doesn't get a chance to use it after Derek stabs him in the back... while he's getting down with Fairchild in the hot tub, no less. The disastrous, woefully unconvincing and unintentionally funny finale has Fairchild throwing her prissy passivity and gentle nature aside to go Bronson and turn the tables on her attacker.

Aside from Stevens, who gives a surprisingly solid performance as the psycho, the other primary actors (Fairchild included) are left to flounder their way through this mess. It's hard to really criticize any of them, though. Nor can one criticize cinematographer Mac Ahlberg or composer Lalo Schifrin's contributions. The bulk of the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Schmoeller, whose poor direction and script manage to bring out the absolute worst in his performers; all of whom have made much stronger impressions elsewhere. There are both good and bad moments to Fairchild's overall performance (leading to dual Razzie nominations for "Worst Actress" and "Worst New Star") while Sarrazin has some of the worst dialogue and is poorly and rather unbelievably paired up the attractive star. Edwards' character is an idiot and, as the "quirky" and "funny" best friend, Camp (also a Razzie nominee for this film) comes off as grating in the extreme. There are some tasteful (i.e. brief and partially shrouded) nudes of Fairchild sprinkled throughout to give us something worth watching. There's also one very-well-done erotic sequence where the psycho hides in the closet watching the breathless star taking a bubble bath. The publicity for the film centered on these moments and the promise of Fairchild sans clothing, likely because there's little else here of see.

Irwin Yablans (the original Halloween series) and future director Chuck Russell were two of the producers. Also in the cast are Kevin Brophy (previously seen in the slasher HELL NIGHT) as Fairchid's personal assistant, Wendy Smith Howard as Stevens' assistant (who's in love with him), Joanne Linville as a pop psychologist who tells us what "erotomania" is and Cathryn Hartt (Fairchild's sister) as a girl working a teleprompter. Future Scream Queen Brinke Stevens can also be spotted for a few seconds exiting a sauna. The film was relatively popular on cable TV and video throughout the 80s and there was a more recent Anchor Bay DVD release which included a commentary track from Schmoeller and Yablans. Fairchild and Stevens would team up again for the erotic thriller Body Chemistry 3: Point of Seduction (1993).


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