Sunday, May 22, 2022

In the Cold of the Night (1990)

... aka: Blue Passion
... aka: Brividi nella notte (Chills in the Night)
... aka: Dessein meurtrier (Murderous Design)
... aka: Heißkalte Nächte (Hot Cold Nights)
... aka: Hyytävä yö (A Chilling Night)
... aka: I den iskalla natten (In the Icy Night)
... aka: Jéghideg éjszaka, forró lány (Hot Girl in the Ice Cold Night)

Directed by:
Nico Mastorakis

The two most important films when it comes to establishing the late night erotic thriller (which started dominating late night cable TV and video stores in the early 90s) were Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992), but some of the more interesting films in this category - like this one - were made in between those two benchmark films. The opening few scenes are dripping with 80s style, almost hilariously so, and I mean that in a complementary way, of course! We get a bikini modeling session utilizing neon, fog and spinning lights in a beach ball motif, a bad-joke-riddled sex scene on a glowing waterbed (?!) and a heavily stylized nightmare sequence shot using some kind of strange pixilation / thermography + fish eyed lens effect. That's all just a little taste of the life of muscular, blonde-haired, blue-eyed California stud fashion photographer cum pineapple pizza enthusiast Scott Bruin (Jeff Lester). Our nightmare-plagued Ken Doll is having terrifying visions of murdering a mysterious brunette over and over and over again. While the methods of murder always change, the location and the victim always stay the same. 

Scott's gotten to the point of having to have his best bud Phil (Brian Thompson), a Venice Beach bodybuilder, come over to make sure he stays in bed and isn't actually getting up in the middle of the night and harming anyone, plus visiting shrink Dr. Frieberg (David Soul), who basically tells him that dreams, regardless of how bad they may be, are still just dreams at the end of the day. Scott feels otherwise.

Because his murderous visions are so detailed and vivid, and feel so real, Scott begins to suspect the girl from his nightmares is real and that perhaps he's somehow been able to "intercept" a real killer's thoughts or intentions. He also believes a terrible motorcycle accident he had not long ago, that left him in intensive care for five weeks, may have triggered something in his brain and given him ESP abilities. His buddy brushes off his theory ("I think you and Brian De Palma should get together!") but things only seem to worsen. In the middle of a photo session, a fully-awake Scott has another of his disturbing visions, which up until now have only occurred during his sleep. Returning to the hospital, Scott's EKG results come back fine, so his psychiatrist prescribes him muscle relaxers and sends him on his way.

Just by chance (...or is it?), Scott happens to spot a man on the beach wearing a hand-painted t-shirt with a drawing of the exact woman he's been dreaming about. That leads to artist Rudy's (John Beck) beachfront clothing shop. Rudy claims to have no clue who the woman is, so Scott leaves his card just in case he remembers.

The following morning, after Scott's "date" with model Lena (Shannon Tweed), whom he's kinda-sorta seeing (it's mostly just sexual), the mystery dream woman shows up at his front door. She introduces herself as Kimberly Shawn (Adrianne Sachs, who was Miss Brazil in 1986) and she's wondering why he's been inquiring about her. Kimberly claims that Rudy is her overly-protective ex-husband. Scott doesn't divulge where he really knows her from and instead insists he saw her image and simply wanted to use her as a model. The two flirt over coffee, have lunch with her bird-fearing mother, Clara (played by Tippi Hedren... nyuk nyuk nyuk, get it?), and, before he knows it, she's getting into a black BMW with an unknown man and taking off. He will see her again, however, as she's left her motorcycle behind at his place.

Kimberly shows up to get her bike and invites Scott back to a luxurious 12 million dollar mansion she claims to be housesitting for a friend. It's the same place he's been dreaming about. Not deterred by any of that, Scott and Kimberly engage in an extended "foreplay" session that involves ludicrous yet hilarious "seductive" dialogue exchanges ("Maybe it's the sauce... maybe it's just the way I taste."), lingering sips of fine wine and sucking caviar off each other's fingers. As a saxophone obnoxiously blares on the soundtrack, the two get it on in the shower and then move to the bed, where he dumps a heart-shaped glass bowl full of marbles (!?!) all over her chest.

Scott begins basically living at the home, and the two fall deeper and deeper in love, yet his nightmares about killing her still haven't stopped. Sometimes he even wakes up in the process of actually strangling her. Fearing her life may be in danger, he gives her a gun and tells her to just shoot him if it ever happens again. Scott is also growing increasingly paranoid about Kimberly herself. He follows her to "work" and she ends up going to a mansion of whoever it is that owns that black BMW. Is she continuing her relationship with the man behind his back? And what role does Marc Singer's sinister tech guru (introduced at the eleventh hour) play in all of this?

Pilfering heavily from Hitchcock and (most especially) the already name-dropped De Palma, this throws mystery, noir, sci-fi, romance and conspiratorial thriller elements in a blender, adds a dash of Sex, Lies and Laserdisc, a pinch of Cronenberg and a splash of any grainy lo-fi found footage horror movie of your choice, and then purees it all into some incomprehensible clump of something or other. Through it all, one entirely accidental yet nonetheless fascinating question emerges: Just how far can shallow aesthetic pleasures go to ensure our filmgoing enjoyment?

Mastorakis backs himself in a corner with a self-aware yet muddled screenplay (co-written by Fred C. Perry) but lays on the pretty imagery so thick and heavy that he comes pretty damn close to eye candy-ing his way out of it. The luxury gated mansions where most of the film takes place, with their large swimming pools, expensive décor, flowing curtains, huge columns and neon accouterments, all look ready for a featured spread in Architectural Digest. And they all sit in front of beautiful, perfectly manicured lawns in front of beautiful, shimmering beaches in front of beautiful, picturesque sunsets. The two leads (who aren't so good at the acting part of their jobs, but you'll have that) and the models who frequent the studio are all tanned, toned, waxed, plucked, gelled, sprayed, coiffed and spit-shined to Hollywood perfection. And the whole movie is gorgeously photographed by Andreas Bellis, with terrific shot compositions and excellent lighting schemes used throughout. There's barely a moment that goes by where your eyes aren't transfixed by something.

For some reason, there are a ton of mostly-unsubtle film references in here. Friday the 13th and Jagged Edge are used as punchlines, and when Scott sits down to watch a couple of movies, he naturally throws on two earlier Mastorakis films; The Wind (1986) and Terminal Exposure (1987), and we get to see clips from each.

All of the name value stars on the payroll are only around briefly. Hedren and Beck have just one scene apiece, Soul has two (which is basically just one sitting-behind-a-desk scene split into two with a costume change) and Singer shows up at the very end looking goofy and confused (can't really blame him, though). Thompson, who was married to the director's daughter, Isabelle Mastorakis (also the executive producer), at the time, has a bit more screen time, as does Tweed, who plays a potentially interesting, free-spirited character but is underutilized. The cast also includes prolific character actor Jack Kehler (who just passed away a few weeks ago) as a wino, Shelley Michelle (a body double frequently used by Hollywood stars like Julia Roberts and Kim Basinger) and Melinda Armstrong as models, an uncredited Melissa Moore, who can be spotted as an extra during a party scene, and the director in a cameo.

Here in the U.S., this was unfairly slapped with an X rating despite not being all that sexually graphic and containing very little full nudity (there's quite a bit of T&A though) or violence. That was later converted over to an NC-17. The original Republic Pictures VHS was released in both R and NC-17 versions, with only one minute of footage missing from the former. Both cuts are nearly 2 hours long! In 2019, Vinegar Syndrome released an uncut, restored version to Blu-ray, which looks fantastic.


De vlieg (1985)

... aka: Fly, The

Directed by:
Hans Heijnen

A year before David Cronenberg made his hit remake of the 1958 Vincent Price classic, we got another fly film not many know about. This one's a 19- minute short from the Netherlands and, unlike the other, more famous Fly horror properties, it does not involve a human turning into an insect monster. Instead, this is a black comedy dealing with normal-sized flies and just how bloody irritating they can be.

I would say the bachelor protagonist (Hans Beijer, who also had a small role in Dick Maas' slasher / mystery Amsterdamned) is a bit of a slob, but seeing how he has dishes piled up on both his oven and his sink and leaves food sitting out until it's festering with maggots, I'd say he's a major slob. As he's sitting down at the table with a newspaper and his breakfast, a fly swarms around his hand and lands on his arm. He hits it with the newspaper. Carry on. As he tries to eat, he hears the same fly buzzing about but can't find it. He goes for a pat of butter, but finds the fly sitting on top. That causes him to knock over a coffee cup. He attempts to blow the fly off the butter but it doesn't budge until he starts swatting his hands around.

Oh well, time to get some work done... well, except this guy's a photographer and the fly decides it's going to ruin all of his shots by landing directly on his camera lens and then refusing to get off. Seeing how swatting it has already failed, the man brings out the heavy artillery: a vacuum cleaner. Somehow, the fly manages to avoid getting sucked up. And it also manages to survive being lured into food traps utilizing strawberry jam and rotting meat and getting smashed with a flyswatter several times and roasted with a lighter. Is this thing even for real? Or is there something else going on here?

This isn't poorly made or anything (there's some OK camerawork and a few fly POV shots thrown in), it just isn't particularly clever and offers up too few surprises, though the last few seconds kind of deliver one. I had much more fun making the poster for this than I did watching it. The director would go on to a career as a documentary filmmaker.

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