By RICKY J. DUARTE
A statuesque, beautiful woman longingly places a cigarette in her mouth. A handsome, cocksure man reaches from behind and with the flick of his lighter, ignites both her smoke and her desires. Before long, the clothes come off, the secrets pile up, and someone ends up dead. It’s a setup we’ve seen time and time again as far back as the film noir craze of the 40’s and 50’s, yet it was the 80’s and 90’s that really capitalized on forbidden lust and the dangers of sex with the birth of the erotic thriller. The genre was more than just taboo television and DTV, it was a multimillion-dollar industry. Telling stories of impossibly beautiful, impossibly wealthy people living impossibly sexy lives, these films spoke to the innermost desires of viewers, engaging audiences with actual storytelling and a challenge against what was (and is) considered to be acceptable content.
The new documentary WE KILL FOR LOVE: THE LOST WORLD OF THE EROTIC THRILLER, directed by Anthony Penta, explores these desires, and more. Having made its premiere at New Orleans’ Overlook Film Festival in early April, the film is a captivating celebration and exploration of the darkest depths of a bygone era; of late-night TV and video store rentals; of the morally ambiguous male and the femme fatale; of deceit, infidelity, and dark, dangerous desires. Behind closed doors, it’s clear there’s an undeniable attraction to something as simple yet forbidden as, “The guy, the girl, and the gun.”
Following the bookending arc of a voyeuristic archivist (Michael Reed) surrounded by VHS tapes boasting titillating covers in a seedy basement, each segment of the film serves to effectively further the exploration of the genre as a whole, as well as its individual parts. At nearly two hours and forty-five minutes, the film is lengthy but never boring. The well-researched and relayed information is sure to be appealing to both hardcore fans of the genre and the casual voyeur. Interviews with the genre’s stars (including Monique Parent, Amy Lindsay, Kira Reed, and Andrew Stevens) as well as filmmakers of the time (including James Dearden and Fred Olen Ray) provide a perspective on these films viewers may never have previously considered while flipping channels with their one free hand.
The film’s greatest strength lies in its lack of judgment against the genre, making the statement that often what Hollywood considers to be pornography vs. erotica comes down to one thing: money. If films like BASIC INSTINCT and FATAL ATTRACTION can be lauded and celebrated by both audiences and critics, why can’t a late-night movie on cable TV? These forgotten titles, many lost to time, stood up to censorship and conventional entertainment tropes. They’re not all masterpieces, but they are, at their core, serving a common purpose: to reflect a darkness in humanity and to turn people on.
The film leaves one wondering where eroticism lies in today’s world. With such casual access to pornography via the internet and people’s fascination with voyeurism evolving into modern pay sites like Only Fans, there’s something to be said about the subtlety of the erotic thriller and its ability to entice, tease, and entertain. That’s one thing the documentary insists on making very clear: despite perception and what the media may have spun, these movies were never porn. They were handled and produced as art…very sexy art. Yet by modern standards, this once-taboo genre seems almost tame compared to today’s cable television fare. It’s undeniable the erotic thriller paved the way for much of today’s entertainment, and thanks to WE KILL FOR LOVE, it may just get its due.