The Movie Waffler First Look Review - WE KILL FOR LOVE | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - WE KILL FOR LOVE

We Kill For Love review
Exploration of the erotic thriller sub-genre.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Anthony Penta

We Kill For Love poster

Even the most disreputable of film sub-genres will inevitably find themselves re-evaluated at some point. They don't come much more disreputable than the "erotic thriller," a sub-genre which flourished in the 1990s and has recently found itself the subject of critical reassessment. At time of writing the cinephile streaming service Criterion Channel is hosting a retrospective of the sub-genre, and it's also the subject of the most recent season of Karina Longworth's acclaimed 'You Must Remember This' podcast. With sex having practically disappeared from American mainstream cinema over the last decade or so, and unlikely to return in this post MeToo era where the consensual baby has been thrown out with the non-consensual bathwater, audiences are beginning to grow nostalgic for that most unlikely of reappraisal-worthy movements – the straight to video erotic thriller.

Enter director Anthony Penta, who has spent six years assembling his deep dive into the sub-genre, We Kill For Love, and finds his film fortuitously arriving amidst a swell of interest in its subject matter.

We Kill For Love review

Aping highly sexualised cable shows like Red Shoe Diaries and The Hitchhiker, Peta sets up his exploration through the figure of "The Archivist" (Michael Reed), who enters an abandoned office littered with VHS tapes and breaks down the documentary into various chapters.

Some of these chapters are focussed on individual movies. Along with blockbusters like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, straight to video titles like the Night Eyes series also get their due. It's a decidedly democratic approach to the movement, as it should be given how the vast majority of its output skipped cinemas.

We Kill For Love review

Other chapters are centred on the stars and filmmakers involved in the sub-genre, including former Dallas star turned king of the erotic thriller Andrew Stevens, who tells some great anecdotes about how he found inspiration for Night Eyes and how he insisted on having a box around his name on movie posters; prolific directors Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray; and of course the many leading ladies, including Monique Parent, Jodie Fisher and Kira Reed Lorsch. Like visual boxouts, there are fun diversions examining the tropes of the sub-genre, like how everyone involved seems to drive a red sportscar and live in a barely furnished white house in the Hollywood hills, and the impractical abundance of candles dotted about in love scenes.

Penta goes back to the era of film noir, with its femme fatales, and of Hitchcock's obsessed male protagonists to find the roots of the erotic thriller. Of course, it's '80s hits like 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction that really kicked off the movement, both of which are given due consideration, but it's odd that Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape is never brought up, given its massive influence in combining eroticism with arthouse and independent cinema. That's a notable omission however in a doc that fills its almost three hour run time with mention of practically every title you could think of with regards to erotic thrillers, or at least those made in the US. My only other gripe is that Penta narrates the film himself, and given how much time is spent noting how female-dominated the sub-genre is, it feels like a misstep not to have a female narrator.

We Kill For Love review

Perhaps what We Kill For Love highlights most of all is how well shot many of these movies were. Despite being made to be seen on VHS or late night cable channels in standard definition, they often featured the sort of expressionist lighting and framing that makes the average modern Hollywood production look like a sitcom in comparison. As various contributors point out, the producers may have just wanted to put out movies they could market for their sexual content, but behind the camera were often talented creatives determined to make the best erotic thriller possible.

As an overview of a sub-genre, We Kill For Love isn't quite in the same league as the Ozploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood or the recent folk-horror deep dive Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched. But it's not far off, and you may well find yourself jotting down the titles of movies that you glanced past in video stores 25 years ago. Yesterday's trash is today's treasure.

A release date has yet to be announced.

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