Color, 1988, 90 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by William Webb
Starring Richard Hatch, Shawn Weatherly, Leif Garrett, Greta Blackburn, Richard Roundtree, Patricia Patts,
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Geared for the cable TV and VHS markets but somehow snuck out into a handful of movie theaters in the late '80s, this oddball erotic thriller managed to beat the height of that craze by a couple of years with its combination of straight razor mayhem and heated sexual atmosphere. Surprisingly perverse at times and now a weird time capsule as well, it's been given a surprising second lease on life from Vinegar Syndrome in a release that finds the company treading into some interesting new waters.
L.A. singles are going nuts for adults-only party lines, a pay-per-minute phone service where you can call in, maybe hook up, or even listen in on other horny locals getting to know each other. One unlucky married sap ends up going home with Angelina (Blackburn) only to be confronted in the heat of passion by her psychotic brother, Seth (Garrett), who swipes his wallet and threatens to tell his wife and kids before they both end up slicing his throat instead. Exactly why they go through this blackmail ruse is never really explained, but they're both a couple of sick puppies whose parents have recently died with a sordid mixture of incest and murder in their past. On top of that, they're clearly engaged in a psychosexual relationship with Angelina verbally berating her "mama's boy" brother, especially when he puts on late mom's wedding dress. Their antics soon cross paths with two other parties: Dan Bridges (Battlestar Galactica's Hatch), a renegade cop who doesn't always play by the rules of his boss (Roundtree), and Jennifer (Patts), a prankster teenage babysitter who toys with Seth on the party line where he's posing as the "Explorer." Bridges ends up getting paired with DA Special Investigator Stacy Sloan (Weatherly) to investigate the party line and neon-drenched nightclub scene, where they end up teaming with Jennifer and getting a little too close to the murderous siblings.
Obviously the real draw here for pop culture fanatics is seeing onetime teen heartthrob and pop singer Garrett and a very committed Blackburn stealing the entire film as the two villains preying on the latest social craze and exercising their own extremely bent version of morality. There's also a lot of entertainment in the sections with Jennifer and her best pal goofing around I Saw What You Did style on the party line, complete with a perverse addition involving a predatory dad that could have stumbled in from Scream for Help. As with most thrillers, the cop sections are easily the least interesting with Hatch and Weatherly stuck in flat investigative roles that don't give them much to play with; in fact, it's Roundtree and an underused Marty Dudek who give some spark to the procedural scenes instead. The gore level is fairly low here (just some stage blood squirted on necks for a couple of seconds), but the sleaze factor is high with wailing saxophone music accompanying lots of these sex-hungry Angelenos prowling around at night.
In keeping with its track record, Vinegar Syndrome's dual-format Region A Blu-ray and DVD edition looks really spectacular with a far more intense visual palette than you'd expect from the long unavailable VHS release. The gaudy colors really pop, the restoration of the 1.85:1 framing snaps things nicely into place, and detail throughout is strong with natural film grain visible throughout. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono English track with English SDH subtitles is less impressive given that the original mix was nothing to get too excited about, but it's accurate to the source and fine for what it is. "Party Line Fever"(16m24s) with screenwriter Richard Brandes offers some context for the idea as a sort of proto-Tinder and covers his pathway to this film after relocating to L.A. from Atlanta and going through the acting school scene in town. He also covers his own little role in the film, the unlikely circumstances that led to a tiny theatrical release, and the side venture that led to him modeling leather clothing through two of the married cast members. A fun theatrical trailer is also included, and as usual, there's also a limited edition slipcase option.
Reviewed on February 28, 2019.