Color, 1992, 94 mins. 7 secs. / 91 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Katt Shea Ruben
Starring Drew Barrymore, Sara Gilbert, Tom Skerritt, Cheryl Ladd, Alan Stock, Jeanne Sakata

Color, 1996, 107 mins. 15 secs. / 106 mins.
DIrected by Anne Goursaud
Starring Alyssa Milano, Johnathon Schaech, Xander Berkeley, Belinda Bauer, Camilla Belle

Color, 1997, 94 mins. 18 secs. / 92 mins. 43 secs.
Directed by Kurt Voss
Starring Jaime Pressly, Megan Edwards, Michael Des Barres, Greg Vaughan, Susan Tyrrell

Color, 2008, 95 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by Jason Hreno
Starring Miriam McDonald, Shawna Waldron, Ryan Kennedy, Crystal Lowe, Andrea Whitburn, Greg Evigan, Catherine Hicks
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Warner Bros. (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Poison Ivymovie that perhaps played the largest role in the home video erotic Poison Ivythriller trend that exploded in the early '90s (while Basic Instinct can take credit for it in the multiplex), Poison Ivy was virtually overlooked on the big screen but became a smash hit thanks to video stores and cable TV, spawning three sequels and a host of imitators. Unlike the more giallo-influenced Basic Instinct, Poison Ivy is more intimate and deliberately paced, though not without its share of exploitative elements and moments of outrageous melodrama as it eventually earns its thriller stripes.

Homely young Sylvie Cooper (Roseanne's Gilbert) becomes fascinated by one of her classmates, the tattooed, bleach-blonde Ivy (Barrymore). Sylvie can barely communicate with her gruff father, Darryl (Skerritt) and her ailing mother, Georgie (Ladd). Pretty soon Ivy's worked her way into the family unit and gotten Darryl twisted around her little finger. Sylvie becomes alarmed at the amount of power Ivy seems to be exerting over everyone, including her dog (the most surreal sequence), and things take a particularly nasty turn after one family member dies under mysterious circumstances.

A slick mixture of cheap thrills and sincere drama, Poison Ivy may be junk food at its core but distinguishes itself for its peers thanks to much better performances than expected. Gilbert, Poison Ivywhose voice overs frame the film, is a particular standout and manages to ground the story every time it threatens to wander off into Poison Ivy II: Lilyheavy-panting late night cable territory. Barrymore obviously makes a great Ivy, still one of her most entertaining roles despite the blatant use of a body double. David Michael Franke's lyrical score and some extremely stylish cinematography also help director Ruben (Stripped to Kill and the underrated The Rage: Carrie II) pull of this tricky genre bender, which ultimately becomes one of the most unusual and painful stories of young female bonding of its era.

Released direct to video four years after the first film, Poison Ivy II: Lily justifies its title with an interesting device: a stash of sexy art photos of the original Ivy left behind to be discovered by meek, mousy art student Lily (Milano, fresh off of Embrace of the Vampire for the same director, Anne Goursaud, and on the cusp of Melrose Place and Charmed), who's just come to California from Michigan. She's eager to please her art professor, Donald (Berkeley), as well as smoldering wannabe artist Gredin (Schaech), so she decides to take a few tips from Poison Ivy II: LilyIvy by cutting her hair, piercing her navel, and wearing tight tops to boost her confidence. It seems to work as she ends up attracting both men,though Donad -- who's married to none other than Belinda Bauer -- might have some nasty jealous issues. Though insanely Poison Ivy II: Lilyoverlong at 107 minutes, this one understandably became a cable and VHS classic as well thanks to Milano's go for broke performance and its deliciously tacky '90s atmosphere, complete with a "hot alternative" soundtrack laced with pseudo-Enigma chanting beats.

Just a year later, the world got a third Poison Ivy film that also marked the "introducing" appearance of Jaime Pressly, future star of TV's My Name Is Earl and Mom. Here she has a field day as Violet, who was childhood friends with Joy (Edwards) and has now come back to move in and make life a living hell. Why? Turns out Violet's mom was jilted by Joy's dad, Ivan (Des Barres), so Violet's going to stick the knife in any way she can. That includes seducing Joy's boyfriend, Michael (soap star Vaughan), with dirty Wall Poison Ivy: The New SeductionStreet talk, and moving in on dad of course after swimming topless in the family pool. The family housekeeper (Susan Tyrrell!) isn't too pleased with the interloper who keeps running around in the dead wife's clothing, but what can you do about a woman who offers advice like, "The first time I Poison Ivy: The New Seductionwas with a guy, I was 13. I was known as the school slut by the time I was 14. Then I got smart; I stopped going to school." Oh, and Violet is also the original Ivy's sister! While the first two films were more suggestive about the sexual content, this one goes through the roof with a parade of nudity and lengthy sex scenes featuring a very unabashed Pressly. She's really the reason to watch the film, which otherwise plays out like your standard Lifetime domestic thriller.

Last and definitely least is the much later Poison Ivy: The Secret Society, which actually did first appear on Lifetime. Obviously taking a page from The Skulls, it's about a girl from the sticks named Daisy (McDonald) who ends up going to a swanky New England college where she manages to catch the attention of both the dean's son, Blake (Kennedy), and the exclusive, secretive all-female club, the Ivy Society. Its head, Azalea (Waldron), wants the same big D.C. Poison Ivy: The Secret Societyscholarship Daisy's vying for, which leads to a reluctant initiation complete with Daisy getting an ivy tattoo. As it turns out, the society isn't quite the happy sisterhood it appears with a deadly agenda that could put Daisy in very hot water. This time there's no narrative connection to Poison Ivy: The New Seductionthe first film at all, and it also marks the second time a man took over directing reins in the series. It's all pretty bland and forgettable, though the climax is so spectacularly goofy you almost have to admire the filmmakers for attempting it. At least you get a welcome appearance by Catherine Hicks as the dean, managed to keep a straight face through it all.

New Line first released the first Poison Ivy on DVD as one of its unrated/rated hybrid titles like Crash and Damage in matted (1.85:1) or open matte (1.33:1) options, both looking good with the open matte giving the film too much extraneous space and coming off more like a tacky cable movie. In 2019, Scream Factory brought the film to Blu-ray as the headliner in The Poison Ivy Collection, marking this film's HD debut and packaged with its its three sequels. Again you have the choice of the R-rated or unrated versions (apart from the fourth film, which only exists in one version outside of Poison Ivy: The Secret Societycable TV), which are indistinguishable in terms of quality between the versions apart from some brief, obvious SD inserts for the unrated footage, most blatantly the third film. The first two features look the most impressive with fine transfers (MPEG4 AVC in all cases) replicating the Poison Ivy: The Secret Societyintentionally gauzy, dreamlike '90s look of the film stock. The fourth film (the only one previously released on Blu-ray, and it looked spectacularly terrible) has always been a problem since it was shot on film but, by the looks of it, edited on video with heavy DNR baked in during the process, a short-lived but very destructive common practice around that time. As such it'll always be something of a mess, though at least this release marks a step up thanks to its lossless audio and more generous encoding. All of the titles feature DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo tracks (all filled with strong separation effects throughout) with optional English SDH subtitles as well as their respective trailers (from archival SD masters). The big extra here is a new audio commentary with Ruben in conversation with C. Courtney Joyner over the R-rated version, her preferred cut of the film. She's in a great mood revisiting the film and talking about the casting process (including the bumpy path to getting Barrymore on board), the route to New Line through Streets, the inherent outsider status of most filmmakers, her knack for discovering Oscar-winning cinematographers, and some of the real-life circumstances that filtered into the movie including, yes, the bit with Fred the dog.

Poison Ivy Poison Ivy Poison Ivy II Poison Ivy II Poison Ivy II

Reviewed on February 10, 2019.