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Retro Review: SNAPDRAGON (1993)

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SNAPDRAGON
(US - 1993)

Directed by Worth Keeter. Written by Gene Church. Cast: Steven Bauer, Chelsea Field, Pamela Anderson, Matt McCoy, Kenneth Tigar, Larry Manetti, Rance Howard, Gloria LeRoy, Diana Lee Hsu, Irene Tsu, Michael Monks. (R, 98 mins)

A fixture on new release walls in video stores throughout the 1990s, the straight-to-video erotic thriller has been woefully underrepresented on Blu-ray, with only the tiniest smattering of titles like Vinegar Syndrome's IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT, Synapse's SORCERESS, and Shout! Factory's POISON IVY box set (the sequels were DTV) seeing the light of day so far. There have been no four-disc Shannon Tweed collections, no NIGHT EYES box sets, and no ANIMAL INSTINCTS or MIRROR IMAGES or IN THE HEAT OF PASSION double feature sets. Once in a while, one just suddenly appears, and just out on Blu-ray from MVD (because physical media is dead) is SNAPDRAGON, which hit video stores in December 1993 courtesy of Prism Entertainment. SNAPDRAGON was a durable rental title for quite some time, thanks to it fortuitously catching Pamela Anderson right at the moment when she was becoming a pop culture phenomenon and ubiquitous tabloid presence. She'd been a PlayboyPlaymate of the Month in February 1990 and spent some time as the Tool Time Girl on HOME IMPROVEMENT before joining BAYWATCH in 1992 at the start of its third season and becoming the major factor in the show's huge success in syndication. SNAPDRAGON was filmed in 1992 but by the time it was released a year later, she was a household name, giving it a little more of a higher profile among Blockbuster customers than the usual DTV erotic thriller. Unfortunately, it's also one of the tamest of its kind, so much so that it went out with an R rating, and unlike other Prism erotic thrillers from producer Ashok Amritraj, like NIGHT EYES and LAST CALL, it wasn't even explicit enough warrant a hyperbolic "Unrated Version!" plastered on the cover box. The image of a pouty-lipped, scantily-clad Anderson was enough to guarantee interest.






Directed by B-movie vet Worth Keeter (L.A. BOUNTY) and written by Gene Church (whose only other noteworthy credit was one penultimate-season episode of QUINCY, M.E.), SNAPDRAGON tries to be trickier than the usual DTV erotic thriller, but all it does is keep getting in its own way. It's hard to eroticize a story with a foundation in Asian (or, in the parlance of pre-woke 1993, "Oriental") underage sex trafficking, but SNAPDRAGON gives it a shot anyway. There's been two brutal murders in L.A., both men, both killed during rough sex by having their carotid artery sliced open by a razor blade-like mechanism. The killer leaves a black silk cloth draped over their eyes, and a mysterious "Oriental" symbol written on a mirror in the victim's blood. Vice cop Peckham (THE LAST BOY SCOUT's Chelsea Field) is the first to notice the pattern and she's temporarily transferred to homicide and partnered with obnoxious Lengle (MAGNUM P.I.'s Larry Manetti). Peckham is also casually hooking up with police shrink Dr. David Hoogstraten (SCARFACE's Steven Bauer), and asks him to put together a profile. While visiting a colleague (THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE's Matt McCoy), David encounters an amnesiac patient named Felicity (Anderson), who's bruised and battered, with X-rays revealing signs of broken bones from childhood that never properly healed.


Doing some of his own detective work against Peckham's wishes, and getting info about one of the victims, David finds out from a priest who might as well be named Father Exposition (Rance Howard) that said victim was a missionary in Asia ten years ago. That, coupled with a tattoo of a snapdragon on Felicity's upper thigh, his discovery that the mystery symbol is the "Mark of the Virgin," and after learning that Felicity's parents were murdered while in Asia a decade earlier, convinces David that Felicity is suffering from a split personality disorder after being sold into sexual slavery as a child. The body count rises, and her nightmares about having sex with faceless strangers and murdering them intensify as David believes she's killing these men as part of a complex, deep-rooted vengeance. Felicity is an extraordinarily damaged and troubled young woman with untold layers of psychological trauma, and she's very likely a dangerous serial killer. So obviously, it's a given that David starts fucking her because of course he does.


Nobody in unrated erotic thrillers makes smart decisions (it's truly amazing how Andrew Stevens manages--with his arm twisted and the acknowledgement that "we shouldn't be doing this"--to sleep with EVERY endangered female client who hires his home security company time and again throughout the NIGHT EYES franchise), but Bauer's shrink has to be one of the dumbest and most unethical heroes in any of these movies. Field's cop isn't much better, since every break in the case happens because of David's unlawful snooping around. The best part of SNAPDRAGON is Anderson, who delivers an actual performance as the troubled Felicity while still getting topless on a few occasions, but for those video store denizens expecting some of the usual unrated bumping and grinding accompanied by some smooth jazz and wailing sax, SNAPDRAGON is pretty restrained on that end, so much so that it didn't even take much cutting for it to air on cable as a "USA World Premiere Movie" a few months later. It's pretty far from the best that the heyday of the DTV erotic thriller had to offer, but if MVD released one Prism title, that means there's a chance that more could be on the way. C'mon, guys. That NIGHT EYES box set sounds like a winner!



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