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Retro Review: IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT (1991)

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IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT
(US - 1991)

Directed by Nico Mastorakis. Written by Nico Mastorakis and Fred C. Perry. Cast: Jeff Lester, Adrianne Sachs, Marc Singer, David Soul, Tippi Hedren, Brian Thompson, Shannon Tweed, John Beck, Jack Kehler, Shelley Michelle. (NC-17, 112 mins)

If there's a genre of exploitation trash that's been woefully under-represented on DVD and Blu-ray, it has to be the straight-to-video, unrated erotic thrillers that were constantly gushing all over the new release walls of America's video stores throughout the first half of the 1990s. A couple of years ago, some of us hoped that Synapse's Blu-ray release of the 1995 Jim Wynorski-directed, Julie Strain-starring SORCERESS would herald the much-anticipated resurrection of these things, but it's been largely crickets and tumbleweed since. Shout! Factory recently released a POISON IVY box set, which is a start (even though the fourth one is a Lifetime movie, for fuck's sake), and Mill Creek has some Andy Sidaris joints on the way for the T&A action crowd, but where's the BODY CHEMISTRY, NIGHT EYES, INDECENT BEHAVIOR, SECRET GAMES, ANIMAL INSTINCTS, or MIRROR IMAGES collections? Where's the Shannon Tweed triple features? Where's the IN THE HEAT OF PASSION or SCORNED double feature Blu-rays? Fortunately, Vinegar Syndrome does their part to satiate the burning desires of those who were powerless to avoid the seductive early '90s temptations of any VHS box displaying the magic word--"UNRATED!"--with their Blu-ray release (because physical media is dead) of 1991's IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT, directed and co-written by Greek exploitation auteur Nico Mastorakis (more on him here).







Playing like a weird and utterly nonsensical fusion of a late '80s Italian fashion giallo and a prototype of the in-its-infancy DTV/Skinemax erotic thriller while somewhat prefiguring the "virtual reality" craze that would kick off with the next year's THE LAWNMOWER MAN, IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT centers on Scott Bruin (Jeff Lester), an in-demand Malibu fashion photographer with a glowing, fluorescent waterbed, who's suddenly plagued by horrific nightmares that look like garbled video transmissions, where he believes he's killing a beautiful woman he's never met. He even wakes up in the act of strangling his current friend-with-benefits, sultry model Lena (Shannon Tweed), who's shocked but still turned on ("Your hand was around my throat, I couldn't breathe! But I almost came..."). He gets nowhere with a shrink (David Soul), who simply advises "You need a good night's sleep," which is kinda hard with a bed that serves as a source of bright, blinding light. He also gets some jokey support from his fridge-raiding, bodybuilder best buddy Phil (Brian Thompson), and for some reason, clears his head by hanging out at the beach and having pizza with a homeless guy (Jack Kehler, best known as The Dude's dance quintet landlord in THE BIG LEBOWSKI). It's here that he sees a panicked, pony-tailed guy on a bike wearing a T-shirt adorned with the airbrushed image of the mystery woman's face. Scott does some digging and gets nowhere with Rudy (John Beck), the shop owner who made the shirt, but immediately after, the mystery woman arrives at his front door. She's Kimberly Shawn (Adrianne Sachs), who rides her motorcycle right into his living room and explains that Rudy knows her ex-husband, though she's very vague on the matter. Of course, Scott and Kimberly begin a passionate fling, but he's still haunted by visions of himself--or someone--killing her again and again.


Released straight-to-video in February 1991, IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT was among the first films to be slapped with an NC-17 rating, created the previous fall as a replacement to the stigmatized X and first given to Philip Kaufman's controversial HENRY & JUNE. There's plenty of skin, grinding, and high-in-the-sound-mix slurping in the film's sex scenes--not to mention a peculiar use for a dish of marbles--but what's here really didn't seem NC-17-worthy then and it definitely doesn't now (Mastorakis said the MPAA had a problem with the shots of Sachs' vigorous thrusting on top of Lester). The cuts had to be minimal since Republic Pictures Home Video released it in both NC-17 and R versions (the latter presumably for Blockbuster), and both clocked in at 112 minutes. Filled with plenty of neon set decor, acid-washed jeans, big hair, and wailing saxes--the tell-tale sign in these things that people are about to get busy--IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT is very much a product of the DTV erotic thriller in its early stages, but it has a more ambitious storyline than its fellow genre standard-bearers like NIGHT EYES, LAST CALL, and the later flood of post-BASIC INSTINCT knockoffs that were down the road.


Ambitious though it may be, that storyline doesn't really make much sense, especially when a sinister, smirking Marc Singer shows up in the third act for the dual function as the film's villain--the kind of guy who has an ominous wall of TV monitors in his living room--and dutiful Basil Exposition, giving a long, lecturing speech about Scott being the unwitting guinea pig in a government-contracted experiment using TV signals sent through an implant in a tooth as a means of mind control. You'd think with all the money invested in this project, they'd use this technology in a financial or even a MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE or PARALLAX VIEW way rather than just voyeuristically watching some douchebag fashion photographer bang models on his ridiculous glowing waterbed. Mastorakis specifically namechecks Brian De Palma and one could see this as sort of sci-fi-tinged BODY DOUBLE, and the stylishly foggy, blue backlit climax serves to demonstrate Mastorakis' affection for the work of Michael Mann, and to his credit, he does seem to recognize the campy elements, with some outrageously suggestive use of finger food during Scott and Kimberly's dinner, along with an overflowing bottle of uncorked champagne, stopping ust short of cutting to a shot of a speeding train entering a tunnel. Mastorakis would also have us believe that Kimberly's laserdisc movie library consists of two Nico Mastorakis films (THE WIND and GLITCH) and he also has a brief role for one-time Hitchcock muse Tippi Hedren as Kimberly's mother, complete with a shoehorned-in reference to THE BIRDS. The film gets points for its terrific B-movie supporting cast (Tweed is very charming here and you'll wish she had more screen time), but is severely deficient when it comes to the leads. Sachs (best known as the brunette hooker in the "Bitches leave!" scene in ROBOCOP) is gorgeously seductive, but she can't act, and Lester (whose most high-profile role prior to this was as one of Bo Svenson's deputies on the short-lived 1981 TV spinoff of WALKING TALL) is like a bland, blank Michael Dudikoff. Both would be out of the acting business within the next two years, though Lester embarked on a second career directing TV commercials and music videos, and has been married to Susan Anton since 1992. IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT isn't a great movie, but it's at least unusual for its type, and it was fun experiencing its rampant silliness again after all these years. Let's get some more of these things out on Blu-ray!







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