Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Retro Review: THE SEDUCTION (1982)

(US - 1982)

Written and directed by David Schmoeller. Cast: Morgan Fairchild, Andrew Stevens, Michael Sarrazin, Vince Edwards, Colleen Camp, Joanne Linville, Kevin Brophy, Wendy Smith Howard, Woodrow Parfrey, Betty Kean, Marii Mak. (R, 103 mins)

Released by Avco Embassy in January 1982, THE SEDUCTION was supposed to be the big-screen breakout for Morgan Fairchild, who was having a bit of a moment throughout 1981 thanks to NBC's FLAMINGO ROAD, which began as a 1980 TV-movie before being spun off into a series in January 1981. It premiered just a week before ABC's DYNASTY, with both being respective network responses to the phenomenal success CBS was having with DALLAS (than at its peak following the "Who Shot J.R.?" season) and its spinoff KNOTS LANDING. The first season of FLAMINGO ROAD was a ratings hit, and in a cast that included familiar faces like Howard Duff, Stella Stevens, Kevin McCarthy, Cristina Raines, John Beck, and Mark Harmon, it was Fairchild who got all of the hype and attention with her portrayal of scheming, bitchy Constance Weldon Carlyle, essentially FLAMINGO ROAD's answer to J.R. Ewing, the character-you-love-to-hate--in this case, a serial adulteress and the cuckolding wife of aspiring politician Field Carlyle (Harmon). Born in 1950, Fairchild had been paying her dues for some time, starting with an uncredited gig as Faye Dunaway's double and stand-in on the 1967 classic BONNIE AND CLYDE. She first got attention during a 1973-1977 stretch on the daytime soap SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and picked up supporting roles in made-for-TV movies and had some TV guest spots along the way (most notably trying to seduce Mork on MORK & MINDY), but with FLAMINGO ROAD, Fairchild was suddenly everywhere. However, DALLAS, KNOTS LANDING, and DYNASTY proved to be too much competition. Viewers soon lost interest in FLAMINGO ROAD and NBC canceled it after its second season, at the same time that the much-hyped THE SEDUCTION was failing to make Fairchild a movie star.

At the risk of overselling it--and it's hard to just dismiss any movie that gives you a shotgun-toting Morgan Fairchild--THE SEDUCTION does a look a little ahead of its time in hindsight. While it owes a bit to Clint Eastwood's 1971 directing debut PLAY MISTY FOR ME, it also prefigures the post-FATAL ATTRACTION psycho-thriller craze as well as the Skinemax erotic thrillers that would be mainstays on late-night cable and in video stores in the 1990s. It also deals with the subject of obsessed fans while the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman in December 1980 was still fresh in the public consciousness. And just six weeks after THE SEDUCTION's release, stalking became a subject of national awareness when actress Theresa Saldana barely survived being stabbed ten times in broad daylight by a crazed admirer who approached her outside her apartment. The assailant became obsessed with Saldana after seeing her in the 1980 films RAGING BULL and DEFIANCE, eventually getting the actress' address from her mother by posing as Martin Scorsese's assistant and claiming the director lost her contact info and needed her to replace another actress on his current film. THE SEDUCTION is never as grimly serious as those real-life examples, but it has one surprise up its sleeve with a legitimately creepy performance by Andrew Stevens as Derek, a photographer with a frightening fixation on his neighbor, popular L.A. news anchor Jamie Douglas (Fairchild). He pesters her with phone calls, flowers at the station, and even shows up in her dressing room with chocolates. Jamie writes him off as a harmless oddball, but her journalist boyfriend Brandon (Michael Sarrazin) isn't amused. Derek eventually forces his way into her house and gets his ass beat by Brandon, and even then, cynical detective Maxwell (Vince Edwards) insists there's nothing that can be done because Derek hasn't broken any laws, instead recommending Jamie and Brandon buy a gun and just blow the guy away the next time he shows up. It's advice that pretty much defines Plot Convenience Playhouse, as Derek has done almost nothing but break laws, and if Maxwell could be bothered to do his job instead of shuffling papers at his desk, ducking out to grab some breakfast at a greasy spoon, or using a Sharpie to write graffiti in a phone booth ("Cops do it better"), the movie would be over in 45 minutes.

There's no shortage of reasons why THE SEDUCTION is really impossible to take seriously (what high-end department store would hire Woodrow Parfrey as a salesman?), but that doesn't stop Stevens from giving a shit. He wisely never overplays Derek, and his relative calm and his generally upbeat and incredulous, "What are you talking about?" tone when confronted with his actions can be genuinely effective. The script by TOURIST TRAP and future Empire/Full Moon director David Schmoeller (CRAWLSPACE, PUPPET MASTER) initially portrays Derek not as slobbering slasher but rather, a functioning psychopath who blends right into society. He's a seemingly upstanding, professional guy with a career and an ability to afford a luxurious home, and he's even outwardly appealing enough to have a chance at a normal relationship, with his nice assistant Julie (Wendy Smith Howard) pining away for him with unrequited love. But he goes off the rails before long, thinking only of Jamie, staring at a Jamie shrine in his office, spending his free hours spying on her, sneaking into her house and hiding in her closet, and rejecting Julie's advances because he's "engaged to be married." But Schmoeller knows what THE SEDUCTION is and wastes no time delivering the goods with Fairchild skinny-dipping during the opening credits (accompanied by the theme song "In Love's Hiding Place" by Dionne Warwick). Edwards' character is ludicrous even by the standards of do-nothing movie cops, and is so preposterously useless that he probably could've been cut entirely with no damage being done to the narrative, and Derek sneaking into the TV station to put a secret message on Jamie's teleprompter causing her to have an on-air breakdown is a howler. The same goes for a scene where Jamie preps for her showdown with Derek by stripping nude and slinking into her bed by candlelight after luring Derek over (also, it's never really clear whether she knows Derek is her neighbor), only to have him enter her bedroom and pull back the sheets to reveal pillows, allowing her to sneak up on him from behind. Then why show her disrobing and getting into bed in the first place? I've seen plenty of pointless nudity throughout my movie-watching life but that's gotta be near the top. Again, Schmoeller knows what's important here.

After her Razzie-nominated performance in THE SEDUCTION, Fairchild went back to TV and ended up as another scheming temptress on ABC's short-lived PAPER DOLLS and spent a season on CBS' FALCON CREST before settling into TV-movies, miniseries (both NORTH AND SOUTHs), late '80s B-movies (RED-HEADED STRANGER, DEADLY ILLUSION, PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE), and Eurotrash (MIDNIGHT COP), recurring roles on popular TV shows (FRIENDS, CHUCK), self-deprecating cameos as herself (THE NAKED GUN 33 1/3: THE FINAL INSULT, HOLY MAN, WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY) and the world of DTV, eventually reuniting with Stevens on 1993's BODY CHEMISTRY 3: POINT OF SEDUCTION. Initially turning down THE SEDUCTION because he wanted top billing, Stevens later became synonymous with the DTV erotic thriller in the early-to-mid '90s with the NIGHT EYES franchise and several other pairings with Shannon Tweed. While THE SEDUCTION was not a success in theaters, it found a minor cult following throughout the '80s thanks to Fairchild remaining a recognizable celebrity and the film's constant airings on cable. It's just been resurrected on an extras-packed Blu-ray by Scream Factory (because physical media is dead), with a commentary track from Schmoeller (whose short film PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI, chronicling his horrific ordeal trying to direct Klaus Kinski in 1986's CRAWLSPACE, is a must-see), and producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis, along with new interviews with Fairchild and Stevens. THE SEDUCTION is enjoyable 1982 trash all the way, and in retrospect, a film that had some minuscule degree of cultural relevancy with its stalking theme, as well as having a hand in setting the template for the types of exploitation thrillers that would provide Stevens with an unexpected new career direction a decade later.

THE SEDUCTION opening in Toledo, OH on 2/26/1982

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