A cold shower.
ALERT: The following review autopsies director Ken Russell’s Crimes Of Passion, a film most famous (or infamous) for the trouble it had trying to avoid an X rating from the MPAA at the time of its original release. As this critique necessarily deals with a plot line involving the lunatic fringes of sexual commerce, the review may contain concepts–and indeed, certain words–that some readers may find objectionable. Discretion advised.
Welcome to the baaad side of town, circa 1984. This dark strip of Hollywood is a certifiable skid row: strewn with peep shows, fetish-related clothiers, adult book stores and toy shops, all bathed in melodramatic colors and a pulsating neon glare.
You’ll find the shabby Paradise Hotel–renting out rooms for hourly rates–on the corner of 4th and Main. Inside and upstairs, highly sought-after hooker China Blue (Kathleen Turner, Body Heat) holds court on a nightly basis, catering to every lewd, ludicrous whim imaginable. Salacious stewardess? Fly Blue. Rape fantasy victim? She’s your girl. Wayward beauty pageant contestant? Tin-foil tiara and corn-pone accent; no extra charge.
By day, this same woman trades as Joanna Crane, a very talented and hard-working fashion designer. “But if you’ve got a penis, you’re in trouble,” says her employer. “She turns to ice.” Ironic, isn’t it?
What a bunch of unadulterated hooey! Folks, I am crapping you negative when I say that Crimes of Passion presents a searing meditation on the dark psychic underbelly of suburban sexual neuroses in exactly the same way that Reefer Madness posits an unflinching examination of drug addiction’s myriad complexities.
Characters tend to over-introduce themselves, not because they’re trying to get to know one another, but rather, because behind each one of them lurks a clumsy screenwriter (Barry Sandler, also the film’s producer,) who feels the need to announce each entrant by name before explaining exactly what purpose said character serves to the scene.
Take, for instance, the pair of gents that most often populate China/Joanna’s dance card. Twenty nine year old Bobby Grady (John Laughlin, Footloose), opens the movie by telling a therapy group that he’s only there because he decided to tag along with a buddy. He’s got a rock-solid marriage, Bobby informs the group, for going on eleven years and for the record, he’s never cheated on his spouse. It only takes the slightest bit of cajoling before Mr. Happily Married blurts out that getting his wife to make love these days requires Herculean efforts and that afterwards, he’s not sure whether “to embrace her or embalm her.”
The feverish and sweat-soaked Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins, Psycho) fuels himself with Amyl nitrate poppers and the wild-eyed conviction that his holy mission on earth is to “save” the wretched China Blue from herself. To that end, Shayne employs a dog-eared bible and a bag of sex toys, including an outsize steel dildo with a tip sharpened to a fine, murderous point.
No pussyfooting: Crimes Of Passion is not pornography. In fact, the only exposed genitalia comes from Kama Sutra illustrations, and the (simulated) sexual intercourse has been meticulously choreographed and presented behind a patterned scrim, to the accompaniment of Rick Wakeman’s nerve-rattling, symphonic score.
What’s more, Crimes Of Passion is less smutty than sniggering, in true junior high school boy fashion. I’ve always regarded Ken Russell as a cinematic genius; albeit an extremely manic one. “Everybody has the right to be wrong, at least once,” as the song goes. Though officially recommended only “for mature audiences,” Crimes Of Passion is actually no more adult than any given episode of The Adventures Of Gumball, while every bit as lurid and obnoxious, with the added bonus of Anthony Perkins coming on like a potty-mouthed Pat Robertson.
Though I was initially impressed by Perkins’ positively unhinged performance, my admiration waned after Russell’s revelation on the audio commentary track that, in a misguided attempt at method acting, Perkins actually had slept in his costume for days on end while filming and in fact was huffing Amyl nitrate during his scenes. Imagine how things would’ve turned out had he tried acting?
As for Turner and Laughlin, they’re terrible; she’s a hot mess of braying and scene-chewing, while he’s apparently incapable of portraying an authentic human emotion from start to finish. That leaves two performances worth commenting on: Annie Potts (Pretty In Pink) as Bobby’s brittle and frigid wife (keep in mind that here’s a woman who seems chemically incapable of oozing sexuality), and the always-interesting Bruce Davidson (Longtime Companion) as Bobby’s buddy Hopper, whose screen time was drastically reduced in the final cut.
Speaking of, there are two cuts included in this set: the theatrical R-rated version released to theaters during the film’s brief run and an unrated “director’s cut” that was allegedly too hot for censors back in the day. There’s approximately five minutes difference between them, but I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about—after all, the scene wherein a police officer gets sodomized by his own nightstick shows up in both versions!
Certainly, there are different strokes for different folks and reportedly, Crimes Of Passion has garnered something of a cult following over the years. Fans are sure to be pleased with the way Arrow has gone all-out here: the 1.85:1/1080p, Blu-ray transfer looks and sounds extremely well in both versions, though there is some minor drop-off in certain “director’s cut” scenes, presumably because New World (the film’s original distributor) shelved this cut before readying a release print. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono mix does its job, faithfully delivering every sound; a blessing and a curse.
Plenty of extras include the aforementioned audio commentary track by Russell and Sandler; seven extended/deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Sandler); a colorful, photo-packed booklet containing essays on this film in particular and Russell’s career, in general. There’s also a reversible cover sleeve, featuring the movie’s original poster on one side and newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil on the other; the original theatrical trailer; a music video of “It’s A Lovely Life,” performed by Rick Wakeman and Maggie Bell–a part of which appears in the feature–and finally, a pair of new interviews (one with Sandler, one with Wakeman) exclusive to this release.
What’s more, this set offers the entire program in both High-def Blu-ray and standard definition DVD formats–that’s a lot of bang for your bucks, if you’ll pardon the disgusting imagery.
To each his own, right?
Frankly, it sucked. I’m strictly speaking figuratively.