We Kill for Love

We Kill for Love
We Kill for Love
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Many an American teen growing up in the 1980s, 90s and even 2000s experienced a sexual awaking whilst watching a direct-to-video erotic thriller. These movies, which populated video shelves and late night cable in lieu of hardcore adult films, featured ridiculous storylines as a pretext to getting their casts naked at every opportunity. Plenty of simulated sex would follow to keep viewers transfixed. Nobody ever watched for innovative moviemaking or great acting.

Anthony Penta the director must have also grown up on erotic thrillers as his initiation into adulthood. His first feature film – We Kill for Love is about low rent softcore’s rise and fall. Despite having access to amazing resources that includes veterans of this genre, Penta makes one of the most random out-of-control documentaries ever seen.

Audiences had an increasing appetite for erotic thrillers from the 80s onwards. Casual sex was no longer taboo due to sexual revolution; however, adults continued struggling with its affect on gender dynamics and identity. The AIDS crisis was a hangover from the wild party of newfound sexual freedom while resurgent political conservatism blamed promiscuity and sexual liberation for all societal problems.

What happened therefore? Erotic Thrillers Happened is what! Audiences could see these films in cinemas under safe conditions, to be turned on by them, and have catharsis. Low budget studios noticed this need by taking full advantage of young people who found attractive visuals in nudity hence they produced cheap movies full of nudity like those done by major studios such as Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.

His movie opens with a detective sitting on his couch watching old videotapes in his basement which he uses as case files . Of course he wants to remind us of the sexy woman being investigated by voyeuristic cops from beyond gruff voiceovers that are common among erotic thrillers or neo-noir detective crime flicks like Body Heat (Zimmerman, 1981). It could have if he had a little bit of self-control but as it is the prologue runs a full 10 minutes. The low production value of the scene and detective gimmick could have paid homage had it run a quarter of that time. Instead, it comes off self-indulgent and silly.

This sets the tone for everything else in We Kill For Love which is equally indulgent. Penta spends long passages trying to trace the origins of softcore thrillers to film noir. At one point this is beginning to sound like ‘’The preachers who says what he think then go on to say what he said before saying’’.

Bluntly put, this has nothing to do with anything in the larger context of his film. He makes the same mistake again discussing the impact of Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct etc., offering anecdotes from the production of those films that have absolutely nothing to do with anything here. Even though these movies showed there was an increasing market for erotic thrillers, they are not representative at all in terms of actual softcore genre which Penta wants explore.

Penta frequently invalidates his own points and this does not help the narrative. The narration tells us early on that many of these softcore thrillers have been forgotten–as classic movies such as body heat flash before our eyes.

And he repeats the same mistake again; while talking about no-name actors in the genre, he shows several clips and posters from cheesy thrillers, including those with Eric Roberts, William Baldwin, Alyssa Milano, Anne Heche, David Duchovny Oscar nominees Sally Kirkland and Brad Dourif soap stars Shemar Moore and Michael Nader. Yet all these performers have had successful careers; instead of negating his own thesis Penta could have better spent equal amounts of time discussing major actors who featured in softcore films.

It takes a whole hour for us to hear him talk about actual “hits” in softcore and We Kill for Love is one hope. This director has great access: he interviews Monique Parent. Andrew Stevens, Doug Jefferey — all names that are familiar to any self-respecting fan of this sub-genre. There is no doubt that here we see three different characters from their lives, although the author misses his point once again. All three of them started out acting in softcore before moving on behind the camera developing directing or producing careers but the documentary didn’t touch this important factor at all; it rather replaced them by showing long clips from their movies.

Penta virtually pays no attention to production elements in softcore. A few interview subjects do mention tight budgets and shooting schedules: like eight or nine day shoots for a couple hundred thousand dollars each. However We Kill for Love never allows us to see what making a film like this was actually like.

In an era where consent is more important than ever before—particularly when it comes to how predators have used Hollywood as their hunting grounds—this oversight seems egregious because it implies that directors had little concern for the welfare of their actors. Who knows how many producers bothered the performers that starred in adult pictures? Did they really enjoy shooting simulated sex scenes? How did being involved in the genre of softcore hamper or help these people’s dreams of making it big on television or in movies? These questions are never answered, even though the film runs almost three hours.

Indeed, Penta’s claim that softcore had feminist overtones is laughable as he himself proves here through various testimonials. He neglects the fact that while focusing on female characters, a lot of softcore was still aimed at arousing men. How can one otherwise explain the total absence of male nudity and gay sex involving males? The genre frequently exhibited lesbian love scenes and naked women. All this is completely disregarded by Penta.

Additionally, Penta left out some important people from his narrative. Zalman King, the impresario behind such works as 9 ½ Weeks and The Red Shoe Diaries gets only a brief mention in passing here. He deserved a more significant role; recent episode of Karina Longworth’s cinema history podcast You Must Remember This put forward King as both kingpin behind the softcore boom and hidden influence on directors like Stanley Kubrick and Adrian Lyne.

The biggest thing missing in We Kill for Love is that it ignores the real elephant: the internet. Penta attributes the decline of this genre to video stores’ falling out and an oversaturation of softcore thrillers. However, he doesn’t take into account that with the advent of the internet, audiences for these types of movies gained access to hardcore pornography on demand. That means there was no longer a need for horny audiences to be limited to simulated sex scenes.

A great documentary could possibly have been made about the softcore boom, maybe even somewhere inside this footage. But that film is not We Kill for Love. Apparently, Penta knows what he likes, but finds it difficult to string together his materials into any coherent and insightful plotline. This defect becomes more visible than ever as the runtime of the film stretches on and silly voiceover punctuates it.

Possibly all those snippets of softcore distracted Penta from whatever he was up to here. Perhaps next time he will take a tip from his favorite genre: get down faster!

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