Anchor Bay // 1984 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // May 2nd, 2008
"One of the weirdest entries in the genre, combining hormone-farce antics with slasher movie elements and, of course, Sybil's sumptuous sacks!" -- Mr. Skin
If the only quote a distribution company can come up for a DVD is provided by Mr. Skin, then you know you are in trouble. What's scary is that what Mr. Skin says is quite true, considering he's not really praising the film itself, but its main attraction. They're Playing With Fire is a sick, sleazy, sordid, and terrible film that is trying to pass itself as sexy, sultry, suspenseful, and shocking. Starz Home Entertainment, then known as Anchor Bay, originally released this tripe on DVD in 2004, though all the copies got sold within three years. Whoa...does that mean it's not as bad as I described it? Not quite.
Naïve college boy Jay Richard (Eric Brown, Private Lessons) is an English major and part-time grease monkey. His professor is Diane Stevens, PHD (Sybil Danning, Chained Heat), who takes a liking to him and asks him to do some work on her yacht. Jay agrees, but on his first day he finds himself being seduced by her. As it turns out, Prof. Stevens has other plans for Jay, namely using him as a patsy in stealing her step-mother's inheritance. Her husband, Michael (Andrew Prine, The Miracle Worker), hasn't sexually satisfied her in years, and once they get divorced, she plans on leaving him for good.
When Jay's first attempt in penetrating, errr, step-mommy's home goes awry, he is chased out of the house at gunpoint. Minutes later, however, a killer wearing gloves and a ski mask brutally murders Michael's mother and wheelchair bound grandmother. This makes Jay a prime suspect because his fingerprints are all over the household. To add to his predicament, an ex-girlfriend has gotten insanely jealous of his relationship with Prof. Stevens and threatens to expose him -- literally -- by passing off photos of Jay makin' out with her! Will she go through with it? Will Diane and Jay be able to catch and identify the killer before they meet their own demises? Do you care?
Released in 1984, this film is like watching Bolero and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter together...but far worse. Everything from the nonexistent production values to the cheap pacing to the laughable performances is altogether awful. Ms. Danning's wardrobe -- or lack therof -- was no doubt purchased at a neighborhood K-Mart, while Brown's clothes seem to have been acquired from goodwill...not a good thing. Probably the most money the producers spent was to rent a yacht and get permission to shoot at a Mobil station. Add in some painful '80s music and bags of ketchup, and you've got yourself one of the absolute worst films ever made.
Ok, fine, maybe I'm being too harsh here. After all, there are Sybil Danning's nude scenes. Being a red-blooded American male, I'm not denying that she is "scorchingly hot," in the words of Mr. Skin. I just wonder how much she really got paid to "act" (and disrobe) in this garbage. The movie wants us to believe that this Playboy model has a doctorate degree in English literature (this means she has finished post-graduate work, mmm'kkk), though she speaks like a woman who never made it past high school. Still, I must give her credit for being slightly better than her co-star.
Some guys are no doubt jealous of Eric Brown. In Private Lessons, he got it on with Scandinavian bombshell Sylvia Kristel, and now he's pounding away at the B-movie queen of the 1980s. However, the truth of the matter is the guy makes Scott Baio look like an Oscar winner. It's difficult not to cringe at him saying dopey dialogue during the seduction scene, such as "I don't think this a good idea" or "I can't believe this happening!" Brown may have that innocent, boyish look down to a tee, but he is just nauseating to watch here.
Just in case you care, They're Playing With Fire is a remake of a drive-in relic called The Teacher. Both films were written and produced by the husband-and-wife team Howard Avedis and Marlene Schmidt, who specialized in exploitation fare throughout the '70s and '80s. Too bad they were not contacted to do a commentary for this film, because anything would have been more entertaining than watching the film itself. Alas, the film has no bonus features provided by Starz, which isn't a big surprise.
Nevertheless, I must give Starz points for a decent presentation. The film is presented in its original theatrical presentation of 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Considering the budget, the picture is crisp and clear, with solid blacks and bold colors. Hardly any scratches or debris were detected throughout. The mono soundtrack is just fine as dialogue is easily heard...an unfortunate instance. Starz does provide chapter stops, though the back of the DVD has some false advertising: the film is actually 96 minutes, not 109 as printed.
So, there you go: five points for the presentation and five points for
Sybil's (ahem) sumptuous sacks. (Hey, at least they're real.) They're Playing
With Fire is found guilty of every crime imaginable, particularly its
existence. As for Starz, despite the fine presentation, they are found guilty of
false advertising and re-releasing the film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R