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Crimes of Passion

Crimes of Passion (1984) was hot stuff in its day — hot for maladjusted squares. A forcibly weird, erotic thriller that pushed the envelope with a few scenes of raunchy sex, it's less a sexual milestone and more a hysterical piece of crap camp that has moments of near brilliance punctuating its tepid, absurd love story. It's a film you watch and think: Is this a joke? Really? And since Ken Russell directed it, who the hell knows? But as we listen to the DVD commentary, Russell and writer/producer Barry Sandler are taking all this stuff pretty damn seriously — there's many moments they point out that are "symbolic of" this or "representing" that. Although Russell himself seems to have a sense of humor (which you'd have to expect, considering his films), the commentary isn't teeming with any new insights we already weren't pummeled with in the film itself. Crimes of Passion has to be one of the most obvious inspections of sex, the whole "what can happen to a woman with a fractured sexuality and a secret life" thing. But hadn't we already seen Angel (Schoolgirl by day! Streetwalker by Night!) and Avenging Angel by then? To be fair, Crimes of Passion is a superior product to those films in terms of Russell's aesthetics. The director films scenes beautifully in neon blues, deep reds, and dark shadows. He splendidly captures the gorgeous seediness of illicit sex (or rather, what our fantasies may think of illicit sex) while also revealing its depraved aspects with skanky, cellulite-prone strippers undulating in creepy peep shows that look like prison cells. Had Russell kept his film there, with Kathleen Turner as China Blue and Anthony Perkins as the deranged preacher, perhaps we'd have a surreal masterpiece. Instead, he takes China Blue (Fashion designer by day! Streetwalker by night!) and makes her fall in love (awwww...) with one of the worst, most repulsive actors to hit the American screen, John Laughlin. He plays a private investigator trailing China (her boss thinks she's stealing), and he's got some problems of his own. However, things should not be given away here because, though the film is often bad, like most of Russell's pictures we can't turn away from it. You can't leave Crimes of Passion hating Russell either — at least the director is game for anything, taking odd risks that often put him in positions of either intriguing invention or total stupidity. Anchor Bay's DVD release features a presents a pristine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 audio. Supplements include director Russell and writer/producer Sandler's commentary, as well as deleted scenes with commentary by Sandler. You may wonder if these scenes were necessary or not, but Sandler contends that Russell thought them too conventional, even though they explain much of what's going on (Russell probably just wanted less of Laughlin). Trailer, keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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