Ken Russell's PSYCHO-drama of suburban malaise and prostitution CRIMES OF PASSION comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video USA.
Former football player turned suburban dad and home security business owner Bobby Grady (John Laughlin, FOOTLOOSE) is used to fixing things, including his wife Amy's (Annie Potts, GHOSTBUSTERS) desire to keep up appearances with the neighbors. When he takes on a night surveillance job following ladies sportswear designer Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner, SERIAL MOM) on behalf of her employer (Norman Burton, BLOODSPORT) who suspects her of selling patents, he discovers that the icy beauty lives a double life as downtown prostitute China Blue. Listening in on one of her encounters, he discovers her success lies in her ability to be anyone that her clients desire. The only other person aware of her real identity is amphetamine-snorting street preacher Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins, PSYCHO) whose sessions with China Blue are a power struggle as he attempts to strip away her facade and she resists his attempts to "save" her soul. Bobby sees China Blue as a client and she is willing to satisfy his sexual frustrations as a married man but rejects and ridicules him when reveals that he felt something genuine with her. Coming to realize that his marital bliss is an illusion and that Amy's various material complaints and decreased libido ("I don't know whether to embrace or embalm her") are symptoms of dissatisfaction he too shares, Bobby approaches Joanna at her home and pours his heart out to her. Afraid of the way she feels about Bobby and disturbed after Shayne shows up at her job after house, Joanna tries to immerse herself back into persona of China Blue but finds that fantasy is not cutting it anymore. As she and Bobby are on the verge of admitting that they need each other, Shayne – who may or may not have murdered a number of prostitutes and strippers in the area with his razor-sharp vibrator "Superman" – has gone from seeing China Blue/Joanna as sharing his affliction to being a part of him and decides that one of them must die for the other to be free.
Ballsy, irreverent, and chockful of quotable lines – among them "I never forget a face, especially when I've sat on it" and "I'm bringing you something greater than a hard-on, assuming you think the truth is greater than a hard-on" – CRIMES OF PASSION is as much the brainchild of writer/producer Barry Sandler (MAKING LOVE) as a tour-de-force of outrage from "enfant terrible of British cinema" Russell carried along by composer Rick Wakeman's keyboard riffs on the movements of Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony" culminating in the theme song "It's a Lovely Life" sung by Maggie Bell. The film marked Russell's renewed turn towards low-budget filmmaking after his studio experiences with THE MUSIC LOVERS through ALTERED STATES, and a new brand of economic yet stylish filmmaking that he would bring to his subsequent four picture deal with Vestron that netted GOTHIC, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, THE RAINBOW, and SALOME'S LAST DANCE along with WHORE for Trimark after Vestron's collapse. Lifetime movie-esque scenes of Bobby's suburbia are contrasted with the neon-lit streets and China Blue's hotel room which, through the camera of Dick Bush (TWINS OF EVIL and Russell's later LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) and the wide angle distortion of Shayne's peephole becomes a cloistered yet boundless stage for China Blue's various floorshows. However outrageous Turner – in a career-making and destroying performance – and Perkins are at chomping on the scenery and engaging in outrageous set-pieces (from Turner in nun drag singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" or sodomizing a cop client with his nightstick to Perkins at the piano abruptly transitioning for "Dies Irae" to "Get Happy" or going PSYCHO on a blow-up doll with a vibrator), the film does possess emotional and psychological depth about the articulation of sexual desire and the fragile facades adapted for some semblance of control.
At different points in the film, each of the three characters asks of another "Who are you?" While only Shayne answers China Blue/Joanna with "I'm you" – an indeed he seems to emerge from her subconscious – Bobby seems just as much a different aspect of Joanna as the Reverend Shayne; with Amy seeing Bobby's spinning of tales for the kids and his magic act (along with the "Old HP") as signs of his immaturity. Both of them intrude respectively on her home and work life one after the other, with Joanna shouting at Shayne "I don't need you anymore" after tentatively agreeing to being friends with Bobby. Laughlin and Potts give the more understated performances, and if it seems that they are straining during the emotional sequence it is just as likely that their characters are pained to admit their unhappiness. Bruce Davison (WILLARD) provides additional comic relief as Bobby's womanizing best friend, both happy and sad in his own way. Five years later, Perkins himself would a double life himself as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Gerard Kikoine's EDGE OF SANITY, a highly-sexualized retelling of the Stevenson novella heavily influenced by CRIMES OF PASSION in contrasting antiseptic and drab respectability of the former character with the garishly expressionistic West End haunts of the latter. The supporting cast also includes Stephen Lee (DOLLS) as Bobby's only employee, Pamela Anderson (BAYWATCH) as a hooker, DAYS OF OUR LIVES' Louise Sorel as a bigoted snob who propositions China Blue for a threesome, and Peggy Feury (THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA) as a woman who buys China Blue for her terminally ill husband (IN COLD BLOOD's Gerald S. O'Loughlin). Set designer Gregory Melton (BORDELLO OF BLOOD) would later become a regular production designer for Frank Darabont (THE WALKING DEAD) who here works under him as a set dresser. David De Coteau (SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA) worked craft service on the film.
Released theatrically in an R-rated cut by New World running six minutes shorter (losing some of the cutaways to explicit artwork) than the version submitted to the MPAA (less than a minute was cut by the BBFC), the film was released on VHS by New World in rated and unrated versions as well as Image laserdiscs of the both cuts. For Lumivision's subsequent special edition widescreen laserdisc, Russell added roughly six minutes of additional scenes to the unrated version. When Anchor Bay issued their first letterboxed DVD in 1998, it was the unrated version, with the director's cut coming to DVD with Anchor Bay's 16:9 special edition in 2002. Sidestepping the issues with reproducing either the R-rated or BBFC 18-certificate version, Arrow's Blu-ray features a 2K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode of the original unrated version (106:46) as well as an HD/SD composite recreation of the laserdisc director's cut (112:35). The darkest areas of the frame are a bit grainier but skin tones and textures of the wardrobe and décor get a sensual bump up in resolution while the neon lighting is free of distortion (even creeping into the previously neutral-lit Grady household via color and light of the television as reflected on its viewers). Shifts in quality in the composite are not too distracting with the viewer invested in the performances, Wakeman's scoring, and Russell's staging. The LPCM 1.0 mono track cleanly conveys the dialogue as well as the highs and lows of Wakeman's score (including an athletic silhouetted sex scene in which one of Dvorak's movements becomes a bolero). Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided, although they do not transcribe any of the lyrics.
The director's cut can be viewed accompanied by the laserdisc audio commentary by Russell and writer/producer Sandler in which they discuss Turner's game performance (including different accents for each trick), Perkins snorting actual amyl nitrate on the set (and that his character was meant to be a psychiatrist/film buff rather than a street preacher but the actor had spent two years playing a psychiatrist on stage in EQUUS), along with some welcome appreciation for the Laughlin, Potts, and Davidson. Russell also reveals that lemon yogurt was used as a semen substitute (although Turner reportedly slapped Russell for a facetious remark). They also discuss the use of Dvorak woven throughout the film, the musical themes associated with the characters, and Wakeman's talent for symphonic rock. They also reveal that the bookending group therapy final scene was added after test screenings. Russell bows out of the commentary early, but Sandler sticks around to the end.
In "Barry Sandler: Life of Crime" (22:07), the writer/producer recalls how he got his first feature made by endeavoring to get his script KANSAS CITY BOMBER into the hands of actress Raquel Welch. Studio interference with the subsequent MGM production lead to his insistence on greater control of his subsequent original scripts. The end of the 1970s found Sandler turning away from escapist entertainment like his adaptation of Agatha Christie's THE MIRROR CRACK'D towards more personal stories, including the "coming out" film MAKING LOVE and then CRIMES OF PASSION. He recalls his excitement at the opportunity to work with Russell who was weary about getting back into Hollywood filmmaking and working with another writer/producer after his experiences with Paddy Chayefsky on ALTERED STATES. He recalls that Russell was uncertain about casting Turner when they screened BODY HEAT, but that Sandler's subsequent screening for him of THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS clinched the deal since Russell realized that Turner could play comedy as well. Russell suggested a preacher and Perkins jumped at it since he was already an ordained minister. Russell and Sandler prepped ALL-AMERICAN MURDER for Vestron but the company went bankrupt and the production fell through (it was later taken over by Trimark for a direct-to-video release).
In "Rick Wakeman: Composing for Ken" featurette (28:54), the composer spends equal time discussing his experiences working with Russell on LISZTOMANIA and CRIMES OF PASSION (both of which feature Wakeman in cameo roles). He recalls Russell's creative freedom (with the budget) and brutal honesty, as well as the director's belief that a film should be able to stand on its own without scoring (unfinished as it is but without relying on music to cover up shortcomings). He describes Russell's concept of basing the score on Dvorak and themes for the three principal characters, as well as one theme scuttled when Wakeman called Russell's attention to its use on British television for a popular ad campaign. Presumably Wakeman – who also does a dead-on vocal impression of Russell – also discusses his score for the slasher THE BURNING during this session since Arrow has announced a UK Blu-ray edition of that title with a Wakeman interview as one of the few exclusives it has over the extras otherwise shared with Scream Factory.
The deleted scenes (19:55) – with optional commentary by Sandler – include insightful but wisely deleted lengthy post-barbecue conversations between Bobby and Hopper and Amy and Suzy originally intercut with the aborted limo threesome, a quietly dramatic meeting between Joanna and Amy that probably would have shifted audience sympathy a little too much towards Amy, as well as another scene between Bobby and his son. More interesting is a scene revealing that Bobby's and Joanna's first failed attempt at intimacy without the China Blue façade and their second successful attempt after her emotional and enlightening encounter with the terminally ill customer. Another interesting but wisely-deleted bit has Bobby meeting up with Hopper at a bar after having dinner with Amy and trying to decide whether to go back to Joanna. Had Perkins' character remained a fake psychiatrist, this scene would have had some additional resonance as a woman responds to Hopper's predatory come-on with "Is that your analysis or your fantasy?"
The music video for the Wakeman-penned theme song "It's a Lovely Life" (3:14) was created to promote the film and includes footage from the film as well as the film-within-a-film music video footage seen on television in the film (transferred from a video source, the excerpts from the film and the music video within the film of course look superior on the feature transfer itself). Outlines and paperwork associated with the music video's creation are included in a step-through gallery. Extras are rounded out by the New World theatrical trailer (1:41). Not included for review are the reversible cover and the first pressing-only illustrated collector's booklet containing new writing from Paul Sutton, an archive interview with Russell, and correspondence between Russell and Kathleen Turner. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS