Director: Phedon Paramichael
Scorpion Releasing

Once lost amidst the direct-to-video erotic thriller dreck lining the video shelves in the nineties, DARK SIDE OF GENIUS gets another stab at fame courtesy of Scorpion Releasing and Katerina’s Nightmare Theater.

Los Angeles art critic Jennifer Cole (Finola Hughes, STAYING ALIVE) becomes intrigued by the work of Julian Jons (Brent Fraser, WILD ORCHID II), a New York artist who murdered his model Anna seven years before and was institutionalized. His comeback is being sponsored by gallery owner Bennini (Glen Shaddix, BEETLEJUICE) who has convinced Jons to lay low until his upcoming show. Julian dodges Jennifer’s attempts to interview him, but is suitably charmed by her tenacity. Despite concerns of her roommate Carrie (Moon Unit Zappa, HEARTSTOPPER) for her safety – and her editor (Patrick Bauchau, PHENOMENA) over professional ethics – Jennifer continues seeing Julian; but Julian may be in danger of going over the deep end when wealthy benefactor Samuel Rourke (Seymour Cassell, COLD HEAVEN) commissions him to paint a portrait of lady friend Kristi (Tina Cote, HEATSEEKER) who happens to be a dead ringer for Anna. Jennifer, on the other hand, believes that something even more sinister is going on thanks to some cryptic clues from Julian’s artistic rival (Patrick Richwood, STREETS) who appears to know more about the Anna’s murder than he lets on.

Photographed and directed by cinematographer Phedon Paramichael (the remake of 3:10 TO YUMA) – son of John Cassavettes production designer Phedon Paramichael Sr. – DARK SIDE OF GENIUS is largely separated from the period’s direct-to-video erotic thriller ilk by his visuals. The cinematographic style is indeed quite similar to the look he gave as DP to Katt Shea’s POISON IVY as well as his own earlier directorial effort SKETCH ARTIST (photographed by DTV erotic thriller-turned-mainstream DP Wally Pfister). Since he gets a “Photographed and Directed by” credit, Paramichael also extends a main titles “lighting director” credit to his regular gaffer Chris Faloona (now a prolific TV director of photography). Virtually every shot is wonderfully stylized, with many interior and exterior scenes shot in cool blue tints suggestive less of day-for-night than psychological states. As slick as the film looks, it becomes pretty obvious that the titular “dark side of genius” is a window dressing for a more run-of-the-mill thriller plot with a couple twists that do not so much innovate as tweak the genre; however, Hughes and Fraser do have chemistry and it’s unfortunate that the relationship isn’t better explored (Fraser also provides two songs for the soundtrack, including one over the end credits). Zappa – so charming and fresh-faced in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION – is relegated here to sarcasm and comic relief as Jennifer unlucky-in-love housemate while Richwood is appropriately scuzzy and nutty. Cassell gives a mostly dignified performance, as does Shadix but both roles are cut from the same cloth. DARK SIDE OF GENIUS may not deliver much in titillation compared to the “unrated” examples you might find beside it on the video store shelves in the nineties (or on Cinemax), but it makes a good attempt at being a sophisticated and sexy thriller.

Scorpion’s dual-layer DVD features a progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.82:1) transfer that is not without scratches and speckling (particularly around the reel changes), but these flaws remind you that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill shot-on-film-edited-on-video DTV project but a low budget but mainstream production intended for theatrical release. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack for the most part is more atmospheric than directional, highlighting mainly the music. “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” hostess Katarina Leigh Waters hosts optional introductory and post-script segments for the film in which she discusses the cast as well as the trend in the nineties of fusing murder and the art world in film (probably because of the opportunities it offered for nudity and flashy settings).

Waters also interviews Hughes in a brand new video interview (15:13). Since she was married to an artist, Hughes was attracted to the script. She fondly remembers working with Fraser and Zappa, but felt intimidated working with Cassell (not believing herself being “nuanced enough” at the time). She does think they didn’t go far enough in the love scene. She actually found the experience of working in a low budget film more experimental than her soap work. They also talk about Hughes other film and stage work including STAYING ALIVE and CATS (and voice work on cartoons like SCOOBY DOO). She also discusses her directorial debut. Also on the disc is a lengthy interview with co-star Fraser (60:31) who has more to say about DARK SIDE OF GENIUS since he was more heavily invested in the project. He went to high school with Billy Burke (TWILIGHT) who convinced him to try acting. He started out doing theater in Seattle, a few non-union films, and became SAG-eligibile with his role in THE CHOCOLATE WAR before heading to Hollywood. He admits that he has a tendency to burn bridges and having to start again networking to find good roles. He was up against Peter Greene (RESERVOIR DOGS) for the lead in DARK SIDE OF GENIUS, and claims to have “ego-ed” his way into role. He recalls Hughes as fondly as she does him in her interview, and speaks excitedly about Cassell and Bauchau. Of director Paramichael, he praises his inventiveness on a budget and his decisiveness about the look of the film. He also discusses his contributions to the soundtrack, but is critical of his own performance (particularly during the climax). He then discusses his attempted comeback after the film, but the film was hardly the glitzy showpiece his agent could shop around. He has something interesting to say about all of his roles as he discusses them in the remaining half-hour from JEZEBEL’S KISS to WILD ORCHID 2 (and a subsequent RED SHOE DIARIES episode) and so on. The disc also features trailers for LURKERS, TOWER OF EVIL (a US trailer under the title HORROR OF SNAPE ISLAND release title here), IRRESISTIBLE IMPULSE, IMPROPER CONDUCT and TOMBOY. (Eric Cotenas)