DEF BY TEMPTATION (1990) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: James Bond III
Vinegar Syndrome

Hiding behind typically tacky nineties Troma artwork is the stylish, neon-lit battle between good and evil DEF BY TEMPTATION, on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

Ever since Joel's (child actor James Bond III) pastor father (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION) and mother (Sundra Jean Williams) were killed in a car crash, he has been raised by his grandmother (Minnie Gentry, BLACK CAESAR) in Atlanta to realize his destiny of becoming a great preacher. Recently, he has been troubled by nightmares in which he is stalked by a demonic woman in a black veil who caused the death of his parents. Needing a break from his evangelical studies, Joel decides to spend some times in Brooklyn with his cousin "K" (A DIFFERENT WORLD's Kadeem Hardison) who has been persona non grata with his grandmother since he left religious studies to become an actor (in films of the Pepin-Merhi variety with posters like DANCE OR DIE decorating his apartment). Joel, however, has more to worry about the temptations of big 'ol bad city, however, since he has been targeted for his purity by succubus Temptation (Cynthia Bond, HIGHER EDUCATION) who sees him as much more rewarding prey than the string of playas she meets every night at a local bar, including Dougy (Bill Nunn, NEW JACK CITY) who has struck out with every woman in the bar but feels that there is something off with Temptation and warns K when she starts courting Joel.

While not a vampire flick, DEF BY TEMPTATION shares some similarities with black vampire art film GANJA AND HESS but with more overt religious symbolism (indeed, it might have more in common with THE ADDICTION than the Bill Gunn film). Either by ability or design, child actor James Bond III makes for a rather passive protagonist and is overshadowed by Hardison, Nunn, and particularly Cynthia Bond (no relation, apparently); however, that works for the film's mix of comic relief and horror. The film was lensed by Spike Lee's cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (DO THE RIGHT THING) in a typically late eighties neon, foggy, backlit manner, and it looks quite slick for a lower budget, about on par with FRIGH NIGHT PART 2 or VAMP; so much so that the film's make-up and creature effects by Rob Benevides (I SHOT ANDY WARHOL) look less technically proficient than the rest of the film. Singers Najee and Freddie Jackson have brief appearances and also contribute songs to the hip-hop soundtrack. Singer Melba Moore (HAIR), whose Hush Records producer husband Charlie Huggins financed the film under subsidiary company Oprheus Pictures, has a special appearance as a psychic from whom K and Dougy try to learn how to destroy Temptation. First assistant director Marcus Turner later became a production manager on Spike Lee joints.

Released theatrically by Troma, DEF BY TEMPTATION was released to cassette by Shaprio Glickenhaus and laserdisc by Image Entertainment. The video master was utilized by Troma for two separate DVD releases, a 1998 disc with an interview with Dickerson by Lloyd Kaufman, and a 2009 disc with commentary tracks by Fangoria managing editor Michael Gingold and VideoHound author Mike Mayo. Vinegar Syndrome returned to the original camera negative for its 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray, and it is a beauty with more sharply defined areas of saturated gel lighting through a haze of smoke and diffusion. Some faint marks appear at the reel changes but this "damage" is nothing so distracting was what we find in projected prints. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track conveys the dialogue, score, and sound design with enough presence to make it unfortunate that the film probably did not have enough prospects for the record label producers to spring for a Dolby Stereo mix. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

Extras star off with a telephone audio interview with writer/producer/director/actor James Bond III conducted by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin as an alternate audio track. Bond recalls being scouted by talent agents in school and his early life as a child actor in mainly episodic television apart from THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH, BIG BOB JOHNSON AND HIS FANTASTIC SPEED CIRCUS (a television movie that went theatrical overseas), and a few roles as an adolescent. Of DEF BY TEMPTATION, he recalls that he was inspired by the character he played in a filmed adaptation of James Baldwin's GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN and how his faith might be tested. Carried over from the first Troma DVD is "Ernest & Lloyd" (20:18), the Dickerson/Kauman interview in which Dickerson recalls meeting Bond III on Spike Lee's SCHOOL DAZE and not expecting anything to come of the actor asking him to shoot a film he was developing. Of the film, he recalls looking at films like THE HUNGER, THE EVIL DEAD II, and HELLRAISER (presumably Dickerson would become familiar with the works of Mario Bava later as he cited him as an inspiration for his own later directorial horror effort BONES). Also ported from the Troma disc is a brief piece on the film by Fangoria's Michael Gingold (2:07) in which he contrasts the film with the Blaxploitation horror films of the seventies. He also notes that effects artist Benevedes recycled the climactic monster for Troma's SGT. KABUKIMAN N.Y.P.D. Also included is an archival article gallery (1:00) and the film's theatrical trailer (1:44). The cover is reversible, and this is the case where the new artwork is preferable to the original tacky Troma poster on the inside, while the first 1,500 copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome include a slipcover with artwork by Derek Gabryszak. (Eric Cotenas)