They're Playing With Fire (1984)
By: J.R. McNamara on September 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Anchor Bay (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. English Subtitles. 109 Minutes
The Movie
Director: Howard Avedis
Starring: Sybil Danning, Eric Brown, Andrew Prine, Paul Clemens
Screenplay: Howard Avedis, Marlene Schmidt
Music: John Cacavas
Country: USA
Let's face it. There are a lot of 'A' movies that would be 'B' movies if the cast were different. Imagine Basic Instinct with, say, Brinke Stevens and Erik Estrada in the lead roles… would it have gotten the same acclaim? Probably not, although there would have probably been 12 sequels. Coming Soon - Basic Instinct 8: Catherine Tramell Takes Manhattan!

They're Playing With Fire is a strange bird: sure the dialogue is hokey, and the acting is mainly pretty horrendous, especially by the younger actors, and the direction has the same quality of an episode of The Bold and The Beautiful, but I can't shake the feeling that if it had been in different hands, that it would have been another Basic Instinct, Sliver, or Wild Things. The concept and story aren't any more convoluted than either of those, it's just that, well, it's just so damn bad. Written and directed by Howard Avedis, who was also responsible for the Bill Paxton car wreck Mortuary, They're Playing With Fire stars uberfrau Sybil Danning (if you don't know who Sybil Danning is, you immediately need to see Battle Beyond the Stars or The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf - or try to track down Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the S.S. trailer from the Tarantino/Rodriguez jam Grindhouse) and a cast of nobodies and never-was', well except for Dominick Brascia, who played the retarded kid Joey, who was the first to be butchered in Friday the 13th Part 5.

They're Playing With Fire tells the tale of young Jay Richards (Eric Brown) who has dumped his not-quite girlfriend, Jenny (Violet Manes) so he can get involved with super hot college professor, Diana Stevens (Sybil Danning), but Mrs Stevens isn't just interested in Jay's young salami…oh no… her and her husband, Michael (Andrew Prine) want him to break into Michael's elderly mothers and grandmother's house so he can scare them into a nursing home, leaving their large estate and cash in their hands, but when Jay breaks in, he is found, and scared off by Michael's mother who takes shots at him with a rifle. After Jay has left though, a mysterious figure kills the two old women, and of course Jay is immediately implicated in their deaths. As more murders happen, two questions arise: who, if not Jay, is the killer, and can Mrs Stevens keep her clothes on for more than ten minutes?

There is just so much stupidity in this film, but the director has timed it perfectly. Just when you have had enough of its lame-ness, Danning whips out her blamps and your interest in the film…um…rises. It truly contains some of the worst acting, both dialogue wise and physical…most of it coming from the same young actress. When she is hit in the back with a baseball bat, her reaction is laughable, and her continued beating is a relief! The cast are stilted, and over-act like they are live on stage: I imagine the director assumed he was directing a soft-core thriller version of Grease with no music. Which is a nice segue into the score: truly there have never been such a tragic collection of eighties power ballads over-used in a single film – even the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies would be embarrassed by the tragic display of power chords and cut-rate Allanah Miles wannabes: one of them even dares show her face as the 'club singer' in the local pub.
It took me a while to work out if the image was good or not with this film, as every time I would start to pay attention to the image, Danning's clothes would come off and distract me. I did eventually, however see that the image was bright crisp and clear, and presented in 1.78:1 with 16:9 enhacement.
The audio is only in mono, but it is really clear and surprisingly rich . Unfortunately, this means 80s power ballads and incidental moogs will pollute your ears for 100 odd minutes.
Extra Features
Not a sausage…well, except for the ones Danning's character keeps getting stuck in her during the main feature!
The Verdict
I really wanted to score this one low. When you realize that the best acting in a film is done by Sybil Danning, you know you are in trouble! But I just kept coming back to the simple fact that she spends and enormous amount of time naked in the shower, or naked, or being banged by a college student, and she is truly a sight to behold. This is worth watching just for the 'naked Danning' factor, or if you love really bad made for TV movies from the 80s… which is what this film mainly feels like!
Movie Score
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