Thursday, August 30, 2012

Poison Ivy II (1996) - Worth it only to look at Alyssa

Poison Ivy II
"Poison Ivy II" (1996).

The "Poison Ivy" franchise started out with high intentions.  Several reputable actors were in the 1992 original, notably Tom Skerritt, Cheryl Ladd and Drew Barrymore. It told the tale of a seemingly innocent girl who befriends a loser daughter and schemes her way into taking over the entire family. Alyssa Milano takes over the franchise in "Poison Ivy II," directed by Anne Goursaud.

Poison Ivy II

The original struck a chord with viewers, mostly because Drew Barrymore played on the "Lolita" theme and dramatically morphed from innocent to sexy. With that surprise success came the unexpected need for a sequel to cash in, and that's where "Poison Ivy II" came in.

Poison Ivy II
This is about as sexy as it gets in "Poison Ivy II."

With the audience in place, the producers went the schlock route and emphasized the sex, dumbed down the writing and kept costs low by hiring cheap actors. Alyssa Milano was in between TV series at this point, and had been reduced to playing off her her years as a child star by going the sexy route.  She had just starred in the extremely risqué "Embrace of the Vampire" and went topless on "The Outer Limits." The transition from child star to adult actress was proving extremely awkward. With the unexpected success of "Embrace of the Vampire" behind her, she moved on to the higher profile "Poison Ivy" franchise to play Lily Leonetti. She brought along her "Vampire" director, Anne Goursaud, a proven expert at soft-core exploitation. Goursaud uses many of the same techniques that she employed in that earlier film, including a weird party scene to make Lily look edgy.

Poison Ivy II
As usual in these exploitation flicks like "Poison Ivy II," we get the weird party scene

As is often the case in these low-rent rip-offs of high class productions, there is only the most tenuous of connections to the original. The original stars are all gone (which in the case of the very butch Sara Gilbert is a blessing), and in their place we have Alyssa and a bunch of no-names. Really, the only reason to watch this now is to see Alyssa once again going topless and playing the "simulated sex" game. Seriously, if you recognize the name of any of the other actors in "Poison Ivy II," odds are that you are related to them.

Poison Ivy II
Schaech bore the slightest resemblance to Brad Pitt in "Poison Ivy II."

For my money, "Embrace of the Vampire" showed Alyssa off to better advantage than "Poison Ivy II," but there are a few worthy scenes of her in this film, too. Alyssa becomes the object of lust of her art instructor, and poses nude for him. While flattered, Alyssa really isn't into him. Instead, she has to placate her muscular boyfriend, which she does several times to very good effect.

Poison Ivy II
Alyssa is now the little victim in "Poison Ivy II," so they make her look as innocent as possible
Alyssa knew what she was doing. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and a whole slew of other former female child stars have followed the same well-trod path of "sexing it up" in order to escape their child-actor images. Shed the innocent-girl image or face oblivion, and these girls all know which fork in the road to take. Since Alyssa was cute enough to pass muster, it worked, and eventually she got "Charmed." So don't feel sorry for Alyssa for starring in low-rent exploitation flicks, she was using you, the viewer, not the other way around. As Alyssa said much later, presumably after counting her money, "I hope my 'Poison Ivy' days are behind me." The cynical strategy worked, and now she is back in "prestige" productions.

Poison Ivy II
Jaime's expression on the "Poison Ivy" dvd cover says it all about.

Really, that's all anyone needs to know about "Poison Ivy II," written by Chloe King. Alyssa prances about, teases some people and satisfied others. Jaime Pressley followed a year later in yet another lame sequel of the Poison Ivy franchise, showcasing her smoking body. That film worked out precisely the same way for her, leading to several more risqué movie roles before landing "Earl." After that, the franchise mercifully died - at least for now.

Poison Ivy II
Not so unhappy when you are getting what you want, right, Alyssa?

Alyssa doesn't show much, and we'd seen it all before by that point. However, the production values are much higher in "Poison Ivy II" than they were in "Vampire," so it is worth a look. Goursaud did another couple of exploitation projects, including "Another Nine & a Half Weeks," before giving up the director's chair and returning to her real talent: editing. Here, Goursaud supervises a great job of editing: we see Alyssa in the show, seducing her boyfriend, having sex with her boyfriend, posing topless for her art instructor, and so on and so forth, all edited beautifully. If seeing Alyssa's body is that much of a treat for you, give this one a look, otherwise, you will be bored silly by the end.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Embrace of the Vampire (1995) - Alyssa Milano Surprises!

Embrace of the Vampire: Alyssa Milano at her Sexy Best

DVD cover Embrace of the Vampire 1995
"Embrace of the Vampire" (1995).

Some films really only serve only one purpose, but they serve it quite well. "Gia" is a fine movie if you want to see a dynamite Angelina Jolie, "Mischief" is great if you want to see Kelly Preston in her prime, "Femme Fatale" is the film to see if you want to see a lot of Rebecca Romijn in more ways than one, and so on and so forth. We can learn a lot about filmmaking from this film, especially vampire-seduction filmmaking.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
Charlotte (Alyssa Milano) has a boyfriend. He's not a vampire. Or is he? Watch and find out!

Well, first things first. "Embrace of the Vampire" (1995) has one true purpose, which it also serves extremely well. That purpose to get Alyssa Milano out of her clothes and into the arms of various others. Female others, mostly, but not entirely. Because, you know, in '90s direct-to-video thrillers, if it's two girls together, it's not nearly as serious to those who care about such things as it would be if it were a girl and a guy. I know, go figure, but that's how it worked then, and undoubtedly still does in the world of cheesy thrillers like "Embrace of the Vampire."

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
We find out very early in "Embrace of the Vampire" that Alyssa Milano is not shy.

One purpose is to show Alyssa Milano in a lesbian seduction, wrought by upperclass photographer "Sarah," played by Charlotte Lewis. The scene is a masterpiece of its kind, starting out with Alyssa dressed in a virginal white outfit, sitting sweetly and innocently on a park bench by herself in what appears to be the early morning, just waiting to be picked up. Why Alyssa is waiting in virginal white on a park bench to be picked up early in the morning is not explained, of course - that would be so, you know, linear and so forth.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
Alyssa Milano and Charlotte Lewis' knee in "Embrace of the Vampire."

Suddenly, along comes the seductress Lewis, clad in black and holding a large phallic camera. Almost no words are exchanged, and believe me, this scene doesn't need any. Somebody knew their business when they blocked out this one. Of course, there's absolutely no need for this scene in "Embrace of the Vampire" at all, it just pops out of nowhere and leads nowhere, so you can always fast-forward through it if you find the plot absolutely gripping and don't want to be bothered with this lesbian nonsense....

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
A key scene very conveniently takes place in a photography studio.

Let's back up a second. In "Embrace of the Vampire," Alyssa Milano plays Charlotte (it gets a little confusing with all these Charlottes around, but bear with me), an innocent virgin (but not for long) who is having bad dreams about sex. She learns that a vampire is after her, though it's never quite clear whether she really "realizes" it or not, because she invariably is seeing visions or sleepwalking during these encounters. 

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
There is a lot of smoking in "Embrace of the Vampire."

The vampire is cursed and must seduce her (apparently she's the only virgin on campus, which is kind of a funny concept right there). The vampire must make her love him within three days or he will die. The only problem is, Charlotte is in love with someone else. Now, I could go on and on about how this is a fine movie with a wonderful plot, starring a fine villain (and I cannot fathom under any circumstances why Alyssa did not receive top billing). I also could expound upon the film industry's endless efforts to turn every single last book and film into a tale about non-existent creatures known as vampires.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

Well, "Embrace of the Vampire" is not a fine movie - unless you watching it for its sole purpose for being, which is to place Alyssa Milano into seduction scenes. Then, "Embrace of the Vampire" is stellar! So, on with the biggest, most notorious seduction scene.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

As is sometimes the case in these kinds of take-it-to-the-limit-female-exploitation flicks, the director is a woman (Anne Goursaud), which insulates "Embrace of the Vampire" from at least one line of attack as being, well, anti-woman. It was made by a woman, right? So it is empowering! It almost makes watching this sexualized thing a feminist statement! Lordy, lordy, Hallelujah!

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

Because of the success of this project, Goursaud and Alyssa went on to do "Poison Ivy 2," which isn't nearly as titillating as "Embrace of the Vampire." (Goursaud's directing peak, incidentally, was "Another Nine & a Half Weeks," which, if you know anything about that potboiler, tells you something about her special talent right there).

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

"Embrace of the Vampire" has made its backers a TON of money on video sales, and thus stands as one of the all-time most successful movies that you never heard of. How can that be?? See above about the "sole purpose," or glance at any of the accompanying pictures. These kinds of films, the ones that go so far that they fall out of the "good date movie" category because girls get jealous and don't like them (yes, that's a gross generalization), were humongous moneymakers in home video.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
Charlotte Lewis knows how to handle a camera.

Thus, these types of films look like failures if you just look at what they earned on general theatrical release, which was almost required in the mid-90s. However, sometimes films like "Embrace of the Vampire" find their true life in the film kingdom's afterlife - video sales, where guys can just buy the tape or DVD without their significant other having any say about it. You'd be amazed - or at least I am - at some of the real stinkers that everyone thinks are flops, but wound up earning tidy sums from sales and rentals. "Embrace of the Vampire" is a classic in that regard. Legendary, in fact. Like a vampire.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

There are odd corners of the Internet where the question is endlessly debated, "what is the hottest mainstream film sex scene?" Let me tell you, the Milano/Lewis scene in "Embrace of the Vampire" receives its share of mentions in such places.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
Charlotte Lewis lets her hair down and gets down to business.

I'll be honest with you here, as always. I have a confession to make. I don't think I've ever made it all the way through "Embrace of the Vampire" in one sitting. "Embrace of the Vampire" is just not that kind of film. You watch it for certain scenes where you go, OMG did she really do that? Sitting through it in the theater must have been torturous. Watching it at home where you can fast-forward and so forth? Pure bliss.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

As drama, as comedy, as just about anything, "Embrace of the Vampire" is as dull as dishwater and opaque as mud. Figuring out what the hyperventilating vampire really wants - or, put more precisely, caring about what he wants - takes way too much effort. It's one of those things where he has rules, and he has to go about things indirectly to accomplish his purpose, and he just becomes annoying. On the other hand, watching Alyssa Milano undress and be seduced takes no effort at all. No problems there, mate! Alyssa Milano has said that she took "Embrace of the Vampire" during a period of her career when she would have taken just about anything - and believe me, "Embrace of the Vampire" is just about anything.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
Much of "Embrace of the Vampire" takes place in the dark. Apparently, vampires like the dark. But, not always.

One of the odder stories about the early days of the Internet concerns Alyssa Milano. Her mother was aghast - AGHAST - that people would post nude photos of her daughter online (I guess she wasn't as aghast that her daughter posed for those photos in the first place, but then, when the photos were taken, Alyssa got paid, but when they were posted online on others, well....). And Alyssa's little brother could find them online! Her LITTLE BROTHER! And innocent little Alyssa was being spread all over the Internet like a common... exotic dancer! Or vampirish vixen. Or aging child star at that awkward age.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
"At the end of the day, we would meet in our secret place."

So, mama spent countless hours and much time and money hunting down the offenders and blasting that filth off the web. This actually was a big deal back in the '90s, which wasn't all that long ago.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
Alyssa's character has a "bad girl" scene. Well, she has several of those, but here she is affecting the Goth look.

Well, a very, very, VERY quick look will tell you that mama eventually gave up, because today there are countless screen captures of her daughter's famous (topless) scene from this film on the Internet (as well as similar scenes from "Poison Ivy 2"). Maybe it was all a publicity stunt, but a very strange one for any mother to play out. I'm sure she meant well, the nice lady.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995

Just so you know, the plot is something about Alyssa being the object of lust for some vampire (Martin Kemp, I think he was in Spandau Ballet or something, like, whatever, good for him) who pines after her. I mean, don't they all? Didn't everyone? They do in "Embrace of the Vampire."

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
The vampire, played by Martin Kemp, sends out his mating call.

Does the vampire get her? Who cares! The lesbian seduction scene comes along way before the vampire does anything, and by then, you will have switched this thing off - I can practically guarantee that.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
There are many happy people in "Embrace of the Vampire." And candles.

No, this is not a cinematic classic. It did not win any Academy Awards. The music is forgettable, and the acting is wooden. So what?

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
"Are you from around here?" Jennifer Tilly proves that she knows the business end of a cigaret in "Embrace of the Vampire."

Alyssa Milano is so cute and adorable, isn't she? But there's more! Jennifer Tilly of all people arrives mid-way through "Embrace of the Vampire." She has the thankless task of following Alyssa Milano's big sex scenes, and you never want to do that. Not if you want to get any attention yourself, that is. But, if you want your performance to be completely overlooked because it was just a paycheck when you were young and struggling, maybe that's a good thing.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
"Embrace of the Vampire" (2013).

After many years of discussions about it, there finally was a 2013 remake of "Embrace of the Vampire" starring Sharon Hinnendael ("Look"). Well, we know the reason for a remake: the original "Embrace of the Vampire" made a ton of money. The remake has nothing whatsoever to do with the original beyond re-using character names and the general theme. If you like sexy vampire movies, maybe consider giving it a whirl, but really, the only thing you need to know is that Alyssa Milano has nothing to do with it.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
This is the "Embrace of the Vampire" that you should see.

Alyssa has move on, as she should. As Alyssa herself said once:
I really hope my Poison Ivy II days are behind me.
By that she really meant "Embrace of the Vampire," not "Poison Ivy II." While "Poison Ivy II" was erotic in its own way, it wasn't nearly as salacious as "Embrace of the Vampire."

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
There is a lot of play with light and shadow in "Embrace of the Vampire." If one wants to be artsy, you could say it is almost a modern film noir. But, they never made film noir like this.

Alyssa should be proud of her work in "Embrace of the Vampire," because she looks fantastic and really does produce some good acting. At the time, Alyssa herself seemed to think so, too, because she chose to film her next project, the aforementioned "Poison Ivy II," with the same director, Anne Goursaud (editor of "Bram Stoker's Dracula"). One doesn't follow a director from project to project unless you figure she did a good job with you the previous time. Goursaud, incidentally, very much remains in the business, though more as a film editor than director these days.

Embrace of the Vampire 1995
"Embrace of the Vampire" can be eye-opening if you are not prepared for it.

That really is all you need to know about Alyssa Milano in "Embrace of the Vampire." If you're a Milano fan, you may enjoy it.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Mischief (1985) - The Climax of '80s Teen Sex Comedies

Original poster of Mischief Doug McKeon Kelly Preston
"Mischief" (1985).

"Mischief" (1985) is one of my favorite films of all time, and for all the wrong reasons - well, right reasons. "Mischief" sparkles with scenic vistas, classic cars, and teenage lust. But even beyond its obvious prurient appeal, "Mischief" has a quirky charm all its own. You really do get a feel for the repression of the 1950s and the associated impositions on ordinary folks yearning to break free from.... Oh, who am I kidding - it's a teen sex comedy, folks! Enjoy "Mischief" for what it is!

Mischief 1985 original lobby card Kelly Preston and Doug McKeon falling out of their car
That's how falling out of a car looks when carefully posed, but it's not the final shot used for the film poster ....

"Mischief," directed by Mel Damski (sorry, I love that name) and written by Noel Black (who claims it is "somewhat autobiographical," yeah, well, probably not the Kelly Preston part), belongs in the pantheon of teenage sex comedies. If you watch this largely (unjustly!) forgotten film, it probably is because of Kelly Preston's awesome performance as the beauteous fair maiden Marilyn McCauley, the object of lust for our horny hero, Jonathan Bellah, played by Doug McKeon. "Mischief" fits in well with other '80s films set in whole or in part in small towns during the 1950s, the most famous probably being "Back To The Future."

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston and Doug McKeon actually falling out of the car
That's how you REALLY fall out of a car! Notice the prominent panties! But it still isn't the final shot used for the "Mischief" film poster. They must have spent quite some time getting the right pose.

Set in rural Ohio in 1956, this tale follows the path of Jonathan as he pursues the aforesaid wondrous Marilyn, the prettiest girl in town. At first (and, to some eyes, always) a complete nerd, Jonathan gets advice from a local friend Gene (Chris Nash) who has watched one or two too many James Dean films.

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston dancing in water from broken fire hydrant after car accident
He just ran into a fire hydrant because of her, so what does Kelly Preston's character in "Mischief" do?  Dance in the water, of course! And he loves it!

That is the whole story of "Mischief." Oh, there are complications, of course, but this is a Quest as much as any launched by King Arthur's knights. "Mischief" is a simple lust-after-the-impossibly-beautiful-yet-seemingly-unattainable-girl-but-somehow-finally-get-her film.  Isn't that true wish fulfillment? Along the way, there are various sub-plots and complications (there are bullies and runaways and school events and that sort of thing) that do little to distract from our hero's quest. Jonathan might as well be Sir Galahad given his single-minded obsession with conquering the fair Marilyn, whose name is spoken with reverential tones throughout.

Mischief 1985 Doug McKeon
Doug McKeon is our "Mischief" guide through the obsessions of a teenage boy in rural Ohio in 1956. Note the authentic background.

Everything but Jonathan's mission to seduce his love object really is just there to fill the time. Oh, and speaking of annoying subplots, Catherine Mary Stewart plays a classmate, Bunny Miller, with her own romantic issues. She is the object of Gene's lust, and, yes, they play out the whole classic James Dean film scenario, planning on leaving town on his motorbike. For some reason, Catherine Mary Stewart got a higher cast credit in "Mischief" than Kelly Preston, something I'm still trying to figure out since Kelly's character completely dominates the entire film.

Mischief 1985 Doug McKeon
Those old cars took a lot of punishment in "Mischief." D.W. Brown has thankless role as a teen heavy which results in an epic demolition derby through town.

As usual in these sorts of seemingly throwaway films, there are some minor characters played by then-unknown actors who went on to bigger things. Terry O'Quinn, the best (and, some would say, only good) thing about the 2000's TV series "Lost," plays Gene's very strict dad, a violinist of all things. Jamie Gertz, who had some minor TV success in the 1990s and 2000s  (she almost got a part in "Friends"!), also is around in the background but plays a nerdy girl who doesn't figure into the main proceedings.

Mischief 1985 Doug McKeon Kelly Preston Catherine Mary Stewart Chris Nash
The four teen-ish leads of "Mischief."

Interestingly, this was probably the height of  the careers of Doug McKeon and Kelly Preston - if you don't count Kelly's subsequent relationship with Charlie Sheen and marriage to John Travolta as career moves, that is.

Mischief 1985 black and white shot of Kelly Preston holding up her skirt and dancing in water from broken fire hydrant
This is the picture they used for "Mischief" that was in my local paper when they reviewed it.

Seriously, the best thing about this film - apart, obviously, from Kelly Preston - is the atmosphere. You are immersed in small-town 1950s life. The main set, the actual town square in Nelsonville, Ohio when the film was made (and probably today, too!), apparently was little changed from the 1950s (and still is, according to some locals). There are lots of classic old cars and situations that feel authentic, but the sexual shenanigans are strictly 1980s.

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston Doug McKeon
I really shouldn't have to say anything about this picture sequence from "Mischief, as it speaks for itself, but let's give some hints so you know what's coming....

The key scene is set in Marilyn's bedroom with Marilyn and what's-his-name, sorry, Jonathan. No, they aren't playing Parcheesi!  Kelly completely dominates this scene. Ah, the look of outrageous lust!  Kelly sure has it. If female desire repulses you, stay far, far away from this film.

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston Doug McKeon
Wait!  Where did her dress go????? And his shirt???? It's a magic act!

Kelly is very natural about getting naked.  I think she has the best eyes in the business. She really knows how to communicate raw, overpowering seduction.

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston Doug McKeon
Oh My God, now her bra is gone, too, run and hide the children....

Kelly is, of course, just as beautiful with her clothes on. The way that she maintains the same look throughout her seduction scene with Jonathan is uncanny, and almost creepy - but in a good creepy way.

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston Doug McKeon
That nerdy girl with the glasses, Rosalie (Jami Gertz), is always around in the background to emphasize Kelly's beauty. Thank you, nerdy background girl!

Let's be honest, shall we? Most people are going to view this now in order to see Kelly Preston disrobe and get in sexual situations.  She does a fantastic job of taking off her clothes, one of the best such performances I, personally, have ever seen. And, again being honest, I've seen quite a few. Yes, Kelly Preston gets completely nude, naked as the day she met John Travolta.

It turns out that Marilyn has desires of her own, and is very forthright about fulfilling them. This is one of the best "the sweet and blazingly hot, innocent girl really isn't (innocent, that is)" performances you ever will ever. You may not be into seeing the object of lust for all the men in town being taken down like, well, a prize stag, but if you are, well, this is your film, buddy.  You are welcome!

Mischief 1985 Chris Nash
Chris Nash plays Bunny's biker boyfriend in "Mischief."

Let me put this yet another way.  If the only thing that interests you about the film poster at the top of this post is the fine, fine classic American automobile in which our two heroes are situated, well, that is another reason that this may not be the film for you.  But, if you are here for the sex, the film also does showcase fine old US wheels!

Mischief 1985 classic cars
You really can play "ID that car" with "Mischief."

If I haven't fully communicated the true thrust of this film completely enough yet, here's one last odd fact about it: the original film poster was subtly altered for the much later DVD and other releases.  In the original 1985 poster put in all advertising in newspapers and outside theaters (with the classic shot of Marilyn sprawled on a car seat after the passenger door has been opened), Jonathan is shown holding Marilyn's panties in his right hand.  That still may be the case in foreign releases, I don't know, but the panties are no more on current US DVDs and other media.

Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston
Marilyn's bedroom is almost as much a star of "Mischief" as the leads.

Airbrushing is evil! I want my panties! LOL. Anyway, that is why I found and put an original (foreign, that's all I could find) poster atop this post.  Incidentally, my old VHS copy also has the panties shown where they should be.  I suppose they figured that a boy holding a girl's panties was just a little too risque for modern family audiences of the 2000s... or, much more likely, some bullying, censoring stores that were still minor players in 1985 wouldn't agree to carry a DVD like that after they got big and arrogant (cough cough WMT cough cough).  Sadly, I guess times have changed.

Kelly Preston Catherine Mary Stewart Mischief 1985
Yep, there's the girl with the glasses in the background again to make Kelly look even prettier. Thanks again, nerd girl!

Highly recommended for the reasons stated above.  I don't know this for a fact, but I think that free-thinking female viewers will (at least secretly, who knows) like this film too, for its portrayal of female maneuvering toward the ultimate goal of everybody involved (and it may be a good test of such free-thinking hint hint). This is not "Citizen Kane," but if you enjoy films such as "Two Moon Junction" and "The Hot Spot," you really should find a copy of this one. Oh, the soundtrack with top hits from the likes of Elvis Presley is exceptional if you like '50s rock, find a copy of that, too.

Original poster Mischief 1985 Kelly Preston Doug McKeon
"Mischief" (1985).