• They're Playing With Fire

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: March 14, 2017.
    Director: Howard Avedis
    Cast: Sybil Danning, Eric Brown, Andrew Prine, Paul Clemens, K.T. Stevens
    Year: 1984
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    The Movie:

    Star of multiple films and an appearance on the cover of Playboy Magazine in 1983, Sybil Danning seemed like a natural casting choice to play sexy seductress Dr. Diane Stevens in 1984's They're Playing With Fire. Stevens, a Professor at a L.A. University, has the full attention of her students; her male students, anyway; as she lounges against her desk and struts around provocatively during teaching time. One of her students, Jay (Eric Brown) is so hot for teacher, in fact, that he's willing to blow off his sorta-girlfriend Cynthia, a good-looking blond, to go help varnish the furniture on Steven's yacht. While the innocent young lad goes to work on the boat in the warm California sun, Diane goes to work on him, parading around in a nipple-revealing bikini that shows off her assets.

    It isn't long before she's inviting Jay below deck to check out some other varnishing opportunities, and she wastes no time in letting the younger man know that she's very into him. Within seconds, and against lackluster protests, he's very into her, asking a multitude of stupid questions while she eagerly bounces around on him. With the sex stuff out of the way and the yacht work finished, the two head back into town, with Diane offering him an indefinite loan to fix his car and recommending that he don't mention their excursion to anyone. Jay, having just received a free beer and action from his hot teacher, is more than happy to just be happy, accepting the loan and her suggestion.

    Obviously, something is weird with this match-up, and the answer soon becomes clear, in the form of Diane's professor husband, Mike (Andrew Prine). As it turns out, Andrew's mother and grandmother are extremely wealthy, living in a massive mansion nearby and Jay is let in on the plan that began with his sea-bound sex instruction; Diane and Mike want him to break into the house and give the old ladies a scare that will have them declared incompetent and moved to a nursing home. And, why would a couple engage in such a scatterbrained scheme? Because with Mike's mom and grandma declared incompetent, the college-y couple will gain control of massive wealth, something that will definitely not occur if the elderly women write Mike and "that gold digger" out of the will. Jay is reluctant, but agrees to follow through due to his newfound carnal knowledge.

    Of course, this is the point in the film where everything begins to go wrong. Jay slips into the house via a window that Michael has left open, knocks over a suit of armor and makes a bunch of other noise that brings the family dog to the basement to see what's going on. Mother is incensed by the home invader and promptly heads to the cabinet to get a great big gun, which she unloads on Jay from the balcony as he scampers across the grounds. But although he escapes unscathed, Jay leaves behind a wealth of physical evidence, most unlucky considering the masked intruder that shows up to shoot mom, grandma, the television, and thankfully not the dog, immediately after he leaves. Jay returns to Diane and Mike, obviously upset about being shot at, but when the three go to the house to check it out, Mike expresses shock at finding blood and broken glass, accusing Jay of foul play.

    Jay, meanwhile, is convinced that he's been set up as a murderer, vowing to find out what happened to the women, and confiding to Diane that he believes Mike is behind the murders. Further sleuthing reveals some potentially damaging secrets from Mike's past, and Jay is torn between accusing Diane of being in on the plot; or succumbing to her request to have more clumsy monkey boat sex with her. Mike is understandably less than happy about his wife's current involvement with the boy, issuing vague threats and such, and when Jay's curious friends start disappearing, a last minute potential suspect is introduced, throwing Jay's life into a chaos that not even Diane taking off her shirt again will remedy.

    They're Playing With Fire, in case it wasn't evident from the plot description above, is, as Sybil Danning has described, "convoluted". Or, to put it less politely, it's a chaotic mess that often makes very little sense. Characters act out of unknown motivations and do random, silly things (watch Andrew Prine scream at a steel fire door set into a concrete fire wall, "Open this door or I'll break it down!"), plot twists come out of nowhere, characters are introduced for no reason and then vanish, only to reappear in an attempt to close ridiculous holes in the story, and the acting; take the wonderful Andrew Prine out of the mix, who is quite creepy in this, and you have acting talents that range from poor to monstrous, across the board. Danning can perhaps be forgiven for not understanding the character as written; I think that ANYONE can be forgiven for that; and Eric Brown has his moments, but for the most part, man. The actors playing Jay's friends are horrific, and a quick glance through imdb reveals a whole lot of nothing for those kids outside of They're Playing With Fire.

    So what does work? Well, if you put it in with a lot of the other stuff coming out in the early 80's, it's got that colourful, trashy vibe that worked for so many other better films, right down to a horrible theme song (which they get some mileage out of) and an equally bad sax/electric guitar score. But, while I'm willing to forgive a lot of films for not making sense, or for being ridiculous in motivation, They're Playing With Fire never really succeeds, and not even topless Sybil Danning can save it. The most intriguing aspect of the film is that in it's lack of cohesive narrative, it goes batshit insane in the last 20 minutes, and turns into an 80's slasher that's ridiculously entertaining. Perhaps if the writing team had stuck with that genre from start to finish, we'd have a much better finished product; or at least a slightly better film. As it stands, They're Playing With Fire is not a good film; more a testament to the kind of stuff you could get made in the 80's.


    They're Playing With Fire comes to Kino Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks quite alright. Black levels are good and detail is retained for the most part in night scenes, and aside from a bit of dirt, the only issue is the judder that shows up here and there, most noticeably during the opening credits. It should be mentioned that some scenes are very soft, particularly some that occur in the dark mansion sequences, and lack the detail prevalent during the rest of the film. Colours are naturally represented, though one scene in particular finds our actors looking a little reddish...a combination of Danning's skin tone and low lighting. Overall, a decent transfer.

    Audio is handled courtesy of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English track that holds its own with minimal effort. Bass representation is nice, dialogue is clear and coherent, and the atrocious soundtrack comes through with good range. No distortion or other issues were found. No subtitles are available for this disc.

    An entertaining Interview With Star Sybil Danning (HD, 18:25) is the main extra on this disc, and well worth the watch. Danning talks candidly about the roll that she was on in the late 70's and 80's, jump-started by the film Operation Thunderbolt, where she appeared with Klaus Kinski. She acknowledges that her 1983 appearance in Playboy paved the way for more roles, and that being hired for They're Playing With Fire made sense because she was no stranger to taking off her clothes. Interestingly, she also comments on how she felt that the script was too convoluted and difficult to follow, finding her character to be inconsistent, and makes no bones about disliking her co-star, Eric Brown. On the flip side, however, she talks warmly about on-screen husband, Andrew Prine, Director Howard Avedis, and has some very kind words about the late Director of Photography, Gary Graver. Danning is a character, and the interview is entertaining from start to finish.

    Trailers for They're Playing With Fire, The Bitch, and The Stud are also included.

    The Final Word:

    If the writers/Director had listened to Danning about the script being convoluted, who knows how They're Playing With Fire would have turned out. As a film, it's a mess of random ideas with an entertaining but very strange conclusion. It will most likely find a home in the collections of trash fans the world over, and Kino presents the film nicely with a great bonus interview.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      It's a mess, but topless Sybil Danning did save it for me. She is absolutely stunning in this film. There are plenty of bonkers moments that are quite entertaining as well.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      The whole film is bonkers haha