Over the Wire (1996): Fred Olen Ray’s Top-Notch Top-Shelfer

Matty gets hot n’ heavy with the B-movie maestro’s exemplary erotic potboiler. 

The most well-hidden gem in Fred Olen Ray’s sprawling filmography, OVER THE WIRE is a cracking amalgam of top-shelf softcore shenanigans and gripping mystery that’s barely been seen since its days on Playboy TV, despite its brief appearance on DVD at the turn of the millennium via Image (in a snapper case, no less). A co-production between the Playboy Entertainment Group and Andrew Stevens and Ashok Amritraj’s Royal Oaks, Over the Wire tells the compact tale of a detective turned telephone line repairman (David Christensen) who overhears a woman plotting the murder of her sister. Desperate to help, Christensen’s problem is twofold: first, no crime has been committed yet. And second, he doesn’t know whether it’s the prim and proper Susan (Landon Hall) or the wilder Rachel (Shauna O’Brien) who’s the killer’s target. A game of cat and mouse ensues, the only certainties being that one of the siblings is the bank-roller of John LaZar’s creepy, flat-topped assassin, and that Christensen is being screwed in every sense. 

Tightly directed with a heavy emphasis on performance (the bulk of which are very good), Ray employs a piercing, up-close-and-personal style to amplify the drama. Again, ambiguity is key; as with the helmer’s other choice cuts Alienator (1990), Inner Sanctum (1991), and Cyber Zone (1995), the pleasure of Over the Wire lies within Ray’s deft ability to keep us on our toes, guessing, questioning, and engaging with every expertly delivered plot twist. The vigorous sex scenes are hot, hot, hot, and Pete Slate’s script is full of neat character stuff, with profile-building asides and expository bumf sprinkled in with a casual assuredness. As such, for as tense and involving as it is, Over the Wire exudes a wonderfully relaxed approach. It’s screamingly obvious we’re watching a master craftsman, both at work and at play. 

A quick note on the cast: while the perma-tanned LaZar almost steals the show with his lizard-like turn, Over the Wire’s acting honours undoubtedly belong to Keith Lewis. Christensen’s still-on-the-force ex-brother-in-law, the richly moustachioed Lewis is subtly brilliant as the film’s low-key comic relief. Fancying himself a charismatic maverick, Lewis’ ‘tec is actually a jumpy, by the book bore. His contradictory nature is a blast to watch, especially when it’s revealed that, for as square as he is, he and his missus (Griffin Drew) are really kinda freaky between the sheets — a sizzling bit of light S&M that, maddeningly, was pruned in Over the Wire’s R-rated version.

USA ● 1996 ● Erotic Thriller ● 88mins

David Christensen, Shauna O’Brien, Landon Hill, Keith Lewis Dir. Fred Olen Ray (as ‘Peter Daniels’) Wri. Pete Slate


Portions of this review appear in Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain’s forthcoming book, “Schlock & Awe: 2,001 Forgotten Films of the ’90s Rental Realm”.

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