Ultimate Desires (1991): Late Night Hokum, North American Style

Matty dissects Lloyd Simandl’s messy but engaging potboiler.

While promoting Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1990) in the pages of Gorezone, producer and North American Pictures co-founder John A. Curtis was keen to stress the differences between North American’s first few offerings — Ladies of the Lotus (1987), Possession: Until Death Do You Part (1987), Empire of Ash I & III (1988/9), and Slow Burn (1989) — and their then-upcoming sci-shocker. 

“We aren’t following the ‘formula’,” stated Curtis. “In the past, we followed a format that had us throwing in a jiggle scene or a car chase every seven minutes. In this film we’ve abandoned the traditional exploitation formula, and we’ve spent more money on art direction and set decoration.” [1]

At the time, Xtro II, with its $2million budget and slick production values, was the biggest, most polished, and most mainstream film the Vancouver-based North American had produced — even if, as a piece of entertainment, it came up short. But, looking back, it’s Curtis’ comments about this workmanlike monster flick that fascinate — particularly as North American’s next project, ULTIMATE DESIRES (1991), was at once another bold step forwards and a hasty retreat.

In regards to the former, Ultimate Desires is a handsomely mounted affair that really underlines how far Curtis and co-producer/director Lloyd Simandl had come since their DIY beginnings. North American’s fourth pairing with John Eyres and Geoff Griffiths’ EGM Film International [2] following Slow Burn, Empire of Ash III, and the aforementioned Xtro II, Ultimate Desires continues the glossy stylistic upswing instigated by Eyres’ Slow Burn in that it’s a proper-looking movie with lighting effects and visual textures (as opposed to the point n’ shoot mechanics of Ladies of the Lotus and the original Empire). Making good use of heavy shadows, helmer Simandl slathers the film with a noirish sheen that complements its themes of mystery and deception, and several genuinely elegant compositions render it a rich and often eye-catching viewing experience.

However, despite its aesthetic pomp and a stunning match cut that seamlessly ties the fates of two characters together, Ultimate Desires is a choppily edited picture that lacks narrative focus and cohesion. It goes one way, stops, sprints back, turns left and darts right — Derek Whelan’s schizophrenic splicing is as unfocused as Ted Hubert’s logic-leaping script [3]. Is it an erotic thriller, as the film’s succulently sleazy hook and dual titles suggest (Ultimate Desires was made and is also known as ‘Silhouette’)? A character study? Or is it a Cold War conspiracy caper? The answer is somewhere awkwardly in between. Like Empire of Ash I and III and, even, EGM’s later, non-North American affiliated joint, Monolith (1993), Ultimate Desires is a stockpile; a tale where all the spaghetti is thrown at the wall in the hope that something sticks. 

Still, that’s not an out and out slam. For undemanding fans of ‘11PM on cable’-type fare, Simandl’s attention-holding time-killer ticks enough of the right boxes. Ultimate Desires defaulting to North American’s above-noted ‘formula’ does yield a decent burst of vehicular carnage, and there’s plenty of gunfire. And though the smattering of flesh on show is a mite coy, and the whole secret sect/illuminati angle needlessly convoluted, Tracy Scoggins does look mighty fine in her skintight dresses (especially when ‘bound heat’ maestro Simandl subjects her to a lil’ light bondage), and the film’s action unspooling around a rasping svengali figure, cloaked in the darkness of a boardroom, save for his wildly gesticulating hands, is a deliciously silly and OTT flourish.

Moreover, it’s eminently watchable. There’s an aloof yet compulsive quality to Ultimate Desires; a quietly charismatic ‘arm’s-length’ tone that accentuates a rock-solid trio of shaded performances from Scoggins, Marc Singer, and the perpetually brilliant Brion James. On introduction, their motivations are as clear as the parts they play:

The Public Defender, who falls into a world of prostitution as she probes the death of a call girl; 

The Fed investigating what’s really going on;

And The Fixer chasing the film’s brooch McGuffin. 

But as Ultimate Desires judders along, good and bad starts to blur. The heroes become the villains and vice versa, as exemplified in a juicy bit of scene-stealing when James roughs up a frazzled paedophile pimp. It’s a neat and diverting touch, and had Simandl anchored his cast with a stronger and sharper story, Ultimate Desires could have been a minor classic rather than just an agreeable programmer.

The soundtrack contains a superb cover of Heart’s 1985 hit ‘What About Love’, mind…

[1] Xtra! Xtra! Xtro II Arrives by Steve Newton, Gorezone, #16, Winter 1990.
[2] Fifth if you want to split hairs: North American had previously helped distribute Eyres’ directorial debut, Lucifer (1987) (aka ‘Goodnight God Bless’), stateside.
[3] Ultimate Desires is Hubert’s sole produced credit. I haven’t been able to verify it yet, but I’m reckoning it’s a pseudonym.

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