In the Heat of Passion (1992): MILF Trouble

Flawed for sure, but Matty still recommends Rodman Flender’s sexy, Corman-backed thriller.

Though stricken by a certain sloppiness, typified by some blunt editing and writer/producer/director Rodman Flender’s inability to completely balance the yo-yoing tones of his story, IN THE HEAT OF PASSION is a robust bit of hokum from the Roger Corman production line. Like its closest stablemate, the Flender-produced Naked Obsession (1990) — an equally entertaining but superior blend of humour, lurid subject matter, and eye-popping T&A — In the Heat of Passion was given a brief, R-rated theatrical run stateside before landing on tape and cable in its spicier, unexpurgated form. And let’s be clear: that’s the version of this charismatic erotic thriller to see. While her actual performance is something of a car crash, a frazzled-seeming Sally Kirkland looks the business in Flender’s ribald scenes of rumpy-pumpy, emitting the sort of fantasy MILF aesthetic that Naughty America and Brazzers often charge a premium for. 

“I love In the Heat of Passion,” Kirkland told Jeff Cramer in 2013. “If somebody was strategizing my career, they probably wouldn’t have let me do it. But I’m very proud of that film. A lot of people would have said, “She made a lot of wrong choices,” thinking that I should have continued to do Anna (1987)-type films and wondering why I was doing this B film but I owed Roger Corman so much. I owed him a favor. Roger asked me to do In the Heat of Passion and I’d grown up with him. He taught me — I was a casting director for him and his wife Julie back in the late ’60s and ’70s, and then he had mentored me on producing. He mentored me from day one and I’m godmother to his oldest daughter, so, yeah, it was a payback… Roger paid me well and, as you know, Roger doesn’t pay. So to get paid well by Roger was really something. I think I said something like, “I’ll trade you $40,000 of my salary if I can get to work with somebody that I like [as my leading man], rather than just be assigned another actor.” Nick Corri, that was his name then and now he’s called Jsu Garcia — he was a best friend of mine. So it was easy to do all this erotic stuff together because me and Nick would just laugh about it.”

Shot as the Academy Award-nominated actress was about to turn fifty, Kirkland stars as Lee Adams: an affluent but sexually unsatisfied therapist who enters the life of young mechanic/struggling actor Charlie Bronson (the ludicrously handsome Corri/Garcia). After a bit of mutual flirtation over an oil change, Lee and Charlie go at it hammer and tongs in a series of tangles as comical as they are titillating, Flender accenting farce as the two (horizontally) dance circles around Lee’s feckless husband, the socially climbing Sanford. Essayed with buffoonish ignorance by Michael Greene, the ‘do I know you?’ double takes Sanford gives every time he encounters an in-disguise Charlie at whatever event he’s sneaking into in order to rattle Lee are priceless. Ditto a blowjob skit set in a restaurant toilet that’s apparently busier than Piccadilly Circus — a scenario that becomes even funnier when you realise one of women interrupting Lee and Charlie’s sausage-slurping tryst is a pre-Friends Lisa Kudrow (Kudrow also appeared in Flender and Corman’s previous director-exec producer collaboration, The Unborn (1991)).     

However, Flender soon jettisons his efficient script’s rich vein of bawdy situational comedy in favour of darker ideas when Charlie accidentally kills Sanford. Having already invoked Sisters (1973) via a voyeuristic, show-within-a-movie opening, by the film’s mid-point, Flender twists In the Heat of Passion into a full-blown De Palma facsimile, mixing and matching elements of Dressed to Kill (1981) and Body Double (1984) as Charlie tumbles into a world of deception, sex crimes, historic child abuse, and armchair psychotherapy. Granted, the impending sting in the tail is obvious. She might not have done the killing, but you know that Lee is involved in Sanford’s death somehow, and you know that she’s hipper to the true identity of the mysterious, Richard Ramirez-esque prowler terrorising the local area than she lets on — particularly as it’s the same psycho that Charlie had been hired to play in a reconstructive segment of a TV crime show. Nonetheless, Flender does a fine job of keeping the specifics hidden for much of In the Heat of Passion’s duration, resulting in a real gasper of a moment ahead of the film’s grim yet perversely redemptive coda as the whos, whats, and whys are revealed.

An acceptable name-only sequel, In the Heat of Passion II: Unfaithful, followed in 1994.

USA ● 1992 ● Erotic Thriller ● 85mins

Sally Kirkland, Jsu Garcia (as ‘Nick Corri’), Michael Greene, Jack Carter ● Dir./Wri. Rodman Flender

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