Stormy Nights (1996): Wet n’ Wild

Dave grabs his galoshes and braves gale force winds for this fine erotic thriller.

Vulnerable to parody, the term ‘a dark and stormy night’ was, ironically, positioned quite highly in the American Book Review’s ranking of the best first lines from a novel. In the world of film, James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) is undeniably the poster child for the concept, but even that was met with (admittedly beloved) mockery in Larry Blamire’s riotous romp, Dark and Stormy Night (2009). A well-worn set-up, there’s a danger that even the most subtle of spins on this scenario are liable to descend into cliché-ridden circles, and as STORMY NIGHTS opens – with Shannon Tweed, an open fire and rain lashing the windows of her swanky abode – Alberto Vidaurri’s film is prone to leaning in that direction. Thankfully, the Mexican director is a model of restraint and he capably creates a tangible dramatic edge to what’s a compelling erotic-noir.

John (Brett Baxter Clark) and Jennifer (Tweed) McCormick are a happily married couple who are still dealing with the trauma of four recent miscarriages. Now pregnant for a fifth time, Jennifer is on bedrest owing to her fragility – so when John arrives home having accidentally killed a pedestrian with his car, they find themselves faced with all manner of upheaval. However, in a wily moment of cunning, John hires Nicole (Tracy Spaulding), the victim’s grieving widow, as a housekeeper in a bid to fend off potential litigation. What he doesn’t realise, though, is that the lady he’s taken on is not only falsifying her identity, but she’s also intent on disrupting the McCormick’s blissful union.

The queen of the ‘90s erotic thriller, it’s no surprise that Shannon Tweed gets top billing in Stormy Nights – but the star of such delights as Sexual Response (1992) and Scorned (1993) (to which this bears a passing resemblance) is actually relegated to a supporting role here, with Spaulding allowed to shine as the scheming femme fatale. It’s a bit of a leftfield casting choice: prior to Vidaurri’s film, Spaulding had only briefly popped up in a couple of AIP joints (Armed for Action (1992) and The Deadly Secret (1994)) before nailing a prominent role opposite Chris Mitchum in the low-budget actioner, Striking Point (1995). She’s a revelation in terms of eroticism. Far from your typical seductress, the actress has a wholesome façade which bleeds unexpectedly into a sadistic streak for her complex character.

It’s all too much for the seemingly monogamous John, who’s overwhelmed in the face of temptation. Clark imbues him with the same deer-in-the-headlights sensibility that Marc Singer gave Tom Redding in Body Chemistry (1990), which only serves to make Spaulding’s enticement of him even more thrilling. Add a subservient Robert Z’Dar to the pot and the welcome intricacies of Jonathan Li and Michael Meyer’s sinister script, and the result is a modest triumph.

Marquee Pictures retitled Stormy Nights ‘The Widow’ for the U.K. market when it hit tape in summer of 1997 – by which time it was already on release in America from Fantasy Home Video, whose library primarily consisted of five-episode volumes of Cinemax’s Erotic Confessions show.

USA ● 1996 ● Erotic Thriller ● 85mins

Shannon Tweed, Brett Baxter Clark, Tracy Spaulding, Robert Z’Dar ● Dir. Alberto Vidaurri ● Wri. Jonathan Yi, Michael Meyer

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