Passionate Revenge (1996): Cradle Snatching

Matty rolls around with a serviceable cash-in that was twisted into a sequel to a big video and cable hit.

Royal Oaks Entertainment and their successor, Franchise Pictures’ DTV wing Phoenician, have good form in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) stakes, with Shannon Tweed vehicle Scorned (1994) — directed by and co-starring shingle bigwig Andrew Stevens — and its Jim Wynorski-helmed remake, Poison (2001) (aka ‘Thy Neighbor’s Wife’), ranking among the beloved thriller’s finest cash-ins. Weaker but still agreeable is PASSIONATE REVENGE. Adding a dollop of Fatal Attraction (1987) to the Cradle snatching, Shauna O’Brien top-lines as our De Mornay/Close analogue, Linda: the out-of-town lover of married businessman Alex (Paul Michael Robinson). When Alex sheepishly returns home and ghosts her, the already worryingly clingy Linda — nudged further into madness by her own ex-fiancé’s suicide — tracks the philandering bastard down and ends up employed by his missus, Maddy (Jenna Bodnar), as a nanny. Blackmail, threats, danger sex, murder, and the inevitable showdown between husband, spouse and understandably miffed mistress ensue before a deliciously bleak conclusion.       

A quick mercenary assignment that Fred Olen Ray tackled prior to Fugitive Rage (1996), Passionate Revenge’s most damning flaw is that it’s not an especially nice film to look at. Exemplified by the poor quality stock footage of New Orleans and San Francisco woven throughout, visually this snappily paced yarn is a flat point-and-shoot exercise — though leeway can be given since Ray evidently had only a few bedrooms and some office space at his disposal in terms of locations, and the whole thing was clearly made on a budget lower than the daily rental rate of Annabella Sciorra’s Winnebago. That said, several moments of aesthetic inspiration cut through. There’s a dynamic dolly shot into Alex’s horrified face when he learns that Linda has hoodwinked her way into becoming his baby son’s live-in babysitter; and cinematographer Gary Graver’s escalating use of shadow in and around the marital bed echoes Maddy’s growing suspicions that something is niggling her increasingly fraught hubby.

Written by the mysterious ‘Henry Krinkle’ [1], where Passionate Revenge succeeds is in character and performance. As expected, Ray’s orchestration of the drama is great. Cast in the wake of her breakout role in Edward Holzman’s surreal erotic drama Friend of the Family (1995), the slinky O’Brien is wonderful and submits a turn at once sexy and terrifying, and the hunky Robinson is a believably flawed leading man. Sure, Alex has brought it all on himself — but to ‘Krinkle’, Ray and Robinson’s credit, you do feel for the surprisingly amiable love-rat. There’s a strong sense that Alex loves Maddy and wants to do right by her and their bambino. It’s just that he happens to have zero willpower and is convinced he can have his cake and eat it too.

Bodnar, meanwhile, is excellent. The Huntress: Spirit of the Night (1995) star imbues Maddy with heartbreaking verisimilitude, particularly when she thinks her previously supportive beau is suddenly wanting to sabotage her professional aspirations (Linda re-enters Alex’s life when Maddy decides to go back to work) when, really, the cheating little scrote is desperately trying to get rid of Linda without his infidelity being rumbled. Best known as Casey Becker’s doomed boyfriend in Scream (1996), Kevin Patrick Walls also appears as Maddy’s younger brother, and supporting spots from Arthur Roberts and Jeff Rector bolster the usual Royal Oaks interconnectivity [2].

Announced in Femme Fatales as ‘Innocence Betrayed’ and playing in steady rotation on Cinemax under that name during the last half of 1997, Passionate Revenge was released on U.S. video in December ‘96 by Triboro, who rechristened it ‘Friend of the Family II’ in order to capitalise on O’Brien’s burgeoning popularity with the heavy breathing set [3]. Here in the U.K. the film hit tape in September ‘96 via Third Millennium as ‘Hell Hath No Fury’, the distro rebranding it as such to evoke Medusa’s tweaking of the above-noted Scorned to ‘A Woman Scorned’. And if that wasn’t convoluted enough, Third Millennium subsequently sequelised Passionate Revenge by retitling Gary Graver’s Masseuse III (1998) ‘Hell Hath No Fury 2’ for its British VHS bow in August ‘99. Nowadays, Passionate Revenge seems to be the film’s preferred moniker across the numerous streaming sites where it’s since become a staple. Be warned, however: the versions currently lurking on Tubi and Prime et al truncate Ray’s basic but nonetheless crotch-quivering bursts of softcore scuttling. 

USA ● 1996 ● Erotic Thriller ● 89mins

Shauna O’Brien, Paul Michael Robinson, Jenna Bodnar, Kevin Patrick Walls (as ‘Sid Farley’) ● Dir. Fred Olen Ray (as ‘Nicholas Medina’) Wri. ‘Henry Krinkle’

[1] Odds are it’s a nom de plume, either for Ray or, more than likely, Stevens (‘Krinkle’s’ only other screenwriting credit is Night Eyes Four: Fatal Passion (1996)). Incidentally, ‘Henry Krinkle’ is one of the fake names given by Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). Also worth noting is ‘Noble Henry’ being listed as Passionate Revenge’s producer. ‘Noble Henry’ is a confirmed alias, named after Stevens’ grandfather, that’s been deployed in various capacities on various films by Stevens, Ray, and Wynorski.
[2] In an especially strange bit of overlap, Rector, like Jeff Trachta from the aforementioned Poison, has gone on to ply his trade as a Donald Trump impersonator. Trachta showed up on America’s Got Talent in 2017 as ‘The Singing Trump’, and Rector has parlayed his mimicry skills into short film Trumped! (2017), its spin-off web series, and a feature-length indie comedy, Bad President (2021).
[3] Triboro released the original Friend of the Family on cassette to tremendous financial success. Interestingly, despite the films being completely unrelated, former Penthouse Pet O’Brien’s character in Passionate Revenge shares the name of Griffin Drew’s character in Friend of the Family.  

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