Jezebel’s Kiss (1990): Eww, Cooties

Matty’s left unsatisfied by a soul-sapping erotic thriller.

The atmospherics of Brian Reynolds’ evocative beach photography aside, there’s little to redeem this sorry farrago. A kind of proto Poison Ivy (1992), JEZEBEL’S KISS finds Katherine Barrese’s eponymous beauty drifting into the overcast coastal town of Faberson Beach and using her carnal charms to avenge the death of her beloved grandpappy. 

While Barrese looks the part, she’s far too wooden to convey Jezzy’s complexities. Tellingly, the former model would only appear in one subsequent feature, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her role in Anthony Hickox’s infinitely superior seaside noir, Payback (1995). In Barrese’s defence, though, writer/director Harvey Keith’s flaccid script doesn’t help. Woefully undercooked, his stabs at Donald Cammell-esque mysticism flounder and the ‘quirky’ character touches he threads throughout the film’s narrative come across as risible and pretentious rather than sexy and compelling. Worse is that such cack-handedness make the usually dependable Meg Foster, Everett McGill, and Malcolm McDowell (as, of course, the villain of the piece) look like bad actors. The supposedly ‘dramatic’ sign-offs to each of their clumsily sketched roles would seem piss-weak in your average episode of Neighbours, let alone acceptable punchlines in what’s meant to be a simmering erotic thriller. 

Credit where it’s due, mind. Considering Keith’s more gonzo credentials (his claims to fame include: shepherding the fascinating performance art doc, Mondo New York (1988); tackling the music video for The Fatboys’ A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988) soundtrack contribution, Are You Ready For Freddy?; and orchestrating the icky, Faces of Death (1978)-style gore compilation, Inhumanities (1989)), the helmer proves he can at least assemble a pretty-looking picture with a conventional story structure. It’s just a shame that everything else is dross. Keith’s similarly kooky 1997 flick, the Golden Age of Hollywood pastiche Stand-Ins, is much better.

Lensing between August and September 1989, Jezebel’s Kiss debuted on U.S. cassette via RCA Columbia Home Video on 14th November 1990 and landed on British tape courtesy of Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment five months later, in April 1991. It eventually surfaced on U.K. disc through bargain bin specialists Hollywood DVD at the back end of 2003.

USA ● 1990 ● Erotic Thriller ● 93mins

Katherine Barrese, Meredith Baxter-Birney, Everett McGill, Meg Foster, and Malcolm McDowell ● Wri./Dir. Harvey Keith

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