Deadly Embrace (1988) Deadly Embrace (1988/1989) -**˝

     Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, David DeCoteau was a great collector of pseudonyms. It’s perfectly understandable that he would have been, for much the same reason that it made sense for Dean R. Koontz to hoard pen names in the 70’s. A filmmaker whose repertoire encompasses general-interest low-budget exploitation movies, gay hardcore porn, softcore smut for straight audiences, and even direct-to-video children’s fare has good and compelling reason to invent different personas for each facet of their career, even without factoring in the occasional need to stick a paper bag over the head of an especially embarrassing stinker. What’s curious, though, is that there wasn’t always an obvious pattern to which name DeCoteau used on any given project. For instance, although it’s plain enough that “Julian Breen” was the all-ages DeCoteau, while “David McCabe” was the one who showed you guys blowing each other up close and personal, I’m not at all sure what ties together the works of “Victoria Sloane” (who was supposed to have directed Prison of the Dead, among other things), nor do I have any idea what to make of one-off aliases like “Richard Chasen” (Killer Eye), “Martin Tate” (Totem), or “Jack Reed” (Witchhouse). In any case, the alter ego that interests me most, ever since I learned who “she” really was, is “Ellen Cabot.” That’s the name DeCoteau generally used when making movies for Charles Band’s direct-to-video erotica label, TorchLight, but it first appeared on Deadly Embrace and Murder Weapon, released by Cinema Home Video Productions as part of their 1989 catalogue. And now that I’ve seen “Cabot’s” debut, I think I might have the answer to a question that has nagged me off and on for almost twenty years.

     That question is, why would a gay man pose as a woman when making wank fuel for straight guys? To draw again the parallel with Dean Koontz, this isn’t like all those gothic romances Koontz published in the 70’s and early 80’s as “Deanna Dwyer” and “Leigh Nichols.” Nobody in those days was going to buy a paperback novel whose cover showed an immaculately-coifed woman in a nightgown fleeing in the dark from a beetling manor house if the novel in question had a dude’s name above the title. It can hardly be said, however, that softcore porn has ever been dominated by female directors. It turns out, though, that Deadly Embrace and Murder Weapon are a bit different from later “Ellen Cabot” pictures like Bikini Goddesses and Beach Babes from Beyond. Although they’re still basically skin flicks, those first two films were specifically erotic thrillers. And because they arrived so early in the subgenre’s development, the much bigger movie whose skirts they clung to hardest was Fatal Attraction— which very much had been sold as a women’s picture. So maybe DeCoteau was expecting future films along the same lines to receive similarly focused marketing, then just held onto the established handle for subsequent hetero-oriented erotic projects, even though he never made another erotic thriller in the guise of “Ellen Cabot.” In any case, although audiences of 1989 might have been fooled, nobody familiar with DeCoteau’s work under his own name during the ensuing two decades could possibly watch more than a few minutes of Deadly Embrace without asking, “Are you sure David DeCoteau didn’t direct this?” The cast doesn’t include enough robotically underacting twinks to offer the full David DeCoteau Experience, but nobody else in the business back then could have muted Linnea Quigley’s or Michelle Bauer’s sex appeal so successfully.

     Deadly Embrace does have one robotically underacting twink, however. His name is Chris Thompson (Ken Abraham, from Mind, Body & Soul and Creepozoids), and he’s recently been hired as a live-in handyman by Los Angeles real estate crook Stewart Moreland (Jan-Michael Vincent, of Animal Instincts and Alienator). Chris doesn’t realize it, but his new gig makes him a pawn in a plot that Moreland is hatching against his wife, Charlotte (Ty Randolph— which is to say Caged Fury’s Mindi Miller, another pseudonym collector, whom we’ve seen before as the karate-fighting bikini babe in Hell Up in Harlem). The slimy bastard would like to trade Charlotte in for his vaporhead mistress and secretary, Dede Magnolia (Ruth Collins, of Heaven Becomes Hell and Blood Sisters), but his lawyer (Jack Carter, from Alligator and The Glove) has informed him that California’s marital property laws would require an even split of his whole business empire in the event of a divorce unless Stewart can come up with some extremely extenuating circumstances. It is thus Moreland’s hope that by installing a hunky young guy in the guest house behind his mansion for an indefinite period, he might entrap Charlotte in a Lady Chatterley’s Lover situation that would make some future divorce court look on her less favorably.

     And indeed Stewart is at least partially successful— although the ultimate fallout will not be at all what he had in mind. Chris’s presence causes Charlotte to fantasize nonstop about Michelle Bauer (from Nightmare Sisters and The Phantom Empire) getting it on with Jeff Newton (from nothing whatsoever, so far as I can tell) on a completely empty set. (I think maybe we’re supposed to interpret Bauer and Newton as representing Charlotte’s and Stewart’s more mutually amorous younger selves?) It also inspires her to rig up a video camera positioned so as to record whatever the handyman gets up to in his bedroom. And finally, just as Stewart foresaw, it provokes Charlotte to hurl herself at Chris with all her libidinous might— in full view of the aforementioned camcorder, so that she can relive the tryst at her leisure. Chris, however, is a most reluctant Oliver Mellors, because he already has a girlfriend. Despite his recent behavior on the job, he loves Michelle (Linnea Quigley, from Silent Night, Deadly Night and Stripperland) very much, and is unreservedly happy with their relationship. In fact, Chris seems to be hoping to hold the horny housewife at bay when he invites Michelle over to spend the weekend with him in the guest house. It’s a safe bet that that visit is destined to go badly for everyone, though, because Deadly Embrace’s action so far has been intruded upon at frequent but irregular intervals by snippets of conversation between Chris and an unseen authority figure who keeps alluding to a multiple murder at the Moreland place, for which the hapless handyman seems to be the prime suspect.

     I was fully prepared, of course, for a movie in which David DeCoteau does Lady Chatterley’s Lover as an erotic thriller to suck all the ass in the San Fernando Valley, and with that expectation in mind, Deadly Embrace did not disappoint. I was curious, though, how DeCoteau’s usual foibles would play out in a film featuring both Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer. Those gals were pros, you know? So, for that matter, was Mindi Miller (whatever she might call herself on any particular production), although I haven’t seen nearly as much of her work as I have of Quigley’s or Bauer’s. Was DeCoteau’s special magic powerful enough to make even them look like alien planetologists from Parthenia IV, trying to figure out this “heterosexuality” thing that most of Earth’s multicellular organisms inexplicably found so important? Not quite, it turns out, but by pairing Quigley, Miller, and Bauer with Ken Abraham and Jeff Newton, DeCoteau manages a feat almost as impressive. He makes all three women look thoroughly resistible. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes, and these lads clearly don’t even hear the music. During the turning-point coupling between Chris and Charlotte, Miller hits Abraham with an arsenal of hyper-aggressive foreplay moves which I have to assume she perfected for her hardcore projects, and the poor guy looks like he’d rather be getting his taint waxed. Quigley is more considerate, seeming to understand that her ostensible paramour doesn’t really liked to be kissed by girls, and does her best to work around that limitation. (At this point, Mink Stole speaks up from the depths of my memory: “Mount me if you must, but not a kiss!”) Just the same, there’s no mistaking how much fun Abraham isn’t having. The results are so pathetic that I’m tempted to applaud Jeff Newton’s performance in the outside-the-plot fantasy sequences for being merely detached and perfunctory!

     Deadly Embrace’s failure to be erotic is about what one expects when dealing with David DeCoteau. Its failure to be thrilling, on the other hand, displays something like genuine inspiration. Whereas the typical DeCoteau turkey is totally innocent of recognizable plot until the onset of the endgame, at which point the viewer exclaims, “Oh! So that’s what this movie is about!” Deadly Embrace sets up an entire gallery of potential plots, only to spend fully half the running time apparently trying to make up its mind which one to use. We know from the interjecting chats in the smoke-filled office that there will eventually be a pile of corpses at the Moreland mansion, and the title is enough to cue us that Chris and the Morelands’ sexual chicanery will supply the flashpoint, but there are no fewer than five routes to that outcome visible from the moment when Charlotte first turns on the seduction. Will she go berserk when she figures out how her husband has been playing her? Will Chris set her off by spurning her only after succumbing to her wiles in a moment of weakness? Will Stewart adopt a more aggressive means of getting his wife out of the way when Chris doesn’t move fast enough or decisively enough to suit him? Will Michelle turn psycho after catching Chris and Charlotte in the act? Or might Dede take matters into her own hands at the last? A competent filmmaker would build suspense out of that uncertainty, and I’m sure that’s what DeCoteau and screenwriter Richard Gabai thought they were doing. But that would have required them to move some of those pieces forward during the second act, while the sexual melodrama in the guest house played out. Instead, though, all the of the movie’s would-be plots just mill around aimlessly in the background, occasionally reminding the viewer of their existence by means of an inane telephone conversation between this or that pair of characters. It’s tempting to make a drinking game out of it, but actually doing so would demand either very forgiving rules or extremely high tolerances. There are an incredible seventeen phone-call scenes over the course of Deadly Embrace’s 84 minutes, plus a further four scenes involving messages on answering machines! Obviously this is at heart just an eccentric form of “talk is cheap, but action costs money.” Still, it’s so striking while you watch that Deadly Embrace is almost inescapably doomed to be filed away in the memory as “that phone call movie.”



Home     Alphabetical Index     Chronological Index     Contact



All site content (except for those movie posters-- who knows who owns them) (c) Scott Ashlin.  That means it's mine.  That means you can't have it unless you ask real nice.