Drive-in goddess and '80s action queen Sybil Danning (of Chained Heat and Reform School Girls fame) stars as a lusty college professor who seduces a naive student (Eric Brown of Private Lessons) as part of a sordid plot to frame him for the murder of her wealthy in-laws. But in a world of passion, deceit, cheesy rock ballads and awesome Danning nudity, not everything is what it seems to be. Andrew Prine (Grizzly, The Centerfold Girls), Paul Clemens (The Beast Within) and Alvy Moore (Green Acres) star in this deliciously sleazy mix of sex and violence that Mr. Skin hails as "one of the weirdest entries in the genre, combining hormone-farce antics with slasher movie elements and, of course, Sybil's sumptuous sacks!"
“I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Director Howard Avedis’ filmography is a short list of mild sexploitation flicks that mostly deliver the goods with little fanfare. However with names like Karen Black, Bill Paxton, and Robert Englund peppered across his work it's tough to not consider his films. After all, casting can make or break a film, right? Released after his other teacher skin flick Private Lessons, They’re Playing with Fire makes the wise choice of casting the iconic Sybil Danning.
Those familiar with the buxom Danning will remember her from Battle Beyond the Stars or The Howling II but may have missed her in this sleaze fest she still regards as her best performance ever. One glance at the cover for They’re Playing with Fire and you’re instantly transported back to the '80s where films about teacher/student affairs and bikini ski schools were par for the course. Either flipping through channels or skimming artworks at the video store you can instantly tell from the title and art what you’re getting into here. The film follows sexy professor Diane Stevens (Danning) who seduces her student Jay (Eric Brown) as part of a plot to scare off her in-laws and gain the family’s fortune. When a masked killer intervenes in their plan, Jay finds himself caught in a murder mystery with too many players and not enough answers. As the bodies pile up Diane and Jay must find the killer before it's too late.
On paper They’re Playing with Fire sounds like a run-of-the-mill murder mystery. However, this skin flick shoehorns in a slasher subplot that seems unnecessary but in turn elevates this film from passable nudie to cult curiosity. Unfortunately, Avedis doesn’t present a consistent understanding of blood and gore effects. Ranging from comical arterial spray to rubber knives and ketchup, the graphic scenes never satisfy outside of being unintentionally humorous. But let’s not kid ourselves here, okay? There is only one reason to watch this film: Sybil Danning.
The film opens on a glistening bikini-clad Danning sunbathing on a yacht. From these first frames, it’s clear the camera loves her body. Fans of the actress will not be disappointed at how dedicated the movie is to her physique during the numerous nude scenes in the film. But, I’ll give credit where credit is due. Sybil acts the hell out of her role. Even when she is faced with awkward sex scenes and wooden dialogue she powers through it with sheer determined commitment. Although seductive lines like “Well c’mon, you have to come and get it” seem to flow naturally.
They’re Playing with Fire is an odd '80s skin flick that never finds its footing. Director Howard Avedis allows the film to move along nicely while providing every opportunity for Danning to undress. Thankfully his DP Gary Graver never shortchanges the viewer on seeing the actress in all her glory. The film juggles a number of genres: comedy, thriller, skin flick, and slasher with little success outside of the salacious scenes. However, it features enough unintentional humor and cheesy acting to make for a fun watch.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray They’re Playing with Fire arrives on Region A Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film is pressed onto a BD25 disc housed in a standard keepcase. The disc loads to a static main menu with the usual disc navigation options available.
With a brand new 1.85:1 1080p transfer, They're Playing with Fire has never looked better. Even skin tones throughout the feature mean Danning’s performance is shown in its best light. Though the image can be soft at times given the film's late-night lensing it is barely noticeable given the film’s restoration. Blacks are deep and consistent with little noise in the image. Inconsistencies remain, but the image quality is stable with bright vibrant colors and fine detail.
The DTS-MA 2.0 works well for the film’s limited scope. Occasional tinny output without much variance in the levels or dynamics. The mix adequately handles dialogue, scoring, and effects without distortion.
Interview with Sybil Danning “Sun and Seduction” (HD 18:25). Produced by Kino Lorber this interview features Sybil Danning reminiscing on the production of the film.
They’re Playing With Fire (HD 1:25)
The Bitch (HD 2:38)
The Stud (HD 2:52)
They're Playing with Fire is a weird slasher hybrid that is never boring. Whether it’s the gorgeous professor flaunting herself or a crazed killer slicing throats the film never goes stale on you. I absolutely loved it! Kino Lorber has delivered yet another sexploitation oddity out of obscurity with a satisfying A/V presentation that will please fans of the film
Recommended for Sybil Danning devotees and slasher completists.