Erotic Underground Interlude: The Poison Ivy Films

Debuting at Sundance, Katt Shea's erotic masterwork Poison Ivy changed the future of erotic thrillers forever.  Shea, an auteur (whose film Stripped to Kill is one of the most courageous and unabashedly feminist erotic films ever made) blended elements of horror, erotica, and psychological pathos to create one of the last major studio produced art house films ever made.  What, followed in its wake were three sequels, each with different themes and tones, loosely connected to Shea's original.  Each of the following films are currently available in a Shout Factory special edition blu ray set. 

Poison Ivy (1992)

Shea's provocative coming of age story is an inversion of the typical femme fatale trope, blending surreal elements with feminine constructs before obliterating expectations and rebuilding them anew with ashes of their predecessors.  This is an extremely intricate story that grapples a multitude of themes that are often lost due to the films taboo sexual content.  So much so that the sequels that followed abandoned the complexities in favor of upping the risqué ante. 

The story focuses on Sarah Gilbert's "Coop" (a role for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award) and her tumultuous relationship with her friend "Ivy" who may or may not be real.  As the film progresses Ivy inserts herself into Coop's family and what follows is a dangerous journey of madness and murder that dovetails with maturation.   Drew Barrymore's Ivy is a siren, tempting Coop's father while destroying the family's security, but she is also a confidant and friend, a totem for the confusion of adolescence.  

Poison Ivy 2: Lily (1996)

Anne Goursand was the next director to enter the franchise.  Having previously directed Alyssa Milano in 1995's infamously sexy Embrace of the Vampire.  This would be their second project together, continuing Milano's attempts to eschew her naive girl next door reputation.  While the original film centered on growing pains and Ivy was almost more of a concept than a character, Goursand focuses on the real, exploring Lily's sexual awakening via finding a diary written by the eponymous Ivy. 

Milano does an excellent job, as a small-town art student who is jarringly thrust into a sexual tempest.  Xander Berkeley supports as Lily's troubled mentor and eventual lover.  Another departure is that out of all the Poison Ivy films, the ending of Lily is perhaps the most hopeful as Lily finds peace with herself and her lover.  Goursand was the editor on Bram Stoker's Dracula and Wide Sargasso Sea and their sensual influence is everywhere within this film.  The end result is another guilty pleasure lost in time.   

Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997)

The absolutely insane third film in the series, The New Seduction is the first of the films to be directed by a man and the change is instantly notable.  Kurt Voss, who also directed Milano and Ice-T in Below Utopia the same year, abandons any of the pretext and goes straight for the sex and violence.  Jaime Pressly stars as Ivy's sister Violet who arrives back at the mansion her mother used to work at with a deadly plan for revenge.  

Easily the most "fun" of the bunch, it is also the least artistic.  There are no high-level concepts, just sex sequence after sex sequence and some rather hilarious confrontations.  The film also stars Michael Des Barres (Murdoch from MacGyver) as the target of Violet's erotic rage.  The final act shreds any sense of rules and logic to deliver pure kinky, direct to video carnage.  

                          Poison Ivy: The Secret Society (2008)

The weakest member of the sorority, The Secret Society somehow manages to remain trashy fun.  Debuting on Lifetime in 2008, the story is loosely connected to the other films by way of a secret society of femme fatales known as The Ivies.  Featuring 80's staple Greg Evigan (Deep Star Six, Stripped to Kill) as a Professor, the plot features seduction, sword fights, and political conspiracies in which murderous women attempt to rule the world. 

If anything, the film is ambitious, but there is no escaping the direct to tv quality that pervades virtual every scene.  Where the previous installments had murder, mayhem, and philosophical implications, this one is mostly surface level.  Still, there are the usual duplicitous shenanigans, which at least makes it a tolerable experience.  

--Kyle Jonathan