Erotic Underground Interlude: The Body Chemistry Series

Beginning in 1990 and continuing through 1995, the Body Chemistry series follows the dangerous femme fatale Dr. Claire Archer on an odyssey of kinky sex and melodramatic homicides that explores themes of power, control, and perception, each of which contain jarring tonal shifts that continue to double down on the absurdities that lurk within the softcore erotic subgenre; including self-parody and the presence of erotica icons Shannon Tweed, Andrew Stevens, and legendary director Jim Wynorski.  What follows is an exploration of the four films in the series and where to find them. 

Body Chemistry (1990) 

Starring cult icon Marc Singer and Lisa Pescia (in her debut role), on the surface, the original film could be mistaken for a Fatal Attraction retread.  The central premise involves a prominent psychologist studying sexual behavior who is drawn into a dangerous love affair with a brilliant, manipulative scientist who wants to test his sexual limits as an effort to explore the dynamics of power.  Despite being a B Movie, this was/is some heavy content and the way in which it is explored is masterful.  Kristine Peterson's direction is remarkable, particularly during the sex sequences which are both steamy and uncomfortable.  One of the most memorable moments involved Singer being dominated by Pescia, with both characters silhouetted through a shower's glass door.  The swapping of "traditional" roles, the choice to put a renowned tough guy in a vulnerable role, and the absolutely insane finale are the reason why this film kicked off a franchise.  

Availability: Combo DVD (with Part 2) 

Body Chemistry II: The Voice of a Stranger (1991)

The most giallo entry in the series, part two doubles down on the implications of the first film in a controversial manner.  The plot focuses on an ex-police officer who is struggling with violent sexual issues.  At this point, Dr. Archer (Pescia reprising her devious role) is working as a sex therapist on a call-in radio program.  When the ex-officer places a call to the Dr, things head in the expected direction.  What's interesting about this sequel, apart from how over the top it is, is in how it explores the dynamics of power between abuser and victim.  Switching the expected gender roles, once again the male lead is unhinged and vulnerable, a plaything for Dr. Archer's experimental mind, however in this entry, Archer is even more disturbed.  Director Adam Simon explores Freudian themes of attraction and shame, blending elements of horror and the surreal.  The end result is a disjointed, but fun ride with Morton Downey Jr. co-starring and a candle wax sequence that makes Body of Evidence look like child's play.

Availability: Tubi, Shout TV, Combo DVD (with Part 1)  

Body Chemistry III: Point of Seduction (1994)

Directed by the great Jim Wynorski, part three is the most sensual of the four.  Blending elements of film noir, soap opera camp, and Wynorski’s patented eye for boudoir sequences, the film stars Shari Shattuck as Archer, Andrew Stevens (erotic thriller King) as the protagonist, and Morgan Fairchild as his fading star wife.  In the aftermath of two men dying due to their relationship with the doctor, Stevens' Alan Clay (a producer) wants to make a film about her.  Naturally he too falls victim to Archer's wiles.  Things begin to devolve when Clay's wife (Fairchild) wants to play the doctor and the screenwriter begins to suspect that Archer is a murderer.  The chemistry between Shattuck and Stevens is electrifying and everything exists within a tight rhythm, mercilessly plotted by Wynorski.  The finale is the perfect encapsulation of post Twin Peaks melodrama and a somber realization that erotica was slowly dying.  Steven's understanding of the genre, combined with Wynorski's mastery would have made this entry the best of the series, but fortunately, it is topped only by Wynorski's follow up, the final and fourth film. 

Availability: DVD 

Body Chemistry IV: Full Exposure (1995)

Part one dealt with power and role reversal.  Part two continued to invert tropes, but edged closer to horror.  The third part eschewed any sense of complexity and focused solely on being sexy and having fun with the ludicrous material.  Part four is pure excess, eschewing any sense of logic in favor of lurid fantasies and an almost accusatory relationship with the audience.  Shannon Tweed (you knew she was coming) replaces Shattuck as Archer, this time on trial for deaths from the previous film.  She hires a weak-willed lawyer (Larry Poindexter) to defend her and things, once again go sexually awry.  Sex scenes in elevators, in parking garages, even on top of cars signify that Wynorski is holding nothing back, pointing a finger at those who would consume direct to video softcore in 1995.  He even cameos as the judge in the murder trial, a hilarious admission to the joke that runs under the current throughout the film.  While the first two parts were complex and posed interesting questions, part four is a rebellion, a scream into the void of blockbuster obsession and family friendly content that was slowly beginning to put a stranglehold on erotic thrillers.  The end result is a messy, offensive, but hilariously insane capstone to a series of films that will be lost in the direct to video purgatory of American cinema forever.

Availability: DVD 

--Kyle Jonathan