Erotic Underground: Undercover Heat (1995)


A beautiful detective goes undercover in a brothel to catch a killer.  This is a plot that has been recycled ad nauseam since the inception of the crime genre.  What sets apart Gregory Dark's sexy and subversive softcore thriller is in how it treats sex and those who have made it their calling.  The mid 90's were a heyday for direct to VHS exploitation, so much so that a thoughtful excursion into the world of sex work was unthinkable.  Undercover Heat not only focuses on the lives of prostitutes in unexpected ways, it also showcases various fetishes in a refreshingly non-judgmental manner, while still reveling in over-the-top melodrama that erotic thrillers were are known for. 

Athena Massey stars as Cindy, a vain, but gifted detective who poses as a prostitute at a high class house of ill repute.  She's supported by Meg Foster who plays the ice-cold Madame in charge, Mrs. V.  Rounding out the cast is a young Jeffrey Dean Morgan as V's right-hand man, Tom Tayback as Cindy's commanding officer who is harboring some secrets of his own, and the illustrious Rena Riffel (Showgirls) as a fellow sex worker.  

Initially the script is exactly what would be expected.  Murder.  Steamy sex sequences.  An inane plotline.  However, once the mystery proceeds inside Mrs. V's sanctum, Cindy's sexual journey becomes the centerpiece.  Through a series of convenient mistakes, she continually gets paired with actual Johns as opposed to prearranged clients and eventually gives into her desires.  What's interesting is in how the various clients and their kinks are portrayed.  Some prefer violence, others voyeurism, and Cindy's reaction to these different situations is both humorous and genuine.   Beyond this, the actual sex scenes are over the top, even for an erotic thriller, featuring one of the most risqué threesomes to ever be featured in a non-pornographic film. 

Foster and Tayback's performances also merit attention.  They have two scenes together and it is immediately apparent that not only are they veterans of the craft, but they've become at ease in the world of cult filmmaking.  There's a sense of contentment that is undeniable.  Another interesting aspect is in the dynamics of the sex workers.  They celebrate together, buying each other gifts and encourage one another to succeed in following their dreams, rather than the dynamic of a mean girl competition.  While the sex scenes are the centerpiece (Dark is a former pornography director), it's the world around them that is endlessly fascinating. 

Now available on DVD, Undercover Heat is an interesting direct to VHS offering.  Featuring a dynamic cast, and a sleazy, yet elegant approach to its subject matter, this is one of the better entries in the genre.  While the usual cheesy melodrama and over the top acting are present, they're overshadowed by the delicate treatment of an often misunderstood subject and a fun, sexy mystery  in which a woman's sexual awakening is the heart of the narrative, rather than a halfhearted afterthought. 

--Kyle Jonathan