Coming Soon: We Kill For Love (2023) - Reviewed

Images Courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

Sex.  Serial Killers.  Amateur detectives.  Lurid nightmares born from cold war paranoia.  The erotic thriller has a complicated history.  Its origins, birth, and death are interwoven with classic erotic literature, censorship, and the proliferation of internet pornography.  Inspired by film noir classics and the Italian Giallo era of the 70's, the 80's would prove to be a seminal period when adult focused entertainment became an experimental playground for up-and-coming auteurs.  Ranging from psychotic murderers to sorcerers and extraterrestrials, these pictures combined all the malleable elements of its predecessors to produce a wide range of cinematic offerings. 


We Kill for Love is an exploration of these sleazy and violent guilty pleasures.  From the second it begins; the viewer is instantly transported to the neon drenched speakeasies and lofty mansions of privilege that dominated light night cable television for over a decade.  It is absolutely clear that director Anthony Penta is not just an artist, he is a curator, who has spent several years lovingly collecting every scrap and hint of celluloid erotica that was produced during the genre's heyday. The documentary, which runs nearly three hours long, contains a wealth of clips from lesser-known titles, VHS artifacts of a post Reagan America, each of which shows how malleable the genre is.  

Another potent aspect of the documentary is its interview subjects.  Penta managed to assemble a powerhouse of talent, such as prolific directors Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski whose tales about the wild west days of punk rock film production are the lion's share of the material.  Scholars, such as Linda Ruth Williams, whose novel The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema is a bible for the genre, is interviewed at length as well. Genre titans Andrew Stevens and Athena Massey are just a sample of the various actors who share their stories with the audience. 

It is clear, both in the presentation and in the vibe of each segment that everyone involved in the process of creating this work of art has a deep appreciation for the material, with Penta's own obsessions being manifested through the memories of a time when sexuality was allowed to slip past the puritanical roots of America to invade the subconscious.  Penta focuses on conflict, and how the erotic thriller subverted, and perverted noir trappings that Hitchcock and other directors had made popular.  These are stories about women being in control and being equals, and sometimes masters to the men in their offices and bedrooms.  The kink and eventual murders only enhanced the ambiance, creating a cinematic dark secret that found its way into almost every household with cable in the 90’s.  

We Kill for Love is made with such care and attention to detail, that it makes one long for the genre's return.  While sometimes ludicrous, other times cheap, there was always a sense of dangerous mystique that pervaded these films, and Penta's presentation manages to capture this vibe expertly.  In an era where sex has been completely divorced from cinema, it is pictures such as this that showcase what used to be, for both good and bad.  It is genuinely amazing to see what actors, particularly women were able to control within their contracts with respect to sex.  Coupled with the large number of female directors, the erotic thriller was truly ahead of its time, despite being relegated to the back corner shelf of the video store. 

Coming to digital on demand this Friday, We Kill for Love is an absolute masterwork of documentarian storytelling.  Featuring a wealth of forgotten films, an abundance of industry talent from the era, and a careful, respectful presentation, this is essential viewing for any student of American cinema and the erotic thriller genre. Not to be missed.


--Kyle Jonathan