They’re Playing WIth Fire (1984) – A Review

They're Playing With Fire 1984 movie poster

“I can’t remember a hotter day.”
“Me either.”
“You look as though you could use a break. Want to have a nice cold drink with me?”
“No I better keep working and finish.”
“You’ve been working hard all day. I feel guilty if you don’t let me give you a drink.”
“Ok Mrs. Stevens.”
“Call me Diane….here.”

Sybil Danning is one of those actresses that doesn’t seem real. She’s like a fantastical version of what an adolescent horny male would create if he could.

Like, in Weird Science, two teens create in their minds the ‘perfect woman’. They could have easily created Sybil. Tall, leggy, stacked and blonde. Plus, she could have fought all those post-apocalyptic goons single-handedly and probably would have kicked their butts all on her own.

Danning looked tailor-made to be a B-Movie Queen. Which is exactly what she was. Barbarians, action heroines, evil alien queens, prison wardens, a werewolf queen, the seductive older woman those were the roles that carried her through most of the late 70’s and early 80’s. They weren’t all good movies, but they were enough for Danning to accumulate a loyal fanbase throughout the 80’s showcasing her unique buxom, statuesque screen presence, which usually was one of the major selling points of watching them.

Sybil Danning sexy teacher They're Playing With Fire 1984 movieOne role that Danning felt she gave one of her best performances as was the seductive, mysterious college professor Diane Stevens in They’re Playing With Fire.

College student Jay Richard (Eric Brown) gets offered an innocuous job to do some work on the yacht of his teacher Dr. Diane Stevens (Danning). It doesn’t take long before Diane removes her bikini and seduces the bewildered Jay. That’s a real bonus on top of earning a few bucks!

Soon afterwards Jay is asked to do Diane and her husband Michael a favor by helping putting a huge inheritance their looking to get from his mother on the fast track. All he has to do is goto her mansion and scare her. Easy enough.

Doesn’t make too much sense, but what the heck easy job for some Danning sex and to earn more extra cash. However, things start to spiral out of control when Jay botches the break in, runs away scared and the next day the mother shows up dead.

sexy Sybil Danning They're Playing With Fire 1984
Brown lands the best job ever

Suspicions abound. Jay’s ex-girlfriend gets jealous. There’s an oddball groundskeeper. Alibi’s are needed. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t feel too compelled to recount the goings-on or even remembering any of what follows. This is not a good movie.

It’s meant to be sort of an erotic/thriller/mystery I think. It doesn’t do a good job on that. The story is convoluted and very uninteresting. Most of the time people are standing around talking about stuff I neither understand or care about.

The initial plan that kickstarts the story doesn’t even make much sense. This couple recruits a kid to break into his rich mothers house to scare her as a way of getting her inheritance.

I’m not sure how this is supposed to work or how stupid Jay is for going along with it. He’s got to be the most gullible student at this college.

As complications arise it does no favors to keeping me involved in the story. In fact it pushes me further away from caring about any of it.

I know people are talking and they’re supposed to be saying some heavy dramatic stuff and things are meant to build to a big whodunit reveal, but it’s all so poorly done you’ll be fighting the urge to fast forward through it. Simply put it’s horrible.

However, there are a few portions you might want to actually watch – the sex scenes and Danning appearing au natural. This should not be a surprise.

They're Playing With Fire 1984 Sybil Danning Eric Brown

I’ve  read several reviews for this movie and I think every single one of them points out Danning’s breasts and the sex scenes.

Those are the highlights of this flick. She does look good and if you’re a Danning fan they’re probably the best nude scenes of her on her resume. Other than her latter sex scenes and blatant need to disrobe for showers, Danning’s initial seduction of Brown on her yacht is the most worthwhile few minutes in the entire film.

In fact as a service to my Haphazard Readers – at least those of you who want to see Danning naked and for some reason feel compelled to seek out They’re Playing With Fire – I’ll save you some trouble.

– the opening credits of the film Danning is in a bikini sunning herself with terrible eighties theme song playing

– four and half minutes in the seduction scene takes place (see you don’t have to wait very long)

– ten and half minutes Danning nonchalantly takes a shower discussing the plan with her husband

They're Playing With Fire 1984 Sybil Danning seduced by older woman– forty-three minutes the second sex scene between Danning and Brown takes place (be warned she leaves on her bra and we only see the initial embrace)

– forty-eight minutes Danning feels another need to disrobe and take a shower (quite brief)

– an hour and twelve minutes the third sex scene between Danning and Brown, it’s not bad, plus we get that wacky theme song playing in the background

That sums it up. In between all that is the insipid story that you won’t care a thing about.

The acting isn’t worth mentioning. Brown goes back and forth between holding his mouth open in bewilderment or having his mouth hang open in a silly grin. I don’t find him very charismatic and the only thing worth noting about him is that this is his second role of being a youngster seduced by an older woman, the first being Private Lessons.

I’m not sure how he got typecast in that kind of part. His career was somewhat brief. As the 80’s were winding down it appears he acted less and less as until eventually he left acting altogether and moved onto other things.

The rest of the cast is completely forgettable with none standing out in any of the scenes of them delivering ridiculous and/or melodramatic dialogue. One high point is Jay’s ex-girlfriend being bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by a killer disguised as Santa Claus. I have no idea what that was about nor did I care.

Yeah, then there’s that story part of the movie

It was funny how it’s filmed though. The first hit with the bat by the crazed Santa seems to have no effect on this girl. She just turns around as if he just tapped her on the shoulder. Then after the second hit the girl falls to the floor and the guy is obviously thrashing the bat very carefully towards the camera while it cuts away to the girl screaming with the fakest ketchup-type blood smeared on her face. Awful. This is around the 58 minute mark if anyone cares.

So to sum up: Dannings boobs and nothing else. I was hesitant to even include this movie in this ongoing teen/sex/comedy review series of mine, but it was the closest film I could think of that Danning had done that would fit into that genre. And I thought it might be fun to talk about Danning and look at her again. That’s the only thing this movie delivers on.

Today it’s almost unimaginable to think of an actress who was so willing to disrobe for no other reason than just to show off her body in exploitation flicks. Danning didn’t need any well thought out motivations for her character to disrobe. She knew her fans, knew why they were watching her movies, so “let’s just do this scene with me naked in the shower”. Roll em!

It’s as if she was fine that her cleavage and body got her attention, work and fans. It didn’t appear she was straining to breakout from her B-movie image. And even more unbelievable was that she became very popular by sticking with it! We don’t see that happen too often anymore.

Would any actress today be so straight forward about selling herself based on her bod? Would they be so nonchalant to show off their boobs even if it wasn’t vital to the scene in the movie? Do today’s actresses even have boobs???

Sybil Danning sexy bikini They're Playing With Fire 1984 movieAs much as I like to look at Danning a lot of her movies were really pretty poor. It can be a real struggle to sit through some of them. It’s too bad she didn’t have some better quality material to surround her when she would do her ‘Danning’ thing in them.

Just because she was the 1980’s Queen of B-Movies, doesn’t mean the movies she appeared in had to be so terrible. Some of them could at least be a bit more fun and entertaining. I’m not even sure what is considered her best movie. I guess her hardcore fans do enjoy them, which is cool, but I consider myself one of her more ‘fast-forward-kind’ of fans.

When you watch the trailer for They’re Playing With Fire don’t be deceived by it. It makes it seem like the focus is the ‘older woman/younger student’ aspect to it. It is not! “See folks they have this torrid affair and then the husband wants to kill the kid, so the kid is in the middle of suspenseful scenes with his life being threatened. NOT!

They basically edited it without including any of the half-baked inheritance story, which takes up the bulk of the movie! At least it features the movie’s theme song so you can get an idea of how that sounds and brief glimpses of the Danning scenes that are the only thing that make sitting through this flick bearable.



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8 Responses

  1. Capt Nemo says:

    You know….

    The idea of a actress using just her bod to achieve fame really peaked in the 90's. It was kicked off when a little movie called "Basic Instinct" hit theatres. And a little known actress named Sharon Stone became a A-list star.

    After the movie Basic Instinct, there was a slew of forgettable flicks that tried to cash in on the sex appeal. All where failures. One of them even starred Madonna.

    Also television shows like Baywatch and Silk Stalkings introduced the idea of how showing a little skin could go a long way. Pam Anderson made her entire career using her bod.

    But where things REALLY shined was the Direct-to-Video market. They seemed to turn our erotic thrillers every month. And B-movie actress had some bit of notoriety. Names like Maria Ford, Lisa Boyle, Athena Massey, Lisa Comshaw and Shannon Whirry became recognized. Not for anything great but recognizable just the same.

    I blame the internet for cause all of this to come crashing down. Why rent a Direct-to-Video thriller or watch a tease but don't show television melodrama when you can get something shorter, sexier and freer on the Internet?

    But who knows? The new 50 Shades of Grey movie might give us one more cycle of this sort of thing. But I doubt it.

  2. It is kind of odd. Danning almost reached mainstream attention. I remember seeing her on lots of magazine covers (not even counting Playboy), she almost played Octopussy, interviews on Entertainment Tonight (back when that was the only entertainment program, there weren’t a thousand others on the air), she ended up on the V series for awhile. I’m sure there are B actresses today dropping their clothes, but they don’t seem anywhere nearly as popular – at least I don’t know them.

    It’s almost like B-movies don’t get the level of attention today. There seems to be much more of them. Maybe because they’re much easier and cheaper to make. Plus, there’s so many other avenues you can showcase them – direct to dvd, one of the thousand cable channels, streaming. They’re not coming out of that one pipeline like back in the day where it was more likely a more mainstream audience might stumble onto them. It’s almost like you have to be committed to find them. It’s rare there’s a breakout among them. Like Sharknado, a real cheesy b-movie and that was only because it was so utterly ridiculous it caught people’s attention.

    I saw an article awhile back about this 50 Shades movie and talking about how erotic dramas and thrillers were so rare today. We don’t see Basic Instinct, Disclosure, Unfaithful where the sex scenes are used to sell the movie. I guess studios are too nervous about sex now. Which is ironic since they’ve gone the opposite way with violence. And I think you’re right the internet has taken some of the wind out of the sails of seeing that stuff in a movie. A few clicks away and one could be watching stuff much more risqué and hardcore than anything a Hollywood movie could offer up. Maybe if 50 Shades is popular and good it will turn it around and suddenly we’ll have tons of imitators jumping on the bandwagon.

  3. spaceodds says:

    Hey Hap

    I only know Danning from Playboy, but boy I would've loved to have seen her as Octopussy. Undoubably, she is a breathtaking beauty and I too find it very refreshing to see someone accept on whom she was, and what she represented.

    In regards to Capt. Nemo's comment; I too blame the internet for the lack of cheesy erotic thrillers Here in the U.K. back in the late 90s Channel 5 used to screen these steamy soft core erotic flicks starring everyone from Shannon Whirry, to Shannon Tweed, and they were shot professionly. The internet has pretty much taken out the naughty and tongue in cheek 'drama' out of eroticism and replaced it with crude hard core boredom.

    Its a shame that these days most film audiences forget how successful erotic thrillers truly were, Basic Instinct, Disclosure, and god awful laugh fests such as Body of Evidence and The Color of the Night. And I agree that its a major shame that studios these days are too scared to show eroticism, but are happy to depict violence. The last erotic thriller I can think of being produced and distributed by a major studio was Eyes Wide Shut, which I consider one of my favorite films of the 90s, and I believe that this was when the curtain sadly came down on the genre. The only other serious erotic film to have come along to make a bit of an impact was Sleeping Beauty with Emily Browning. Ever since Eyes Wide Shut ended its theatre run, cinema in general steered away towards spectacle and the fantastical, and I blame the Harry Potter films for this shift.

    As for the upcoming 50 shades films… I have a feeling that this film won't be any good whatsoever and although it will become a hit, it will be a total laugh fest and would become an embarrassment for years to come.

    • Capt Nemo says:

      Hey Spaceodds!

      Remember when there were people who said that shows like Baywatch and the like were gong to be the end of civilization?

      Little did they know that that type of programming was going to be rendered obsolete within 10 years. At least, they got what they wanted. Only I'm not so sure they are happier with what replaced it. But it made the subject less public and thereby less important than other issues in out modern day.

  4. Capt Nemo says:

    Thank you Spaceodds for mentioning Shannon Tweed. And I think it would be a crime not to mention Juilie Strain as well. That should round out the actresses who cashed in on the softcore craze.

    Fun Fact: The Director for most of those flicks in the 90's Gregory Hippolyte went on to do music videos for Britney Spears (now named Gregory Dark).

    I think Danning's place in all this was she was a forerunner of what was to come. Or at least, before it was run in to the ground. If she had had a smash hit on the level of Basic Instinct, I'm sure the era may have kicked off a little early.

    As for your observations concerning Violence vs Eroticism. I think you are right that studios are squeamish about using sexy scenes. But I don't think its because they are going to offend anyone.

    Speaking for myself, I would feel awkward trying to buy a ticket to erotic film. As opposed to the latest splatterguts film. I know if I go to see 50 Shades, I'm probably going to have people look at me a little sideways. But if I buy a ticket to the latest Expendables film, no one will give me a second look (at least, I hope so).

    But for erotic films, there will be a feeling of wait for it on Netflicks (or Youtube). Because those films are best enjoyed in the privacy of your home. Not in the middle section of a crowded theater.

    As for my prediction of the 50 Shades movie, I don't think it will make bank. This might be like Sharknado redux. Where the hype will be more palpable than the book. Usually it takes three things to make a hit. One a popular actor/actress, Two a popular character, and three catchy music to hook people in. I doubt anyone could name 1 character from those books from memory. And without a hit soundtrack, that just leaves the actors. And I hear about them are who are leaving the project.

  5. spaceodds says:

    Hey Capt. Nemo:
    I know I sound like a know it all but…

    Fun Fact no#2: The director of photography on some of Dark's soft core erotic films was none other than Wally Pfister, who has since gone on to become Christopher Nolan's resident Director of Photography, and win an Acadamy Award for Inception. Pfister is a hero of mine, since he not only has a distaste for 3D, but the fact he started off shooting cheesy erotic thrillers and has graduated to become one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood is a major achievement. No wonder why Nolan get's a lot of acclaim for the look and style of his films.

    I find the whole 50 shades phenomenon to be a fluke. The film will become a laugh riot and will endure a worst fate then Showgirls. The eroticism would become so evident, that it will no doubt become a snooze fest. Many popular actors have refused the two central roles, and quite frankly anything based on what started life out as Twilight fanfiction, is the ideal candidate for being ripped to shreads.

  6. Capt Nemo says:

    "based on what started life out as Twilight fanfiction"

    You might have something there. Something we're forgeting is that this isn't meant for us. It's meant for the Twilight crowd.

    I, personally, can't take the he loves her, she loves him, and that guy secretly loves her plots that pepper these stories. But there are a lot of romance hungry ladies who do.

    And that's…depressing.

    Where's Rambo when you need'em?

  7. I'm already guessing you read my review of this garbage over at DVD Verdict, yet here is another Danning film I reviewed: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/naughtynymphs.php. I find it funny she considers this one of her best "performances"…she just wasn't believable for a second as an English professor, but of course that's not why people paid to see it. If there was ever a Sybil Danning DVD set made, I would prefer they just include her nude scenes from here instead of the whole movie: it could be just a 8-minute bonus feature.

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