Boobs. You’ll be hearing a lot about them in this review. For if there is one thing you’ll remember after viewing THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE then I guarantee it will be Sybill Danning's norks. The film itself is an unusual blend of sleaze, slasher and soap - which if combined correctly, as in this case, appears to make for a mighty fine cheese. Take the unbelievable characters of classic “Dynasty” added to one part “Friday the 13th”. Then, add a Bond-esque title song performed by a Shirley Bassey impersonator and top it all off with the main attraction from “Big Bosomed MILFs Vol VIII” and hey presto, you have yourself THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE.
It starts as it means to go on, with Diane (Sybill Danning) reclining on a luxury yacht in a bikini that can barely cope with her ample bazungas. In contrast her day job as a lecturer at the local university, rather shockingly, requires her to wear clothes that DO fit, accompanied by some less than flattering large 80s spectacles. Diane is married to co-worker Michael (Andrew Prine) and together they are hatching a plot to drive Michael's mother and grandmother out of the family mansion and into a retirement home. The couple employ one of Diane's students, Jay (Eric Brown) to break into the mansion and scare the elderly crones, enticing him not just with cash, but also the promise of a bit of slap and tickle with Ms Danning. The two old ladies, who are most definitely not members of the Diane fan club, are feistier than one might think. It’s quite a sight to see grandma chasing Jay out of the house brandishing a rifle with all the ferocity of Stallone in his prime. However, someone else has also broken into the family home and shoots the two ladies dead. The good news is that they spare the family poodle. For now.
Our threesome all become suspicious of each other once they realise the old ladies have been eliminated. Jay thinks he has been set up and later returns to the mansion to try and remove any incriminating evidence but encounters the killer who attacks him with a baseball bat. A number of suspects are introduced - could the killer really be Michael? Or perhaps it's Jay's jealous, psycho ex-girlfriend Cynthia (Beth Schaffell, encoring from MORTUARY (1981)) who knows he is enjoying baby making fun with Diane and has been blackmailing him? Or what about Jay's other circle of friends that include Dominick Brascia (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING (1985), EVIL LAUGH (1988)) as the food obsessed Glenn or the perpetually hung-over looking 'Bird' (Paul Clemens from THE BEAST WITHIN (1982))? As with a number of other slashers, the key to identifying the killer is to focus on who seems to disappear from the plot for long stretches. Although using that criterion one could suspect Diane’s bra of instigating the mayhem.
THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE has an unusual feel as its slasher elements are very much in the background until the last 10 minutes. It's the sexy, soap opera elements involving Jay and Diane that take centre stage, along with the copious shots of Sybill Danning's indisputably impressive assets. She doesn't just disrobe for the sex scenes though as she seems more than happy to whip them out for the lads at any opportunity. I'm trying to imagine how the script must have looked ....
Interior: Mansion: Diane takes off her clothes and talks to Michael about their perilous financial situation.
Interior: Yacht: Jay voices his suspicions about Michael to Diane. Diane takes off her top.
Interior: Shopping Mall: Diane goes out to purchase a new spatula, but first, her blouse comes off. (Okay, I may have made this one up).
You have to feel a bit of sympathy for Ms Danning because her thespian skills are perfectly fine, but the sad fact is that she will only ever be remembered as that lady from the early 80s with the large bazungas. If boobs aren't your thing, then you'll be glad to hear there's lots of cheesy fun to be had, particularly towards the end when we discover the villain is fashioning his murder spree (if indeed, it can be classed a 'spree') on the work of the great surrealists. For no apparent reason the killer decides at one stage to drop the balaclava and denim ensemble in favour of a Santa suit, only to return to the I.R.A look for the remainder of the film. A question mark also hovered over my head as the body of one victim was dressed up as a pirate! I was beginning to wonder if the killer was putting together some kind of pretentious art installation as they also decide to sandwich the bodies of the two elderly ladies between a pair of mattresses (there's a sentence I've never had to type before). And, for 100 cheddary bonus points that poor poodle is tied to a chair in a kind of bestial bondage game. And who will ever forget that theme song. Oh THAT theme song. Not content with isolating it to the opening credits, we also get it midway through the film as Diane and Jay bump uglies. "What do you do, when the only sound is the beat of your heart, tearing you apart, with it's pounding...”. Still not had enough of this sickening power ballad? Then fear not, as it's on the end credits also. "They're plaaayiinggg with fi-ahhhhhhhhhh".
As much fun as the cheesy aspects are, THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE is not without its failings. It struggles to merge its disparate genres together, with the thriller elements only coming to the fore towards the end. For the first 80 minutes, the film is essentially an episode of FALCON CREST which may leave many slasher fans unsatisfied. Furthering its identity crisis, the trailer and cover art seems to be selling it as a slightly raunchy comedy drama in the manner of RISKY BUSINESS, which had been a major hit the year before. The acting is uniformly good apart from perhaps Eric Brown who comes across as rather flat (not, er, something one can say about his co-star). But this is Sybill Danning's movie and I'm sure this fact delighted legions of teenage boys who were no doubt playing with something other than fire whilst watching this back in 1984. Oh, and the only person who will be surprised by the killer's identity is the character of Jay who, upon the grand unmasking, gasps in disbelief as he finally catches up with the audience who will have worked it out by the 50 minute mark.
THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE hardly set the box office alight (pun intended) but, in fairness, it was up against some behemoths that year like BREAKIN' and BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (Hey, they were favourites of mine). It's a schizophrenic affair that doesn't seem to know who its target audience is. So, whilst not strictly a horror movie, the film comes with a minor recommendation for its sheer 80s silliness. Those of you who have issues with boob obscuring devices, like blouses and bras, will probably get more out of it so add an extra star if that should be the case.
female:3 / male:3
1) Female shot in chest
2) Female shot in head
3) Female beaten to death with baseball bat
4) Male stabbed to death
5) Male killed with machete
6) Male shot in chest