Ken Russell’s gloriously wicked Crimes Of Passion comes to Blu-ray, giving a criminally overlooked comic thriller a chance to find a new audience.
Kathleen Turner stars as China Blue, a prostitute who can be whatever her clients need her to be. For twisted street preacher Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins), she’s something unclean who needs to be saved…or his only chance at salvation.
When frustrated family man Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) is hired to follow China’s secret daytime identity Joanna Crane, the two begin a passionate and complicated relationship, but the reverend is determined to see his dark mission through to the end.
In many ways, Crimes Of Passion feels like a conventional film for Russell, but the director of The Devils and Altered States finds plenty of room for artistic flourishes, and he is clearly having a brilliant time skewering the repressed American domestic and religious mind-set.
Turner is outstanding as China Blue, effortlessly switching between personas and regional accents with a different tragic backstory tailored for each customer. It’s an assured and complex performance, but she really comes alive when confronted with Perkins’ amyl nitrate-snorting, razor dildo-packing “holy man.” Although there are obvious references to the Psycho star’s signature role, Perkins gives it everything he’s got and creates a horrid and compelling monster that is quite distinct.
Their scenes together are fantastic, tearing strips off each other as the man in the dog collar proves to be far more depraved and dangerous than the woman he says he’s trying to save. Russell frequently allows their scenes to veer into outrageous comedy (China going through Shayne’s bag of debauchery, Shayne becoming outraged by the image of a prostitute dressed as a nun), but there’s sharper commentary at play here too.
Then there’s Laughlin’s Bobby Grady, essentially the middle America of the film, who can’t understand why his wife (Ghostbusters’ Annie Potts) no longer wants to get intimate with him, and who finds a genuine emotional and sexual with the woman he’s being paid to follow. Laughlin makes for an amiable and engaging straight man, although Potts isn’t done any favours with a character who’s essentially there to be a stuck-up, miserable prude.
The film does start to sag once China/Joanna and Bobby try to make it work, as Bobby’s domestic crisis is never really as interesting as the film’s main conflict. However, it does tie in to the film’s central theme, the idea that repressed sexuality can become dangerous, and that non-communication will tear people apart. There are moments of tenderness in amongst the dark humour and shocks, particularly a late sequence in which China is hired to visit a terminally ill man whose wife has not been able to bring herself to touch him since he was diagnosed.
If Bobby’s family is the relatable domestic face of the film’s message, Shayne is its horror movie bogeyman, and makes for a genuinely frightening embodiment of twisted lust and desperation.
The restoration is lovely, and Arrow’s Blu-ray comes with two cuts of the film, commentary from the late Russell and writer Barry Sandler, a new Sandler interview, deleted scenes and footage from a special retrospective screening.
With two brilliant central performances, a playful score from the legendary Rick Wakeman, and Russell swirling elements of dark comedy, horror and thriller, Crimes Of Passion is a razor sharp and giddily outrageous piece of work that has lost none of its impact.