Bobby (John Laughlin) is struggling in life. His home electronics business is under-performing, meaning he can't afford to buy the hot tub his wife Amy (Annie Potts) is asking for. More than that, their relationship has suffered since their two kids came along: they haven't had sex in ages, and Bobby's getting seriously frustrated.

A friend offers him some night-time surveillance work at a fashion factory, where the boss believes an employee named Joanna (Kathleen Turner) has been selling designs to a rival firm. Bobby's task is to follow her outside of office hours and report back with his findings.

On the first night of following Joanna, Bobby learns that she leads another life as a prostitute called China Blue. Whereas Joanna lives in a plush apartment, China Blue operates from a seedy hotel room in downtown Los Angeles. Replete with a blonde wig, filthy mouth and electric blue dress, she takes great delight in thrilling her male customers. Bobby watches her in awe, filming what he can from a distance on his 8mm camera.

Peeking through her hotel room window, he's privy to a meeting she has with demented self-proclaimed minister Peter (Anthony Perkins). Peter sweats profusely while delivering intense, potty-mouthed sermons testifying to how he wants to save Joanna/China from her life of sin. She's not interested but fucks with his mind, trying to tempt him into sexual transgression.

The following day, Bobby learns that the culprit has been found at the fashion factory - and it wasn't Joanna. But he's hooked on her now so decides to pursue her anyway. His wife Amy is so cold and miserable; you can hardly blame the guy.

He tries the more direct approach with Joanna this time, knocking on her downtown door and presenting himself as a client. The pair enjoy tremendous, energetic sex together - all of which is watched by Peter, perving through a spyhole in the wall.

And so, we follow the increasingly complex relationships between Joanna and Bobby, Bobby and Amy, and Joanna and the obsessive Peter - with all threads destined to intertwine as the plot reaches its head.

Along the way, you can expect a whole load of garishly colourful visuals, unabashedly 80s fashions, trippy electronic music courtesy of prog legend Rick Wakeman and the most zealous performances this side of an Andrej Zulawski film.

This being a Ken Russell film (one of two he made in America in the early 80s, the first being ALTERED STATES), it would also of course be sensible to expect a whole load of perverse kinks and nudity. The late, great director certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard. Murderous dildos, unintentionally comical silhouetted sex montages and Kathleen Turner doing ungodly things to a copper with his truncheon ... Russell may not quite reach the delirious excesses of his THE DEVILS, but he doesn't fall far short.

There are times when the giddy art design, blaring colour schemes and psychedelic music conspire to remind the viewer of Rinse Dream's porno classic CAFE FLESH. Elsewhere, it's not hard to compare China's episodic trick experiences with those from Russell's later film, the inferior (but still worthy-of-checking-out) WHORE. It's a film that has "80s exploitation" written all over it, replete with an arty streak typical of its British director.

CRIMES OF PASSION is, however, an oddity. It often looks great. When it's not busy looking great, it's seemingly trying its best to look as tacky as possible. Wakeman's score is equal parts ambient style and cheesy signposting guff. Turner is brilliant as the hooker with a heart. This is her in her heyday, in the same era that she lit up the screen in the likes of BODY HEAT and even THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS. Perkins proves that he can play a nutter just as effectively outside of the PSYCHO franchise by hamming it up entertainingly as the psychotic God-fearer. Laughlin is an odd lead. He's a squeaky clean type who comes across more geeky than heroic. In a curious way, perhaps in line with Russell's take on America's sexual politics and that country's facade of all-American families which crumble behind closed doors, he works.

Barry Sandler's script is unusual too. It flits between astute observations surrounding relationship issues and sexual neuroses - look at the arc in Bobby and Amy's marriage - and settling into crude vulgarities designed to shock.

As a thriller, CRIMES OF PASSION takes a long time in reaching its darkest recesses. Fret not though, it's a gripping drama in the meantime - and quite gorgeous to behold all the while.

Treated unevenly on DVD over the years, it's therefore a pleasure to report that Arrow's new DVD/blu-ray combo release of the film does it full justice. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray to review.

The 50gb dual-layer disc proffers two versions of the film: the original unrated cut, and the slightly longer director's cut. Both are presented in fairly immaculate, intensely detailed and luminous 1080p HD transfers - a new 2k restoration of original elements having taken place.

Colours are bolder than ever before, while blacks are deep for the most part: some noise is evident in a few darker scenes, due to the stock on which the film was shot.

The director's cut incorporates an extra scene in which Bobby first gains access to China's apartment, and takes time to rifle through her collection of erotic artwork while a Joey Silvera porno plays on TV behind him. There's nothing hardcore in this scene, and it doesn't really add anything to the plot - but it's an interesting addition for the curious/completist. It's seamlessly woven into the film, albeit presented in standard definition.

English audio comes in a healthy, clean and evenly balanced DTS-HD Master mono mix. No beefs here. Optional English subtitles are free from typing errors and easily readable at all times.

An animated main menu page makes good use of one of the film's standout sex scenes, while a pop-up scene selection menu allows access to the film via the usual 12 chapters.

Extras begin with an archive commentary track from Russell and screenwriter Barry Sandler. They seem to have a good rapport and speak with a vivid memory of the production. Infamously, Russell wanders off midway through and never returns - leaving Sandler (thankfully erudite and consistent) to complete the track by himself.

The writer is also present for an enjoyable new 22-minute featurette entitled "Life of Crime". In this, he speaks to the camera about getting his big break in the film industry at the tender age of 19 (by effectively stalking Raquel Welch) and discusses Russell's initial suspicion of him, given that he insisted on having artistic control of his screenplays.

"Composing for Ken" affords us 28 minutes with the entertaining Wakeman. He's in fine fettle as he discusses working for the larger-than-life director, his views on acting in LISZTOMANIA and where the inspiration for his CRIMES score came from. As a special treat, we also get the full promo video for his own song "It's a Lovely Life", as glimpsed at in the film.

Finally, we have the film's original theatrical trailer and 7 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary from Sandler.

Although not made available for review purposes, this release also comes with a DVD containing all of the above in standard definition, as well as reversible cover art and a colour collectors' booklet.

A solid slice of camp Ken Russell mayhem, presented on a very appetising disc from Arrow Video.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review