Documentaries can be a fascinating look at a specific topic you might not have thought much about before. At this year’s Overlook Film Festival, audiences were treated to the world premiere of an all new documentary titled We Kill For Love. Directed by Anthony Penta, this documentary takes a deep dive into the forgotten history of erotic thrillers, with an emphasis on the direct-to-video films.
We Kill For Love opens with scenes of LA sunrises clipped from a number of erotic thrillers. From there, it examines the rise and fall of the genre. With scenes of an archivist bathed in a blue-purple light as he digs through news clippings and photos pinned to a board, the investigation is well under way. Penta uses interviews from people who worked in front of (and behind) the camera on these erotic thrillers, as well as individuals who have studied this unique subgenre of film, to tell the story of erotic thrillers. From their beginnings in film noir and gothic romance to the reign of the VHS, erotic thrillers of the 80’s and 90’s evolved and brought together different ideas to create many compelling stories. Yet We Kill For Love explains that all erotic thrillers have 3 things in common: danger, romance, and seduction.
At 2 hours and 43 minutes, We Kill For Love manages to give a very thorough history of erotic thrillers. This might be too long for some viewers, but the combination of interviews and clips from the films being discussed helps to hold audience attention. It’s fascinating to learn not only how these films began in film noir, as well as gothic romance, then evolved into erotic thrillers, but it’s even more fascinating to learn how video rental chains and direct-to-video brought about a true boom for these films, especially in the 90’s. Without getting into too many details about the trends and themes used throughout the lifespan of erotic thrillers (you’ll have to watch the documentary for that), I will say it’s interesting to learn the way this subgenre changed over time. There are many themes that act as connecting threads between all of these films, but there are also trends that came in waves to create even more specific film groupings under the umbrella of erotic thrillers.
While the focus of the documentary is the boom in popularity of erotic thrillers, it also discusses how many of these films have been lost to time and examines what could have led to the fall in popularity. Many of the erotic thrillers that once graced the shelves of the local Blockbuster never made it past the straight-to-video VHS stage of life. Without ever getting a DVD or digital transfer, a vast number of erotic thriller titles have faded into obscurity. One interviewee in We Kill For Love points out that, while we don’t necessarily see these films on the video store shelves anymore, they are alive and well. The only difference is, they are alive and well on the Lifetime Network. Obviously, the usual graphic sex has likely been toned down a bit, but the Lifetime Network still has a near-constant slate of films that include the same basic plot and themes as the erotic thrillers of the 90’s.
Some of the interviewees also discuss why erotic thrillers aren’t as common now, almost to the point of being non-existent. One argument is that today’s world has become too concerned with political correctness and consent for there to be space for the erotic thriller. This is where We Kill For Love loses me a bit. While I won’t pretend to be an expert on erotic thrillers, I do know the landscape of film changes constantly for a number of factors. There are still plenty of people out there who would enjoy a modern erotic thriller, and there are plenty of ways to convey that same sense of sexual desire and danger in a way that meshes with the sociopolitical views of today.
We Kill For Love closes the history lesson by mirroring the sunrises at the opening of the film, showing scenes of LA sunsets. It’s clear Penta did extensive research to ensure he painted a complete picture of the direct-to-video erotic thriller. The documentary is thorough, fascinating, and incorporates a host of expert interviews. Historians, film lovers, and many more are sure to enjoy this deep dive into an often overlooked subgenre of film. One thing is for sure, We Kill For Love is a fascinating, in-depth documentary that feels like peeping through a stranger’s window; it might be perverse, but you can’t look away.