Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Devil in the Flesh II (Alliance Atlantis/Unapix, 2000)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Alas, when they made Devil in the Flesh II two years later, they couldn’t or wouldn’t use Rose MacGowan again; instead one Jodi Lyn O’Keefe played Debbie (on their page for this movie gives the character’s last name as “Strong” instead of “Strand”), and she gave the character a much more “surface” reading, more blatantly sexual and openly vicious without the relative subtleties MacGowan brought to the part — though that may be due to writer Richard Brandes (who was clearly the auteur for both films and is credited with writing this one solo) making the character clearly more demented and easier to see through this time out — not that anybody actually does until the final reels!

Part of the problem is that Brandes all too blatantly recycled all the plot points from his first film, though this one takes place in college instead of high school — there’s the demented anti-heroine, the older teacher she gets a romantic obsession on (this time it’s published author Sam Deckner, played by Jsu Garcia — he’s a good deal sexier than Alex McArthur and his multicultural name is fascinating enough), the blonde girlfriend of her crush object whom she has to eliminate, her own female friend — this time roommate Laney (Jeanette Brox), whom Debbie introduces to alcohol, drugs and partying, and who I thought was by far the most sympathetic character in the film and the one I most felt for as Debbie lured her down the primrose path and ended up with the two of them getting in a fight and Laney taking a header out of their dorm-room window just as she was about to call the cops on Debbie — as well as the authority figure from hell, Sydney Hollings (Christianna Frank), who’s the residential assistant for Debbie’s dorm floor and who takes a dislike to her immediately.

The gimmick this time is that at the start of the film Debbie escaped from the Laughlin asylum where she’d been sent at the end of film one — and where she had, true to form, got a crush on her psychiatrist, Dr. Sims (played by Alex McArthur, also her lust object in the first film), then had a hissy-fit when he didn’t reciprocate and, on her way out, she threw herself in the middle of the road and got a car to stop and pick her up. The car was driven by Tracy Carley (Sarah Lancaster), daughter of a major hotel-chain owner and big donor to Holmby College, and along the way Debbie murders Tracy and assumes her identity — the two women look enough alike that as long as she doesn’t meet anyone who knew the real Tracy, the photo on Tracy’s ID will be close enough people will accept Debbie as Tracy — which they do. This time around there are a few variations — the blonde girlfriend Debbie has to get rid of so she can have her dream man to herself is also Sam’s office assistant, Carla Briggs (Katherine Kendall); thanks to her skills as a hacker (which she learned from her roommate Laney, a computer science major) Debbie fakes e-mails from Sam and Carla to each other saying they want to break up for good; and Debbie actually seduces Sam for a marvelous soft-core porn scene that’s one of the most entertaining parts of this movie. (Later she takes him to bed again, but by that time he’s already seen through her and this second coupling is only her fantasy — though for audience titillation it’s depicted equally lubriciously.)

Alas, Devil in the Flesh II is as much a remake as it is a sequel, and most of the changes (aside from the substitution of the genuinely hot Jsu Garcia for the bland Alex McArthur as Debbie’s obsession object) weaken the story — not only O’Keefe’s less interesting acting as the title character but also the cops, who instead of two relatively intelligent LAPD detectives are a father-and-son sheriff’s team — dad (Bill Gratton) is grooming his son (Todd Robert Anderson) to take over when he retires, but judging from what we see of the two of them, sonny boy still has a lot to learn: he ends up playing Watson to his dad’s Holmes, constantly making stupid deductions about the case and being shown up by his father’s superior wisdom. What really surprised about Devil in the Flesh II is that, after an ending that was almost a carbon copy of the first one (Debbie goes to Carla’s home and confronts her, Sam rushes over to save his girlfriend, the cops show up but Debbie puts both of them out of commission surprisingly easily, and in the end Sam and Carla wounds her), there’s a tag scene that suggests Brandes and company seriously considered the possibility of a Devil in the Flesh III: Debbie escapes and does her throw-herself-in-the-road number again, this time stopping a car being driven by the dorky-looking Asian chauffeur (Jack Ong) of Mr. Carley (Patrick Pankhurst), the hotel magnate whose daughter she murdered and then impersonated in the opening sequences. Maybe Brandes planned to have Debbie wrench control of the car from out of Ong’s hands and deliberately wreck it, then present herself as the sole survivor of an auto accident that tragically killed her father, and continue to impersonate Tracy Carley, this time to get her hands on the Carley fortune.