Blu-ray review: Wild Orchid

Starring: Carre Otis, Mickey Rourke, Jacqueline Bisset
Director: Zalman King

Zalman King’s follow-up to Two Moon Junction was the film that finally did for Mickey Rourke’s career, and it was pretty much hello and goodbye for its debutante leading lady Carre Otis as well. But in retrospect the critics’ treatment of this erotic psychodrama seems rather harsh.

Otis plays a lawyer with a gift for tongues who accompanies high flying real estate developer Jacqueline Bisset to Rio, where she falls under the sway of Rourke’s mystery man entrepreneur. Rourke essentially reprises his control freak character from 9 ½ Weeks, only this time with a deep-frozen libido which causes him to play twisted mind games and a mahogany tan that would raise eyebrows even in TOWIE.

The chemistry isn’t quite there between the two leads, mainly down to Rourke, who’s a bit too blue collar macho in the sort of chilly, reptilian role that would be eaten up by any number of British actors. As for Otis, she has a slightly reedy voice but otherwise gives a perfectly decent performance, believably tremulous and inhibited. Meanwhile, Bisset puts in solid work as the comic relief, and there’s a gutsy turn from Assumpta Serna (one of Sean Bean’s girlfriends in Sharpe) as a frustrated housewife who gets drawn into their erotic play.

Compared to the really rather good Two Moon Junction, Wild Orchid feels a little compromised – there are some rough edges, especially towards the end, which suggest some heavy-handed interventions in the cutting room, while King (or someone) seems to have sharply dialled down the nudity (the heavy petting is much tamer than the film’s reputation would suggest) and dialled up the travelogue. Despite this, though, the director’s flair for sultry atmospherics, exotic locations and striking compositions shines through. Flawed though it can be, King’s work has dated much less than that of many 80’s directors, and on Blu-ray releases such as this, it’s appeal can be pretty irresistible. 7/10

TRANSFER
A little soft and grainy in a few of the early New York scenes, but on the whole well up to the standard of 88 Films’ release of Two Moon Junction. Skin tones are delicate, close-ups are vividly detailed, the various interior and exterior shots of the dilapidated hotel which serves as a central location are sharply textured, and there are some lovely pops of colour, as with the parrots in the foyer of the restaurant where Otis and Rourke schmooze. 8/10

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Blu-ray Review: Two Moon Junction

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Starring: Sherilyn Fenn, Richard Tyson, Louise Fletcher, Burl Ives
Director: Zalman King
Rating: 8/10

After co-scripting the scandalous 9½ Weeks (1986), Zalman King made a career out of two-moon-junction 5directing steamy erotic dramas which became increasingly over the top as time went on, culminating in the ludicrous Wild Orchid (1989), the film that killed off Mickey Rourke’s career. But it all got off to a promising start with Two Moon Junction (1988). Sherilyn Fenn – just before she became the talk of Tinseltown for her performances as Audrey in Twin Peaks – plays April, a Southern heiress who returns home from college, due to wed the scion of an equally well-to-do family and lead a perfect life. However, as the wedding day nears she gets cold feet and instead finds herself inexplicably drawn to a wild, glibly womanizing, muscle-bound carny hand named Perry (Richard Tyson).

two-moon-junction 4Allegedly, Sherilyn Fenn was rather embarrassed to have the movie on her CV, but she needn’t have been. Looking at it now on Blu-ray, it’s a very beautiful film. King directs with a real feel for this sort of material, and the viewer’s eye is caressed with a stream of soft-focus fashion-plate imagery. Seen in high-def, moments such as the close-up of Fenn’s face in the shower, with beads of water quivering on her cheek, look good enough to rip out and hang up on your wall. There’s a heady Douglas Sirk-meets-Fellini vibe to the culture clash of leisured upper crust and manic carnival folk (tennis flannels, magnolia and Spanish moss on the one hand, fever dream-ish funfair scenes lit with strings of coloured light-bulbs on the other), and this istwo-moon-junction 6 underscored by costumes and styling which reference the ’50s. Fenn slots into this retro aesthetic like it was tailor-made for her, delivering an Old Hollywood-style star turn (albeit with full frontal nudity) as the introverted rich girl who takes a walk on the wrong side of the tracks and embarks on a sexual and social awakening, only to end up torn between duty to her high-achieving family and the cravings of the flesh.

two-moon-junction-cap 2The movie is also sensitive to a feminist agenda. It’s not that Perry is so irresistible (“You’re beyond social redemption,” April snaps at him at one point, fed up by his feckless and inconsiderate behaviour), it’s that he doesn’t take crap from anyone, and this speaks to her own need for self-determination. Elsewhere, the importance of the female gaze is acknowledged in an early scene where April spies through a peep-hole on some men showering, and by the fact that Perry spends a lot of time with his shirt off. (Although there are limits. There’s only one moon on view at Two Moon Junction, the location of the lovers’ big sex scene, because Perry keeps his jeans firmly up throughout. These were still the days when real men made love with their trousers on.)

Even Perry, a character you expect to grate, comes across as more vulnerable and two-moon-junction-cap 1appealing than anticipated, winning you over with a scene where he buries his dog (murdered by another carny hand) on a spot of farmland, but then faces the humiliation of being forced to dig it up again by the local sheriff (an affably sinister Burl Ives) sent to lean on him by April’s controlling gran (the never less than excellent Louise Fletcher). All in all, then, Two Moon Junction is far less cheesy and far more well-crafted than its reputation would suggest, and it’s worn far better than many more high profile movies of the ’80s.

The gauziness of some of the visuals means that this HD transfer isn’t the last word in sharpness, but it’s strongly atmospheric: the colours are dewily bright and vibrant, and there’s an impressive depth of field which brings the mise-en-scene to vivid life.