The general premise of having a somewhat awkward high school or college-aged guy end up in a steamy relationship with an older woman is one that has been used a lot in raunchy teen films. Think movies like My Tutor, or Private Lessons. In fact, in 1984 the star of Private Lessons, Eric Brown, appeared in another film in which he is seduced by an older woman. Only this time, it’s not a comedy. It’s 1984’s They’re Playing with Fire.
Brown plays Jay, a smart college kid who is particularly fond of his sexy English professor Diane Stevens (Sybil Danning). Thing is, Diane is fond of him as well and invites him to earn some extra bucks by doing some work on her yacht. Apparently being a community college English professor pays pretty darn well. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Diane has more in mind than having Jay just do odd jobs. Basically she lies around in a tiny bikini the whole time he stains the boat railings and then takes him back to the bedroom.
Sex with her student isn’t the only thing on her mind, though. Turns out that Diane’s husband Michael (Andrew Prine) has a problem with his wealthy mother and grandmother. Seems they won’t just die and turn all their money over to him. Hoping to scare them into leaving their mansion and turning the estate over to sonny boy, Diane convinces Jay to lurk about the basement and put the fright into the two old bats. They end up surprising him, though, by chasing him off with a shotgun. However, just after jay runs off, the two old women are murdered by a masked killer.
Michael, of course, thinks Jay might be the killer. He was the last one to see the old ladies, after all. Jay, on the other hand, thinks Michael is the killer and is trying to set him up. Diane doesn’t seem to have a strong opinion, so she just keeps on bumpin’ uglies with Jay. Of course, none of them decide to report the murders to the cops fear of exposing the plot to separate the two ladies from the family fortune. Meanwhile, Jay’s college friends, especially a girl who has a crush on him, begin to suspect that there is more to his relationship with the teacher than just earning extra credit. When she heads to the mansion to tell Michael of Diane and Jay’s affair, she is murdered by someone in a Santa Claus suit. Did not see that one coming! Now Jay and Diane have to get to the bottom of things before the murderer gets to them.
I could’ve swore that when I was a teenager I would see the VHS box for this sitting on the shelves at Blockbuster in the comedy section. I always assumed it was a comedy. Teenage boy seduced by his sexy teacher movies usually are. Now I’m not exactly sure what genre this movie fits in, to be honest. It starts out focusing on the whole young man older woman thing, but by the end it morphs, bizarrely, into a quasi-slasher film. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was entertained.
Now, I don’t think I enjoyed it in quite the way the filmmakers intended. Let’s put it this way, when Santa Claus emerges from a closet wielding an axe I laughed…loudly. I mean, up to this point of the film I figured we had a relatively simple little cheesy thriller with a jealous husband trying to frame his wife’s young lover for murder. Where the heck did axe murdering Santa come from? It’s interesting that just a few months later a major controversy would arise with the release of the film Silent Night, Deadly Night, which featured a murderer dressed as Santa Claus.
I can’t really say that the cast does a great job, the performances are C grade at best, but they are well suited for their roles. Eric Brown is appropriately dorky and Andrew Prine excels at being an uber jerk. As for Danning…well I guess if you’re looking for someone to play an Amazonian community college professor she’s the natural choice. The highlight of the cast, though, are K.T. Stevens and Margaret Wheeler as Michael;s cantankerous mother and grandmother. They get killed off too early.
They’re Playing with Fire is a bizarre little flick. It’s a film that can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be. Is it an older woman / younger man fantasy? Is it a thriller? Is it a slasher movie? I still don’t know! However, it manages to be entertaining in that unintentionally funny sort of way.