They’re Playing with Fire

They're Playing With Fire 6The 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.

They're Playing With Fire 1Brown 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.

They're Playing With Fire 2Sex 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.

They're Playing With Fire 4Michael, 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.

They're Playing With Fire 11I 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.

They're Playing With Fire 8Now, 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.

They're Playing With Fire 10I 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.

4 thoughts on “They’re Playing with Fire

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  1. Oh man! I taped this movie off Cinemax back in about 1985. Thankfully I had a Betamax since I utilized its superior freeze-frame technology many, many a-time. I watched certain parts over-and-over-and over…a quality film for sure.

  2. This film makes me sick. I saw it after I saw Private Lessons last year, and while I don’t really like either movie, I will say that I prefer Private Lessons over They’re Playing with Fire.

    Why? Because even though I don’t like the former’s concept of an older woman having intercourse with a teen boy who is still a minor, I can see that Philly and Nicole develop genuine romantic feelings for each other and are decent, likable characters, largely based on their individual senses of morality. Nicole is reluctant to seduce Philly from Lester’s orders for their blackmail scheme, but even as she entices him, from the stripping scene to the bath scene to their almost-first time, her advances are gentle, slow, and subtle. She never brutally forces anything on Philly, not even kisses. Rather, she constantly asks for Philly’s consent and permission before doing something, showing that she doesn’t want to make him totally uncomfortable and still respects his personal space. Because Nicole shows respect for his space, Philly develops a respect for her and is always kind to and honest with her. And when she sees how much she has scared Philly by faking her death, Nicole shows more morality by telling Lester that Philly doesn’t deserve to be frightened like this and she doesn’t want to go through with the plan anymore.

    So while I do agree that the film does kind of romanticize female predators against underage males, Philly and Nicole’s good mutual treatment of one another is what leads to them falling in love, despite their age difference. That and the fact that their affair does not involve adultery is why I can tolerate Private Lessons.

    However, I cannot say the same things for Diane and Jay in They’re Playing with Fire with their so-called “romance”. Once Diane gets Jay into the bedroom of her yacht, she doesn’t hesitate to get to work in seducing him. When he tries to leave, she grabs and forces kisses him to keep him from leaving, against his protests, then she rapes him (and she said moments ago that she wouldn’t, the lying-ass bitch). This shows she has no respect for Jay’s personal boundaries, especially since she had come so close to getting him at her mercy and wanted to hurriedly finish what she started. While he briefly pipes up with worries that Michael might find out, Diane assures Jay she won’t tell Michael, and he unfortunately falls under her spell and succumbs to her advances. Of course, Diane then later lies to Michael that Jay wanted to make love to her.

    From there and the remainder of the movie, I see Diane as nothing but an unscrupulous, dishonest, greedy, immoral, manipulative woman because she only wants her in-laws’ money and takes advantage of Jay’s naïve, trusting nature and crush on her so she can get what she wants. In aiming to get what she wants, she shows no real remorse or even any morality because she lies to and cheats on Michael with Jay. And when Michael gets killed, I’m sure she’s only glad he’s out of the way since she’s free to be with Jay and can still get the Stevens’ fortune without further hindrances (until she discovers Bird’s relation to Michael).

    I initially saw Jay as being like a butterfly caught in a spider’s web when he is seduced by Diane, then talked into scaring the Stevens’ at their home, even though he initially said he didn’t want to go through with it, and then he ends up being blamed for the murders by Michael. He tries to be assertive in his reasoning, but he just lets Diane have final say since he’s too smitten with her to say no. But as the movie rolls on, I lost my sympathy for Jay because his own sense of morality appears to vanish when he continues his affair with Diane behind Michael’s back, even though he is aware of the risks of doing so since Michael still believes he is responsible for the murders. Hell, it’s even because of Jay and Diane’s affair that Cynthia (who was a completely innocent bystander) and even Michael are murdered.

    By the end, Diane inherits the Stevens’ fortune and gives Jay a new car to thank him for his help. However, I dislike how the movie ends because from all that happened in it, Diane and Jay getting rewarded is something that I believe they didn’t even deserve in the first place, especially Diane, due to the fact that they got it through totally unscrupulous, dishonest means. And for all of this, I don’t believe Diane was ever actually in love with Jay, while his feelings for her were just a naïve infatuation. Diane may have gotten the money and now Jay by her side, but unlike Philly and Nicole’s relationship in Private Lessons, this relationship emerged from adultery and dishonesty, so it was not a healthy one from the start. Because of that, I believe that one day Diane will grow bored with Jay, find a new lover, and then toss Jay aside like he is nothing. But he’s too stupid and enamored with Diane to realize it.

    So yeah, I hate They’re Playing with Fire because I have sheer contempt for the actions of the lead characters, but I can tolerate Private Lessons because the lead characters have a healthier bond due to their senses of morality.

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