Director – John Huckert, Screenplay – Dan Acre, John Huckert & John Matkowsky, Producers – John Huckert, John Matkowsky & Noel Palomaria, Photography – John Matkowsky, Music – John Huckert & Phil Settle. Production Company – MPH Productions
Noel Palomaria (Hollis Parker), Eva Frajko (Laura), Tara Killian (Karen Miller), Joaquin Garay III (Mike Marino), Monique T. Parent (Dr Gail Bowen), P.W. Aubrey (Ben Watt), Michael Waite (Zeke), Nansi Aluka (Jenny), Stuart Duckworth (Sick Rick), Victoria DeMare (Sheila), Laura Otis (Shelley), Linnea Quigley (Mary)
Hollis Parker is a successful radio talkshow host with the show ‘Strangers Online’ on Los Angeles’s Station KSIN where listeners call in via video camera to talk about sexual matters. Hollis is haunted by the death of his girlfriend Jenny who was murdered in bed one night while he was showering. He was suspected of being the killer but was never convicted. He has now settled down with a new girlfriend Laura. At the radio station, he receives a new assistant with Karen Miller who worships him. After Karen’s car breaks down one night, he drives her home and they end up having sex. After Hollis announces his engagement to Laura, Karen becomes obsessive and determined that Hollis will be hers.
Strangers Online is a film that seeks to revive the erotic thriller, a genre that was in its heyday from the mid-1990s onwards, following the success of Basic Instinct (1992). Basic Instinct‘s success saw a great many imitators copying its mixture of heated softcore sexuality and contorted psycho-thriller dramatics. Alas, the psycho-sexual thriller has almost entirely died away during the latter half of the 00s, due to tightening up on US cable tv censorship where most of these films flourished.
With Strangers Online, director John Huckert seeks to recapture some of that heyday. To this extent, Huckert features a number of actresses who made their careers out of cable erotica during the 1990s/00s – Monique Parent, Linnea Quigley, Victoria De Mare. The basic plot is a copy of Fatal Attraction (1987) – handsome and successful man (Noel Palomaria) who is settled down with a loving woman (Eva Frajko) has a fling with a hot woman (Tara Killian) he meets in the workplace and comes to regret it due to the fact that she is unbalanced and proceeds to stalk him.
Strangers Online is undeniably cheaply made – in particular, the sound quality is poor and appears to suffer from lack of ADR post-production redubbing, leaving you having to strain to hear what is being said in some scenes. Certainly, Strangers Online is perfectly well made within the terms of what it sets out to be and could easily sit in the company of other copies of Basic Instinct – see the likes of Blood Run (1994), Tainted Love (1995), Dangerous Attraction (1999), Kate’s Addiction (1999) etc.
Strangers Online covers all the basics of the genre, although it does have some structural problems. The first among these is that the initial scenes with stalker Tara Killian are not given enough prominence. There is a single heated tryst between her and Noel Palomaria but you get the impression that the actors did not get on or else she had a minimum of nudity stipulated in her contract and so the expected heated erotic scenes are quickly shot, leaving the scene over and done with quickly. Indeed, far more time is spent on the third-billed Eva Frajko and her lounging about the house nude, flirting with the shy but maybe disturbed next-door-neighbour who likes to peep in on her. Certainly, Tara Killian emerges as memorably mad in the latter quarter of the film, turning up at the door, braining Eva Frajko with a frying pan while commenting, “Why are you wearing my [engagement] ring?”
The other main problem I had with the film is its last minute revelation of who killed the hero’s girlfriend. [PLOT SPOILERS]. Here we learn that it was in fact best friend Eva Frajko who killed her while drunk, jealous of the love between the two of them. She then proceeded to become Noel Palomaria’s girlfriend, not telling him the truth about what happened. To me, this is a plotting contrivation that defies credible human psychology. That someone could kill another when drunk is acceptable – although the way we see it happen Eva Frajko seems far more premeditated about it than that. Secondly, that she would then develop a relationship with Noel Palomaria and not tell him the truth signals an extraordinarily high degree of duplicity on her part. That she only starts to feel guilt about what happened when a stalker targets him surely indicates that her true nature must be highly sociopathic. If someone had problems that were so fundamentally deep-rooted, you suspect that she would not be so innocent seeming and that greater behavioural problems would have emerged far sooner than that.
Director John Huckert had previously made the little seen science-fiction film The Passing (1985). He previously ventured into the erotic psycho-thriller with Hard (1998). Elsewhere, Huckert has written the action film Shakedown (2002) and the B movie parody Slaughter Studios (2002), as well as written/produced Dinocroc (2004).