Traces of Red (1992)


USA. 1993.


Director – Andy Wolk, Screenplay – Jim Piddock, Producers – Mark Gordon & David V. Picker, Photography – Tim Suhrstedt, Music – Graeme Revell, Special Effects Supervisor – J.B. Jones, Production Design – Dan Bishop & Dianna Freas. Production Company – The Samuel Goldwyn Co/Night Life Inc


James Belushi (Detective Jack Dobson), Tony Goldwyn (Steve Frayn), Lorraine Bracco (Ellen Schofield), William Russ (Michael Dobson), Faye Grant (Beth Frayn), Michelle Joyner (Morgan Cassidy)


As he is required to give testimony against a mobster, Palm Beach detective Jack Dobson finds women that he has slept with are being murdered. He starts to receive taunting letters, each sealed with a lip print in Yves St Laurent Ruby Red lipstick. He suspects wealthy widow Ellen Schofield, whom he was having an affair with, of having conducted the killings out of jealousy – but then she becomes one of the victims. As the investigation deepens, the lipstick is traced to a teacher who seduced Jack in the first grade and his colleagues begins to think that maybe the killings are being conducted out of Jack’s own repressed memories.

Traces of Red is a disappointingly routine ripoff of Basic Instinct (1992). Frustratingly little imagination has gone into it – as in Basic Instinct, there is a central mystery surrounding a beautiful, seductive, wealthy blonde who may or may not be responsible for a series of murders; once again her past seems to hint that she may have been responsible for other murders; and once again, with the same absurdly improbable swings of plot that Basic Instinct conducted, the story contrives to swing suspicion on every character in the film, including the hero himself.

However, Traces of Red is far less than Basic Instinct ever was. For one, its attempts to emulate Basic Instinct are only red herrings – the blonde femme fatale is not the killer and the attempt to build mystery up around her is one vast sidetrack that deliberately uses expectations that an audience has built up as a result of Basic Instinct. For another, Lorraine Bracco is not Sharon Stone. It could be said that Sharon Stone had little bar an ability to take her clothes off and ooze sexual aggressiveness – but Bracco lacks even have that. The appeal of a film like this is an ability to create an atmosphere of steamily heated sexuality – unfortunately, Lorraine Bracco appears to have it written into her contract that she doesn’t have to take her clothes off. As a result, when it comes to the heated sex that is the film’s selling point, all we have is a camera that coyly cuts away or gives a few long-distance shots through a window of a body where the face has been kept out of camera. Bracco, who is a completely unconvincing blonde, gives a very bad performance. She wants to play the part as a bimbo – which is not what the role requires – and instead comes across as though she has her mind on something completely different altogether.

Traces of Red is reasonably well made on a production level but the plot strays all over the place, especially in the middle, which drops the mystery surrounding James Belushi and his stalker to take off after Tony Goldwyn and his investigation. The film begins with the eye-catching ploy of being narrated by its own dead hero (although this later proves to be a cheat). The story’s one moment of genuine imagination appears to come during its revelation that the investigating hero is actually the killer himself. For a brief moment, this is a revelation that seems to give a genuine rationale to the absurd twists of plot – that it is the hero sending all the taunting letters and twisting suspicion onto other people in an attempt to stop the crazy side of himself – but this is thrown away in another dumb twist ending. The film is also notable for being the first psycho-thriller to use the Moral Panic surrounding repressed childhood memories. However, not much is done with this and the casting of a man’s man actor like James Belushi gives no conviction to the character of a detective haunted by childhood abuse.

Traces of Red was the only cinematic film that director Andy Wolk has made and all his other work has been in series television of tv movies.

Full film available online here:-

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