Color, 1992, 93 mins.

Directed by Katt Shea Ruben

Starring Drew Barrymore, Sara Gilbert, Tom Skerritt, Cheryl Ladd, Alan Stock, Jeanne Sakata, Leonardo DiCaprio / Produced by Andy Ruben / Music by David Michael Frank / Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael

Format: DVD - New Line (MSRP $24.98)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0


The movie that truly kicked off the home video "erotic thriller" trend, Poison Ivy was virtually overlooked in theaters but became a smash hit thanks to video stores and cabe TV, spawning two very generic sequels and a host of imitators. Unlike its closest contemporary counterpart, the more giallo-influenced Basic Instinct, Poison Ivy is more intimate and deliberately paced, though not without its share of exploitative elements and moments of hilarious lunacy (it didn't wind up in the pages of Bad Movies We Love for nothing!).

Homely young Sylvie Cooper (Roseanne's Sara Gilbert) becomes fascinated by one of her classmates, the tattooed, bleach-blonde Ivy (Drew Barrymore). Sylvie can barely communicate with her gruff father, Darryl (Tom Skerritt) and her ailing mother, Georgie (Cheryl Ladd). Pretty soon Ivy's worked her way into the family unit and gotten Darryl twisted around her little finger. Sylvie becomes alarmed at the amount of power Ivy seems to be exerting over everyone, including her dog (the most unintentionally hilarious scene), and things take a particularly nasty turn after one family member dies under mysterious circumstances.

A slick mixture of cheap thrills and sincere drama, Poison Ivy may be trash at heart but distinguishes itself for its peers thanks to much better performances than the material really deserves. Gilbert, whose voiceovers frame the film, is a particular standout and manages to ground the story every time it threatens to wander off into heavy-panting late night cable territory. Barrymore obviously makes a great Ivy, still one of her most entertaining roles despite the distracting use of a body double (Barrymore was barely underage at the time). David Michael Franke's lyrical score and some extremely stylish cinematography also help director Ruben (The Rage: Carrie II) pull of this tricky genre bender, which at least deserves an evening's rental.

New Line's presentation of Poison Ivy is essentially the same as their other unrated/rated hybrid titles like Crash and Damage. The full version, which contains more footage of Drew's double heaving and huffing, is obviously preferable but doesn't make a huge difference in the movie itself. The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks extremely good, with excellent saturations of green and red in particular; the full frame (open matte) option reveals far too much headroom and looks too "TV safe" for comfort, but its quality is excellent as well. The standard surround mix won't blow anyone away but conveys the score and ambient effects just fine. The two sequels have been given the same deluxe presentation but are hardly worth the effort.


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