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Uncle Jasper reviews: Def by Temptation (1990)

Def by Temptation (1990)
AKA Black Vampires

Starring James Bond III, Kadeem Hardison, Bill Nunn, Cynthia Bond, Samuel L. Jackson

Directed By James Bond III

While Def by Temptation is relatively tame in comparison to most Troma offerings, it packs a substantial amount of meat behind its kitschy, B-vampire veneer. I was pleasantly surprised by the end of the film, and despite its heavy-handed sexuality vs. morality theme, it ultimately works due to solid, likeable performances and some well-placed humor that doesn’t deter from or belittle itself.

Writer, director, producer, and lead actor James Bond III must have been burned or completely disgusted by his turn in Hollywood though because this film stands alone in his filmography. He literally has not been heard from since its release 20 years ago. That’s a shame because genuine talent is evident here and even though his acting chops could have used a bit more polish, his character is ultimately convincing, so there isn’t much room for complaints.

Joel (James Bond III) is an aspiring minister, who at the end of his schooling in the ministry is haunted by some pretty deep-seated demons and unsettling visions of his dead parents. This is further echoed by his grandmother, who really digs out some of that slow-cooked, homespun, old southern wisdom… constantly warning him that although he is at the end of his spiritual training, he is coming to a crossroads where his faith will come up against the ultimate test.

Disturbed, he seeks refuge from his North Carolina country home and calls up old ministry school classmate “K” (played here by Kadeem Hardison, better known as Dwayne Wayne from TV’s A Different World). K has long left the spiritual path behind, and is now a B-movie actor living in New York. The two catch up on old times while K cleans his Nike’s and schools Joel on the crazy world of the big city. K is a pretty likeable guy, but is not without his own self-straddled neuroses of vulnerability, which he holds at bay by keeping a loaded uzi on his fireplace mantle.

Meanwhile, a vampire temptress (Cynthia Bond) floats around the local drinking establishment, seducing men into having outrageously licentious sex with her before murdering them.  She pulls out all the stops and fully lives up to her “Temptress” moniker, using peacock feathers, grapes, soft candlelight, and kinky lingerie to corral her victims before killing them in a bloodbath. This film cranks up the heat in such an effective fashion that at times it resembles an early ’90s Jodeci video more than it does a B-vampire film. Her first victim is a suave barkeep who gets lured into the temptress’s bedroom, looking all Billy Dee Williams and shit while he delivers one of the film’s best lines… “This bed says that you are one hot-natured freakazoid that can’t wait to jump my bones, ‘cause you know I got the key to your pleasures.”

The temptress continues returning to the bar in order to lure away other tactless pick-up artists and cheating husbands, one by one, in order to fulfill her vampiric bloodlust. They are all too eager to fall under her spell. The only one who seems privy to her dark streak is Dougy, the local barfly who spends most of his evenings being turned down by women after feeding them hilarious bullshit lies about his imaginary kung fu and medical careers. When ’80s R&B sensation Freddie Jackson makes a surprise stop to the bar and strikes up conversation with Dougy, he asks why he has never attempted to pick up on the sultry temptress, to which Dougy replies, “That bitch just scares the shit out of me.”

All of these meandering bar scenes are what really drag out the first half of the film. I don’t know how many lowlifes we have to see the temptress entice and massacre before we get the point that she is not a nice lady. Thankfully, it is after she sets her sights on the innocent Joel that the film really ramps itself up and becomes some serious fun.

You see, all of these lame hustlers can only hold the temptress over for so long before she feels those bloodthirsty hunger pangs inching up all over again. It is only with the complete and utter corruption of a pure individual that she can find ultimate satisfaction. When K takes Joel out to the bar in order to loosen him up a bit, the temptress almost immediately pegs him as the untainted victim she has been looking for all of these years. The two hit it off as the temptress ratchets up a nice girl act for Joel to gobble up. K seems more than a little dubious though and when the temptress shows up the next morning at his apartment to pick up Joel, he notices her lack of reflection in a mirror (the old staple of black vampire films, dating back to the Blacula days) which completely tips him off.

K runs back to the bar to share the news with his pal Dougy, the only other person skeptical of the temptress and her charms. He comes clean and reveals to K that he is actually an FBI agent who had been tailing the temptress for years, waiting to pin a series of vampire killings on her!  What comes next is more or less a fun, modern-day vampire hunt. In waters treaded a few years earlier by 1985’s camp-horror classic Fright Night (soon to be remade raped by Hollywood), the two prepare themselves for battle by seeking out the guidance of a psychic, and arm themselves to the teeth with holy water and machetes.

Joel meanwhile is slipping quickly into the temptress’s arms, ignoring K’s repeated warnings. Say what you want about James Bond III’s lack of acting ability, his descent into full-blown temptation is extremely well paced, and played with enough restraint to come off as completely believable here.

K and Dougy finally corner the temptress at the bar and slip her a Mickey of holy water. She immediately wretches and is unable to hold back her true demonic form. Dougy goes in for the kill, but her powers are too strong and the two are chased out by a dozen zombified bar-patrons. The temptress hunts each of them down and in a classic scene worthy of the Troma name, poor K gets eaten and then puked out in a bloody mess by a possessed television set while a rubber Ronald Reagan laughs out loud.

Unfortunately it’s only after his two friends are killed that Joel finally comes around, fighting temptation as he conjures up some of that good ol’ religion and battles the temptress with his glowing crucifix. During the battle, he is again confronted by images of his dead parents which he must hold at bay, but ultimately, his innocence prevails. In an excellent gore shot, the Holy Spirit explodes the temptress’s head into thousands of bloody skull fragments.

If you can make it through the plodding and repetitive first half, Def by Temptation will wow you by the film’s finale. It walks that fine line between serious morale-play and fun vampire farce so deftly that it completely satisfies on both levels. Combine that with a fantastic cast, great dialogue, some decent gore and you have a real winner. What’s it going to take to bring James Bond III out of hiding? I would love to see him back on the scene, churning out these sincere and modest little B-movies. Troma needs to do some footwork and get this guy back on their roster.

Also, as a heads up, I don’t want to get anybody too excited when they see Samuel L. Jackson prominently featured in the advertising for this film. His performance as Joel’s father in flashback amounts to about five minutes of screen time. But this is Troma we are dealing with here, and it goes without saying that those bastards have no shame. That’s why I love them.

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