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May 22, 2013

The Playground of the Mind: An Overview of Shaun Costello's HOT DREAMS

Reviewed By: Heather Drain

Movies have been one of the strongest forms of escapism since the days of the beautiful, ghost like image of famed belly dancer Little Sheba tantalizing/horrifying curious viewers on a Nickelodeon. Art is the safest way to explore facets about your own humanity and all of its murky little corners. With this, it only make sense for numerous directors working in the 70's and 80's to incorporate themes of adult fantasies in film. This concept is front and center in Warren Evans aka Shaun Costello's 1983 film, HOT DREAMS.

Lisa (the great Sharon Mitchell) seemingly has it all. She's beautiful, lives in a nice and roomy loft in New York City and is a successful beefcake photographer. The problem? She's married to a total schmoe, in the form her of her businessman husband, Bob (Michael Bruce). The film opens with the two in bed, all lovingly framed and lit, including some nice, tight composition. Soon, Bob starts rubbing her side, initiating what I like to call “the international sign of your partner waking you to get nookie” maneouver.) She's very receptive but just as things start getting good for Lisa, Bob finishes without making things equal. Even worse, his neglect is excused with him saying he has to get ready for work but then takes, like, 15 minutes to shave his non-facial hair. What?

Bob (Michael Bruce) shaves. Schmuck.

Lisa, being an enterprising young woman, decides to get his physical attention back by taking a very blatantly seductive bath five feet away from him while he is shaving. Of course, Bob is Captain Oblivion, which is even worse as a hand comes out of nowhere, covering her mouth aggressively. Up until this point, there has been little to no soundtrack but as things turn instantly sinister, the soundtrack swells into a Martin Rev-like wave. Before this turns into a total horror show, Lisa looks up at her attacker and the slightly blurry face turns out to be her husband, revealing that it was just some intensely weird daydream fantasy.

Lisa (Sharon Mitchell) confides to her best friend, Renee (Tiffany Clark).

A little freaked out, Lisa calls her best friend, Renee (Tiffany Clark) and confides to her that she has been having a series of highly vivid sexual fantasies. So vivid that she doesn't even realize what is real until they are finished, often confusing unsuspecting coworkers and associates around her. Renee is naturally captivated by this tidbit and encourages her to explain more. Lisa is apprehensive at first but then gives in, leading to the next scene. A dinner with Bob's rich business associate, John (Jamie Gillis) and his wife Ellen (Marlene Willoughby) Van Zandt. The edges of Lisa's dream world start to push through a little bit at John's use of the phrase “creative restraint” unwittingly inspires her. All that talk of corporate matters turns very corporal with Lisa seeing Ellen suddenly half naked in chains, with a ball gag in her mouth. The guests and Bob snap her out of it but then her husband makes a crack about how much she knows about sex. (Or does he?) This just entrenches her back into the fantasy with Lisa becoming the main course for the table, with even the butler (Alan Adrian) joining in.

Marlene Willoughby. 

Renee eats this up and points out that there is nothing wrong with fantasy. Lisa mentions that her husband is well endowed because that is exactly the thing you want to mention to your horny friend who then asks to borrow your apartment keys while you have to run off to a photography job. Subsequently, this is exactly what happens. On her way to her friend's apartment, Renee walks by a pay phone that rings. Picking it up with the pithy line, “Weight Watchers Suicide Hotline,” only to have a creepy breather on the other line ordering her to do some pretty rude (or polite, depending on your mood) things to herself. She points out the obvious, that participating in such shenanigans in public would be not the best thing in the world to do. Scary phone guy suggests to move this somewhere private and promises that he will only call her once, if she gives him her phone number.

Renee. She makes bad life decisions. 

Of course, Renee does what any sane person would do, tells him to shove off and hangs up the phone. No, I'm just kidding. She gives him Lisa's phone number and talks to him from her apartment. What an awesome friend. Meanwhile, Lisa's busy at a muscleman photo shoot. Boy, you want to talk about being doomed. If having vivid erotic daydreams born out of physical unfulfillment is a problem then working around a trio of oiled up musclemen who are wearing nothing but little red undies is not going to help. Especially when one of them is George Payne, looking especially hunky. (Coincidentally, George had real life beefcake modeling experience, so this was beyond perfect casting.)

Beefcake a go-go: George Payne in the center, being awesome.

All the while, Renee talks to her obscene phone caller, who orders her to find a mirror. This takes her a minute, since it isn't her apartment, she's not sure where everything is. Oddly enough, she apparently has no problem finding a dildo!?! Creative liberties or unique easy to find decoration? You be the judge. He seduces her into repeating an obscene sing-song-chant. She gets so into it that the sound of Bob opening the front door and entering the apartment does not disturb her saucy revery. He stumbles upon the obscene, surreal sight of his wife's best friend in a very vulnerable position. Bob being a schmuck and Renee having the sex drive of an insane, lubed-up charwoman can only lead to the inevitable.

Lisa, worn out from a day of hot dreaming but no physical scratch heads to the gym. Before working out, she signs up for a massage. It's her lucky day since the masseuse in question ends up being busty Anna Ventura. Fantasy emerges again with club goers Joanna Storm and Ginger Jaye joining in the fun. Unfortunately, so does the towel attendant who is sporting the worst Limahl style mullet this side of “Neverending Story.” But Lisa has a good time and that is what fantasy is all about.

Kenny Dee: Bastard brother of Limahl.

After having real life sex, Renee encourages Bob to be more open with Lisa about his fantasies and sexual habits. He at first falls into that whole dumbass, sexist trap of “Oh no, not my wife.” But then starts to listen to Renee and comes up with the perfect way to salvage his marriage. By arranging an orgy! Of course. Lisa eases into his covert plan quite smoothly, finally getting her swerve on. So she's happy, her husband is still a loser and Renee connects again with her beloved breather. (Though if you ask me, I think Lisa should have dumped her husband and ran off with George Payne. Rowr.)

HOT DREAMS is a well made piece of erotica. It's definitely more on the fluffy side of things but with enough of an edge to make things interesting. In some ways, it is almost like Costello's own spin of BABYLON PINK, both in terms of lovely cinematography, soft often pastel like color schemes and the focus of the wild playground of an unhappy mind. Also, other than the first fantasy where Lisa initially gets attacked, the film has a very decadently dream-like feel. Almost breezy.

The wonderful Sharon Mitchell. 

The acting is all very good, with Sharon Mitchell looking gorgeous and exuding her usual on-screen charisma. Her Lisa is a likable free spirit in the cage of a sham marriage that seriously needs to break free. The late Michael Bruce is also good as her neglectful husband whose outdated ignorance leads to the catalyst of his wife's vivid fantasies. Tiffany Clark is cute and spunky as Lisa's well meaning but borderline skanky friend. The supporting cast is like a veritable buffet of talent, including Jamie Gillis at his flirty best, the uniquely beautiful Marlene Willoughby, the lush Anna Ventura from BAD GIRLS and an early role by Joanna Storm. Plus the aforementioned George Payne who manages to steal the 2 or 3 minutes he is on screen.

Pink Flamingo Entertainment have done a really lovely job here. On their website, they state “We actually care about our products and customers” and it truly shows. In addition to this sweet looking print, there's a great booklet featuring a well written and fairly in depth article by Nicolas Rioult about Costello's life and career. The DVD features two interesting print interviews with both Costello and still photographer Maryse Alberti.

While a far cry from the intense psycho-sexual art-house dramas from earlier in his career, HOT DREAMS is a very well-made and fun, candy-coated shell holding assorted earthly delights of a film.

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