Extremely stylish and refined nineties sleaze, headlined by then
up-and-coming starlet Julia Stiles. Pervy fun!
WICKED has a copyright date of 2000, the year of its
straight-to-DVD release, yet it was actually completed (and screened at
Sundance) in 1998. It was the third feature directed by Michael
Steinberg, following THE WATERDANCE (1992) and BODIES, REST AND MOTION
(1993). I’m one of the few who really likes the latter film, which
nearly everyone I know detests, and this follow-up has inspired nearly
as much ire. It’s also, as of mid-2010, the last film directed by Mr.
Steinberg, who outside a few writing and producing credits has been
silent of late.
Ellie is an attractive teenager who’s dissatisfied with
her life in a gated LA suburb, where she lives with her parents and
younger sister. One morning Ellie’s bitchy mother is bludgeoned to death
with a ceramic tribal mask while Ellie is (apparently) at school. This
gives Ellie a chance to install herself as the household matriarch…and
indulge her twisted passion for her father! He’s already made the
mistake of telling Ellie she’s his “favorite” daughter, which only
inflames her already outsized ego.
Ellie takes to sleeping in her dad’s bed with him, and
one night actually gets him to kiss her on the lips--and, it’s implied,
go a bit farther sexually. But Ellie’s bliss is cut short when her
beloved father brings home a girlfriend, a pretty blond named Lena.
Ellie fantasizes about killing Lena, and becomes even more unhinged when
her father and Lena get married.
In the meantime, suspicion for her mother’s killing
falls upon Ellie. This suspicion would seem to be confirmed when a
suitcase is discovered belonging to Ellie that contains the bloody mask
that killed her mother. Yet Ellie has an advantage: her knowledge of the
incestuous hijinks that occurred between her and her father, which can
complicate his marriage greatly!
As sleazy as this film is, it’s given A-list treatment
by Michael Steinberg. The visuals are impeccably composed and lit, with
an eye for oft-kilter eccentricity that perfectly compliments the
subject matter. There’s a real sense of style, as I’d expect from the
director of BODIES, REST AND MOTION (which is a good movie,
godammit!). You might argue, of course, that Steinberg could have
found better material with which to grace that style.
Eric Weiss’ script isn’t bad, just half-baked and
implausible. Ellie’s perverse obsession with her father is never
properly explained or developed, and the outrageous twist ending turns
the entire story into a bad joke.
Julia Styles is miscast as the nymphetish Ellie (Styles
was a hot property at the time), but at least gives the role a solid
try. She’s surrounded by several sharp supporting players--DUST
DEVIL’S Chelsea Field, STARSHIP TROOPERS’ Patrick Muldoon,
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN’S Michael Parks--who help lend class to an otherwise
trashy wallow in pure exploitation.
Director: Michael Steinberg
Producer: Frank Beddor
Screenplay: Eric Weiss
Cinematography: Bernd Heinl
Editing: Daniel Gross
Cast: Julia Stiles, William R. Moses, Linda Hart, Michael Parks, Vanessa
Zima, Chelsea Field, Patrick Muldoon, Louise Myrback