Plot: Ivy (Drew Barrymore) is the new girl at an expensive, exclusive school in the high class area of town. Of course, being a more wild, street smart girl, Ivy is worried about being rejected by these social elite teens, so she’ll do anything to gain their acceptance. Ivy meets Sylvie (Sara Gilbert), a very intelligent girl who no one really understand, and they strike up a friendship. Ivy soon meets Sylvie’s parents, her father a television news anchor and her mother a stunning housewife. Ivy puts on a nice performance for them, acting like a perfect angel and gaining their trust. Sylvie’s family appears to be perfect, but problems lurk right under the surface and Ivy’s violent and seductive ways could make those issues explode. Of course, Ivy begins a passionate affair with Sylvie’s father, all the while charming her mother as well. But Sylvie is not a stupid girl, and sooner or later she’s bound to stumble into the truth of what’s happening.
Entertainment Value: An erotic thriller classic that spawned multiple sequels, Poison Ivy is like if Hollywood poured resources into a late night Cinemax production, with fun and effective results. The narrative is one we’ve seen before, but the emphasis on the friendship between Ivy and Sylvie helps make it feel fresh, since the usual obsession & seduction elements aren’t the core focus. Of course, those elements do blossom and have a prominent role in how Poison Ivy unfolds, but it is a welcome shift to have them be more secondary aspects within the narrative. The tone is serious, with some dark humor woven in, but keeps the melodrama dialed up throughout. This kind of balance can be tough, since it can shift into campiness if the melodrama gets out of control, but Poison Ivy handles it well. As far as the sex and violence that the erotic thrillers are known for, this one doesn’t trade in those elements much and while sexuality is a constant theme, the actual sex is minimal. So don’t expect a wild, sleaze soaked ride here, as this this movie evades the nastier traits of the genre. Even so, this still hits the usual erotic thriller notes and makes the formula work well, so for fans of melodramatic, tense thrillers, Poison Ivy is a worthy choice.
I love these kind of melodrama drenched thrillers and of course, the best ones often have a great villain to drive the experience. While Poison Ivy is filled with flawed characters, Drew Barrymore shines as the film’s empress of social seduction who leaves a wake of fractured lives behind her. I like that Ivy isn’t the cause of most of these fractures, just the pressure that caused them to finally shatter, another reason the movie is a cut above most of its peers. Barrymore has the otherworldly charisma needed to pull off the role, as she is able to seem perky and lighter than air at times, then snap back into an unstable, darker presence when needed. Sara Gilbert is also a perfect choice for the emo, hipster teen and of course, Tom Skerritt and his bare ass turn in solid work, as they always do. The cast also includes Cheryl Ladd and in an ultra small role Leonardo DiCaprio, while Katt Shea directs.
The Disc: Scream Factory has unleashed Poison Ivy on Blu-ray as part of their four disc Poison Ivy Collection, which collects all four installments in the series in one handy, slick package. The movie looks passable here, but this isn’t a new scan and in the unrated cut, upscaled inserts are used. The image shows solid detail and outside of the inserts, never looks bad, but I think some fans will be let down here. I think the improvements over the DVD are minimal, so it is a tough sell on the transfer alone. The extras include both the unrated & theatrical versions of the movie, a new and informative audio commentary from director Katt Shea, and two of the film’s trailers.