They’re Playing With Fire (1984) – A Review


A sexy college professor seduces her student and they become embroiled in a murder plot. It’s the 1984 erotic thriller They’re Playing With Fire starring Sybil Danning and Eric Brown.


Theyre Playing With Fire 1984 movie Poster Sybil Danning“I can’t remember a hotter day.”
“Me either.”
“You look as though you could use a break. Want to have a nice cold drink with me?”
“No I better keep working and finish.”
“You’ve been working hard all day. I feel guilty if you don’t let me give you a drink.” 
“Ok Mrs. Stevens.”
“Call me Diane….here.”

Sybil Danning is one of those actresses that doesn’t seem real. She’s like a fantastical version of what an adolescent horny male would create if he could.

Like, in Weird Science, two teens create in their minds the ‘perfect woman’. They could have easily created Sybil. Tall, leggy, stacked and blonde. Plus, she could have fought all those post-apocalyptic goons single-handedly and probably would have kicked their butts all on her own.

Danning looked tailor-made to be a B-Movie Queen. Which is exactly what she was. Barbarians, action heroines, evil alien queens, prison wardens, a werewolf queen, the seductive older woman those were the roles that carried her through most of the late 70’s and early 80’s. They weren’t all good movies, but they were enough for Danning to accumulate a loyal fanbase throughout the 80’s showcasing her unique buxom, statuesque screen presence, which usually was one of the major selling points of watching them.

Sybil Danning sexy teacher They're Playing With Fire 1984 movieOne role that Danning felt she gave one of her best performances as was the seductive, mysterious college professor Diane Stevens in They’re Playing With Fire.

College student Jay Richard (Eric Brown) gets offered an innocuous job to do some work on the yacht of his teacher Dr. Diane Stevens (Danning). It doesn’t take long before Diane removes her bikini and seduces the bewildered Jay. That’s a real bonus on top of earning a few bucks!

Soon afterwards Jay is asked to do Diane and her husband Michael a favor by helping putting a huge inheritance their looking to get from his mother on the fast track. All he has to do is goto her mansion and scare her. Easy enough.

Doesn’t make too much sense, but what the heck easy job for some Danning sex and to earn more extra cash. However, things start to spiral out of control when Jay botches the break in, runs away scared and the next day the mother shows up dead.

Sybil Danning sexy bikini Theyre Playing with fire
Eric Brown getting a dream summer job working for Sybil Danning

Suspicions abound. Jay’s ex-girlfriend gets jealous. There’s an oddball groundskeeper. Alibi’s are needed. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t feel too compelled to recount the goings-on or even remembering any of what follows. This is not a good movie.

It’s meant to be sort of an erotic/thriller/mystery I think. It doesn’t do a good job on that. The story is convoluted and very uninteresting. Most of the time people are standing around talking about stuff I neither understand or care about.

The initial plan that kickstarts the story doesn’t even make much sense. This couple recruits a kid to break into his rich mothers house to scare her as a way of getting her inheritance.

I’m not sure how this is supposed to work or how stupid Jay is for going along with it. He’s got to be the most gullible student at this college.

They're Playing With Fire 1984 Sybil Danning Eric BrownAs complications arise it does no favors to keeping me involved in the story. In fact it pushes me further away from caring about any of it.

I know people are talking and they’re supposed to be saying some heavy dramatic stuff and things are meant to build to a big whodunit reveal, but it’s all so poorly done you’ll be fighting the urge to fast forward through it. Simply put it’s horrible.

However, there are a few portions you might want to actually watch – the sex scenes and Danning appearing au natural. This should not be a surprise.

I’ve  read several reviews for this movie and I think every single one of them points out Danning’s breasts and the sex scenes.

Those are truly the highlights of this flick. She does look good and if you’re a Danning fan they’re probably the best nude scenes of her on her resume. Other than her latter sex scenes and blatant need to disrobe for showers, Danning’s initial seduction of Brown on her yacht is the most worthwhile few minutes in the entire film.

In fact as a service to my Haphazard Readers – at least those of you who want to see Danning naked and for some reason feel compelled to seek out They’re Playing With Fire– I’ll save you some trouble.

Sybil-Danning hot sexy teacher Theyre Playing With Fire 1984 movie
Sybil Danning as one very hot teacher

– the opening credits of the film Danning is in a bikini sunning herself with terrible eighties theme song playing

– four and half minutes in the seduction scene takes place (see you don’t have to wait very long)

– ten and half minutes Danning nonchalantly takes a shower discussing the plan with her husband

– forty-three minutes the second sex scene between Danning and Brown takes place (be warned she leaves on her bra and we only see the initial embrace)

– forty-eight minutes Danning feels another need to disrobe and take a shower (quite brief)

– an hour and twelve minutes the third sex scene between Danning and Brown, it’s not bad, plus we get that wacky theme song playing in the background

That sums it up. In between all that is the insipid story that you won’t care a thing about.

They're Playing With Fire Sybil Danning seduce older sexy womanThe acting isn’t worth mentioning. Brown goes back and forth between holding his mouth open in bewilderment or having his mouth hang open in a silly grin. I don’t find him very charismatic and the only thing worth noting about him is that this is his second role of being a youngster seduced by an older woman, the first being Private Lessons.

I’m not sure how he got typecast in that kind of part. His career was somewhat brief. As the 80’s were winding down it appears he acted less and less as until eventually he left acting altogether and moved onto other things.

The rest of the cast is completely forgettable with none standing out in any of the scenes of them delivering ridiculous and/or melodramatic dialogue. One high point is Jay’s ex-girlfriend being bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by a killer disguised as Santa Claus. I have no idea what that was about nor did I care.

They're Playing With Fire movie Santa Claus murder by batIt was funny how it’s filmed though. The first hit with the bat by the crazed Santa seems to have no effect on this girl. She just turns around as if he just tapped her on the shoulder.

Then after the second hit the girl falls to the floor and the guy is obviously thrashing the bat very carefully towards the camera while it cuts away to the girl screaming with the fakest ketchup-type blood smeared on her face. Awful. This is around the 58 minute mark if anyone cares.

So, to sum up: Dannings boobs and nothing else. I was hesitant to even include this movie in this ongoing teen/sex/comedy review series of mine, but it was the closest film I could think of that Danning had done that would fit into that genre. And I thought it might be fun to talk about Danning and look at her again. That’s the only thing this movie delivers on.

Today it’s almost unimaginable to think of an actress who was so willing to disrobe for no other reason than just to show off her body in exploitation flicks. Danning didn’t need any well thought out motivations for her character to disrobe. She knew her fans, knew why they were watching her movies, so “let’s just do this scene with me naked in the shower”. Roll em!

Sybil Danning Eric Brown Theyre Playing With Fire sex scene 1984 movieIt’s as if she was fine that her cleavage and body got her attention, work and fans. It didn’t appear she was straining to breakout from her B-movie image. And even more unbelievable was that she became very popular by sticking with it! We don’t see that happen too often anymore.

Would any actress today be so straight forward about selling herself based on her bod? Would they be so nonchalant to show off their boobs even if it wasn’t vital to the scene in the movie? Do today’s actresses even have boobs???

As much as I like to look at Danning a lot of her movies were really pretty poor. It can be a real struggle to sit through some of them. It’s too bad she didn’t have some better quality material to surround her when she would do her ‘Danning’ thing in them.

Sybil Danning sexy bikini Theyre Playing With Fire 1984 moviejpgJust because she was the 1980’s Queen of B-Movies, doesn’t mean the movies she appeared in had to be so terrible. Some of them could at least be a bit more fun and entertaining. I’m not even sure what is considered her best movie. I guess her hardcore fans do enjoy them, which is cool, but I consider myself one of her more ‘fast-forward-kind’ of fans.

When you watch the trailer for They’re Playing With Fire don’t be deceived by it. It makes it seem like the focus is the ‘older woman/younger student’ aspect to it. It is not! “See folks they have this torrid affair and then the husband wants to kill the kid, so the kid is in the middle of suspenseful scenes with his life being threatened. NOT!

They basically edited it without including any of the half-baked inheritance story, which takes up the bulk of the movie! At least it features the movie’s theme song so you can get an idea of how that sounds and brief glimpses of the Danning scenes that are the only thing that make sitting through this flick bearable.


9 thoughts on “They’re Playing With Fire (1984) – A Review

  1. You know….

    The idea of a actress using just her bod to achieve fame really peaked in the 90's. It was kicked off when a little movie called "Basic Instinct" hit theatres. And a little known actress named Sharon Stone became a A-list star.

    After the movie Basic Instinct, there was a slew of forgettable flicks that tried to cash in on the sex appeal. All where failures. One of them even starred Madonna.

    Also television shows like Baywatch and Silk Stalkings introduced the idea of how showing a little skin could go a long way. Pam Anderson made her entire career using her bod.

    But where things REALLY shined was the Direct-to-Video market. They seemed to turn our erotic thrillers every month. And B-movie actress had some bit of notoriety. Names like Maria Ford, Lisa Boyle, Athena Massey, Lisa Comshaw and Shannon Whirry became recognized. Not for anything great but recognizable just the same.

    I blame the internet for cause all of this to come crashing down. Why rent a Direct-to-Video thriller or watch a tease but don't show television melodrama when you can get something shorter, sexier and freer on the Internet?

    But who knows? The new 50 Shades of Grey movie might give us one more cycle of this sort of thing. But I doubt it.

  2. It is kind of odd. Danning almost reached mainstream attention. I remember seeing her on lots of magazine covers (not even counting Playboy), she almost played Octopussy, interviews on Entertainment Tonight (back when that was the only entertainment program, there weren’t a thousand others on the air), she ended up on the V series for awhile. I’m sure there are B actresses today dropping their clothes, but they don’t seem anywhere nearly as popular – at least I don’t know them.

    It’s almost like B-movies don’t get the level of attention today. There seems to be much more of them. Maybe because they’re much easier and cheaper to make. Plus, there’s so many other avenues you can showcase them – direct to dvd, one of the thousand cable channels, streaming. They’re not coming out of that one pipeline like back in the day where it was more likely a more mainstream audience might stumble onto them. It’s almost like you have to be committed to find them. It’s rare there’s a breakout among them. Like Sharknado, a real cheesy b-movie and that was only because it was so utterly ridiculous it caught people’s attention.

    I saw an article awhile back about this 50 Shades movie and talking about how erotic dramas and thrillers were so rare today. We don’t see Basic Instinct, Disclosure, Unfaithful where the sex scenes are used to sell the movie. I guess studios are too nervous about sex now. Which is ironic since they’ve gone the opposite way with violence. And I think you’re right the internet has taken some of the wind out of the sails of seeing that stuff in a movie. A few clicks away and one could be watching stuff much more risqué and hardcore than anything a Hollywood movie could offer up. Maybe if 50 Shades is popular and good it will turn it around and suddenly we’ll have tons of imitators jumping on the bandwagon.

  3. Hey Hap

    I only know Danning from Playboy, but boy I would've loved to have seen her as Octopussy. Undoubably, she is a breathtaking beauty and I too find it very refreshing to see someone accept on whom she was, and what she represented.

    In regards to Capt. Nemo's comment; I too blame the internet for the lack of cheesy erotic thrillers Here in the U.K. back in the late 90s Channel 5 used to screen these steamy soft core erotic flicks starring everyone from Shannon Whirry, to Shannon Tweed, and they were shot professionly. The internet has pretty much taken out the naughty and tongue in cheek 'drama' out of eroticism and replaced it with crude hard core boredom.

    Its a shame that these days most film audiences forget how successful erotic thrillers truly were, Basic Instinct, Disclosure, and god awful laugh fests such as Body of Evidence and The Color of the Night. And I agree that its a major shame that studios these days are too scared to show eroticism, but are happy to depict violence. The last erotic thriller I can think of being produced and distributed by a major studio was Eyes Wide Shut, which I consider one of my favorite films of the 90s, and I believe that this was when the curtain sadly came down on the genre. The only other serious erotic film to have come along to make a bit of an impact was Sleeping Beauty with Emily Browning. Ever since Eyes Wide Shut ended its theatre run, cinema in general steered away towards spectacle and the fantastical, and I blame the Harry Potter films for this shift.

    As for the upcoming 50 shades films… I have a feeling that this film won't be any good whatsoever and although it will become a hit, it will be a total laugh fest and would become an embarrassment for years to come.

    1. Hey Spaceodds!

      Remember when there were people who said that shows like Baywatch and the like were gong to be the end of civilization?

      Little did they know that that type of programming was going to be rendered obsolete within 10 years. At least, they got what they wanted. Only I'm not so sure they are happier with what replaced it. But it made the subject less public and thereby less important than other issues in out modern day.

  4. Thank you Spaceodds for mentioning Shannon Tweed. And I think it would be a crime not to mention Juilie Strain as well. That should round out the actresses who cashed in on the softcore craze.

    Fun Fact: The Director for most of those flicks in the 90's Gregory Hippolyte went on to do music videos for Britney Spears (now named Gregory Dark).

    I think Danning's place in all this was she was a forerunner of what was to come. Or at least, before it was run in to the ground. If she had had a smash hit on the level of Basic Instinct, I'm sure the era may have kicked off a little early.

    As for your observations concerning Violence vs Eroticism. I think you are right that studios are squeamish about using sexy scenes. But I don't think its because they are going to offend anyone.

    Speaking for myself, I would feel awkward trying to buy a ticket to erotic film. As opposed to the latest splatterguts film. I know if I go to see 50 Shades, I'm probably going to have people look at me a little sideways. But if I buy a ticket to the latest Expendables film, no one will give me a second look (at least, I hope so).

    But for erotic films, there will be a feeling of wait for it on Netflicks (or Youtube). Because those films are best enjoyed in the privacy of your home. Not in the middle section of a crowded theater.

    As for my prediction of the 50 Shades movie, I don't think it will make bank. This might be like Sharknado redux. Where the hype will be more palpable than the book. Usually it takes three things to make a hit. One a popular actor/actress, Two a popular character, and three catchy music to hook people in. I doubt anyone could name 1 character from those books from memory. And without a hit soundtrack, that just leaves the actors. And I hear about them are who are leaving the project.

  5. Hey Capt. Nemo:
    I know I sound like a know it all but…

    Fun Fact no#2: The director of photography on some of Dark's soft core erotic films was none other than Wally Pfister, who has since gone on to become Christopher Nolan's resident Director of Photography, and win an Acadamy Award for Inception. Pfister is a hero of mine, since he not only has a distaste for 3D, but the fact he started off shooting cheesy erotic thrillers and has graduated to become one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood is a major achievement. No wonder why Nolan get's a lot of acclaim for the look and style of his films.

    I find the whole 50 shades phenomenon to be a fluke. The film will become a laugh riot and will endure a worst fate then Showgirls. The eroticism would become so evident, that it will no doubt become a snooze fest. Many popular actors have refused the two central roles, and quite frankly anything based on what started life out as Twilight fanfiction, is the ideal candidate for being ripped to shreads.

  6. "based on what started life out as Twilight fanfiction"

    You might have something there. Something we're forgeting is that this isn't meant for us. It's meant for the Twilight crowd.

    I, personally, can't take the he loves her, she loves him, and that guy secretly loves her plots that pepper these stories. But there are a lot of romance hungry ladies who do.

    And that's…depressing.

    Where's Rambo when you need'em?

  7. I'm already guessing you read my review of this garbage over at DVD Verdict, yet here is another Danning film I reviewed: I find it funny she considers this one of her best "performances"…she just wasn't believable for a second as an English professor, but of course that's not why people paid to see it. If there was ever a Sybil Danning DVD set made, I would prefer they just include her nude scenes from here instead of the whole movie: it could be just a 8-minute bonus feature.

  8. Ugh, this film makes me sick. I hate the story because I think it’s absurd, uninteresting, and pointless with unlikable lead characters. I hate Diane because I think she is just a manipulative, unscrupulous tramp, and I dislike Jay because he is a gullible, naïve simpleton who falls into Diane’s trap by believing everything she tells him. They have an illicit affair that leads to a big mess in which innocent people get killed. While I dislike his character, I do like Eric Brown, but I dislike Sybil Danning because I think she’s not a good actor and is far too buxom and voluptuous with her figure. I also have sheer contempt for her for putting down Eric (who actually seems and sounds like a nice person based on other sources I read about him) in interviews regarding his discomfort and hostility over doing the sex scenes with her. He’s American, and here in America, lots people, even famous people, feel so differently about things like nudity than Europeans do.

    Anyway, I saw They’re Playing with Fire after I saw Private Lessons last year, and while I don’t really like either movie, I do prefer the latter over the former. I won’t go into all the details since I explained it in my comment on your Private Lessons review, but I will say that I tolerate that movie because Nicole and Philly are decent characters who treat each other well, develop genuine romantic feelings for each other, and have a relationship that does not involve adultery.

    However, none of these reasons can apply to Diane and Jay in They’re Playing with Fire. Once Diane gets Jay into the bedroom of her yacht, she is very quick, forward, and open in seducing him. When he tries to leave, she grabs and forces kisses on him to keep him from leaving, against his protests, then she rapes him (and she said moments ago that she wouldn’t, the lying-ass bitch). This shows she truly has no respect for Jay’s personal boundaries, especially since she had come so close to getting him at her mercy and wanted to hurriedly finish what she started. While he briefly pipes up with worries that Michael might find out, Diane assures Jay she won’t tell Michael, and he unfortunately falls under her spell and succumbs to her advances. Of course, Diane then later lies to Michael that Jay wanted to make love to her.

    From there and the remainder of the movie, I see Diane as nothing more than an unscrupulous, dishonest, greedy, immoral, manipulative woman (some of which I previously stated above) because she only wants her in-laws’ money and takes advantage of Jay’s naïve, trusting nature and crush on her so she can get what she wants. In aiming to get what she wants, Diane shows no real remorse or even any morality because she lies to and cheats on Michael with Jay. And when Michael gets killed, I’m sure she’s only glad he’s out of the way since she’s free to be with Jay and can still get the Stevens’ fortune without further hindrances (until she discovers Bird’s relation to Michael).

    But the big reason why I have so much despise for Diane is because she is a college teacher, and teachers like her are supposed to teach their students the importance of honesty, and why it’s wrong to lie and cheat. But she acts completely unprofessional, immoral, and hypocritical in her career (and actually puts it at great risk) by secretly cheating on her husband with a student. Overall, Diane’s character and her adulterous affair with Jay are the reasons why this movie disgusts me (though I explain some more reasons why below).

    I initially saw Jay as being like a butterfly caught in a spider’s web when he is seduced by Diane, then talked into scaring the Stevens’ at their home, even though he initially said he didn’t want to go through with it, and then he ends up being blamed for the murders by Michael. He tries to be assertive in his reasoning, but he just lets Diane have final say since he’s too smitten with her to say no. But as the movie rolls on, I lost my sympathy for Jay because his own sense of morality appears to vanish when he continues his affair with Diane behind Michael’s back, even though he is aware of the risks of doing so since Michael still believes he is responsible for the murders. Hell, it’s even because of Jay and Diane’s affair that Cynthia (who was a completely innocent bystander) and even Michael are murdered.

    By the end, Diane inherits the Stevens’ fortune and gives Jay a new car to thank him for his help. However, I dislike how the movie ends because from all that happened in it, Diane and Jay getting rewarded is something that I believe they didn’t even deserve in the first place, especially Diane, due to the fact that they got it through totally unscrupulous, dishonest means. And for all of this, I don’t believe Diane was ever actually in love with Jay, while his feelings for her were just a naïve infatuation. Diane may have gotten the money and now Jay by her side, but unlike Philly and Nicole’s relationship in Private Lessons, this relationship emerged from adultery and dishonesty, so it was not a healthy one from the start. Because of that, I believe that one day Diane will grow bored with Jay, find a new lover, and then toss Jay aside like he is nothing. But he’s too stupid and enamored with Diane to realize it.

    So yeah, I hate They’re Playing with Fire because I have sheer contempt for the actions of the lead characters, but I can tolerate Private Lessons because the lead characters have a healthier bond due to their senses of morality.

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