Never heard of Def by Temptation (Bond III, 1990)? Well you are not alone. This is a little seen and talked about all black horror film from the 90s. It was distributed by Troma and got good reviews in the theater. When Troma tried distributing the film on video they had trouble. According to Lloyd Kaufman they had trouble getting it in the video stores because the owners thought people of color would burn the tape or burn the store down. When people of color saw the video. Sound strange to you? Yeah, your guess is as good as mine. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, there is a Blu-ray out that give the film the restoration and attention it deserves.
This film tells the story of Joel (James Bond III) and his cousin K (Kadeem Hardison). Joel who is studying to be a minister has now turned 21. He wants to see more of the world besides his small town in North Carolina. He calls up his cousin K and heads out to visit him in New York City. What makes this a horror movie is the bar that gets frequented by the characters has a succubus.
What makes the succubus/temptress interesting is the dynamic of hunter versus hunted. The film starts out with the bartender on the phone talking with some woman he had previously hooked up with. This woman has become pregnant but the bartender seemingly does not want any thing to do with her or the kid. He hangs up the phone. He talks with the Temptress and they head to her place, it does not end well for the bartender. Later on, with the Temptress, at the bar a married man walks in. You know he is married because he can be seen taking off his wedding ring. He as well goes home with the Succubus. Again it does not bode well for him.
There are various scenes of men trying to pick up women at the bar. Specifically Dougy played by Bill Nunn, who is on multiple accounts tries to pick up women and strikes out. Bill Nunn does a great job portraying Dougy. He makes him obnoxious yet still likeable. This dynamic between the male characters trying to score with the female patrons of the bar gives us that predator prey dynamic. What I find interesting is that it is not one sided. The Temptress can be seen as acting out this righteous vengeance on these shallow-cheating men.
James Bond III never intended this dynamic yet it can be seen in the film. For James was looking to tell a tale of morality. He wanted to explore the idea of someone’s faith being tested. Which he does accomplish within the film. Although the first half clearly takes on a different thematic reversal that was never intend. The morality tale really fleshes out as the film goes on.
On my first viewing of the film, I thought the pacing was a bit slow but I did not mind it as much upon the second viewing, overall. While the third act does not pace along properly, it is not a bad as it could be, nor is it as good as it could be. The film takes it’s time and does not quite deliver the punch the ending needs. That is not to say the ending does not work.
What Def by Temptation does really well is lean in to the characters of the film. As mentioned above the Dougy character is done really well. Everyone knows a guy who approaches women and strikes out unapologetically. The relationship between Joel and K bursts with charm and charisma. I do not know how you could not like it. Basically Joel has been sheltered. K takes Joel around the city and the local bar, but not before K makes Joel change out of his 1950s-esque attire. The other strength of the film is the cinema-photography, which; is photographed by the great Ernest Dickerson. He imbeds the film with lavish neon colors that are also reminiscent of Dario Argento and Mario Bava.
One of the downsides, besides the pace of the 3rd act is Joel. Joel is played by the director himself, and is downright awful at times. Even though he grew up as a child actor, it was his first time directing and acting at the same time. I believe the problem is James plays Joel with one note, not giving him much range.
I find Def by Temptation a hidden gem of a film, while is has it’s flaws they do not out weight the pros of the film. If you are a horror fan give this a shot. It works well on both levels of being a horror movie and an all black horror movie. What I mean by this is there is a sensibility of tone/style you would not get from if an all white cast and crew created it. (I almost forgot to mention Samuel L. Jackson has a small role in the film as he we rising up to fame.)