Title: I MISS YOU HUGS AND KISSES
Other Titles: DROP DEAD DEAREST, LEFT FOR DEAD
Director: Murray Markowitz
Cast: Elke Sommer, Donald Pilon, Chuck Shamata
Animal slaughterhouse imagery
The Video Nasties list is a contentious one. Now-iconic fare like THE EVIL DEAD and THE HILLS HAVE EYES were lumped in with more obscure titles that wouldn’t have otherwise made a blip on the radar, like MARDI GRAS MASSACRE. Contained within the core list of 72 films are odd inconsistencies: why were THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY too violent for certification, but their Gates of Hell trilogy counterpart THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD wasn’t? At one point, even copies of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS were briefly subject to confiscation purely for the film’s suggestive title. The BBFC authorities’ perplexing lack of congruity continues with the relatively tame 1978 Canadian film I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES.
A courtroom mystery intercut with a series of flashbacks, I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES is a dramatization of the murder trial of Canadian estate agent Peter Demeter. The main victim is Magdalene Kruschen (Elke Sommers), the gold-digging wife of Charles Kruschen (Donald Pilon). Elke Sommers of LISA AND THE DEVIL fame sizzles with a money-hungry ice queen demeanor, while her onscreen counterpart Pilon veers just over the top in his performance (most evident in an unintentionally goofy confrontation scene at the police station).
Writer/director Murray Markowitz’s disjointed story puts a hard “R” tone on a daytime TV melodrama, but offers little else other than a slightly naughtier soap opera (A love triangle! Blackmail! Murder!). The flashbacks offered during witness testimony are ill-introduced and thus confusing; it becomes impossible to know who is having the flashback and if that portion of the flashback is even real, once dream sequences are added in. It all builds up to absolutely nothing and the film ends on an underwhelming note. Audiences looking for a complete resolution to the narrative will be disappointed, and audiences looking for the sort of shock-and-awe brutality deserving of inclusion on the Nasties list will be disappointed. Considering the violence in the film, there’s no reason for it to be regarded as “unsuitable for home viewing” while the far bloodier Nazi-hunting thriller THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL didn’t make the cut. The general consensus among those who have seen the film is that the ban on HUGS AND KISSES was due to some textbook sensationalist hype printed on the video sleeve: “For those who like their sex with a lot of violence!” To be clear: the film is not that sexy, and not that violent. There’s worse in an episode of CSI.
One highlight is the film’s non-intrusive but tonally [compelling] score, the first film score composed by Howard Shore (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE BROOD, THE AVIATOR). Traces of his work for Cronenberg’s visceral films can be heard in the piercing, moody ambiance he creates for HUGS AND KISSES.
The film’s flashbacks contain enough disturbing imagery one needs to earn a ban under the Obscene Publications Act. Right off the bat a woman is bludgeoned while the opening credits are still rolling. Despite just a couple of cracks to the head, the blood flow is heavy and oozing. In Markowitz’s efforts to beef up the story with multiple suspects, his flashbacks offer forth some rather graphic scenes that would be out of place in the sort of Lifetime dramatization that I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES seems to be. A hitman stabs a schoolgirl and, after she dies of blood loss, he proceeds to rape her dead body. Genuine slaughterhouse footage appears alongside some brief but lurid nudity. While these atrocious moments wouldn’t faze the average adult horror fan today, their placement in a humdrum crime-based thriller is unorthodox and thus daring in its own right.
In its uncut form, I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES only enjoyed a short stint on the Video Nasties list before its removal. A 1986 (post-Video Recordings Act) Vestron Video release of the film under the title DROP DEAD DEAREST suffered just over a minute of cuts to the necrophilia scene and a bludgeoning. An uncut version of the film has yet to get a DVD release, further contributing to its vague spot in cult cinephile memory.
While its place on the Video Nasties list is undeserved, I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES’ place in film obscurity certainly is. Too scandalous to be a daytime drama and too pedestrian to satisfy horror fans, HUGS AND KISSES remains one of the more dismissable Video Nasties.
VIDEO NASTIES ALREADY IN THE BIN: