Director: Mark Griffiths
Code Red DVD

At the mere push of a button there are literally hundreds of cable channels readily available for me to peruse and enjoy all within the comfort of my own home and yet, I bet I only regularly watch 15, maybe 20 of them at most. I know for a fact that I pay for them all, but the majority of them just sit there, ignored and frankly unwanted. I do however find myself pausing on one channel in particular when scrolling through a sea of endless home shopping channels and multiple 24 hour news networks, as the made for television movies they regularly showcase never fail to stand out and grab my attention. With such exploitative titles as TERROR IN THE MALL, CRIMES OF PASSION: SHE WOKE UP PREGNANT and my personal favorite MOTHER, MAY I SLEEP WITH DANGER?, it's hard not to give The Lifetime Movie network at least five minutes of my time. Yes, the content often leaves one longing for an extra long commercial break, but the titles themselves are works of sheer marketing genius. In many ways RUNNING HOT looks and feels like a movie that would ideally cater to LMN’s target demographic, albeit with a touch more violence and a lot more nudity. A mature woman with a questionable background finds love on the run with a sensitive youth who is trying to escape his past. Jazz up the title a little and you’re ready for prime time.

Convicted and sentenced to death for murdering his father, 17 year old Danny Hicks (Eric Stoltz) reluctantly finds himself as the lead story of every major media outlet on the West Coast. Nicknamed the “Silent Slayer” due to his quite courtroom demeanor, Danny’s final verdict sends the young man into a violent and uncharacteristic rage, providing further fodder for the local eleven o’clock news. The day’s most shocking headlines are however still to come, as while en-route from the courthouse to the prison where he is scheduled to carry out his final sentence, Danny manages to break free of his police escort, accidentally killing an officer in the process. Fleeing the scene, Danny hightails it to the apartment of Charlene (Monica Carrico), a hooker and obsessed fan who has been following Danny’s trial closely. Very closely. When not masturbating in the bathtub to his picture, Charlene has been spending her time writing letters to the young convict several years her junior. Following the return address from her latest love offering, Danny tracks down Charlene only to collapse bruised and battered on her front door. Shocked and delighted to find the object of her fixation passed out on her welcome mat, Charlene takes the wayward teen under her wing. After feeding and cleaning him up, Charlene convinces Danny to let her accompany him to Arizona to see his sister Jennifer (Juliette Cummins, FRIDAY THE 13th: A NEW BEGINNING) who has been staying with relatives during the trail. Their road trip however begins with a bumpy and bloody start when Danny is forced to kill Charlene’s lover, news anchor Tom Bond (Richard Bradford, THE UNTOUCHABLES), while defending himself from attack. With an officer (Stuart Margolin, FUTUREWORLD) already on their tail, the two love birds will have to call in every favor and pray for their bad luck to change if they are to make it to Arizona before being picked up and separated forever.

For his first theatrical outing, writer/director Mark Griffiths wisely keeps his story tight and the action moving. You generally know what is going to happen next, with most plot points visible from about a mile away, but the steady and assured pace allows little time for one's attention to wander, resulting in an entertaining if not somewhat predictable outing. Shot on 35mm, the film’s subject matter of murderous teenagers, kindhearted hookers and aging pimps probably seemed racy upon its original release but by today’s standards, they almost seem wholesome. Most of their underworld and under the covers activities come across as surprisingly clean cut, lending the film as a whole to the feel of a made- for-TV movie of the week that, again, would be perfect for the Lifetime Network. Over the next two years Mark Griffiths would turn his talents to help sculpt HARDBODIES and its sequel, both of which are currently scheduled to be released by Anchor Bay, and has recently found success with a number of direct-to-TV family films, including the AU PAIR series and BEETHOVEN’S 5th.

After several episodic television appearances and a brief but noteworthy stoner performance in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, Eric Stoltz landed his first leading role as Danny, a misunderstood youth on the run from the law. While he plays naive well enough, his performance, particularly toward the film's end, comes across a little hokey and other than passing resemblance to a past boyfriend, it's hard to see what Charlene actually sees in this kid. As Charlene, Monica Carrico remains patiently perky and quick-witted given the repeated predicaments her new boy toy keeps stumbling into. Clearly the brains of their outfit, it’s safe to say that without Charlene Danny would have been picked up by the police within hours of his escape. Her character's fascination with the number 13 is never fully explored but her dancer's body sure is as the film gives the ex Jane Fonda workout instructor plenty of time to moisten her headband and over sized FLASHDANCE sweatshirt with perspiration. Virgil Frye (Punky Brewster's Dad) turns in a notable albeit short lived performance as Charlene’s pimp and Richard Bradford seems to relish his short screen time, most of which is spent rubbing up against Mrs. Carrico. His character's habit of speaking in bad impressions, similar to Michael Pataki in DELINQUENT SCHOOL GIRLS, is tiring but he does help provide some of the more memorable (by which I mean hilarious) scenes, such as when Charlene tries to conceal the fact that Danny is hiding in her closest by trying to pass off the pool of blood on her waterbed as an accident of her menstrual cycle.

Originally titled LUCKY 13, RUNNING HOT had a short theatrical run through New Line Cinema in the mid 1980s before eventually being allocated to the drive-in circuit. Finding its way onto VHS a few years later through Vestron, RUNNING HOT could be caught on television thanks to several late night cable airings, but by the early 1990s RUNNING HOT had all but been forgotten, mentioned only occasionally when discussing similar, more mainstream fare such as TRUE ROMANCE. Code Red have however seen fit to pull this small but entertaining film from failing into complete obscurity, presenting the film with a brand new anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer taken from the original camera negative. Picture quality varies from sharp and clear to grainy and soft, almost as if certain scenes were color corrected while others were not as the film has a bad of habit of darkening, though briefly, without warning. The mono English audio track occasionally sounds distant but for the most part comes across fair and while the back cover lists the film’s running time at 95 minutes, it is actually just under 90.

Extras include an audio commentary track moderated by Lee Christian that features writer/director Mark Griffiths (who also provides a brief introduction before the feature) and producer David Callaway as they remember and relive the film's shoot and distribution. Both men seem to hold nothing but fond memories of the experience, even though every trick in the book had to be used in order to get around budget limitations. An on camera, eight minute interview with Griffiths features the director retelling many of the same anecdotes provided in the audio commentary and is accompanied by a stills gallery of behind-the-scenes footage, lobby cards and VHS box art, all of which carry the film's original title, LUCKY 13. The alternate opening title RUNNING HOT is also provided but surprisingly no trailers for past and future Code Red releases are present. And I must say they were missed.
(Jason McElreath)