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Review: Def by Temptation (1990) – Nightstream

Written, produced, directed by and starring James Bond III, Def by Temptation is one of those films that was in every video store you went into back in the day. And, thanks to a small role by Samuel L. Jackson, in every DVD bargain bin. These days, though, it’s been somewhat forgotten, in no small part due to bad home media copies. I hadn’t seen it in nearly twenty years, so when Vinegar Syndrome’s restored print showed up as part of Nightstream Retro, I decided to check it out.

Joel (James Bond III, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, School Daze) is about to become a minister just like his late father (Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes On A Plane, Kong: Skull Island). However, he’s beginning to have a crisis of faith. His Grandma (Minnie Gentry, Black Caesar, Bad Lieutenant) can sense it, and warns him that he’s about to be tested. Joel decides he needs to take a vacation and see his old friend K (Kadeem Hardison, A Different World, White Men Can’t Jump) in New York City.

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K has long since traded the word of God for the word of the scriptwriter and is a B movie actor. However, as these old friends are reminiscing, evil is afoot. A succubus (Cynthia Bond) is seducing and killing men to increase her power. But what she really needs to complete her plans, is a pure soul, which puts Joel in her sights.

Def by Temptation is a strange, seemingly self-contradictory film. It’s not a faith-based film, but faith is at its core. It’s about a succubus and there are several bedroom scenes. But the only nudity is from one of her victims. It’s a horror film, but it isn’t scary. Ok, maybe that last one’s not so unusual. But it does mean that the result is a film that feels disjointed as its themes don’t fit together very smoothly. It bounces from scenes of the Succubus seducing her victims to sincere talks about faith and Jesus to gay jokes. The constant change in focus and tone kept pulling me out of the film.

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The film does have several good scenes. Much of the material with Dougy (Bill Nunn, Spiderman, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) an inept agent from an X-Files type FBI operation is funny. And the effects, which include a Videodrome reference, are cheap. But they have that low-budget 80s look that brings a smile to the face. And R&B fans can watch for appearances by Melba Moore as a psychic, as well as Freddie Jackson and Najee as themselves.

Def by Temptation also features some excellent cinematography from Ernest Dickerson (Krush Groove, Enemy Territory), especially during K’s fantasy sequence. This new print lets you appreciate it properly. Previous releases by Troma were taken from a well-used print and looked awful. At one point, apparently, the edited for TV version was accidentally released.

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Surprisingly, Def by Temptation was James Bond III’s only film as a writer/director and last film as an actor. Apart from a few executive producer credits, he seems to have dropped out of the industry. There was talk a couple of years ago of a sequel, but nothing seems to have come of it. Both the film and Mr. Bond himself have Facebook pages, though they don’t seem to have been updated lately.

And that may be for the better. For all its flaws, Def By Temptation is still an enjoyable look back in time. And I doubt a thirty years later sequel would feel anything like the original. The new print is playing festivals and is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.

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