Detective Bobby Corcoran (Steven Bauer!) is a cop with an anger problem. Whenever he and his parter, Troy Rooney (William Katt!!), catch a criminal, Bobby just loses control. Since, for some reason, they seem to catch a lot of criminals on rooftops, this often leads to Bobby threatening to throw someone over the edge. Even when his boss, Detective Larson (Michael Parks!!!) tells Bobby to stop trying to kill all of the suspects, Bobby still struggles to control his rage. He’s seeing a Dr. Anne Richmond (Jennifer Rubin!!!!), a psychiatrist, about his anger issues but since their sessions usually get interrupted by bouts of soft-core, saxophone-scored sex, it is debatable how much time they actually spend digging into the roots of Bobby’s problems.
Bobby also suffers from frequent blackouts. While he’s unconscious, he’s haunted by black-and-white memories of his abusive father (J.J. Johnston) beating up his mother. When he wakes up, he’s often in a different room from where he blacked out. Anne says that Bobby must be sleep-walking. Bobby says that he’s not sleep walking because he’s stubborn and doesn’t feel safe letting anyone into his mind. Lately, whenever Bobby passes out, a prostitute ends up dead. An unknown killer is stalking them and chopping off their ears. Bobby, with his anger issues and his dislike of prostitutes, is an obvious suspect. Is Bobby the killer or is he being framed?
Stranger By Night‘s credited director is Gregory Brown, who is better known as Gregory Dark. Dark is one of the best-known of the directors who specialized in erotic thrillers in the 90s. Dark was responsible for some of the classics of the genre but, unfortunately, Stranger By Night is not one of his better efforts. The action frequently drags and, with the exception of Bobby’s black-and-white flashbacks, Stranger By Night has none of Dark’s usual visual style. The film looks and feels flat and the plot is never feels as involving as it should. The discovery of the killer’s identity inspires not shock but an indifferent shrug.
On the positive side, it’s got a cast of skilled genre vets and all of them do what they can to elevate the material. William Katt is jittery and frequently funny while Jennifer Rubin, who deserved to have a much bigger career, is as sultry as ever. (Rubin brought both intelligence and sex appeal to almost every role that she played and it made her one of the best genre actresses around.) Steven Bauer, another actor who probably deserves a bigger career than he’s had, does a good job in the lead role. Bobby isn’t always a likable character and Bauer doesn’t try to make him one. On the other hand, it’s frustrating that Michael Parks does not get to do much, other than frown. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a film that doesn’t take full advantage of the casting of Michael Parks.
Stranger By Night does seem to have a serious subtext. It tries to deal seriously with how Bobby’s abusive childhood has scarred him and there’s a lengthy scene where Bobby finally talks to his aged father. The scene is played straight and it’s not the sort of thing that you’d normally expect to see in a direct-to-video erotic thriller. (It’s a good example of what set Gregory Dark apart from some of the other directors churning out these type of films in the 90s.) For the most part, though, Stranger By Night is a forgettable trip to the world of late night Cinemax.