Def by Temptation (1990)

James Bond III is not an affected name.  It's the director's real name, as evidenced by the dedications at the end of the film to his father and grandfather.  He is also the writer and star of this movie which he had been trying to put together since working on the Spike Lee film School Days.  His association with the most well-known and respected black filmmaker of the 1980s didn't hurt when casting and getting money for the movie.

Strange thing is when I heard about it the title stuck in my head because I knew I had heard of it before.  Def by Temptation did moderately well at the box office, and quite well for Bond due to its shoestring budget.  It was only after seeing the real promo poster, and not the current ones that make it apparent the movie is a horror film, that I understood why.  If one looks closely - and be assured at the age of 18 I did not - there are hints this is a horror film.  Otherwise, it looks almost like a poster for a Spike Lee film or a number of other movies that came out at the time aimed at urban audiences.  It was definitely word of mouth, one of those mouths being Roger Ebert, that got people interested in the film.

Joel (Bond) is the son of a preacher (Samuel L. Jackson) who died in a car accident years before.  He and his brother K (Kadeem Hardison) were raised by their grandmother (Minnie Gentry), with K choosing to move to New York and pursue a career in the movies while Joel decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a preacher.  Now 21 he decides visit his brother in New York so he can get an idea of the world outside of his small town in North Carolina.

What he doesn't know is that his parents were killed by a succubus (Cynthia Bond) who has been manipulating Joel's life ever since to bring him to New York so she can corrupt him.  Meanwhile she hangs out at a local bar enticing men who die either during or after having sex with her.  One of the bar's regulars, a seemingly hapless wannabe lady's man named Dougy (Bill Nunn), turns out to be part of a special government division looking into supernatural threats, and as the Temptress gets her hooks into Joel K begins working with Dougy to save his brother's life and soul.

There is plenty of great cinematography here as Bond managed to get Ernest Dickerson, who was Spike Lee's cinematographer and later went on to a career as a director himself.  The film often looks a lot more expensive than it is, but the limited locations where the action occurs - the bar, the apartments for K and the Temptress - bely the limitations the movie had.  It also makes it feel quite episodic, and the movie loses some cohesion due to that.  It's often a complaint I have had about many of Lee's films, and the influence of the movies Bond had parts in is rather blatant.  

Since he did manage to get an experienced cast the acting is great, from the tenderhearted Joel to the more worldly K.  The biggest newcomer was Cynthia Bond, in her one and only feature film role, who is believably aloof and just as discomforting as Dougy describes her.  This also features a great soundtrack put together by Paul Laurence, then the head of Hush Productions, and features a number of artists that he worked with at the time. 

While Def by Temptation has much that holds it back from being a great film it is still a worthwhile first effort and it is a shame that James Bond III didn't go on to make any other films.  It turns out he was offered the chance to direct sequels to other horror films, but that would have still would have positioned this as a unique entry in his filmography.  He most likely did the right thing, bowing out after the one, as he had achieved his goal of making a movie and got a fair amount of praise for it.  

Def by Temptation (1990)
Time: 95 minutes
Starring: James Bond III, Kadeem Hardison, Bill Nunn, Cynthia Bond
Director: James Bond III



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