Before Cinemax had hits with the action series Strike Back, or the high concept crime series Banshee, it took its first really solid steps into the world of original programming with Femme Fatales – a series that combined sex, violence and twists in a way that deliberately called to mind the noir B-movies of the fifties. To date, the series has run for two seasons, with the first season now available on DVD – and it’s actually pretty good.
Femme Fatales mixes the kind of softcore sex scenes that earned Cinemax its Skinemax nickname with an intriguing mix of genre elements. It moves easily from straight crime tales to prison exploitation; from slight-of-hand to outright supernatural; from vengeance thriller to urban myth. Call it cross-genre exploitation and you won’t be far wrong.
Created by Mark A. Altman and Steve Kroizere, Femme Fatales is also influenced by The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents – shows that made brilliant use of twist endings. While it wears its influences on its sleeve, so to speak, it also (as mentioned in one of the bonus features) gives thanks to some of those influences in the credits – at the end of each episode, under ‘special thanks,’ you will find the names of B-movie directors whose influence was especially felt for each episode.
Like the B-movie noirs of the fifties, Femme Fatales is a low-budget, high turnover series, though you’d mostly never each ep was shot in three days with next to no money. Part of the illusion is that a number of very talented characters are featured: Dean Haglund (The X-Files), Charlie O’Connell (Sliders, Dude, Where’s My Car?), Stephen Macht (General Hospital), actor/director Paul Mazursky (Moon Over Parador, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Robert LaSardo (Death Race, Nip/Tuck) and Angus Scrimm (Phantasm, Alias, John dies at the End) among them.
Of the first season’s twelve episodes, the best are The White Flower (holed up bank robber spooked by white flowers, with good reason), Girls Gone Dead (the creator a Girls Gone Wild series of DVDs finds himself surrounded by gorgeous sorority girls) and Visions (a mentalist suddenly finds himself having real visions), the two-part season finale.
Some eps don’t quite work, but it’s never from not trying or lacking ambition – even if all the eps are standalones, there’s always stuff going on in the background that leads to some kind of payoff in the season finale. Generally, Femme Fatales works pretty well. Some of the acting is shaky, but never so bad that it’s detrimental to the show’s B-movie noir vibe (in some cases – see Girls Gone Dead – it actually makes the show feel more authentic).
There are a goodly number of bonus features and commentary tracks for every ep – the sole problem being that the sound from the eps is played at almost the same volume as the commentaries. This means that, however good (or not) a commentary might be, it’s frequently hard to make out what the commentators are saying. Hopefully that will be remedied when the season two set is released.
Disc One: The White Flower: Executive Producer/Series C-Creator Mark A. Altman, Executive Producer David E. Williams, Director Mike Hurst; Something Like Murder: Altman (Director), Williams; Behind Locked Doors (Parts 1 & 2): Altman, Williams, Executive Producer/Series Co-Creator Steve Kroizere; Speed Date: Altman, Kroizere, Guest-Star Reggie Hayes; Bad Medicine: Kroizere (Writer), Actors Christine Donlon and Scott Bailey; Girls Gone Dead: Altman, Kroizere, Actors Dean Haglund, Catherine Annett and Madison Dylan
Disc Two: Til Death Do Us Part: Altman, Kroizere, Williams, Actor Jordan Madley; Help Me, Rhonda: Altman, Actor Ana Alexander, Composer Joe Kramer; The Clinic: Altman, Kroizere, Williams, Co-Producer Aaron Ratner; Haunted: Altman, Kroizere, Actor Tiffany Brouwer; Angels & Demons: Altman, Williams, Hurst (Director); Visions (Part 1 & 2): Altman, Kroizere, Actors Mark Crumpton and Catherine Annett (Part 1) and Madison Bailey (Part Two)
Featurettes: Creating Femme Fatales; Shooting Femme Fatales: The Making of Season One; Making Love: anatomy of a Scene; San Diego Comic-Con 2011 Panel; The White Flower: B&W Director’s Cut; Blooper Reel; Isolated Music Tracks; Photo Gallery; 18 Deleted Scenes.
Grade: Femme Fatales: Season One – B
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: B+