Revisiting Softcore 1990s Cable Staple ‘Red Shoe Diaries,’ Now Out on DVD

Revisiting Softcore 1990s Cable Staple 'Red Shoe Diaries,' Now Out on DVD
Revisiting Softcore 1990s Cable Staple 'Red Shoe Diaries,' Now Out on DVD

Season one of Zalman
King’s 1992 cable television series “Red Shoe Diaries” is now out on DVD. Perhaps it was daring in its day, but given all the sex and skin on
“True Blood,” “Shameless,” and other current cable series, it is kind of a quaint
experience to watch “Diaries” now. The show stemmed from a mediocre feature
length film that fails to approach the softcore standards King set with his feature
films “Two Moon Junction,” “Wild Orchid,” and its sequel.

“Diaries” has some pleasures, but they may not
be the erotic kind that was intended. The show features a young David Duchovny as
Jake, a man who reads diaries entries from women who have “been betrayed” or
“betrayed someone” in each episode’s “bookend” narration. (Fun Fact: the series
ended the year before Duchovny admitted to sex addiction.) The letters Jake
receives read like “Penthouse Confessions,” and the episodes play like sexy
short stories that are by and about women, but seem geared towards straight men.

Each program
feels completely artificial, and many shows play up a noir sensibility, which adds to the fantasy. The clothes and
interiors are overdesigned, the music is cheesy, and the editing is meant to
emphasize every thrust and sexy clinch.

Even acknowledging
the dated nature of the series, (e.g., snail mail, land lines) these tales of
seduction seem designed to exploit the women who are filmed naked and in
fetishistic poses as well as in a cop’s uniform, a wet t-shirt, or leather.
Moreover, the women are masked/blindfolded or occasionally don costumes—from
drag to a kinky wig, to full-on dominatrix—to seduce the
men they desire. The cliché “I’ve never done [this] before” is used several
times, and thrice in season one’s thirteen episodes, a man wants to comfort a
woman by feeding her soup.

All that said,
the stories that comprise “Red Shoe Diaries” are all about control. The women
have it, the women lost it, and/or the women want it. The heroines are by and
large uptight and need to be liberated, but this is hardly the stuff of
feminism. The best episodes—“Auto Erotica,” which
involves a car chase and “Double or Nothing” about a pool hustler—play
out this principle because there are high stakes and the characters are
empowered, not just seductive.  

In contrast,
“Talk to Me Baby,” one of the weaker entries in the series, has Bud (Richard
Tyson of “Two Moon Junction”) trying to smooth talk his way out of a jam with
his brooding girlfriend who caught him with another woman. “Talk to Me Baby” is
one of the few episodes in the series that features some lesbian content, as
when Bud’s girlfriend showers with another woman, while he disappointingly sits
out the encounter.

“Red Shoe
Diaries” could easily cross into queer territory—the season’s
last episode, “How I Met My Husband” is ripe for naughtiness as it features
both a dominatrix and a male stripper, but like many of the half-hour shows, it
remains only skin deep. The sex on display simply fails to excite. The
character may be turned on, but it’s hard to imagine viewers sharing the same reaction.

That said, most
of the women, which include Joan Severance, Bond Girl Maryam d’Abo, and Paula
Barbieri among others, are strikingly beautiful. Though it is amusing, not sexy,
to see a performer like Ally Sheedy in the comic episode “Accidents Happen.”

“Red Shoe
Diaries” also casts a few handsome guys, from a young Matt LeBlanc as a sexy
bike messenger whose bejeaned ass is oogled by Nina Siemaszko in “Just Like
That,” to the late Ron Marquette, who is memorable and sexy in “The Bounty
Hunter.” Softcore stud Anthony Addabbo appears in “Weekend Pass” in the first
of his six appearances in the series, and he displays more than just his
charisma as a country-western singer who gets hot and heavy with a female army

Curiously, the
series hits its stride around the mid-point, when Duchovny gets his own
episode, “Jake’s Story.” There is a tenderness on display in this and
subsequent programs that suggest “Red Shoe Diaries” may have love not just sex
on its mind. If only. 

Also on DVD is King’s last, posthumous feature, “Pleasure or Pain,” which shows
the heights (or depths) King reached in his work.

Arguably the
filmmaker’s most explicit erotic drama, “Pleasure or Pain” features all the
hallmarks of King’s work: beautiful people in beautifully appointed locations,
having sex with food, dressing in drag, and engaging in masquerades and
sadomasochistic sex. The narrative unfolds as a confession of sorts as Victoria
(Malena Morgan) recounts falling in love with Jack (Christos Vasilopoulus), a
handsome rich man, who encourages her to participate in various sexually
uninhibited encounters.

“Pleasure or
Pain” features a bevy of full frontally nude females, as Jack covers Victoria’s
naked body with whipped cream, strategically placing ice cream and bananas on
her body to create a special “sundae” in a scene that is as uncomfortable for
viewers as it is for the characters.

Victoria also has lesbian affairs, threesomes (with
two other women, one in male drag) and shaves her crotch in the shower. All of
these scenes, along with a sequence set in an erotic club, are filmed with a
romantic/erotic glossiness that celebrates the activities on display. King’s
emphasis on the sensual is commendable, but “Pleasure or Pain” itself is

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.