Those nostalgic for the bad old days of late-’80s/early-’90s direct-to-video erotic thrillers might get a twinge of guilty pleasure from “Strangers Online.” But anyone else is likely to find this a silly, cut-rate hash of bluntly delivered sexploitation and rote violence. Possibly the most lowbrow feature ever to open with a quote from Keats, John Huckert’s film is braving a June 24 theatrical opening on two Laemmle screens in Los Angeles before July 26 DVD release. Softcore-friendly cable is likely to prove the most welcoming outlet.
Hollis (Noel Palomaria, who also starred in the helmer/co-writer’s nasty but awkward 1998 gay serial-killer opus “Hard”) is amused host to Web radio station KSIN’s titular broadcast, a popular nightly call-in forum for people seeking sexual advice or simply an outlet for their exhibitionism. Offline, he’s in therapy dealing with the nightmares he’s had since his wife was stabbed to death in their bed four years earlier — an unsolved crime some suspect he committed himself. Meanwhile, he’s in a new live-in relationship with Laura (Eva Frajko), despite female fans throwing themselves at him at every opportunity.
As the usual ominous synthesizer music warns in every other scene, a cast full of L.A. hardbodies inclined toward frequent gratuitous nudity — including, natch, some babes enjoying themselves too much in hot tubs and twentysomethings posing as horny jailbait — is surely at risk of murder most foul. Looking particularly suspicious are Hollis’ new intern, Karen (Tara Killian), who emits “Play Misty for Me” stalker vibes from her first day on the job; “Sick Rick,” a creepy frequent caller facially obscured by a plastic mask; and Zeke (Michael Waite), a hermit/voyeur living near Hollis. When Hollis publicly proposes to Laura, Karen goes off the rails, though by then half the cast seems eligible for a stay in the funny farm.
Perfs are variable, packaging adequate within ultra-low-budget constraints, with OK pacing even if the pic would have benefited from a more compact length. Veteran scream queen Linnea Quigley has a cameo as a caller; if a latenight spent with some of her golden oldies like “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers,” “Robot Ninja” or “Stripteaser” sounds appealing, you might get a few yucks from “Strangers Online.”