Everybody’s Doing It…or Are They?

The final Fifty Shades movie hits theaters this weekend steaming up cineplexes everywhere.  These days, “sexy” movies are a rarity.  But not so long ago, movies were filled with racy scenes that were rumored to be the real deal.  In this article from Movieline’s 1993 “Sex” issue, Martha Frankel and her friends try to figure out how much Method acting went into some famous sex scenes.

Long after a sexy movie’s made its way to the bargain bin at your video store, the gossip lingers on: were the stars making love for real when those steamy scenes were filmed? An informal survey of the movies most whispered about separates the acting from the act.

When we were teenagers, my friend Paula and I would spend hours playing what we called “the bed game.” The rules were simple: one of us would name two people we admired from afar–they could have been writers or doctors or accountants, but somehow they always wound up being actors and actresses–and the other one had to describe what these two would do to each other in bed. The older we got, the more graphic the game became. All Paula would have to say was “then he put his toe…” and we would have to run to different sides of the house, so that our hysteria would have some bounds.

It’s been years since I’ve spoken with Paula, and years since I’ve played the game, but every once in a while, a rumor will surface about some sex scene that supposedly was really enacted in front of the cameras, and all I can think is that Paula and I were on the right track.

Now, most of these rumors are probably started by publicity people hoping to attract large crowds to the theaters or video stores, but some of them just refuse to die. In the interest of fairness, I invited my girlfriends over to watch–and rewatch–those sex scenes that are supposed to be real. Paula, we sorely missed you.

Don’t Look Now

Only Nic Roeg, when he was brilliant, could have directed this amazing film. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland are a couple whose daughter dies accidentally (watching Sutherland’s reaction to the child’s drowning is a seminal movie going experience, although I admit that has nothing to do with this article). They travel to Venice, where Sutherland is renovating some churches, and fall in with a blind psychic who can “see” the dead daughter. The movie is full of frightening images and horrific pain, but that’s not the reason people have talked about it ever since its release.

It was the sex scene, which many people still rank as the hottest thing ever to be filmed. It’s really just a simple domestic scene, involving two people who are in love . . . no humiliation, no manipulation, no violence. (Why hasn’t anyone ever thought to find this sexy, before or since?) It begins as Christie takes a bath and Sutherland a shower. We watch them drying off, Christie kidding Sutherland about his love handles. Then they are lying on the bed, Christie in her robe, Sutherland naked. She tells him he has toothpaste all over his mouth. “Eat it off,” he says, leaning toward her. A piano concerto begins–which I always like as background music, don’t you?–and we never hear another word from them. Christie begins to stroke his naked back. They kiss. We flash-forward to her putting on her sweater afterwards. Then we flashback: she’s on top, naked. We go forward again to Sutherland getting into his pants. Back: she licks his armpits. Forward: he pulls up his zipper; she steps into her underpants. Back: he’s on top, beginning to sweat. You can almost smell them. Christie is incandescent. And when she reaches between her legs, the look on Sutherland’s face says that she’s hit pay dirt.

My friend Annie and I watched this scene a dozen times, although, strictly speaking, we didn’t need to: we were convinced from the first time that Christie and Sutherland weren’t pretending.  When I had a chance to ask Roeg, straight out, if they really screwed each other during the filming, he laughed his wicked little laugh, gave me a wink, and wouldn’t say a word.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Here we get to see Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange before they were caricatures of themselves. Did they really do it? Would Jack have dared, with Anjelica Huston in the same film? Whadda you think?

Nicholson plays a drifter who winds up at the garage/restaurant owned by Lange and her Greek husband. Jack takes him up on his offer of a job because he lusts after the pretty wife who bakes in the kitchen. Lange’s cold to him. That excites Nicholson even more. He attacks her one night in the kitchen. She resists. He thinks this means she really wants him. Turns out, he’s right, she does. And so he has his way with her right on the table where the loaves of bread are rising. Dough and flour go flying. The fact that Jessica is wearing a ’30s-style garter belt is part of the turnon. She diddles herself and then Jack moves her fingers away and inserts his own.

Linda and I decided that all this diddling looked real, but was actually all smoke and mirrors. We figured Jack was probably winking the whole time and rushing off to be with Anjelica, who plays a lion tamer he later screws. In the movie, I mean.

Basic Instinct

Nice snatch, terrible film. Since my friends and I didn’t get to see the scene where Michael Douglas has his mouth on that snatch–the unrated video wasn’t out yet–it’s hard to say if the sex here is real. When Sharon Stone is on top, Douglas seems too relaxed. When he’s on top, his drooping ass is all anyone can focus on. Nah, I don’t buy it for a minute. Sharon Stone seems too witty to stoop that low.

Angel Heart

I can just imagine the pitch meeting for this film. “Okay, we get this guy, he’s a dick. I mean, like in private eye. Ha, ha. So anyway, he’s hired to find a guy who’s missing. The dick’s name is Harry Angel, the guy who’s missing is Johnny Favorite. Okay? So anyway, the guy who hires Mr. Angel, his name is Louis Cyphre. Like Lucifer. The devil. Get it? Anyway, we get, oh, like… hey we get Robert De Niro to play the devil. Yeah, yeah, that’s good.

“Okay, so Angel has to try to find this guy, and there’s some nonsense voodoo, we’ll figure that part out later, but there’s a lot of chickens and blood and killing. Are you with me so far? Okay, good, so we get, like, Mickey Rourke to play Angel, that’ll be casting against type. And then he finds a girl who might be Johnny Favorite’s daughter, some beautiful mulatto–maybe Lisa Bonet plays her. He’s poking around in some bushes and he hears a noise: It’s her, all right, wearing a dress that is open so one of her tits is sticking out and she’s dancing to this wild voodoo music. And over her head, she has a live chicken. Yeah, a live one. And she cuts its throat and the blood spills all over her and she rubs it into her tits and humps the ground. Man, it’ll be wild.

“And somehow, she and Rourke get together to fuck, and this is the best part…he imagines that he’s cutting her throat and strangling her while he’s sticking it to her, and there’s blood dripping on her naked ass and he’s pumping real hard and maybe hurting her, maybe not. It’s hard to tell what’s real here. So get me Mr. De Niro on the phone, will ya?”

Not much more to say, except that I don’t believe for a minute that they really did it. In any case, I hope Lisa Bonet got paid a fortune. And invested it wisely.

Wild Orchid

If there’s a plot in this movie, I failed to understand it. It has something to do with Carré Otis being a brilliant lawyer (fluent in five or six languages) and Jacqueline Bisset being her boss, a tough bitch lawyer who likes to dance and dress up as a man. They go to Rio to do a deal, but Bisset has to rush off someplace. While Otis is walking through the ruins of a hotel (hey, I didn’t write it), she comes upon a naked black couple doing the nasty. (There was no doubt in any of our minds that this couple is definitely doing it for real, but then that’s not surprising, because they’re extras.) Otis is embarrassed, mortified. How mortified? She stays and watches till they both come.

But that’s only the beginning. Now she has to fill in for her boss on a date. You guessed it: the date is Mickey Rourke.

Otis shows up with her hair watered down. Rourke shows up with his skin smeared with oil. He talks dirty. She flees. He follows. Later on, Rourke makes her watch as another couple has sex in the back of a limousine (and these two definitely aren’t doing it for real–they’re co-stars, not extras). The next day, Rourke makes her have sex with another man while he watches from below (we couldn’t tell if it was real, but we didn’t care, either). My friend Alice summed up the movie so far by saying, “You could vomit,” and then left the room.

The plot gets more complicated: Rourke gets to ride a Harley (proving what a terrific actor he is); Bisset has sex with a beach boy while Otis translates; the deal goes through. Thank God. Maybe now they can get out of this damp, humid place.

But no. It’s like the last circle of hell . . . before Otis can get out, she has to fuck Mickey. We see him on top, her on top, him arching his back, her arching her back. He sweats, she moans, he sweats some more, she has an orgasm. To the naked eye, and with the video in freeze frame, it sure looks as if Mickey is playing hide the salami with Otis. Alice walked back in for the last 10 minutes and put it all in perspective: “This is definitely real,” she said. “Carre Otis is not a good enough actress to fake an orgasm.”


This is the film that finally answers the question, “How many people really want to see Judge Reinhold’s naked butt?” The resounding answer is: none. Perhaps that’s why this movie went straight to video.

The plot of Zandalee is even more improbable than its title. Judge Reinhold is a poet who can’t fuck. Nic Cage is an artist who can’t paint. They’ve been friends since they were little boys on the bayou, and now they’re both lusting after Zandalee (yes, it’s a name!), who is married to Reinhold, but begins an affair with Cage, who knows how to talk dirty. Got it?

The you-never-heard-of-her-before-and-probably-never-will-again Erika Anderson plays Zandalee with a range that goes from blank to blanker. She’s like a girl in a snuff film who has no idea what’s about to happen to her. To make up for her lack of talent, she prances around each scene with most or all of her clothes off. (This is the best part of the movie.)

Cage utters lines like, “We’re inevitable. I want to shake you naked and eat you alive, Zandalee,” and, “You want it and I want to give it to you. It’s a perfect relationship.” He and Zandalee also have conversations, like when he asks her, “Why’d you marry him?” When she replies, “Because he was a poet,” Cage asks, “Isn’t this poetry?” as he’s slipping his fingers into her underpants. Who are we to argue? But when my friend Val heard Cage say, “When I go in my kitchen and I make toast, I smell your skin,” she went berserk. “Did he say toast? Toast? Why would anyone fuck this guy? And if they did, why in hell would they admit it?”

Now, when it comes to determining whether Anderson and Cage were really having sex in front of the camera, or were just acting, there are a lot of scenes to consider. The inspired lovers have sex in an alley, sex on a clothes dryer (while Judge is in the next room talking to his family, for chrissakes) and, the coup de grace, sex in a church. Since Cage looked to us in all these exchanges of bodily fluid as if he hadn’t showered in a month, we considered the possibility that no actress would ever have really fucked him on- or off-camera. But, after endless watchings, Val and I agreed that the sex here was real, mainly because it’s the only time Erika Anderson didn’t look like she was in a coma.

9 1/2 Weeks

This is one of the most odious movies ever made. I have nothing against degradation and violence, as long as Mickey Rourke isn’t the perpetrator. Here he is, once again (remember Wild Orchid?), as one of the world’s richest men. Kim Basinger is an art dealer. He wants to take care of her: brush her hair, choose her clothes, blindfold her when they make love, force her to crawl across the floor, picking up dollar bills he’s dropped. And you thought you were having fun in your private life!

Basinger likes it. He sticks foreign objects in her mouth–cherries, hot peppers, Jell-O. She swallows. He screws her on a genuine Frank Lloyd Wright dining table. They don’t worry about scratching the finish. He screws her in back of some giant clock tower.  They’re not afraid of heights. He screws her in the rain, with water sluicing down all around. Neither of them catches cold. There’s something that looks very much like spittle on Rourke’s lips throughout, which Basinger seems to find appealing.

Could Kim Basinger have really done it with Mickey Rourke? Although I would be personally offended to find out she did, I wouldn’t be surprised. But in the end, my friend Kari and I found nothing believable in this film, except the zits on Rourke’s face.

Body Heat

I have always wished that the rumors about Kathleen Turner and William Hurt were true, if only because Turner had never been this thin and sexy before, and was never to be again, so I’ve always hoped that she got a little bang out of the buck, if you know what I mean.

There are three or four memorable sex scenes in this movie, especially the first one, where Hurt smashes in the window to Turner’s house and takes her on the floor. But my friends and I all agreed that the scene that sticks out (pardon the pun) is when they’re in bed, and the camera is overhead, and Turner reaches under the covers to … rub him. You sure can’t see any panty line, and it seems that what she grabs definitely belongs to Mr. Hurt. Well, anyway, it’s a wonderful scene, and if they are just acting, they’re both crazier than I thought.

Wild at Heart

The truth is, Nic Cage and Laura Dern screw so often in this movie that you can get sore and sticky just watching them. I won’t tire you with the story line, or with comments about Diane Ladd’s over-the-top performance, or with details regarding the medley of bit players who try to steal the whole shebang. My friends and I all feel that Laura Dern is a fantastic actress, more than able to fake multiple orgasms. Since Cage is the one she’d have to have been fucking, we just pray she wasn’t Method acting.

Last Tango in Paris

Ouch! The movie that did more for the dairy industry than a million milk commercials ever could.

Marlon Brando is looking for an apartment in Paris. The sexy Maria Schneider is looking at the same flat, and instead of flipping a coin, they screw standing up. (My friend Molly and I watched this and didn’t think it could be real: Molly observed, “His, uh, member would have to be 18 inches long.”)

Brando’s wife has just committed suicide. Schneider’s boyfriend is a filmmaker. Brando gets the apartment, but Schneider comes over to talk–and get laid. He won’t tell her his name or let her tell him hers: the ultimate zipless fuck.

Were any of this film’s sex scenes real? Well, Molly and I absolutely thought that Schneider’s look of pain in the much-discussed butter scene was convincing. Besides that, there’s not much else to say. It’s kind of boring to watch this movie now, but some of it is endearing, like when Schneider rubs Brando’s zipper and asks, “What’s this for?” “That’s your happiness,” Brando replies with a smile, “and my happ-penis.” They sure don’t write dialogue like they used to.


You probably haven’t seen this film, and I’m not really recommending it. You may just want to fast-forward to the very end, which was certainly what Nancy wanted us to do. “What’s the point in watching the whole thing,” she kvetched, “when all we want to see is the finale?” Disgusted, she left the room. “Call me in for the last half hour,” she told us. Anyway, in this movie, Bruce Dern is at his most deranged, which is saying something. He plays a heavily tattooed tattooist who has a crush on a model, Maud Adams, who must actually be a model ’cause she’s certainly no actress. When he’s asked to paint her body for a photo shoot, he does a beautiful job. He expects her to see what a genius he is, but when the shoot is over, she goes into the shower and washes his vision down the drain. She asks him out to dinner and, at the restaurant, he shows his charm by first shoving, then threatening to kill her ex-boyfriend. My kind of guy. Later, he invites her to his apartment in Hoboken for a Japanese dinner. She likes him and wants to fuck. He goes bananas and tells her never to say “fuck” in front of him again. (He thinks it’s crude.) She leaves. He goes to a peep show and talks dirty to the girl behind the glass.

When he calls, she asks him not to call again. So Bruce does the unexpected, which in some circumstances is a very nice quality, but not here, because he kidnaps her. Worse, he takes her to his family’s house on the beach in order to start tattooing her entire body against her will. Only then, he tells her, after she has “the mark,” will he have sex with her.

So, finally, she’s ready and he lays her on the floor to do it. (We called Nancy back in.) Unfortunately, by then, there’s something kind of comical about the two of them. They’re head-to-toe in these bright tattoos, and it’s like watching all the Disney characters at an orgy. The torment on Dern’s face made us believe that this was real, but, then, we really couldn’t have cared less.

Those were the films I viewed with my girlfriends. But then I remembered one more I’d seen:

Betty Blue

One day, my Aunt Tillie and I were tooling around Miami Beach, trying to think of something we could do to get away from the heat. We saw a marquee that said Betty Blue. “Sounds interesting,” she said. We went in.

In the first two minutes of the movie, Betty and her boyfriend Zorg went at it like no one’s business. I didn’t breathe or move my head. When it was over (they had simultaneous and powerful orgasms), Tillie turned to me and said, “Hmmmm. What’s this movie about?” I shrugged and asked if she wanted to leave. She didn’t want to. I love her for that.

Later on, when Zorg had his head between Betty’s legs and was definitely licking his way to heaven, Tillie turned to me and said, “Have you ever let a boy do that to you?” “Ssshh,” I answered, turning beet-red in the dark. “I’ll tell ya later.” For three hours after the movie ended, she made me give her a detailed list of what parts of my anatomy had been involved in various sexual acts. Sometimes she laughed, other times she just shook her head in wonder. “I was born too early,” was her only lament.

Oh, those wild Frenchmen . . . Zorg even had little drops of saliva on his lips when he brought his head up from between Betty’s legs. I’d bet my firstborn that this is the real deal.

Martha Frankel interviewed Spike Lee for our November issue.


Posted on February 9, 2018, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Fifty Shades’ Was A Missed Opportunity For Gender Parity (And Erotic Thrillers)

    I had to skip last night’s Fifty Shades Freed press screening, but I’ll be checking out a 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. showing tonight with the intent of posting a review tomorrow. As the critically reviled franchise comes to an end just three years after it began, it is worth noting how little of an impact it made. And it is worth asking, critical pans aside, whether its blowout success would have made more of an impact had it been a more conventional would-be smash hit.

    To wit, the first film burst onto the scene in February 2015 with the weight of the world on its shoulders. Like all too many female-led movies, it was tasked with “proving” that a specific time of a female-led film, in this case, an erotic drama, could make as much money as a conventional male-led action fantasy blockbuster. It was tasked with “proving” that woman directors could make the indie-to-blockbuster jump as well as any guy directors. And it offered a shot at proving the financial value of the long-discarded erotic thriller 28 years after Fatal Attraction.

    But here’s the kicker: It accomplished all those goals with flying colors, but the industry didn’t listen.

    Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel, who clashed with micromanaging author E.L. James, left the franchise. They were replaced — shocker! — by Mr. James Foley directing and James’ husband Mr. Niall Leonard adapting the second and third pictures. And despite making a $40 million picture that earned $571m worldwide (more than American Sniper, natch), Johnson did not have the industry throwing major projects at her feet anymore than Catherine Hardwicke became the toast of the town after Twilight.

    The film’s then-record $85 million Fri-Sun/$94m Fri-Mon debut over Presidents Day weekend was the biggest ever for a romantic drama or honestly any kind of straight non-fantasy/non-action drama (yes, I count American Sniper as an action movie). Yet, we’re still in a situation where each major f “big” movie starring girls and women has to prove that said movies can justify their lack of male leads or lack of stereotypical male moviegoer appeal. Even after Mamma Mia!, Twilight, Bridesmaids, The Hunger Games, Frozen, Lucy, The Force Awakens, Bad Moms and Hidden Figures, the notion of big female-led/female-driven/female-targeted movies are one Ghostbusters away from being sent back to the starting line.

    Had any other kind of film snagged a $94 million Fri-Mon debut and earned $571m worldwide on a $40m budget, there would be proverbial copycats. Yet we have not seen a single attempt to cash in on the (soon-to-be) $1 billion+ success of the Fifty Shades of Grey series in terms of other R-rated, lady-targeted erotic thrillers. And now, to add insult to injury, the industry is blaming the #MeToo movement for why we won’t get many/any “sexy” movies in the near future. Yes, because a franchise where a sexually abusive/harassing boss is the thwarted villain is totally not relevant escapism in 2018.

    Now I get the factors that led to the demise of the erotic thriller and the relative death onscreen sexuality in general. Blame the death of direct-to-video, the rise of online porn, YouTube turning actresses’ moments of onscreen sexuality into permanent “fantasizing” material and the general drive toward four-quadrant, PG-13 action fantasy tentpoles. The brief revival brought about by Basic Instinct in 1992 (and then kept alive by post-theatrical) arguably faded away, with the Rene Russo/Pierce Brosnan remake of The Thomas Crown Affair being somewhat noteworthy even in 1999 for having overt nudity during a passionate (and consensual) sex scene.

    But a genre is only dead until it scores a really big hit. Westerns were dead until Unforgiven, musicals were dead until Moulin Rouge, etc., etc. I will argue that Fifty Shades of Grey, even with its lousy reviews, was a big enough of a hit that it should have spawned at least a few shots at bringing back the erotic thriller, maybe something closer to Basic Instinct than 9 1/2 Weeks. That it didn’t happen allowed the franchise to rake in big bucks (since there was no competition) and represented a lost opportunity for a theatrical industry, especially if studios are going to continue to lean on VOD or at-home options as a source of income alongside theatrical.

    It wasn’t a total loss, as Dakota Johnson is the real deal, and Universal taught the industry (and themselves) a lesson in 2015 when they won the market share race with diverse/inclusive flicks of all sizes like Fifty Shades, Trainwreck, Furious 7 and Straight Outta Compton. But Sam Taylor-Johnson’s success didn’t make it easier for emerging woman directors to get the same opportunities as the likes of Colin Trevorrow or Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the erotic thriller utterly failed to make a comeback and every major female-led movie is still treated like a litmus test. Even if you think the Fifty Shades movies are bad, they could have done a lot of good if anyone was paying attention.


  2. The life and death of the American erotic thriller

    Three decades ago “Fatal Attraction” heralded the age of the erotic thriller — crime potboilers featuring leading men swapping suggestive dialogue and bodily fluids with bewitching but murderous femme fatales.

    Movies like “Basic Instinct” and “Sliver” enjoyed acclaim and big box office receipts during the 1990s, but within a few years the genre had died out, usurped by a new wave of smarter thrillers that swapped female flesh for sophisticated scriptwriting.

    But while the American appetite for erotic thrillers is at an all-time low, the genre is burgeoning abroad, with France’s “Stranger by the Lake” and “Blue is the Warmest Color” (both 2013), Italy’s “I Am Love” (2009) and China’s “Lust, Caution” (2007) all proving critical and box office hits.

    South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who first came to the notice of the West with his cult, neo-noir revenge movie “Oldboy” (2003), is hoping to tempt US fans of the genre back into the theater with his own foreign-language celebration of sex and intrigue.

    Due for release in the US on Friday, “The Handmaiden” tells the story of a Japanese heiress in 1930s occupied Korea and her affair with a Korean woman hired to be her maid — but secretly plotting to con her out of her fortune.

    Adapted from the award-winning Sarah Waters novel “Fingersmith,” the narrative is driven not just by its many lurid plot twists but also scenes of explicit, meticulously choreographed lesbian sex.

    It captivated South Koreans in June, attracting a record 1.8 million cinemagoers, and has since amassed a respectable $32 million and has been sold to 175 countries.

    It received mainly glowing reviews after showing at the Cannes Film Festival but some critics bemoaned Park’s penchant for stylized excess and shock tactics.

    Park says he holds in high regard many American erotic thrillers from the 1990s, including “Basic Instinct” and lesbian mafia story “Bound” (1996), directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski three years before they made “The Matrix.”

    Acrobatic sex

    “But it wasn’t a question of me saying I’m sad to see this genre dying out and wanted to bring it back. There was nothing like that going on,” Park told AFP during a recent visit to Los Angeles.

    “When I set out to make this film it was purely a function of me being drawn to the source material.”

    Historians trace the roots of the US erotic thriller to the early 1970s, when the runaway success of adult movie “Deep Throat” emboldened conventional filmmakers to push the boundaries on sexual content in movies such as “Last Tango in Paris.”

    American director Brian De Palma took erotica out of the arthouse and into the mainstream with 1980’s “Dressed To Kill,” starring Michael Caine, and followed it up seven years later with the steamy “Body Double.”

    But it was another film released in 1987 — Adrian Lyne’s manic slasher “Fatal Attraction” — that defined the genre, packing out theaters, getting multiple Oscar nominations and enriching the English language with the term “bunny boiler.”

    Paul Verhoeven’s sleazy but sexy whodunnit “Basic Instinct” took the erotic thriller downmarket in 1992 but became one of the biggest hits of the decade, grossing $353 million worldwide.

    The movie — about a novelist who stabs her victims with an ice pick while engaged in acrobatic sex acts — famously featured an interrogation scene in which Sharon Stone crosses and uncrosses her legs to reveal she isn’t wearing any underwear.

    “If ‘Fatal Attraction’ was the erotic thriller genre’s ‘Jaws,’ then ‘Basic Instinct’ was its ‘Star Wars,’” writes Ryan Lambie of the film reviews website Den of Geek.

    Conservative values

    The film led an upsurge of erotic thrillers, with cult hit “Poison Ivy,” Stone’s next film “Sliver,” Madonna’s “Body of Evidence” and “Disclosure,” all cashing in on the public’s appetite for sex and death.

    But a succession of lower quality erotic thrillers bombed at the box office as apathy for the genre set in.

    In 1996, Wes Craven’s smart, self-referential slasher movie “Scream” opened the floodgates for a slew of ironic, postmodern thrillers, often with big stars but almost no nudity.

    Audiences had come to expect more from their serial killers than bodice-ripping bonking by the time the much delayed critical and box office disaster “Basic Instinct 2” came out in 2006.

    Some analysts have blamed the rise of internet pornography for stripping erotic thrillers of their mystique while others claim a resurgence in conservative values following the election of US President George W Bush in 2001 finished off the genre.

    Shawn Robbins, a senior analyst at, believes the erotic thriller died out simply because the world moved on, as it always does.

    “I think this is largely due to a cyclical shift in cultural tastes, especially among thriller and horror fans,” he told AFP.

    “Certain genres tend to follow — or set — trends for a certain era, and in recent years those have gravitated toward more supernatural and psychological scare tactics.”/rga


    • The rise and fall of the erotic thriller

      Once full of big-star actors and capable of pulling in huge audiences, the erotic thriller’s fortunes faded by the end of the 90s. Ryan charts the genre’s rise and fall…

      Ryan Lambie
      Jul 16, 2012

      Between 1987 and 1993, Michael Douglas was the undisputed, bare-bottomed prince of the erotic thriller. With the one-two box-office punch of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, Douglas inadvertently sparked a brief, halcyon age of thrillers featuring lusty glances, rustling sheets and heaving bare bosoms. But by the end of the 90s, the American erotic thriller, in popular terms, was effectively spent. So what happened?

      The erotic thriller’s roots can be traced back to early detective fiction, but its appearance in cinema was only made possible when the Hays Code died in the 1960s. Thereafter, erotic movies such as Blowup (1966) and Last Tango In Paris (1972) pushed the boundaries of what could be shown in mainstream movies – and by the mid-70s, you no longer had to head to a sleazy fleapit to watch a movie containing lots of bare flesh.

      The arrival of Deep Throat (1972), meanwhile, ushered in an age of porno chic, where respected critics and cool celebrities like Jack Nicholson were suddenly talking in evangelical terms about the aesthetic power of hardcore sex movies – at the very least, people were openly admitting to watching and enjoying porn, which was something of a paradigm shift in an age before the Internet placed all manner of filth in the palm of one’s hand, so to speak.

      The problem with films like Blowup, Last Tango In Paris and Japan’s In The Realm Of The Senses, from a Hollywood point of view, was that they were artistic films made by directors with posh-sounding names like Antonioni, Bertolucci and Oshima. These kinds of movies were fine for the arthouse crowd, but their intellectual musings (not to mention Marlon Brando’s arse butter requests) alienated them from mainstream audiences, and therefore the kind of ticket sales that have executives rubbing their trouser creases in anticipation.

      It took a director with trashier, sleazier sensibilities to truly launch the erotic thriller, and Brian De Palma’s 1980 film Dressed To Kill was like Hitchcock’s Psycho crossed with a smutty airport novel. An infusion of faintly ridiculous Dario Argento-style murders and lingering shots of naked ladies, Dressed To Kill was tailor-made to provoke mild outrage.

      Dressed To Kill’s violence against women was met with harsh criticism from feminist groups, while the revelation that a body double was used in its opening sequence (a stand-in for veteran actress Angie Dickinson) apparently left some viewers feeling angry and somehow slighted.

      Fulfilling the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity – particularly when you’re selling something full of sex and violence – Dressed To Kill was a hit, even though its most enduring image is that of Michael Caine in a skirt and full makeup.

      Other thrillers followed, each with their own varied dash of sexiness, from the acclaimed neo-noir Body Heat (1981) to De Palma’s Body Double (1987), which attempted to shake up the same sex-and-violence cocktail as Dressed To Kill, but with less financial success.

      In terms of box-office, 1987 was the erotic thriller’s year zero. Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, made for a relative snip at just $14 million, rapidly became a pop-culture phenomenon, earning the respects of critics and the Academy, as well as tumescent ticket sales.

      Michael Douglas starred as Dan, a wealthy, happily married chap who embarks on what he expects to be a brief, gymnastic weekend affair with high-flying editor, Alex (Glenn Close). Unfortunately for Dan and his family pets, Alex sees their tryst as more than just a fling, and as Dan makes repeated attempts to distance his mistress from his cosy family life, her obsession grows and violence escalates.

      Fatal Attraction famously introduced the term ‘bunny boiler’– an amusing yet off-hand term that arose from the film’s mid-point shift from believable drama to histrionic slasher thriller. Glenn Close’s portrayal of mental instability is exceptionally wrought (and deserving of her Best Actress Oscar nomination), which could easily forgotten as the plot has her flip over the edge into full-on, knife-wielding mania.

      The original ending, which saw Alex commit suicide and effectively frame Dan for her murder, tested badly in early screenings, so a more action-packed conclusion was shot in which Alex is gunned down by Dan’s wife, Beth (Anne Archer), leaving the family to live happily ever after.

      Audiences, it seemed, were more interested in a more simplistic portrayal of women on the rampage, and with its new ending, Fatal Attraction could be marketed as a more saleable erotic thriller rather than a murky relationship drama – in the process, director Adrian Lyne had inadvertently created an entire new subgenre.

      It’s worth pausing here to give a passing mention to Sea Of Love, a thriller starring Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin. Released in 1989, it was a sizeable hit, helped by the smouldering tension between its two leads and a quite amusing final twist that appears to have inspired the writers of the romantic comedy thriller, So I Married An Axe Murderer.

      At any rate, Sea Of Love isn’t one of Pacino’s most commonly-discussed movies these days – probably because it was stuck between the zeitgeist-grabbing Fatal Attraction, and Paul Verhoeven’s equally hyped Basic Instinct. The same could also be said of several other thrillers released between 1987 and 1992, including the excellent Angel Heart, with its pitch-black infusion of horror, and the Richard Gere/Kim Basinger flick Final Analysis; neither film did well at the box-office.

      If Fatal Attraction was the erotic thriller genre’s Jaws, then Basic Instinct was its Star Wars. Entirely lacking that earlier film’s attempts at characterisation or emotional complexity, Basic Instinct made a star out of its icy femme fatale Sharon Stone, and took almost $353 million on a $49 million budget.

      Basic Instinct was written by Joe Eszterhas, who rather cheekily, you might say, reworked the plot of his own less successful Jagged Edge (1985). Like Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct is a whodunit with a suspect list with only one name on it: in this case, randy crime novelist Catherine Tramell (Stone) who may or not have stabbed to death a rock star during the final throes of coitus.

      Michael Douglas plays Nick Curran, a hot-blooded cop with an unfortunate taste in V-neck sweaters. His investigations into the Tramell case inevitably end in the suspect’s bedroom, where director Paul Verhoeven regales the viewer with a series of hyper-stylised sex scenes that look like sweaty aerobics videos.

      Assorted sequences of violence and intrigue are splashed across the screen, but these were of secondary importance to Basic Instinct’s graphic set-pieces – one, involving Catherine Tramell and a surprising absence of underwear, was repeatedly freezeframed and lampooned for years afterwards.

      Some critics were unimpressed by Verhoeven’s sensationalistic mix of icy violence and sultry carnality, and the film was harshly criticised by gay rights activists for its content, but like Dressed To Kill years earlier, the controversy merely added to the box-office hysteria.

      What’s more, Basic Instinct taught Hollywood producers an important lesson: to make a hit movie, all you needed was a thriller script, a suggestive title, and a couple of actors with full gym membership and a willingness to take their clothes off.

      There followed an explosion of thrillers, which all contained sex or nudity to some extent. These ranged from the low-budget – Poison Ivy, starring Drew Barrymore, and Blown Away, starring Corey Haim and Nicole Egert – to the high-profile, such as Single White Female.

      As movie and television producers fell all over themselves in the rush to get their own erotic thrillers onto the large and small screen, even princess of pop Madonna decided to get in on the act.

      A mix of courtroom drama and bedroom drama, Body Of Evidence was released in 1993 to almost universal derision. Bizarrely pairing Madonna’s femme fatale S&M enthusiast with Willem Dafoe’s hapless lawyer, the movie wasn’t the rousing success its producers had surely intended. Nor, for that matter, was William Friedkin’s Jade (1995) or the queasy Boxing Helena, which became more famous for its public legal battles concerning Kim Basinger.

      In the months after Basic Instinct, only Sliver (1993) came anywhere close to replicating the earlier movie’s success, largely because lead actress Sharon Stone was still a major star – from a critical perspective, the film fared little better than Body Of Evidence.

      As the 90s wore on, the erotic thrillers kept coming. Most were awful – particularly Bruce Willis’ disastrous Color Of Night (1994), in which he played a psychoanalyst with psychosomatic colour blindness, and engaged in screaming swimming pool sex with Jane Marsh, an actress half his age.

      Fittingly, Michael Douglas starred in the second most successful erotic thriller of the 90s – Barry Levinson’s Disclosure (1994), based on a novel by Michael Crichton. Its mixture of star-filled cast (which paired Demi Moore with Douglas, with Donald Sutherland in a memorable supporting role) and hot-topic premise (the sexual harassment of men in the workplace) saw it head straight to the top of the box-office, where it earned $214 million.

      Just as Douglas’ “Greed is good” line from Wall Street summed up the 80s, so Disclosure’s “Sex is power” tagline captured the 90s preoccupation with sexual politics. Outside the erotic thriller genre, Indecent Proposal (directed by Adrian Lyne) was a huge hit. Many feminists weren’t impressed by what they saw as Indecent Proposal’s regressive premise – “I’ll give you a million dollars for a night with your wife” – but the movie made around $266 million in any case.

      After 1994, audience apathy towards erotic thrillers began to set in. This would explain why even some of the better-made erotic thrillers (The Last Seduction, Bound, Crash and Wild Things, for example) were ignored by cinema-goers.

      The erotic thriller limped on into the 21st century, but movies such as Unfaithful (2002) and In The Cut (2003) did tepid business. The subgenre’s death knell came in 2006 with the belated sequel, Basic Instinct 2. In development hell for years, the resulting film reintroduced Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell; older, now dwelling in London, and still as dangerous as ever.

      The film was little short of a disaster. Not only did it lack the trashy spark of the original, Basic Instinct 2 was also missing Verhoeven’s sly streak of humor. David Morrissey replaced Michael Douglas as Tramell’s bedroom partner and potential victim, and he seemed ill at ease with the task; his glum, terse performance aptly summed up the dourness of the film as a whole. With Basic Instinct 2, it seemed that even filmmakers had lost interest in erotic thrillers – audiences had, at any rate, if the movie’s flaccid box-office performance is anything to go by.

      In the wake of Basic Instinct 2’s failure, various culprits were fingered as the reason for the erotic thriller’s apparent loss of steam. Some blamed the Internet, with the ready availability of pornography robbing the genre of its mystique. Some even blamed the Republicans.

      Interviewed for a Hollywood Reporter article in 2006, Paul Verhoeven said, “We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends.”

      In reality, we suspect it was the quality of the movies following Basic Instinct that ultimately undid the erotic thriller, and not George W Bush. Most of the writers who tackled the genre after 1992 were shockingly unimaginative, and seemed content to trot out the same stock whodunit or woman-on-the-rampage plots with little in the way of flair or irony.

      Of course, genres are constantly coming in and out of fashion, and it’s possible that, like disaster movies, westerns and musicals, the erotic thriller will again have its day. With the kinkily erotic novel 50 Shades Of Grey currently being made into a movie following its huge success in paperback form, it’s just possible that the erotic thriller will also rise again in due course.


      • Is The Erotic Thriller Dead?

        By John Perich @perich
        Aug 6, 2015 at 10:00am

        Among the many ways that the second season of True Detective has disappointed its fans, the tepid sexual intrigue deserves a footnote. We were promised three broken cops descending into a morass of decadence that would twist their souls. Instead, we got a city manager with a prediliction for watching prostitutes screw each other, a kink so mild it barely deserves its own subreddit. Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is violently repressing a same-sex hookup during his tour in Afghanistan, a story which Brokeback Mountain only made interesting through gorgeous direction and detailed character development. And Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) has sexual hangups you could pull from a screenwriter’s manual: repressed abuse as a child, manifested as violence and bitterness as an adult.

        Itemizing the ways True Detective falls flat got me thinking about the ways it could have gone the distance. “If these sexual intrigues are dull and predictable,” I asked myself, “what would have made them more interesting?” I ran through a few scenarios in my head–maybe Paul can’t get off unless his adrenaline’s pumping; maybe Ani needs coke or amyl nitrates–but none of these would have helped Season 2’s (ahem) performance issues. Worse, it felt like they’d been done before.

        Which has me wondering whether it is even possible to make an engaging story of sexual intrigue anymore? Is the era of the erotic thriller over?

        While all thrillers can have sex–where would James Bond be without it?–an erotic thriller derives its thrills from sex. It relies on the twin prongs of stimulation and shame associated with sex, especially with more exotic sex acts, to heighten narrative tension. The genre arose in the late Seventies and early Eighties, as neo-noir and relaxed film codes led to a more frank depiction of sexuality onscreen (not to mention the ways in which the introduction of premium cable and home video greased the path to profitability). But they peaked in the Nineties and have declined in popularity since.

        Is Hollywood still making erotic thrillers? Gone Girl had sexual elements, weird and normal, but the chief tension came from the whodunnit at the center. The Loft wove a tale of cheating and privilege, but audiences and critics panned it. Studios may release the occasional tale of sex and danger, but they don’t command national attention the way Basic Instinct did.

        What explains the decline in this once popular genre? We can point to a number of factors.

        First, fewer actresses market themselves as femmes fatales in this century, and every erotic thriller needs one. This isn’t to suggest there aren’t any: Jennifer Lawrence took a stab at it in Serena, and Anne Hathaway’s Hitchockian turn in The Dark Knight Rises proves she has the chops for it. But it seems like contemporary leading actresses would rather establish themselves as action superstars, strong leaders, or comic dazzlers than as seductresses. No one’s aiming to capture the world’s attention the way Kathleen Turner did with her debut in Body Heat, or Linda Fiorentino with her starmaking turn in The Last Seduction. Frankly, this isn’t a bad thing–the very idea of the “femme fatale” is a bit dated–but it means fewer starlets to cast.

        Second, growing movie budgets have made mid-tier thrillers less feasible for big studios. Over the last thirty-five years, the cost of marketing a movie alone has tripled in 2014 dollars. 2015’s The Boy Next Door likely wouldn’t have been released if Jennifer Lopez hadn’t championed it through her own production company and deliberately kept the budget small ($4MM). In the era of comic book blockbusters, YA dystopias, and Oscar-bait historical epics, a successful erotic thriller isn’t impossible, but it’s much less likely.

        Finally, and perhaps most importantly, sexuality has become less shameful over the last forty years. Characters that were homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual were still fringe enough behaviors to hang a thriller on in the Eighties or Nineties, whereas today, Orange is the New Black features all three among its supporting cast. Fifty Shades of Grey, as hackneyed as its depictions of kink may have been, went a long way toward mainstreaming bondage and other formerly hushed practices. Cheating on one’s perfect wife with a sexually voracious stranger might have been enough for Fatal Attraction to build a script off of. Today, it’d produce yawns.

        You could also make the case that shame has also become less shameful in the 21st Century. People still have their lives ruined by secrets, stalking, and harassment campaigns — all elements you’d find in a good erotic thriller. But the very idea of sexual intrigue presumes that people in power have something to hide. In the era of social media, people in power are marked by their willingness to share, whether it’s Donald Trump taking shots at Lindsey Graham or 50 Cent thumbing his nose at his own bankruptcy filing. How long could Matt Dillon have kept things going with both Denise Richards and Neve Campbell if Wild Things had been set in the age of Snapchat?

        While none of the above make an erotic thriller impossible in the 2010s, they all contribute to making them less likely to reach the pop cultural heights that Basic Instinct or The Crying Game did in their heyday. Perhaps the erotic thriller isn’t dead–merely sleeping, coiled under rumpled sheets in a slatted sunbeam, waiting to select its next victim. In the meantime, streaming video has given us more than enough classics to sate our decadent appetites.


        • Is ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ The End Of The Erotic Thriller? The Future Of The Genre Is Up For Grabs

          3 days ago

          Fifty Shades Freed marks the end of an era. The massively successful Fifty Shades franchise made a mark on film history with its daring sex scenes and on screen exploration of light BDSM, but with the third and final film hitting theaters, the future of the erotic thriller is up in the air. There is no question that erotic thrillers existed before Fifty Shades of Grey first hit theaters in 2015, and it’s likely they will continue to exist after the release of Fifty Shades Freed. But what Hollywood should be asking is how the legacy of Fifty Shades will change the genre in years to come.

          Contrary to popular belief, Fifty Shades of Grey is not the most sexually explicit narrative film ever made. The movie doesn’t even feature full frontal male nudity, and neither does its sequel Fifty Shades Darker or the final film in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed. Nor were there ever rumors that the actors involved had sex on set, unlike rumors that surrounded the productions of Nymphomaniac (2013) and The Lover (1992). But even without those two things, Fifty Shades of Grey proved to be widely controversial, both when E.L. James’ book was published in 2011 and again when the movie adaptation was released in 2015. Looking back, the controversy seems to have been mainly fueled by the story’s mainstream appeal. All of a sudden, movies about dark sexual fantasies and BDSM were normal, not stuck on the cultural fringes.

          You see, in the ’80s and ’90s, erotic thrillers were much more common in Hollywood. Films like Wild Things (1998), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), A Kiss Before Dying (1991), and Fatal Attraction (1987) weren’t always successful at the box office (Fatal Attraction made $320 million worldwide while Eyes Wide Shut capped out at $162 million), but they did get made. In the 2000s, however, the production of erotic thrillers slowed, almost disappearing form the mainstream. Until, that is, Fifty Shades of Grey.

          A few factors made Fifty Shades of Grey the mainstream hit that it was. First, there was the bestselling book it’s based on, but beyond that, what helped the film get worldwide recognition was how it catered to a female audience. Instead of focusing on the male gaze and male pleasure, the film was solely focused on women. Ana’s sexual pleasure was prioritized consistently throughout the film, and she was its driving protagonist — something that could be attributed to the team of women behind the scenes. Fifty Shades of Grey was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, written by Kelly Marcel, and edited by a team of three women, Anne V. Coates, Lisa Gunning, and Debra Neil-Fisher. (All of whom, it should be noted, were replaced by men on Fifty Shades Darker.)

          Past erotic thrillers directed by men, like Basic Instinct, were typically about a man who is seduced by an overly sexualized, and therefore dangerous, woman. And they were successful. Basic Instinct made $352.9 million worldwide on a $49 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo, and earned two Oscar nominations. But Fifty Shades of Grey was bigger. By focusing on a female audience, the Fifty Shades series has not only re-invented the erotic thriller for the 21st century, it has also turned a niche, male-driven genre into a mainstream, female-targeted goldmine. The first film, which was heavily marketed towards women, made $571 million worldwide on a $40 million budget, according to Forbes. And, according to The LA Times, the audience of the film’s $94 million opening weekend was 70 percent female.

          And it’s not a fluke phenomenon. Magic Mike, a sexy film similarly sold to female audiences, made over $167 million worldwide on a budget of just $7 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Its sequel Magic Mike XXL, essentially a love letter to heterosexual women’s desires, made $122.5 million on a $12.8 million budget. It might be a far cry from the billions of dollars generated by superhero franchises, but it’s enough to prove that studios can, in fact, make female-centered sexy movies and make a hefty profit.

          In Hollywood, more money usually means more movies. However, since 2015, there have only been a few other erotic thrillers to hit the big screen. And those that have often punished women for sexual desires (Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor) or returned to the tired jealous woman trope (Unforgettable). They were also nowhere near as sexually explicit, feminist, or successful, as Fifty Shades. The Magic Mike franchise is comparable, but lacks the female protagonist and female pleasure reflected on screen that Fifty Shades so selflessly provides. As of 2018, the franchise remains one of a kind.

          Looking forward, it doesn’t exactly seem like Fifty Shades has started a new trend of erotic thrillers. A quick look at future releases reveal none on the horizon in 2018 save March’s Acrimony, though that film seems to be more about revenge than sex. And, looking at the early pushback to the #MeToo movement, Hollywood might be suffering from a bit of cold feet when it comes to green lighting more risqué content, especially when it blurs the lines of sexual consent as Fifty Shades does. The series has, rightly, been criticized for portraying a controlling relationship as romantic, as well as for promoting unsafe amateur BDSM. Consent, though widely discussed in the first two films, can feel coercive, making the films sometimes hard to stomach even to the female audience it is meant to serve.

          “The studios and financiers are going to be conscientious of putting something out there that could alienate audiences and restrict the potentiality of the film,” producer David Permut told The Hollywood Reporter, speaking about the #MeToo movement. Permut, who recently worked on Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, should know firsthand that studios still like to take chances. Still, he has a point. While Hollywood has consistently proven itself willing to bet on the rehabilitation of white men (i.e. Gibson) and on violent content that pushes the envelope, it has never given women or their stories the same benefit. Fear of failure might not have been enough to dissuade studios from backing a Gibson movie, but it could be enough to keep them from investing in sexual content for women.

          A 2016 study from USC’s Institute for Diversity and empowerment at Annenberg found that men held roughly 80 percent of leadership positions at major studios (including seats on the board, and executive positions). And as long as men control the purse strings in Hollywood, the success of the Fifty Shades franchise might not be enough to usher in a new wave of feminist-leaning erotic thrillers, as much as female audiences might want them.


      • The Gruesome Demise of the 90s Erotic Thriller

        The sexy, transgressive film genre that spawned “Basic Instinct” and “Fatal Attraction” is long gone. What happened?

        From our Clueless-quoting love of teen films to the ubiquitous choker, millennial culture is no stranger to 90s nostalgia. But one cultural product of the decade seems to have quietly died out: the erotic thriller. These overheated Hollywood crime dramas typically featured psychotic women and dirty sex scenes, but are now mostly ignored or forgotten entirely. The erotic thriller was a distinctive genre, and is now seen as a bad-taste beacon of Hollywood past. But is its dismissal deserved, or do films like The Last Seduction offer something more revealing about how women were seen at the time?

        It’s hard to deny that the framework of most erotic thrillers is misogynistic. Fatal Attraction might be the worst offender—a bunny-boiling homewrecker (Glenn Close) is the villain of the tale, while the married man who sleeps with her is absolved of guilt. The typical woman of the erotic thriller—Sharon Stone’s icy Catherine Trammell in Basic Instinct or Linda Fiorentino’s brusque Bridget in The Last Seduction—is manipulative and brilliant, enjoys casual sex but uses it as a tool to get what she wants, and is utterly amoral.

        David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl employs a similar trope, but this female antagonist has largely disappeared from the landscape of contemporary film. When Fatal Attraction was released in 1987, it was critically lauded and commercially successful, becoming the highest-grossing film worldwide that year. Given the genre’s popularity at the time, and the direct-to-video spinoff market it spawned, there are few traces of the erotic thriller left on the culture it once dominated. As film critic Matthew Turner, who co-hosts Fatal Attractions, a podcast on the genre, puts it: “Modern versions these days (e.g. Beyonce in Obsessed or Rosario Dawson in Unforgettable) seem to fall flat and don’t strike a chord with audiences.”

        At the British Film Institute, programmers of the ongoing Thriller season are looking to interrogate and reconsider what the erotic thriller stood for and what its popularity meant. “Even in the cinephile community, erotic thrillers are often mocked,” BFI programmer Anna Bogutskaya tells me.

        But audiences of the time were evidently hungry for dark, transgressive cinema that could also be thrillingly sexual. Many prominent erotic thrillers were written and directed by men, and it’s clear that their softcore gaze is mostly trained on the female body. There’s no lack of bouncing breasts in erotic thrillers, but there is remarkably little pay-off when it comes to Michael Douglas showing skin in Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct. At least as far as hetero women are concerned, the undressed male star is few and far between.

        With that one-sided gaze in place, the erotic thriller is more concerned with exploiting—and then condemning—the feminine wiles of its women, rather than offering genuine sensuality. Still, Bogutskaya thinks there are other vicarious thrills to be found in the genre. “Even the most failed of erotic thrillers still present active, overtly sexual, overtly ambitious, driven women,” she tells me.

        It’s true: These women may be villains, but they also aggressively reclaim the word “slut.” They tend to be cheerfully promiscuous: Catherine in Basic Instinct brazenly tells the police that she likes a man who can give her pleasure. In The Last Seduction, Bridget calls her rube boyfriend her “designated fuck” and laughs when he says he feels like a sex object. These women actively reject domesticity in all its forms, sniping about “hating rugrats” and holding intimidatingly high-powered careers as stockbrokers and novelists.

        They’re a man’s worst nightmare, and there’s a certain power in that. A full-blown female psychopath is still relatively rare to behold in mainstream film, and the erotic thriller gave us plenty of those. On some level, a film like Basic Instinct “invites you to enjoy [Catherine’s] victory, and the fact that she’s never not in control,” Turner says.

        Sartorially speaking, the garb of the erotic thriller also had its own story to tell. Linda Fiorentino dons a gorgeously monochrome wardrobe of glamourous skirt-suits in The Last Seduction, and Sharon Stone’s numerous appearances in films across the genre all feature her in well-coiffed good form. The characters abide by the power-suit feminist look of the 80s and 90s, polished and lipsticked in all the materialist frills of the time. This makes them representative of something that is seemingly mistrusted and despised by the makers of erotic thrillers: the independent working woman.

        Even if these femme fatales are male creations, their bad behavior can still be refreshing. They turn men into pliable playthings, and the punchline of almost all of these films revolves around one idea: Men are basically stupid; blinded by sex, and helpless in the face of it. In Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas runs the risk of being gruesomely murdered with an ice pick just to get his so-called “fuck of the century” from Sharon Stone. It’s ridiculous, but it happens repeatedly in films from Sliver to Jade. Maybe the moral of the story is this: The women of the erotic thriller might be evil, but the men are plain old dumb.

        Today, these films don’t have real successors in terms of their style or politics. The reality is that the once-voguish erotic thriller dived into sex and power in the most melodramatic and twisted ways—and perhaps that’s why there’s so little nostalgia for them. “Doing the podcast,” Matthew Turner tells me, “We’ve found a lot of overlap between erotic thrillers and yuppies-in-peril movies, where on some level you’re kind of wanting the lead characters to suffer in some way.”

        The lowest-common-denominator attitude of their creators is that women essentially want money and men want sex, making neither gender particularly likable—so no wonder their questionable, queasy charms aren’t easily enjoyed with unadulterated nostalgia. Viewed today, erotic thrillers are bitterly cynical about gender relations; they ask us to assume the worst of both men and women. Where’s the fun in that?


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