Criterion's Erotic Thrillers

The Criterion Shelf: Erotic Thrillers

The joys of springtime are incomplete without the inspiration of some of Hollywood's steamiest and most controversial films of the 80s and 90s.

Any dedicated film lover knows all about sex as depicted in the movies, and it’s likely that anyone who learned about sex from the movies probably wasn’t good on a date until at least their thirties.  As promotional tools go, though, there’s nothing that has grabbed more headlines in the Entertainment section since the Production Code was officially abolished, and the MPAA created a more permissive rating system than any time a movie got too dirty, and the public responded with fury and delight. Studios, of course, basked in the profits of this very good flavour of publicity because while moral arguments raged in the papers and community leaders issued warnings to their followers, the tickets sold, and in high numbers.

If you don’t know all this from memories of having been there (or have been a child in a room where everyone was talking excitedly about Fatal Attraction, as is in my treasure trove of souvenirs), then you’ll know a great deal of this information from Karina Longworth’s brilliant You Must Remember This podcast, her last year’s season on “Erotic ’80s” and current releases dealing with the “Erotic ’90s” spelling out this trajectory with her usual meticulous and elegant rigour:  the legitimization of porn in the seventies spilled over into arthouse hits like Last Tango In Paris and studio releases like American Gigolo, followed by the eighties where the development of the home video industry meant that porn could stay at home and audiences shifted their ideas about was acceptable for public consumption. Throughout the eighties and nineties, anxieties of mainstream discussions of sexual themes on talk shows and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic meant that audiences were bringing both voyeurism and paranoia to the theatre, and sex became synonymous with violence and horror and films did best when they served up plenty of both. Conservative voices decried this loss of morality in popular cinema, but, ironically, these films were often quite conservative (and therefore very much in line with Hollywood studio filmmaking of the past): the protagonist was usually “normal” (white, straight, suburban), received a glimpse of something exotic (meaning less legitimate) that then turned into a cautionary tale, and sexual indulgence was to be coupled with equal amounts of punishment.  In real life, people often get away with enjoying lost weekends with unhinged work colleagues, but in the movies, there better be a bunny rabbit in that pot if you want the world to make sense by the final reel.

Genres that are meant to indulge us in impossible fantasies with guiltless glee, such as rom-coms and erotic thrillers (the yin and yang of sexual fulfillment) have now entered their post-modern phase and movies from as recently as the eighties might as well be from the 1880s for how well they play to modern sensibilities. In the past, romantic comedies were a woman’s fantasy and erotic thriller’s were a man’s, the opposite was usually the exception and not the rule. Neither of these standards can hold today, we demand that humans be presented in more complex and compelling ways, our modern desire to see the best in each other means that archetypes can no longer flourish, no one’s a pure villain because everyone’s either admirable or misunderstood.  I state with no reservation that going beyond the straight, white and suburban is a good thing, but I also remember a time when the one-note evil slut was the only person in the movie having a good time (so good a time that death seemed a small price to pay in the end).

The very popular How Did This Get Made podcast, a show that has been broadcasting to great success for more than a decade, has a wide variety of genres and eras that it covers but most returns to two types frequently, beyond-the-pale action films and ridiculous erotic thrillers (including one notable selection in this list); this is likely because in both cases, it cannot be denied that these films feature a unique understanding of human expression and narrative structure. For the most part, thrillers are about putting together pieces of a puzzle and finding the middle ground between keeping the audience feeling ahead of the game, while also giving them exciting surprises, and writers working a bit too hard to come up with new versions of old pieces, particularly when they involve creative excuses for sex scenes, can get rather out of control with their creativity.

The real reason, of course, that erotic thrillers are no longer as prevalent as they used to be is that they just don’t make that much money anymore. Notoriety and controversy drew audiences to theatres if the filmmakers were lucky enough not to have their releases delayed, recut or in some few cases prevented because of battles with the ratings boards; the advent of “director’s cut” videocassette and DVD rentals, of course, balanced this out by promising people so much more in the privacy of their own homes (and in most cases didn’t deliver, I still can’t see the difference between two versions of Body Of Evidence and, dedicated as I am to Madonna’s legacy, I have seen it many, many times). Basic Instinct may have been a throwback to the success of films like Body Heat, but it also came out the same year that Demi Moore didn’t romance Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men and, when that film made over a hundred million dollars at the box office without any sexual content, it signalled the possibility that it wasn’t always a necessary element to sell a hit. With awareness of AIDS finally getting mainstream attention thanks to celebrity fundraising in the nineties, bed-hopping became unfashionable and in bad taste, and later on, with the internet and the ubiquity of porn, the amount of sex in movies like Body Double seemed laughably tame by comparison.

Criterion’s Erotic Thrillers series is a fun collection that captures the spirit of the era in both good and bad ways; the films are for the most part very white and straight and don’t reflect the ways in which today’s media supports our aspirational desires, but for film lovers there is a healthy dosage of variety in quality, mixing the good with the bad, the hits with the bombs, the venerated with the infamous. De Palma’s two features that tempt issues of misanthropy and voyeurism are as enjoyable as Bound‘s genuine but hard-edged romance, Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion attempts to take masculine fantasies to task and not just indulge in them, though ultimately it fails at this. Richard Rush’s Color of Night is a rare case of a film whose struggle to secure an R rating centred on a man’s exploited body and not a woman’s, another film that received the Director’s Cut treatment on home video and, much to my disappointment, Bruce Willis’s penis is nowhere to be found on the version streaming here (and I promise you when I was seventeen, that penis meant a lot to me).

All reviews are by Bil Antoniou except where noted, with many thanks to Dakota Arsenault, Colin Biggs and Marko Djurdjic for their generous contributions.



Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981)
Colin Biggs: Freed from old Hollywood conventions and the faux morality of the Hays code that held back Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat got to soar. It’s clear Lawrence Kasdan is a fan of those James M. Cain adaptations. He centres his film on a bored, successful, handsome man who passes the time in the beds of married women. Ned Racine (William Hurt) defends small-time criminals in Florida and picks up women at night. When he sees Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), passing fancy turns into obsession. The instant chemistry between Hurt and Turner keeps bringing people back to this classic. The torrid affair they go on is so entrancing you almost forget this is noir, and any tryst is bound to go someplace darker. Matty is married to a shady businessman (Richard Crenna), and his life insurance is burning a hole in her pockets. The film drips in sweat, partially due to heat and the tension that spirals the sensual into the psychotic. As writer/director, Kasdan turns old tropes into something substantial while acknowledging the game Ned and Matty play is more dangerous than it was in Hollywood’s heyday. In addition to spectacular leads and a potboiler story, the supporting cast (featuring Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke, and J.A. Preston) is equally captivating.


Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992)
The notoriety of this flashy thriller has come to define the era of erotic thrillers to follow, particularly as numerous films aimed to copy it throughout the rest of the decade. The high point of Verhoeven’s Hollywood career, it also is one of the last films to singlehandedly turn a relatively unknown actor into a major star, as Sharon Stone, who had made her debut twelve years earlier, was suddenly an A-lister after virtually every actress (including Emma Thompson) turned it down and the studio was finally willing to go with the director’s first, relatively obscure and un-bankable choice (to help her bid, Stone wore stylish cocktail dresses to her Total Recall looping sessions). She plays a moneyed heiress and popular detective fiction novelist (whose books are suspiciously long) who becomes the prime suspect when her rock star fuck buddy is found sliced to ribbons in his bed and, because screenwriter Joe Eszterhas seems to know very little about police work, isn’t cleared for murder by DNA evidence which could have actually provided for a much shorter film than what we have here. Michael Douglas is virtually pushed off the screen by the brand new superstar, playing a cop with anger management issues who strongly suspects that the ice pick-wielding blonde bombshell is the killer but can’t help but jump in the sack with her anyway. Even at the time of its release you had to be pretty square to think this movie was shockingly sexual (and if a man goes down on you for that short a time and stays that clean, you’re not getting what you need out of life) but there’s no denying that, for all its flaws, and there are many, it’s got a lot of style. The material itself isn’t anything you couldn’t find Shannon Tweed doing in the straight-to-video section of your rental store, but between Stone’s giving it so much class than it deserves and Verhoeven’s relentlessly ornate camera work, it still gleams.


Single White Female (Barbet Schroeder, 1992)
In an era when Women In Peril flicks were frequent box office hits, a sub-genre of Woman on Woman thrillers found great success at the box office by, possibly, addressing the anxieties of a generation of women not only encouraged but obliged to get out there and Have It All.  The Hand That Rocks The Cradle‘s triumph at the box office was followed by this exceptionally fun hit that ushered former celebrated documentarian Barbet Schroeder into the mainstream after Barfly and his Oscar nomination for Reversal of Fortune made him a venerated artist in English-language features.  Bridget Fonda is excellent as Allison, a fashion software designer (what?) whose live-in boyfriend (Steven Weber) cheats on her and is promptly escorted off the premises, followed by her putting out an ad for a roommate that isn’t going well until a sympathetic, shy stranger named Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) walks in and immediately charms her.  All is well between them at first but things begin to look iffy when Allison gets back together with her ex and Hedy starts to seem a bit too preoccupied with keeping things as they are; watching this movie thirty years after the fact and realizing what a person has to go through to get a great space for a reasonable rate in a city like Manhattan, our sympathies are with Hedy until pets to start to suffer and guys like Weber, who is at peak hotness here, are in danger for their lives. It has all the campy indulgence you want from a truly delicious thriller but this film is also notable for how well it presents a relationship’s disintegration, particularly in having Allison act like a pretty selfish jerk before Hedy tips the scales and loses our sympathy.  The ways in which the women jerk back and forth in their power dynamic may not be at the level of Jane Austen’s observations of female social interaction, but it does have a great deal of generous humour and pathos in its avoidance of the usual Madonna/whore obsessions, and has aged exceptionally well.


Color of Night (Richard Rush, 1994)
Marko Djurdjic: A garish One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that never apologizes for its unrestrained melodrama, this stars an atypically vulnerable Bruce Willis (alongside a stacked cast of character actors) as a psychoanalyst who goes colour-blind after he witnesses a patient’s suicide. He travels to L.A. to heal, but the trip quickly turns into an audacious psychosexual odyssey of Homeric proportions. The film is all the things a great erotic thriller should be: cheesy, lewd, arousing, kinda gross, definitely offensive, overly complicated (but surprisingly lucid), emotional, violent and steamy (and I mean actually steamy, with fogged windows and hand prints streaked through them). This isn’t art, it’s an experience, a twisty, twisted exercise in CINEMA. I wish I could write something profound that would sell you on its ludicrous premise, its uncompromising commitment to tone, atmosphere, and characterization, its gaudy, sensual cinematography, its sincere absurdity and its unabashed sexuality.  It’s all right there in the film, lurid and grotesque and oversaturated with clichés, which it unpretentiously embraces with aplomb. You’ll watch it, and you’ll ask yourself many questions: How did this get made? How is it so much better than I thought? How did it bomb? How is it not considered one of the greatest neo-noirs ever? etc. etc. etc. And yet, the only question you’ll really have to answer is “who can I recommend this to next?” I chose you. You’re welcome!/?




Dressed To Kill (Brian de Palma, 1980)
Dakota Arsenault:  A perfect look into why de Palma is often accused of just being an Alfred Hitchcock thief. This film in particular cribs mostly from Psycho, but also has elements of Rear Window. The film starts off with our protagonist Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller having a sexual fantasy of touching herself in a steamy shower before it turns dark and she is attacked. She’s in a loveless marriage where her husband neglects her sexual needs and discloses this information to her therapist, Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine). She attempts to seduce the handsome doctor but it goes nowhere. After meeting a mysterious man in a museum they rendezvous for a sexual encounter and while leaving him as he sleeps, Kate is brutally murdered in an elevator with a glistening straight razor. A high end escort, Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), not only finds the body of Kate but also spots the tall blonde woman in oversized sunglasses who committed the crime. As a witness Liz is now the next target of the razor wielding murderer while the police look at her as a prime suspect. We get one of the biggest homages to Hitchcock with the act of killing the famous leading actress in the first act of the film, just like how Janet Leigh dies early on in Psycho. Liz teams up with Kate’s son who helps by spying on Dr. Elliot by using binoculars like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. The biggest red flag in the film is how the murderer, a trans character, is portrayed. Yes the film was released in 1980 but using outdated nomenclature like “transvestite” is rough to hear, but worse is the explanation that they are murderous explicitly because they are trans and mentally unstable is reductive and dangerous. It’s no wonder the film was protested by the likes of the National Organization for Women and Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media. Since its release the film has apparently been reclaimed by queer viewers for its campiness, but it must also be used to show how far we have come in society, despite the rise of anti-trans legislation and rhetoric. All that said, this film has some real genuine thrills, some brutal death scenes and doesn’t skimp on the erotic aspect of the genre. While Nancy Allen was a nominee at the inaugural Razzie Awards for Worst Actress, she was a terrific scream queen that fits the now prototypical role of a woman who won’t let others define her or be a victim.


Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984)
Marko Djurdjic: An exercise in cinematic excess, not a film about sex or violence but a film about film, a meta-text that relishes its ability to entice and repulse—oftentimes simultaneously. Craig Wasson plays Jake Scully, an out of work actor who spies on a gorgeous, dancing neighbour through a telescope and witnesses the inevitable crime of passion when the woman is attacked. He becomes obsessed with keeping her safe, justifying his “altruistic” peeping by tracking her every move, and ends up on a neo-noir journey through L.A’s seedy underworld. Later, we’re introduced to Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), an adult film star who’s more involved than she cares to let on. To tell you anything else of the film’s serpentine plot would ruin the experience. The film is shot in the style of Hitchcock’s 70s thrillers, a salacious homage to the master of suspense that may as well be called Dial R for Rear Vertigo. DePalma is never subtle, and Body Double lays on the sensationalism in leering droves; far from his best work, the film is nevertheless filled with the kind of cool cynicism erotic thrillers are known for. If you like your films with extra pulp, you gotta try Body Double on for size. It fits perfectly.


Sister, Sister (Bill Condon, 1987)
After writing the scripts for Strange Behavior and Strange Invaders, Condon made his directorial debut with this sexy, evocative chiller set on a southern plantation. Once a great house of an old venerated family, the property is now a bed and breakfast run by two very different sisters (Judith Ivey, Jennifer Jason Leigh), the younger of whom appears to be mentally unstable and in her older sibling’s care. Ivey keeps a daily watch over Leigh’s interactions with their sexy, bayou-dwelling hired hand but her control becomes more difficult when a handsome young professional (Eric Stoltz) comes to stay in their home and, in drawing Leigh’s affections, bursts a lot of secrets of the past open that must be dealt with. Equal parts Alfred Hitchcock and Tennessee Williams with plenty of guilty sex and gruesome murders (of humans and poor sweet four-footed friends as well), this one is richer in atmosphere and mood than it is in plot, but the seed of trauma at the centre of its story is aptly used and the cast makes it a very satisfying distraction.


The Last Seduction (John Dahl, 1994)
Jade (William Friedkin, 1995)
Colin Biggs: When you think of erotic thrillers, you probably think of Sharon Stone and THAT Basic Instinct scene, but I would argue Linda Fiorentino was the definitive femme fatale of the 90s. Between Jade and The Last Seduction, Fiorentino ruled as the most dangerous woman on the silver screen, sowing chaos in Buffalo honky tonks or the mean streets of San Francisco. There’s no tragic backstory to clue the audience in on her behaviour, only desperation for money and a way out. As the song goes, “Watch out, boy, she’ll chew you up.” Fiorentino’s characters would deploy a wounded smile, a gesture that Mike Swale (Peter Berg) and David Corelli (David Caruso) would interpret as a crack in the façade, though really a practiced gesture to manipulate them into giving her what she needs. A sensuous sociopath, she knows which buttons to push on every mark, whether they’re a dumb yokel or an assistant D.A.  John Dahl’s neo-noir is considerably better than William Friedkin’s, but with Fiorentino’s magnetism, it’s hard to go wrong with making this a date night double-feature.




The Bedroom Window (Curtis Hanson, 1987)
Isabelle Huppert gets out of bed, looks out the window and witnesses Elizabeth McGovern being assaulted by a man who then runs away and murders another girl instead. Huppert wants to tell the police what she saw except that she was in the bedroom of her lover Steve Guttenberg at the time, and he’s an employee of her husband’s. Plucky Guttenberg tells the cops that it was he who witnessed the attack, but the police start getting suspicious of his shaky story and Huppert leaves him out to dry, so he teams up with McGovern to catch the killer instead. The twisty turns of the story are beyond preposterous, but Hanson has a marvellous time creating gorgeous visuals out of the noir-inspired settings (the best of them an Edgar Allan Poe-themed bar) and plays with conventions by having characters constantly change their archetypes, Guttenberg from stalwart hero to pursued criminal, Huppert from innocent bystander to femme fatale and McGovern from would-be barmaid victim to wisecracking sleuth.


Call Me (Sollace Mitchell, 1988)
A Manhattan journalist (Patricia Charbonneau) receives an obscene phone call that she thinks is her travel writer boyfriend, following the voice’s instructions to meet him at a local bar. There, she sits next to a mysterious, imposing man (Stephen McHattie) who frightens her and prompts her to hide out in the bathroom where she witnesses a woman with a bag of stolen money get murdered by a cop. The phone calls from a stranger continue and she begins to suspect that it’s the man from the bar, whose conversation both disturbs and excites her and, ironically, he turns out to be way more sympathetic than her boyfriend who thinks she’s making it all up.  Meanwhile, she’s under threat from McHattie and his goon Steve Buscemi because they think she ran off with the loot. Mitchell’s stylish film has the erotic well in hand but lacks the thrills, the plot toys with enticing themes of the character’s attraction and submission to danger but doesn’t tighten up the suspense that would make that danger present enough to really bring the sexier stuff to a proper boil. What it does have, though, is a collection of terrific characters including Patti D’Arbanville as her Cyndi Lauper-era best friend and David Strathairn as her editor, and a fascinating visual palette that captures a funky and fabulous New York and turns images of urban blight into works of art.


Poison Ivy (Katt Shea, 1992)
This steamy potboiler didn’t fill theatres but was a big enough hit on home video to spawn a number of sequels and a decade of bad Lethal Lolita ripoffs. Sara Gilbert, then at the height of her fame on Roseanne, plays a teenager who is wowed by her school’s resident bad girl (Drew Barrymore). She befriends her and invites her into her cold, unhappy home where the girl, nicknamed “Ivy”, takes over Gilbert’s mother’s wardrobe and seduces her easy target of a father (Tom Skerritt). Unapologetically indulgent almost to the point of campiness, this curiosity is most notable for bringing Barrymore back to feature film prominence after her own bad girl behaviour landed her in rehab at the ripe old age of 13. She’s terrific at making us understand the lonely vulnerability behind the character’s naked ambition, though director Shea doesn’t do enough with it and relegates her to a bland villainous stereotype at the end.


Criminal Passion (aka Angel Of Desire) (Donna Deitch, 1994)
Deitch follows her beloved independent classic Desert Hearts with this forgettable straight-to-video thriller, which capitalizes on Joan Severance’s popularity in earlier films with titles that sound like jokes in The First Wives Club (Illicit Behavior, Write To Kill). The plot of Basic Instinct is reversed and she is the lady detective who is looking into a series of murders that have left young women with their throats slit, but when a prime suspect shows up who loves to walk around his house naked while sporting an aloof attitude (played by co-writer John Allen Nelson of Hunk fame), she can’t resist the danger. Both stars look ravishing and Deitch’s camera makes sure to exploit them for all they’re worth, doing a wonderful job of turning the gaze even more on the male body than she does the female protagonist, but part of the richness of Basic Instinct was its humour, of which there is none here, and the bad acting does nothing to help this.


Fleshtone (Harry Hurwitz, 1994)
Another straight-to-video classic fully ensconced in the pleasures of its B-movie trappings, this one’s wholly predictable plot isn’t at all a problem given that it is directed with great efficiency and performed by a fully committed, more than able cast. Martin Kemp (of Spandau Ballet) plays a lonely painter who answers an enticing ad in the personals that initiates a sexy phone relationship with a mysterious woman. They make plans to meet, but when he shows up at her hotel room and finds a dead body and men ready to frame him for the job before killing him, he makes a quick escape and goes on the hunt for the real killer. It comes nowhere near the style of Hitchcock’s Innocent Man thrillers, and setting scenes in Kansas City would have worked better if they’d chosen a house that wasn’t swimming in palm trees, but Kemp and co-star Lise Cutter have a great time with each other and the film seems to be too aware of its silliness to ever be a drag to endure.


Bound (The Wachowskis, 1996)
Dakota Arsenault: Much will be made about the re-contextualization of this film in the years that have since passed. As we know now, The Wachowski’s transitioned and are now known as Lana and Lilly Wachowski, and it has become popular to look back at their earlier films and see what their true artistic choices may have been. In The Matrix, there is a character known as Switch who originally was written to be a man in the real world and a woman in “the matrix”. They opted to simplify the character and instead make Switch an androgynous woman instead, still inhabiting both male and female characteristics. In Bound we get a typical story of a woman who wants to leave her mobster boyfriend and run away with her new lover to have a normal life again. In the directorial debut of the Wachowski Sisters they change things up by having the lover a woman, making this an out and out lesbian love story. For a mainstream Hollywood film coming out in 1996 that features not only a lesbian couple but also includes an explicit sex scene? Absolutely unheard of. Despite it being a debut feature film, it includes many bold touches, the kind that would later define the directors careers. The plot itself is pretty run of the mill with Violet (Jennifer Tilly) meeting Corky (Gina Gershon) falling in love with her and then conspiring together to steal two million dollars from Violet’s mob launderer boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). If it wasn’t for the queer main characters this would be a good, but very run of the mill crime thriller.



Crimes Of Passion (Ken Russell, 1984)
A woman turning to sex work to deal with a failed marriage is something that can only happen in the movies, but since Russell’s imagination is also only possible in the movies, he’s an appropriate fit for Barry Sandler’s outrageous screenplay. John Laughlin plays a family man who takes a second job doing surveillance for the owner of a clothing company because he needs the cash, asked to follow an employee that the boss thinks is selling secrets to his competitor. What Laughlin finds instead is that Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) turns into “China Blue” at night, and he quickly becomes sexually obsessed with her, which puts the final nail in the coffin of his sexless marriage to Annie Potts. The plot begins as something daring and provocative, even for an eighties erotic thriller this one pushes the limits of what you’d expect to see (including Turner sodomizing a john with a police stick), but things get messy in the final third when it’s clear that neither Russell nor Sandler thought their provocations through, vacillating between a boring struggle that Laughlin has with his feelings about Madonna/Whore fantasies and Turner’s being subject to the obsessive attention of a religious zealot (Anthony Perkins) wielding a very sharp dildo. In truth, this lurid tale of a fashion executive who moonlights as a streetwalker, is not really an exploration of a woman’s dual sexual identity, it’s an obsessive and inconclusive look at male sexual hypocrisy, but the tacked on ending means that it fails to do so in a way that could be called interesting or effective.


The Comfort of Strangers (Paul Schrader, 1990)
Marko Djurdjic: It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest Paul Schrader fan. At times, I think he’s transcendent, at others, a hack. In this uncharacteristically subdued film, Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson play a tense couple on vacation in Venice, with Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren playing their lascivious, manipulative foils. As always, Hitchcockian voyeurism is abundant, but Schrader holds back on his basest impulses: he’s restrained, patient even, and the film is more sensual than sexual. Angelo Badalamenti’s score definitely helps, as does Dante Spinotti’s sumptuous cinematography, the best part of the film. The camera lingers and glides, much like the boats cruising the watery streets, and the colours are luscious, reminiscent of Vermeer paintings, particularly the icy blues and greens that permeate the palette. Unfortunately, there is very little “erotic” in this “thriller.” The film takes a while to build up to anything interesting, and even then, the payoff is lessened by Schrader’s languid pace. It’s all very detached, vapid, and dull, and when the rushed climax hits, it isn’t shocking or provocative. In fact, it’s incredibly lazy and uninspired, something Schrader—for better or worse—has always avoided. When the credits finally roll, you will certainly let out a resounding grazie a Dio.


Dream Lover (Nicholas Kazan, 1993)
Kazan’s success with writing Barbet Schroeder’s Reversal Of Fortune, which earned him an Oscar nomination, led to his directorial debut that, like many of its time, went to the mat with the ratings board before an unsuccessful theatrical release. James Spader plays a wealthy architect who has a charming meet-cute with a beautiful, mysterious woman (Mädchen Amick) with whom he quickly falls in love. One marriage and three children later, however, he begins to realize that her back story has a few wrinkles that he can’t work out, and when he asks her to explain them finds he gets trapped deeper into a convoluted web of lies and mystery that, in the end, work out very much to his disadvantage. There’s the potential for something wonderfully subversive and the missed opportunity only makes the film that much harder to bear: male paranoid fantasies are the bread and butter of the erotic thriller genre and Kazan’s plot looks to upend these by holding the male character accountable for the fact that he commits to a woman before seeing past the imagined fantasy he has created of her. Amick, whose powers would reach their height much later in roles such as Alice Cooper on Riverdale, is an opportunity to show the dark side of Holly Golightly, the truly manic part of the pixie dream girl. Neither path is followed to any satisfying end, the film abandons all its themes in a convenient and rushed ending that also denies us a satisfying and clever turning of the tables (and, quite frankly, feels like studio executives stepped in and forced a reshoot, though that’s just a hunch).

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