Whatever happened to the erotic thriller?


What could be worse than Valentine’s Day? An annual festival that serves to make no one happy except Interflora, Cadbury’s and the restaurant industry.  The thought of receiving a bunch of last minute flowers that were last seen taped to the railings of a fatal roadside accident is enough to put anyone off romance and let’s not start on the box of chocolates that serves no purpose beyond your partner, flummoxed as to why she’s put on half a stone, after wolfing down a disproportionately unbalanced box of vegetable fat and cocoa solids. Or what about that restaurant with its special Valentine’s menu which curiously is £20 cheaper the following day? Yes, that restaurant packed with mutually miserable couples where all the men are thinking about the football, beer and that new girl who started in accounts whereas the women, desperate for a bit of romance dolled up with eyebrows plucked and drawn back on with what looks like a lump of coal, look across the table at their feckless beau thinking, ‘If we get old together I’m likely to be this window licking dribblers carer?’ So again I ask, ‘What could be worse than Valentine’s Day?’ Well let’s have a try by looking at the rise and fall of the erotic thriller film …….

Whilst the most out of kilter film ever to get a Valentine’s Day release was ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ – how many couples order a bottle of Chianti after that? But the film industry over the past couple of years has released the more traditionally romantic ‘Fifty Shades’ films – we say romantic, after watching these films it’s only if you have a penchant for turning a room in your home into some queasy sadomasochistic temple that would have any normal girlfriend running for the emergency services that could you call them romantic.

So with boyfriends being dragged along by girlfriends in anticipation of Jamie Dornan and his pork poking pantomime only to find that it was actually poor old Dakota Johnson who had to go through all manner of onscreen indignities. It didn’t stop the first film making a huge $571m worldwide with  the second film making $381m and the third film has already made $135m to date after only a few days on release.

fifty shades freed jamie dornan dakota johnson

So whilst singletons had to contend with a Tesco value meal for one, a dvd from Mucky Mickey’s dvd market stall and a bumper box of Kleenex we thought we’d take a look at the much derided (and in many cases rightly so ) erotic thriller.

In all likelihood the genre’s heyday was probably in the early 90’s pre internet era when all manner of stomach churning sexual atrocities were not so freely available as they seem to be now. So whilst 1981 saw the rather good Body Heat with its decent film noir storyline and a daring debut by Kathleen Turner as the voracious man eater it would be a few years before it really hit its stride with 1987’s Fatal Attraction which gave the world the uncalled for sight of Michael Douglas heaving buttocks and the literal interpretation of the phrase ‘bunny boiler’. A great thriller earning a massive for the time $320m and spawning a number of pastiches and inevitable pale imitations yet unusually not spawning a sequel.

It would be five years until we got the next box office bonkbuster that would push the envelope further. That film was Basic Instinct. It would make a star of Sharon Stone, until then a hitherto relatively unknown actress and be a reminder to women everywhere to never go commando. It made even more money, launched even more parodies and 19 years later bought about one of the worst sequels ever made to a blockbuster.

basic instinct sharon stone

But that was the pinnacle of the erotic thriller genre because after that the genre began its inevitable downhill descent into top notch down market tat. Admittedly in its wake were Indecent Proposal  – another Adrian Lyne film who had also directed Fatal Attraction. The premise was, ‘Would you let another man have one night with your wife for $1m?’ – it was the sort of question blokes talked about at the pub and certainly one our Editor was keen to capitalize on until he found that his wife was also thinking the same except that she was happy for anyone to take him off her hands for a pound and at one point started offering money for someone to just take him away. (You’re fired! – Ed),  Also in the mix was ‘Disclosure’ another Demi Moore film as much about sexual harassment in the workplace as flesh flashing but this time turning it on its head with the woman harassing Michael Douglas, who now appeared to have a penchant for the genre as well as for baring his bottom to the pleasure of no one.

disclosure demi moore michael douglas

That was about as good as it got because after this the world had another Madonna starring film foisted upon us. Having endured the cinematic atrocity that was ‘Shanghai Surprise’ followed by ‘Who’s that Girl?’ where Madonna was basically cast as herself but had partly redeemed herself with Dick Tracy. She then decided that what the world really needed was her starring in an unexpurgated adult breast fest.  The film? ‘Body of Evidence’. Out to shock she repeatedly bared her breasts throughout which regrettably looked more like the pigs ears you get at pet shops for dogs to chew on.

body of evidence madonna willem dafoe

But this was as nothing compared to what director Paul Verhoeven was to unleash. In the words of Austen Powers Goldmember that ‘crazy Dutch bastard’ who had made some phenomenal and pleasingly subversive blockbusters including Robocop, Total Recall and yes Basic Instinct decided that he would out do himself with the ‘drop-your-bacon-sandwich-I-cant-believe-what-I’m-seeing’ Showgirls. It’s story of Las Vegas strippers was sold much like the Daily Sport on its nipple count. Costing $45 million to make its in your face jug juggling awfulness took almost everyone down with it. It certainly ended its star Elizabeth Berkely’s film career from which she never really recovered. Verhoeven went onto to make another joyfully subversive sci fi film with Starship Troopers  but after 2000’s Hollow Man he upped sticks and went back to Europe.

 showgirls elizabeth berkley

Throughout the 90’s and Noughties the genre occasionally raised its head with half decent films like ‘Wild Things’, ‘A Perfect Murder’ with Michael Douglas again (perhaps this time taking the hint to keep his arse covered) ‘Poison Ivy’, ‘Bound’ and ‘The Last Seduction’. It wasn’t enough though to prevent utter cobblers like ‘Jade’, ‘Sliver’, (both written by Joe Eszterhas who had also written basic Instinct) and ‘Colour of Night’ (colour of shite) all staining the cinema screen.

Now with the internet the films where all manner of queasy pleasures are available 24/7 the erotic thriller seems oddly quaint and dated being constrained by the censors which is no bad thing because frankly no one wants to see a Madonna in flagrante delicto ever again except those with a pensioner porn fetish.


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