With Basic Instinct celebrating its 30 year anniversary, and with star Sharon Stone also celebrating her birthday earlier this month, we here at Queerty would like to take a moment to meditate on the genre both Basic and Stone helped ignite: the ’90s erotic thriller.
Of course, the movies had already given us dozens of erotic thrillers long before the 1990s. Basic Instinct, however, upped the game on graphic sexuality, violence, and infused the genre with something new to titillate audiences: queerness.
But wait, you ask: how is it that the queers inspired a genre all about dangerous women seducing hostile men in the most hetero way possible?
Understand this: in the 1980s and ’90s, sex had taken on newfound danger due to the AIDS crisis. Moreover, the appearance of bisexual and fluid women in the genre made the female characters more sinister by tapping the homophobia of the time. Go figure that a number of gay icons also turned up in these titles.
Viewed today, the films will probably inspire more howls of laughter than terrified screams. In a post-queer liberation, post-#MeToo era, we’re glad we can laugh at them. If we couldn’t, they’d just be cringey.
Basic Instinct writer Joe Eszterhas teamed up with Exorcist and Cruising director William Friedkin for this muddled mystery about a prostitute that beguiles men with her skills in anal sex. Really. That was the hook at the time. Loaded with hideous acting and a very confusing plot, the movie flopped on release. Eszterhas later disowned the film, which shows only that even he has standards.
Sharon Stone continued her reign as Queen of the Erotic Thriller in this wacky 1993 movie about sex and intrigue in a city highrise. Stone plays Carly, a book editor who falls for Zeke (William Baldwin), one of her neighbors. Zeke has installed an elaborate camera system in the building, allowing him to spy on all its tenants in their most intimate moments. Thankfully that doesn’t creep Carly out at all, and the two use Zeke’s video records to solve a murder. Joe Eszterhas also did an uncredited rewrite on the script here, so go figure that it didn’t improve.
Stone struck again in this remake of the French classic. This Americanized version features a quasi lesbian couple, Nicole and Mia (Stone and Isabelle Adjani), plotting to kill Mia’s abusive husband (Chazz Palminteri). Oh, and did we mention said ladies daylight as Catholic school teachers? JJ Abrams also has a supporting role as a film director, which is still the man’s best work as a director. Ever.
Joe Eszterhas and Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven paired up again with this camptastic disaster which tried to blend Las Vegas glitz with sleazy sexuality. So much has already been written and said about Showgirls that we don’t need to elaborate much here. We’ll just say, yes, it is that bad. And, yes, it’s also amazing to watch.
Body of Evidence
Madonna, who apparently didn’t get enough attention with her photo book Sex, decided to parlay her success into the erotic film genre in 1993. Body of Evidence follows Frank Delany (Willem Dafoe), a lawyer representing a woman (Madonna) accused of killing her elderly boyfriend during sex. Of course, Frank becomes transfixed by his client, and the two enter into a sadomasochistic sexual relationship. Body of Evidence contains extended scenes of dripping candle wax, handcuffs, and other kinks.
Sleeping with the Enemy
Julia Roberts starred in this totally preposterous, totally awesome guilty pleasure. She plays Laura, a woman who fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband (a manic Patrick Bergin), who begins a new life in a distant college town, as well as a new romance with Ben (Kevin Anderson) a hunky drama teacher. Of course, her crazy ex begins to suspect Laura is still alive and stalks her in the most improbable ways possible.
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
Probably the least erotic of all the films mentioned here, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle stars Annabella Sciorra as Claire, a woman sexually abused by her OBGYN. When Claire goes public with her allegations, her doctor kills himself. Flash forward six months, and said doctor’s widow, Peyton (Rebecca DeMornay) vows revenge. She passes herself off as a nanny and tries to seduce Claire’s husband (Matt McCoy) to essentially steal her life. It’s all fairly ridiculous, though Hand does get points for a DeMornay’s delicious, scenery-chewing performance.
Talk about not aging well. Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton penned the novel that served as the basis for this movie, his comment on women in the workplace. Following the success of Jurassic Park, Hollywood rushed to adapt Crichton’s work without stopping to consider the quality. Disclosure follows Tom (Michael Douglas, another lynchpin of the erotic thriller genre), a software engineer forced to work with Meredith (Demi Moore), his ex. Meredith first tries to seduce Tom, but when he spurns her, she accuses him of sexual harassment. Oh, and there’s some very dated subplot about virtual reality, electronic mail (cough), and Tom saving the company. Billed as a techno-erotic thriller back in 1994, today Disclosure seems like it came out of the stone age… for a variety of reasons.
A pre-Clueless Alicia Silverstone starred in this campfest about an amorous 14-year-old girl named Adrian that gets–you guessed it–a crush on her handsome neighbor, Nick (Carey Elwes). Of course, being a decent human being, Nick refuses to take advantage of Adrian who reacts by stalking him, his girlfriend, sabotaging his career, and accusing him of rape. The most distasteful bit: it’s apparently based on a true story.
The Scarlet Letter
Sharon Stone may have ruled the box office as Grand Dame of the ’90s erotic thriller, though former Brat Pack star Demi Moore tried to give her a run for her money. Most of us here probably read The Scarlet Letter in high school, and will know that the book contains no sex or violence whatsoever. What better fodder for an erotic thriller! This version populates itself with Indian attacks, murder, skinny dipping, and sex in a pile of grain–so much so that the result becomes unintentionally hilarious. No wonder critics often name it as one of the Worst Movies of All Time.