I’m a horror fan through and through, but one subgenre that is my go to guilty pleasure is erotic thrillers. Mostly noir-like stories mixed with sex and violence and sex and mystery and… well, you know…sex. They’re great!
Considering my expertise in this particular subgenre, I thought it would be fitting to let you fellow horror fans know about a few essential erotic thrillers that you may or may not be familiar with. We’re not going to tackle things like Brando and his butter in LAST TANGO IN PARIS or any film directed by Tinto Brass. Instead, these are films that I personally dig and tend to have conversations with people about the most. So here we go! It’s for time for five essential “erotic” thrillers!
5.) POISON IVY (Dir. Katt Shea, 1992)
Oh, Drew Barrymore. She was such an adorable little girl in films like E.T. or even FIRESTARTER. Who would have thought she would grow up to go through the weird phase of getting naked and crazy in countless films around the same time (BAD GIRLS, BOYS ON THE SIDE, The David Letterman show..), but none of those films or appearances could ever compare to the extremely enjoyable erotic thriller POISON IVY.
The film revolves around Sylvie Cooper, played by ROSEANNE star Melissa Gilbert. An introvert and a young woman who doesn’t quite know where she fits in, Sylvie is misunderstood and like many people similar to Sylvie, she hides away from people. Sylvie’s bad luck changes when she meets Ivy (Barrymore), an “I don’t give a fuck” rebel who befriends Sylvie, and seems to be a beautiful and perfect young woman.
Ivy slowly invades Sylvie’s life, including a feud with Sylvie’s sick mother Georgie. The feud ends with Ivy pushing Georgie off of a balcony and doing her best to infiltrate the family and be the mother now. After being hospitalized, Sylvie returns home to find her father and Ivy having some pretty intense sex (unrated version people) and Sylvie begins to suspect that Sylvie is trying to take everything over, which sets off a chain of events that leads to one cool ending.
It’s a fun movie, and entertaining to watch Barrymore play such a badass. Gone is the adorable little girl who dressed up E.T. in clothes. No, Ivy is an evil seductress and she plays it so well. Melissa Gilbert does an excellent job as well, doing a great job shedding her character in ROSEANNE and doing something very different. Definitely one to check out, not just for the awesome story and erotic greatness, but also for the director, Katt Shea, who acted in PSYCHO III and another favorite of mine, and directed another favorite, STRIPPED TO KILL.
4.) KISS OF THE DAMNED (Dir. Xan Cassavettes, 2012)
I’ll just get this out of the way: I worship John Cassavettes. It’s a dual admiration between him and John Carpenter. Cassavettes was responsible for what I consider some of the best films of all time. Hearing that his daughter was making a vampire film caught my attention and I was obsessed with seeing this one. When I did, it left me breathless and well…excited.
The story follows Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), a man who is instantly attracted to Djuna, a beautiful and dark woman who initially turns him away. When Djuna does allow Paolo in, they have some of the most passionate cinematic sex I have ever seen. Oh, and I forgot, she’s a vampire and she turns Paolo into one as well. The film revolves around the vampire couple who are living well until Djuna’s diabolical and mischievous sister, Mimi (an excellent Roxane Mesquida) shows up and puts the vampire couple in jeopardy with her out of control feeding on people, bringing young girls into the mansion and eventually trying to seduce Paolo. She’s a real winner, that Mimi.
KISS OF THE DAMNED is an excellent film, one that pays excellent homage to both old Hammer Films, as well as some of Jess Franco’s work. It’s a sensual, beautiful looking film, and one of the most unique vampire films you’ll see. If you need another reason to check this one out, then go to your local Amoeba or Rasputin Record Store and pick up Steven Hufsteter’s score for the film. It will transport you back to the era of Hammer vampires and sexuality between vampires and humans. Great stuff.
3.) DRESSED TO KILL (Dir. Brian De Palma, 1980)
If you haven’t seen this 105-minute masterpiece, then punch yourself and head to your local video store and pick up the DIRECTOR’S CUT of the film, and sit back with anticipation. Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a housewife who is frustrated with the same exact thing day to day. She sees a psychologist Robert Allen (Michael Caine) and tries to seduce him but he turns her down. Things begin to get even crazier for her when during a shower, she imagines a mysterious man sexually violating her in graphic detail, while he husband gets ready three feet away in the bathroom. Combined with a scene (without a single line of dialogue) Kate sits in a museum and flirts with a stranger and tries to follow him outside but just misses him.
Being promiscuous, Kate finds out she has a venereal disease from her affairs, but before she can tell anyone, she is brutally murdered with a straight razor in an elevator, leaving us as an audience shocked and confused as to why the film’s main character would get killed a quarter of the way into the actual film.
What then happens is a mystery/thriller element with Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) trying to solve the mystery and teaming up with Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), a high priced called girl who just happened to see the killer, making her the female killer’s number one target. Peter and Liz suspect something about Dr. Allen, so Liz goes undercover but all that gets is the killer eventually trying to find her. What eventually happens is a revelation that nobody sees coming and heads into the Transgender area, which isn’t shown in the best light but still, is quite entertaining.
DRESSED TO KILL is essential De Palma, one the masters of suspense and a filmmaker who provided so many wonderful films, a lot of his early ones having to do with sex and mystery (BODY DOUBLE is another great one), and he’s always had an eye for visual detail, making DRESSED TO KILL one beautiful looking fucked up film, one that deals with infidelity, promiscuity, transgender issues and more. It’s a modern day classic, full of sex and violence and a must own film.
2.) CRASH (Dir. David Cronenberg, 1996)
No, not the one with Sandra Bullock. This CRASH was directed by one of my favorite directors, David Cronenberg, based on a book by J.G. Ballard. It’s a film of metal and sex, crashes and lust.
While it’s definitely not for everyone, CRASH is a film that is essentially about open sexuality and a fascination with crashes and twisted metal. It follows James Ballard (James Spader), a man who is first shown having sex with a woman, while we also see Ballard’s wife, Catherine(Deborah Kara Unger) , having sex with a man by a jet. Just from the beginning, we as viewers already know that this film is going to be an odd one, and I mean that as the most sincere compliment ever.
When James gets into a horrible car crash and is waiting for the police to arrive, he stares ahead and sees a dead man in the driver’s seat and an injured wife, Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), pulling her seatbelt off exposing hear breast. Quite an interesting scene, one that really gets to you, and stays with you, as it’s pretty intense.
While recovering from their wounds, Ballard and Hellen run into each other and a man named Vaughan (Elias Koteas), who takes photos of Helen’s leg brace. Eventually, Ballard and Hellen begin having an affair and soon join Vaughan in a reenactment of famous car crashes, along with Vaughan’s friends, including Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), who permanently wears special braces on her leg. Soon, Vaughan has sex with Gabrielle, but via a deep, vulva-like scar. It’s quite the scene, but nothing compared to a scene in which Ballard goes through a car wash while watching, via the car mirror, Vaughan touching his wife’s breasts and handling her quite intensely, leaving bruises.
Things begin to get out of control, and when Gabrielle suggests a threesome with Vaughan and Ballard, the two men decide to just have sex with each other. The more and more Ballard gets involved, the more dangerous the game with Vaughan gets, with an obsession of blood and metal and the film goes into some crazy territory.
It might sound like pure insanity, because well, it is. Again it’s not for everyone, but for this writer, it was worth taking a three hour bus ride just to see it (along with another favorite of mine, Lost Highway) in a dirty arthouse theater. It’s a mix of sex and metal, blood and lust at its most powerful moments. My kind of film.
1.) BASIC INSTINCT (Dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1992)
The King (or Queen) of erotic thrillers, Paul Verhoeven’s thriller classic is on of the few films that I find to be perfect. It’s a noir-like thriller about Nick Curran(Michael Douglas), a very imperfect and former drug addicted detective who is under investigation from internal affairs and has a lot on his plate already, when he arrives on the crime scene of a murdered rock star, stabbed an insane amount of times by an unknown female companion the previous knight (the film starts out with a sex scene between the rock star and the killer that will make just about anyone blush).
Nick and his partner visit the house of Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone), a novelist who wrote a book with a very similar killing in it. Tammell instantly begins to play mind games with Curran, referencing an incident in which he was on drugs and shot someone.
When Trammell is taken in for questioning, she keep talking to Nick, making the other Detectives suspicious of Nick, thinking he has something to do to with Trammell. Adding to the intensity of the scene already playing out in front of us, Trammell crosses her legs but does so without wearing panties, giving the Detectives and us viewers a flash of her…lady parts. Trammell is all about manipulation, and the Q&A scene proves that.
Driven crazy by Trammell, Nick has very rough and animalistic sex with his psychiatrist, taking his frustrations out on her. It’s a hard scene to watch but adds to give yet another puzzle piece into the mystery. Nick begins a relationship with Trammell, all while trying to investigate her to see if she’s going to try to kill him the same way she supposedly killed the other victims: with an icepick. More people get killed, people get arrested for the murder while we don’t think it’s the right person, and we’re given enough eroticism between Douglas and Stone to make anyone get in the mood.
Basic Instinct is the very definition of Erotic Thriller. It’s a sexually charged film, full of twists, deaths, mystery and graphic sex (Director Cut friends). It’s Verhoeven’s masterpiece and shows what the combination of Director Verhoeven and Writer Joe Eszterhas can do. I recommend this one 100%
Honorable mention: CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR (Dir. Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, 2016)
Who would have thought that Nick Jonas could hold his own so well in a film? While I’m used to listening to his albums nonstop at home by my daughter, when this one came my way, I was reluctant and skeptical to even give it a chance, but after viewing it, I felt stupid because it’s an excellent thriller. Filled with a good mystery,. Sex and murder, CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR’s title sums it all up.
Jonas plays Doug, a young man working in a wealthy get away town, and get hired by cocky investment banker Elliot Harper (Dermont Mulroney) to help fix his yacht so he can go sailing. Soon after, Doug sees Elliot’s very young wife Lena Harper (Isabel Lucas) and the chemistry is right there from the beginning and anyone with half a brain knows what’s about to go on. Soon after, Doug and Lena begin an affair behind diners, in boats, everywhere, until it begins to seem like Elliot suspects something.
What happens next is a murder that the whole town is trying to solve and puts Doug in danger. It’s a great mystery and a film that hopefully will catch a good audience because it’s an emotionally powerful film of lust and love.