Erotic thrillers are the ultimate cocktail of titillating and terrifying – just like Valentine’s Day. Our resident film slut, Kristen Cochrane, rounds up six of her fave films in the genre just in time for the year’s most contentious holiday.
Any attempt to make a list like this, within the constraints of an article in an online magazine, is tough. How can I proclaim what a sexy or aphrodisiacal film could be for someone? Some people want something graphic, others are titillated by subtler eroticism, where flirtation and seduction is suggested.
With respect to my claim that a definitive list is impossible, I’m going to admit that these are my favourite films to watch with someone who’s more than a friend. You might notice that most of these films come from the 1990s. This era, along with the late 1980s, is my favourite time period for its proliferation of erotic thrillers. Erotic thrillers are not just sensuous, they are also psychological – often inspiring feelings of anxiety, which are temporarily mitigated or satisfied by the sex scenes – for both the characters and for the spectators.
Here are some suggestions for a night watching movies with the object(s) of your desire (which could be also be yourself).
1. Fear (1996) Dir. James Foley
While erotic thrillers from the 1980s and 1990s largely feature femmes fatales, Fear is a case study of the lesser-known but equally deadly homme fatale. In a performance that might scar you for life, Mark Wahlberg plays the suave David, who meets the chaste Nicole (Reese Witherspoon), initiating an intoxicating relationship which soon becomes a horrific real-life nightmare. During the love-bombing, Nicole’s dad (William Petersen, from CSI, obvs) senses that something is awry. It gets pretty violent, but fear not – I’m not trying to ruin your Valentine’s Day. It’s not only a scary thriller that will bring you closer, but it also has a very memorable love scene involving a rollercoaster (that you can still ride in British Columbia, Canada while LARPing your very own Fear scene).
2. Crash (1996) Dir. David Cronenberg
Speaking of weird love scenes, not much can top the technosexual mania of David Cronenberg’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s (1973) novel Crash. It’s fun explaining this film to people because they’re like, “oh yeah the one with Matt Dillon?” and you have to say “no, the one where James Spader and Rosanna Arquette have sex with cars.” It sounds weird and not hot but it is arguably one of the most erotically charged films of all time. For leverage, you can tell your lover that it won the Special Jury Prizes at Cannes.
3. Basic Instinct (1992) Dir. Paul Verhoeven
This is the kind of movie that is so famous that your lover might not want to admit that they haven’t seen it. Like Fatal Attraction (1987), this is an erotic thriller where Michael Douglas falls from a position of power because of an encounter with a murderous woman. But who is she?! They’re all so sexy, mean, and disturbed! It could be any of them! During filming in L.A. in 1994, various LGBTQ activist groups staged protests. The executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) said at the time that the film “makes lesbian and bisexual women threatening murderers” out to kill a straight white man. There are some disturbing scenes, but it’s worth watching to see the problematic (sometimes subtly so) ways in which women and queer people have been represented.
4. Gia (1998) Dir. Michael Cristofer
Angelina Jolie is my favorite butterfly-knife wielding UN Refugee Agency’s Special Envoy and bisexual earth mother. She’s so incredibly beautiful in this film – mind, body, and soul – that you just want to abandon everything in life and marry her (okay, maybe everyone wants to do this anyway). Jolie plays Gia Carangi (purportedly the world’s first supermodel) who lives a free-spirited lifestyle and has relationships with women. Unfortunately, Carangi passed away from a drug overdose, but her spirit lives on in this incredible film and in Jolie’s performance.
5. Exotica (1994) Dir. Atom Egoyan
If you’re Canadian (or want to be one of us), and talk about how you’re planning to leave the US or Britain with your lover, have a look at British Columbia darling Atom Egoyan’s classic erotic thriller Exotica. The film stars Mia Kirshner from the historic lesbian TV series The L Word in an early role as Christina, a dancer at a Toronto stripclub called Exotica, which has the exact 1990s iconography the term evokes (think kitsch, lots of green indoor plants, and dialogue that sounds almost sardonic). But this is no Showgirls. Mia Kirshner’s totally 1990s postmodern dance to Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” is darkly erotic and unforgettable. Also keep your eyes out for two Canadian icons: a very young Sarah Polley (the important Canadian filmmaker) and a hilariously sleazy Elias Koteas (he’s also in Crash, in case you want to do an Elias Koteas Double Feature).
6. Plata Quemada (2001) Dir. Marcelo Piñeyro
It’s so annoying when you tell someone that a film is queer and they no longer want to see it. They assume it’s a drama, or a coming out story, which is not an assumption that comes out of nowhere – there aren’t a lot of blockbusters or commercially successful films with characters in same-sex relationships where being gay isn’t the entire plot. The 2001 Argentine thriller Plata Quemada / Burnt Money is the kind of film that could satisfy that person who doesn’t want to see a queer film because they think they won’t care about a film that contains anything centrally queer. Not that this should be the purpose of films with queer characters or subjects, but I enjoy bringing the former non-believers to the queer cinematic side. In the film, which is based on a true story, “El Nene” (“The Baby” played by renowned Argentine actor Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Angel (played by Spanish heartthrob Eduardo Noriega) embark on a heist, which gets complicated when they begin a love affair. It’s gritty, sexy, and fast-paced.
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Her current research is located in queer cinema, particularly in Latin America, but she also writes on topics related to culture, film, media and their intersections with gender and sexuality. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, AnOther, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.