Erotic Underground 3: Ten Thrillers from 1990-1991

The 1990's marked the climax of the erotic thriller.  Coasting on the experimental success of the late 80's, the first two years of the 90's saw a plethora of themes and extremes.  Ranging from classic, sex tinged neo noir potboilers to uncomfortable explorations of sex workers, 1990-1991 formed a strong foundation for the monolithic years that were soon to follow within the subgenre.  Here are ten films from that era, and where to view them.  

The Hot Spot (1990)

Dennis Hopper's noir homage recalls the sweat slicked sets of the 50's, particularly the isolation and borderline inappropriateness of relationships in Ride the Pink Horse.  Set in a quite Texas town, the story is deceptively simple: A mysterious drifter gets involved with a dangerous women and what follows is sex, murder, and mayhem.  Hopper's unmistakable madcap touch drenches everything, amplifying the sexual tension and heights of the archetypal characters.  Starring Don Johnson, Jennifer Connelly, and the absolutely mesmerizing Virginia Madsen (Candyman), The Hot Spot demonstrates that staying (mostly) within the lines of noirish staples can still set the screen ablaze. 

Availability: Pluto TV (w/ Ads), Shout Factory Special Edition

Impulse (1990)

Theresa Russell returns in a back-alley nightmare helmed by the remarkable Sandra Locke. Russell stars as Lottie, an undercover vice detective who enjoys her work possibly more than she should.  She begins a relationship with a well-meaning prosecutor, a vulnerable and humane Jeff Fahey, while also being used as bait in a dangerous sting operation.  While not as steamy as some of her other offerings, Impulse has an undeniable aura of forbidden desires that permeates throughout.  Featuring a striking villainous turn by George Dzunda and a heart pounding chase sequence during the second act, this film showcases Locke's talent, reminding viewers of what could have been before her fallout with Clint Eastwood. 

Availability: Digital Rental

After Dark My Sweet (1990)

James Foley's nihilistic masterpiece features a trio of unforgettable performances.  Jason Patric leads as a mentally ill former boxer who drifts into a seedy forgotten town.  He is supported by Bruce Dern, in one of the best performances of his career as a corrupt schemer who draws Patric into his web.  Rounding out the trifecta is Rachel Ward as the sultry not-so-femme fatale.  Featuring a beyond steamy sex sequence and some absolutely soul crushing twists and turns, this bleak neo noir powerhouse stares into the void of greed and lust and never looks away.  

Availability: Digital Rental

In the Cold of the Night (1990)

Mind Control.  Glowing Waterbeds. Indoor Motorcycles.  Marbles as an erotic party favor.  If Vaporwave was possessed by the sexual specter that haunts the forgotten hallways of VHS splendor and given a rogue form of cinematic life, it would look like Nico Mastorakis' sextech-noir In the Cold of the Night.  The premise involves a photographer who begins to have nightmares about killing a woman and naturally he seeks her out with...unusual consequences.  This is a film that has no regrets about its influences.  An homage to Blow Up and Kiss Me Deadly, Mastorakis' sexual neon warhead plows through any sense of coherence to deliver the viewer into a world of his own desire.  Featuring a meta cameo by The Bird's Tippy Hedren, Shannon Tweed (the erotic thriller queen), and remarkable visuals captured by Andreas Bellis' gorgeous cinematography, this is not only one of the best films in this risque troupe, it is easily one of the greatest films of the 1990's. 

Availability: Vinegar Syndrome Special Edition

Mortal Passions (1990)

Starring Zach Galligan (Gremlins) as Todd, this is vintage early 90's trash with a heart of wicked gold.  The story centers on a suicidal man who is recovering and while he is out of work, his duplicitous wife begins working as a cocktail waitress, the result of which is an extra marital affair.  The lovers' plot to kill Todd is complicated by the arrival of his brother Berke, played by Breaking Bad's Michael Bowen.  What follows is an endless stream of quasi-surreal confrontations that are bolstered by several sex scenes that enhances the danger and psychological hijinks that are underway.  Add in an absolutely insane finale and the yield is a memorable, if laughably dramatic thriller. 

A Kiss Before Dying (1991)

A remake of a 1956 adaptation, James Dearden's A Kiss Before Dying demonstrates that Matt Dillon's is one of the best American Actors working today.  Tapping a darkness that would not be conjured again until Lars von Trier's The House that Jack Built, Dillon steals every scene as a mysterious killer who insinuates himself into the lives of a Copper Baron's family.  Supported by Sean Young (Blade Runner) in twin roles, this joins Cape Fear and The Silence of the Lambs as one of the best thrillers of 91.  Young and Dillon’s chemistry is intoxicating in every one of their shared scenes, even as the relationship devolves to terror.

Availability: Digital Rental, STARZ 

Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)

Perhaps the most unique film in this list, Sleeping with the Enemy is a "light" erotic thriller that hints more at sexuality, rather than show it.   The bulk of the uncomfortable sex scenes are in the first few minutes, highlighting Julia Roberts’ Laura's domestic violence prison under Patrick Bergin's intensely creepy Martin.  The film broke Alien's record when it debuted making it the highest grossing debut of a female focused film in history at that time.  It also demonstrated a divide that continues to grow today.  It was critically panned, yet went onto to make 175 million on a budget of 19 million, with audiences loving it.  Today it is still regarded as one of the best revenge/erotic thriller of all time by avid fans.  What makes the film work is Bergin’s villainous command of the material juxtaposed by Robert’s slow transition from fear to rage. 

Availability: Digital Rental, STARZ 

Whore (1991)

If Shannon Tweed is the Queen, Theresa Russell is the erotic Avatar.  Her performances are legendary, balancing a volatile mix of ardor and danger.  Playing characters on the edge seems like second nature, that is until her absolutely phenomenal turn in Ken Russell's deeply controversial Whore is seen, as it reveals her immeasurable talent.  Russell plays Liz, a street-smart prostitute trying to escape an endless cycle of drugs and abuse.  What sets this film apart is how Russell continually breaks the fourth wall with a matter of fact understanding of her predicaments, a performance that undoubtedly influenced Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn.  One of the more disturbing aspects of the film is in how some of the darker subject matter is handled, mainly because the matter of fact, this is life philosophy does not change.  However, this only enhances the hopeful moments when they finally shine through at several points in the film, one of which being a surprisingly tender sequence with a senior citizen client.  

Availability: Region 2 DVD

Inner Sanctum (1991)

The debut feature of professional wrestler Fabulous Freddy Valentine (Fred Olen Ray), Inner Sanctum stars Tanya Roberts, Margaux Hemingway, Joseph Bottoms, and Valerie Wildman. The plot, which is of course not of much import, involves an unfaithful husband who is trying to kill his wife.  He hires a nurse with a shady past (Roberts) to set up for the crime. Aside from Roberts' hilarious accent, one of the more charming aspects of this direct to VHS trashterpiece is that the bulk of the sex sequences take place in a dreamland, the haze of Wildman's drugged wife endlessly forced to watch her husband's dalliances.  While the acting is meteorically cheesy, there's an undeniable sense of abandon that makes the experience worth it.  

Availability: Digital Rental

Angel in Red (1991)

Also known as Uncaged, Lisa Hunt's furious take on the Los Angeles underbelly (and spiritual successor to Streetwalkin') was also the acting debut of Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  The story focuses on siblings who run away into the city of angels and the oldest turns to prostitution to care for her younger brother.  Her pimp is Morgan's Sharkey, a psychopathic killer who begins hunting his former employee when she turns to another pimp for protection.  Featuring hilarious shoot outs and a literal duel of the pimps, this is an excellent addition to the softcore pantheon. 

Availability: Amazon Prime 

--Kyle Jonathan