Erotic Underground Part 2: Ten Thrillers from 1985-1989

After the initial heyday of the early 80's, studios began to see the potential for adult focused cinema.  Using the erotic thriller as a vehicle, directors would continue to explore risqué taboos of gratuitous sex and violence, with the late 80's forming an experimental period in the genre, ultimately leading to some of the most popular and memorable American films of the decade. While the undeniable kink of the early 80's was somewhat forsaken as the exploitation film began to decline, the illicit undercurrent remained at the fore, even in mainstream films. What follows is a list of ten erotic thrillers from 1985-1989 and where they can be viewed online.

Jagged Edge (1985)

Starring Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges and directed by Return of the Jedi's Richard Marquand, this one of the first (of many) erotic thrillers that involve the legal system.  Close stars as an attorney who is representing a man who may or may not have killed his wife.  As their relationship crosses the line from professional to carnal, Close's Teddy Barnes is forced to confront some uncomfortable, dangerous truths.  Written by erotica legend Joe Eszterhas, the film was praised for its performances and suspenseful sequences.  A remake is currently planned starring Halle Berry. 

Availability: Crackle (with Ads), Digital Rental

52 Pick Up (1986)

John Frankenheimer's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's pitch black neo noir is a mean motor scooter.  Featuring an unbelievable ensemble of Roy Scheider, Ann Margaret, John Glover, Kelly Preston, Vanity, and Clarence Williams III, 52 Pick Up is a monumental crime picture with style to spare and an unrelenting ambiance of sleaze.  Affairs, blackmail, murder, and strippers are all on the menu as Scheider’s amoral everyman navigates the dark side of his privileged world. 

Availability: Pluto TV (with Ads)

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

Adrian Lyne's classic 9 1/2 Weeks required substantial edits in order to be released in America.  The film bombed, but found success in other countries where the unedited version was released.  A star vehicle for Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, the film explores a dangerous sexual relationship between a businessman and an art gallery owner.  In the years since its release its depiction of masochistic sexual practices, an infamous eating sequence, and other elements have garnered it a cult following.  Ultimately a doomed love story, Basinger's vulnerability is perhaps the strongest element, as her character is more grounded in reality than many of the female protagonists in the genre. 

Availability: Digital Rental

Angel Heart (1987)

Another Mickey Rourke film, Alan Parker's Angel Heart was extremely controversial upon release for its graphic sequences of sex and violence.  One of the first supernatural erotica films, it explores a shady detective Harry Angel who is hired by a mysterious businessman to track down a missing soldier.  Filmed in the Big Easy, Angel Heart went on to influence Christopher Nolan and the Bioshock videogame. Filled with a palpable sense of dread, Parker's unsung masterwork is not only a sterling example of the potential of the erotic thriller, it is also one of the greatest horror films ever made. 

Availability: Showtime, Cinemax, Digital Rental  

Black Widow (1987)

Theresa Russell (Bad Timing) and Debra Winger face off as killer and hunter in this unique, female focused story about obsession.  Both actresses dominate the screen with gripping performances as the lines between them begin to blur. Blending elements of the noir femme fatale with modern concepts of female empowerment, Bob Rafelson creates a world of unease around his principals that lingers in the subconscious. 

Availability: HBO, Cinemax, Digital Rental 

Fatal Attraction (1987)

The erotic thriller Flagship, Adrian Lyne's late 80's bombshell took the adult cinematic world by storm.  Featuring a legendary performance by Glenn Close, the film explores the fall out of an extramarital affair.  Michael Douglas stars as the unfaithful husband to Anne Archer.  He meets Close's Alex at a business function and begins a sexual relationship with her that takes extremely dark turns.  What makes the film stand out is that Douglas' character is a villain, discarding Alex and attempting to obfuscate his wrongdoings which leads to them ultimately, painfully coming out of the shadows.  Close was extremely protective of her character, championing the original (much darker) ending that was ultimately cut.  Close garnered an Oscar nom for her turn and the film remains essential 80’s American cinema viewing to this day. 

Availability: Showtime, Digital Rental 

Stripped to Kill (1987)

Signaling the slow death of the exploitation film, Katt Shea's low key masterwork follows a detective who goes undercover at a strip club to catch a murderer.  Aside from the film being directed by a woman and exploring sex work from a female perspective, one of the most intriguing elements is how Kay Lenz's detective Cody begins to empathize with the performers and undergoes a sexual awakening.  Filled with cheesy tropes and an insane final twist, this is the definition of cult classic. 

Availability: Amazon Prime 

Dead Ringers (1988)

David Cronenberg's living nightmare deals with a bizarre pair of twin gynecologists who share their sexual conquests...without informing their lovers of the change.  Featuring a harrowing performance by Jeremy Irons, the film achieved cult status virtually upon release.  Covering themes of betrayal, substance abuse, and duality via gruesome surgical equipment, demonic mutants, and horrific violence, Dead Ringers is one of the most art house entries in the genre, transcending traditional staples to create an intoxicating, uncomfortable apocalypse of the soul. 

Availability: Amazon Prime

Spellbinder (1988)

Demons.  Witches.  Sexy Bubble Baths.  Janet Greek's B movie classic, Spellbinder has it all.  Featuring a rogue's gallery of 80's character actors (Tim Daly, Kelly Preston, Rick Rossovich, Audra Lindley, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) the story of doomed lovers is filtered through a witch coven conspiracy pot boiler.  Daly stars as an attorney who rescues a who re  Daly and Preston steam up their scenes with chemistry that is able to overcome the camp laden script.  Ultimately the film’s surprisingly well crafter plot leads the viewer to an unexpected, but perfectly chilling conclusion.

Availability: STARZ, Digital Rental 

Sea of Love (1989)

After a critical and commercial nightmare (Revolution), Al Pacino did not star in a film for four years.  His return was Harold Becker's (Taps) Sea of Love.  Costarring Ellen Barkin, in the role that would instantly reaffirm her sex symbol status, the story is yet again about serial killer.  This time the murderer is preying on men who answer rhyming singles' ads in a NYC newspaper.  Pacino's alcoholic detective decides to play along and encounters Barkin's fierce, and possibly guilty, divorcee.  Aside from the sex scenes, John Goodman's supporting role as a detective absolutely steals the spotlight.  

Availability: STARZ, Digital Rental 

--Kyle Jonathan