Erotic Underground 7: Ten Thrillers from 2000-2002

The 21st century ushered in a new era of the erotic thriller.  Combining elements of art house sensibility with shocking violence and unsimulated sex scenes, many erotica films were banned upon release or heavily edited.  With the Blu-ray player on the horizon and the internet continuing to gain traction, this was the beginning of the end for video rental stores and direct to video/DVD titles that had long since been the heart's blood of the genre.  What follows is ten films from the time period and where to find them. 

Baise Moi (2000)

Easily the most controversial film in this list, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi's Baise Moi (Fuck Me) is a revenge, exploitation, and feminist revolution rolled inside a grimy, uncomfortable look at a generation in distress.  Featuring unsimulated sex scenes with penetration and a plethora of violent kills, the story revolves around a prostitute and porn star who go on a killing spree across France, dividing the public.  Starring actual pornographic actresses Karen Lancaume and Rafaela Anderson, Moi is a masterclass in guerilla filmmaking and is most certainly not for the weak of heart.

Availability: Arrow Video Region 2 DVD 

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Perhaps the greatest film of the century and one of the finest ever made, David Lynch's surreal nightmare is a terrifying exploration of the dark side of fame and Hollywood.  Starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring as two women whose identities begin to blur as they attempt to solve a mystery in Tinseltown, all while a director is being manipulated by mysterious forces to possibly cast one of them in his new film.  Featuring a steamy sex sequence and some genuinely horrifying moments, this is essential viewing, not only for the genre but for cinema itself.

Availability: Digital Rental, Criterion Collection 

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Michael Haneke's controversial masterwork could be considered an unusual choice as an erotic thriller, however it emblematic of how malleable the genre is.  The incomparable Isabelle Huppert stars as a sexually repressed music teacher whose abusive relationship with her mother manifests as psychological trauma.  She meets a new student and begins a violent, dangerous sexual contest of wills that ultimately threatens to destroy her carefully designed facade.  This is a heavy, deeply disturbing film, not for its content, but for its implications about control, sexual mores, and power dynamics within the boudoir. 

Availability: Digital Rental, Criterion Collection

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Claire Denis' masterful addition to the New French Extremity is a nihilistic sojourn into the uncomfortable truths of relationships.  On the surface, the violent story involves an American doctor who is afflicted by a cannibalistic form of vampirism who brings his wife to Paris on a "honeymoon" as a means to masque him searching for his former lover who infected him.  Featuring two sequences of intense violence and uncomfortable sex scenes dappled throughout, this is one of the most brutal erotic thrillers ever made.  Merciless in its accusations and distinctly ominous in its provocations, the film is a staunch reminder of Denis' formidable talent. 

Availability: Digital Rental 

The Center of the World (2001)

Controversial upon release for a scene involving an exotic dancer (portrayed by a pornographic actress) and a lollipop, Wayne Wang's (Slam Dance) stylish, somber foray into the veneer of love is a wounding experience, featuring difficult to view sex sequences, endless heartbreak, and a bravura performance by Molly Parker (Kissed, Deadwood).  Using a nonlinear style, the film recounts a relationship between a depressed millionaire who hires an exotic dancer to be his escort for several days in Las Vegas.  Yes, another brutal entry (a theme for these few years), Center is a cinematic experience the viewer will not soon forget as it delves into the concepts of boundaries and the illusion of compassion, and how these deceptions can ultimately destroy everything they initially constructed. 

Availability: Digital Rental 

Original Sin (2001)

A remake of Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid, Original Sin stars Antonio Banderas as a Cuban merchant who purchases a mail order bride from America (Angelina Jolie) who may or may not be what she appears to be.  Considered a guilty pleasure in adult cinema for its overlong sex scene in the first act, the film was critically maligned upon release.  While the plot is a milquetoast affair, the chemistry between Banderas and Jolie is worth the ride.  Ultimately this is a tale of love and lies and how the two commingle into an amalgam of betrayal and loyalty, changing the participants into things beyond their perceived moral limits.

Availability: Digital Rental, STARZ 

Zebra Lounge (2001)

A cheesy, trashterpiece, Zebra Lounge posits: Fatal Attraction...but with swingers.  Featuring a hilariously villainous Stephen Baldwin and Kristy Swanson, the story follows an unhappily married couple who dip their toes into the swinger lifestyle to rekindle their passion.  Unfortunately, the couple they choose to congregate with (Baldwin & Swanson) become more attached than they could imagine leading to lust, betrayal, and murder.  Come for the faux-sleaze that only cable tv movies could deliver and stay for Baldwin's hammy, scene chewing delivery.

Availability: Amazon Prime, Tubi 

Cold Heart (2001)

Mix Josh Halloway (Lost), Jeff Fahey, and Nastassja Kinski and what is the result?  A 90's throwback thriller with some unexpected twists and turns.  While the script is exactly what you'd expect, the way the neo-noirish plot winds through the acts is admirable.  Halloway plays a dangerous loner who is released from a psychiatric ward with Fahey being his mandated therapist who also helps him find employment under his wife (Kinski).  The expected forbidden romance develops and that is when things begin to evolve in unexpected directions.  Halloway steals the limelight, delivering one of his most over the top performances.  

Availability: IMDB TV w/ Ads

Femme Fatale (2002)

Perhaps the greatest film of Brian De Palma's storied career, Femme Fatale follows a mysterious jewel thief (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) who double crosses her partners and vanishes, only to resurface and begin a relationship with a reporter (Antonio Banderas). Aside from being a beautiful, sexy film, filled with beautiful, sexy people, this is an elegant thriller with style to spare.  Romjin-Stamos is unforgettable as the duplicitous grifter who may be falling in love with her quarry, while Banderas does a wonderful job as the fish out of water, all while themes of memory, fate, and chance are explored.  The end result is an underrated masterwork that deserves attention.

Availability: Cinemax, Digital Rental. 

Unfaithful (2002)

The performance of Diane Lane's remarkable career is the centerpiece of Adrian Lyne's divisive Unfaithful.  The premise is simple: A happily married woman begins a torrid affair with a book collector after a chance meeting.  The sex sequences are simultaneously elegant and dirty, a perfect mix of the elements that define the erotic thriller.  Richard Gere gives a subdued performance as her husband, one of the weaker elements of the film, but make no mistake, this is Lane's show, with her performance elevating an otherwise mediocre, overdone story to greatness.

Availability: Cinemax, Digital Rental

--Kyle Jonathan