Erotic Underground 8: Five Thrillers from 1984-1990


One of the most exciting aspects of delving into the VHS/Direct to DVD wasteland that comprises the cinematic history of the erotic thriller is discovering new films to experience.  The pandemic has made binging and viewing marathons even more commonplace than they were before and as a result this article is an amalgam of hidden and revered genre experiences that range from obscure masterworks to bargain bin sleaze, all of which are equally important contributions to adult oriented exotica.  Here are five films that heralded the death of the 80's and ushered in the 90's aesthetic of post- modern excess.  


Blind Date (1984)

Director Niko Mastaroki is one of the horniest film makers in history.  His films always involve strange happenings and an almost dreamlike approach to serious situations. Beginning with a sci fi take (which would be repeated in In the Cold of the Night) on the serial killer genre, the story focuses on a man who is blinded while spying on a possible former flame and receives an experimental treatment that turns his vision into a computer game, allowing him to navigate the world and pursue a killer who is threatening the women in his life.  The protagonist being a loathsome stalker is vintage Mastaroki, but what makes this particular film so memorable is in its kinky atmosphere.  Naked bodies are everywhere, even in the middle of a surprise birthday party, which are the kind of outlandish choices that define the king of sleaze's reputation.  

Featuring a cameo by 2001's Keir Dullea and a wonderful supporting turn by Animal House's James Daughton, this is a slick and absurd jaunt back to the 80's.  One of the more intriguing aspects is in how the violence is surprisingly lacking.  The setup to each kill is top level Giallo homage, and yet, the bloodshed is toned down, essentially making Blind Date the perverted cousin of a De Palma film of the era.  The final result is a hilariously cheesy bedroom romp with darkness at every edge, a feat only Mastaroki could pull off.  

Availability: Scorpion Releasing Blu-Ray 

Betty Blue (1986)

A candy-coated exploration of hedonism that begins as a daydream, Jean-Jacques Beineix's Betty Blue slowly descends into a nightmare of mental illness and selfish disregard.  The story focuses on a struggling writer who, while working as a caretaker at a beach town, begins a dangerously passionate affair with a free-spirited woman.  The result is a vortex of steamy sexual sequences and heartbreaking explosions of anger and guilt.  The unexpected genius of this tragic love story is in its three acts, which begins on a beach, then moves to the outskirts of Paris before winding down in a small quiet town, transitions that echo the stages of every great love story.  

While it could be debated as to whether this film qualifies as an erotic thriller, the way in which the main character's self-absorption leads to the destruction of not only the central relationship but of his lover is both soul crushing and absolutely terrifying when coupled with the notion that such self-imposed ignorance is alive and well, even today. 

Availability: The Criterion Collection 

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

Paul Shrader's woefully underrated masterwork is a toxic tapestry of dread and desire.  Housed within an anti-Venice, the story concerns a vacationing couple who are drawn into the orbit of a sinister husband and wife duo. This is the definition of a mood piece as peril hangs over every scene.  Christopher Walken is especially imposing as the husband to Helen Mirren's duplicitous wife.   Still, despite the shadows in every corner, there is an undeniable allurement to proceedings.  These are interesting people toying with less interesting people and while the end is almost a foregone conclusion, the ramifications are of import. 

Strangers is about power dynamics filtered through the realizations of lives unfulfilled.  Do the villains see signs of themselves in their prey or is there a darker, ulterior motive, such as the murdering of naivety? While the drama plays out on the sun washed streets of a poisonous Italian city, the protagonists are merely toys, as things have already been decided.  Upon revisit, one might even see shades of Ari Aster's Hereditary lurking under its corrupted skin.

Availability: The Criterion Collection

Pale Blood (1990)

If there is one film that encapsulates the end of the 80's with the birth of the 90's, it is V.V. Dachin Hsu and Michael Leighton's absolutely insane Pale Blood. One of the more unique takes on the vampire mythology, the story involves an obvious vampire who is hunting a serial killer that may or may not be...a vampire.  Featuring Agent Orange's Fire in the Rain (at least 17 times), a hilariously unhinged Wings Hauser, and endless neon montages to the City of Angels, this is essential viewing for students of esoteric horror. 

In addition to the vampire choosing to feed from the breasts of his victims, the undeniable atmosphere is another...interesting choice.  Where the cocaine fueled revelry of the previous decade dominated the ambiance of low budget shockers, it is music, mystery, and abrupt violence that prevail here.  The result is an unforgettable, if hokey affair with style to spare.

Availability: Vinegar Syndrome 

Red Blooded American Girl (1990)

One of the most forgotten gems from the direct to video tidal wave that carried erotic thrillers into the 21st century, David Blyth's Red Blooded American Girl is a distant cousin to Pale Blood.  Another, less unique spin on the vampire legend, this one features not only the wonderful Christopher Plummer and Kim Coates, it also features erotic thriller icon Andrew Stevens in one of his more unusual starring roles.  Stevens stars as a chemist who tests designer drugs (on himself).  He's approached by a shady doctor to join his research project to help AIDS victims, which of course turns out to obfuscating the fact that the company is trying to solve vampirism.  

Featuring a handful of surprisingly well created sets, deep reds flooding the optical nerve in virtually every scene, and Plummer giving a legitimately hilarious turn as a villain, this one is simply too ludicrous to miss. The way in which blood is taken (via the ankle) and some of Coates' kinky scenes are what elevate this from forgettable late-night trash to meteoric sexy camp.  

Availability: DVD 

--Kyle Jonathan