Basic Instinct (1992)

Rating: A-

Dir: Paul Verhoeven
Star: Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn, George Dzundza

This probably marks a commercial high-water mark for just about everyone involved: neither Verhoeven, Douglas, Stone nor screenwriter Joe Eszterhas have had any projects rach the same level of popular success since. It is undeniably Stone’s movie: Catherine Trammell is the Devil, basically, and manipulates all those around her in a way that renders her the Queen Bitch of cinema in the past 25 years. Poor homicide detective Nick Curran (Douglas) doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going – and you can take that how you want – as he tries to find out whether she’s a supremely cunning psychopath or a misunderstood writer. Or, possibly, both. It ran into controversy before it ever opened, GLAAD extrapolating from characters in a movie to claim some over-broad statement about humanity – through bisexual critic Camille Paglia did a commentary on the DVD and rates it among her all-time favourites.

Truth is, no-one gets out alive, gay or straight: the film has hardly any morals to speak of, with the “hero” a barely reformed coke fiend whose past record involves shooting innocent bystanders. It’s typical Verhoeven, going full bore at its subject matter like a meth-crazed pit-bull, and the opening scene that, with its ice-pick to the face, remains among the most shocking of all time for its inspired conjunction of sex and violence. That’s probably the film’s main weakness: there’s nothing quite like that the rest of the way, and even the much-heralded “beaver shot” (right) is a triumph of hype over substance. Rather than building to a climax (again, take that how you want!), it seems to coast downhill. Regardless, much like ‘horror comedy’, the ‘erotic thriller’ genre is attempted far more often than it’s managed successfully. Most efforts succeed in being neither erotic nor thrilling, and that makes Verhoeven’s success in both these aspects all the more impressive.