The Ten Best Steamy Thrillers
My husband always goes for the gangster epic, but when it comes to movie night, I’m all about the erotic thriller. But how many times can a person sit through Fatal Attraction? In case you share my predilection for stiletto heels and ice picks but are in desperate need of new ideas, I herewith offer my very idiosyncratic list of the top ten erotic thrillers:
10. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
The sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland is the stuff of legend. The depiction of marriage is piercing. The mist-shrouded Venice setting is haunting. And it’s adapted from a short story by Daphne du Maurier. What more do you want?
9. Swimming Pool (François Ozon, 2003)
I didn’t pick this film just because the main character is a crime novelist played by style icon Charlotte Rampling. Nor because said crime novelist, after having complained of writer’s block, is given the run of her publisher’s sprawling vacation home in the Luberon. Nor because it’s France in the summer and nobody wears too much in the way of clothes. I picked it because the arrival of the publisher’s daughter, played to perfection by Ludivine Sagnier, ignites a perverse love triangle that may or may not have happened, and before anybody can say “Mon Dieu!” the crime novelist finds herself face-to-face with a body in the pool house.
8. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
The greatest film made by cinema’s greatest auteur. Visually stunning, psychologically acute, and emotionally devastating, it’s also a puzzle that will mystify you until its very last vertiginous moments.
7. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Speaking of Vertigo, this neo-noir fantasia, featuring Naomi Watts in the dual role of Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn, is the stereotypical riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma—a hallucinatory homage to Hitchcock’s masterwork, an exploration of one woman’s obsessive sexual desire for an unattainable Other, and a meditation upon the bitter aftertaste left by unquenchable Hollywood dreams.
6. Poison Ivy (Katt Shea, 1992)
If Oscar Wilde were alive today, he might be slightly perturbed that his take on the biblical epic of Salome was an uncredited source of this cheesy but delicious teen flick. An under-aged girl (Drew Barrymore) seduces this weirdo older guy by doing a totally hot dance for him in a killer sequined dress she steals from her socially inept friend’s dying mom (Cheryl Ladd, of course). Poison Ivy is, in fact, a bubbling cauldron of references to erotic thrillers past, from Leave Her to Heaven to Lolita to Fatal Attraction. Bonus: see if you can spot an 18-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio.
5. Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? (Jorge Montesi, 1996)
Pity the fool who tries to choose the best Lifetime erotic thriller. Will it be the relatively refined Widow on the Hill, starring Natasha Henstridge as the promiscuous hospice nurse; or Too Young to Die, featuring a then-unknown Brad Pitt as a low-life hustler; or the ripped-from-the-headlines, panic-inducing Sexting in Suburbia? No, there is only one choice here: the Tori Spelling classic Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? Might I suggest a double bill that includes James Franco’s 2016 remake, featuring Tori in the mother role, alongside a game assortment of nubile lesbian “nightwalkers,” determined to usher Tori’s innocent daughter into their collegiate vampire coven.
4. Sleeping with the Enemy (Joseph Ruben, 1991)
The closest thing to a Lifetime movie to make it to the big screen, this underrated gem boasts scenery-chewing performances by hunky Liam Neeson wannabe Patrick Bergin as the misunderstood husband who just wants his bath towels hung neatly, and a pitch-perfect Julia Roberts, whose brunette locks metamorphose metaphorically as she plots her doomed escape from her drool-worthy beachfront prison.
3. American Gigolo (Paul Schrader, 1980)
A 1980s fairy tale in which gigolos look impeccable in slouchy Armani suits, and their female clients look like Lauren Hutton, never less than sultry in a trench coat and a Bottega Veneta clutch, the brand brought back in 2016 in homage to the model-actress’s iconic role. Too bad Richard Gere’s Julian didn’t have better luck with pimps: framed for the murder of a woman after said pimp gets him a gig sleeping with her in front of her businessman husband, Julian has to beat the clock to prove his innocence, all while maintaining a grueling workout schedule that includes doing bicep curls while hanging upside down in gravity boots. Good thing that pulsing Giorgio Moroder beat never gets old.
2. Play Misty for Me (Clint Eastwood, 1971)
You will want to watch this one if you haven’t already seen it, not merely for the sexy jazz soundtrack, which includes Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” but also for Jessica Walter’s over-the-top performance as an obsessed fan of radio deejay Clint Eastwood. Though she lost the Golden Globe that year to Jane Fonda, who won for Klute, Walter established the template for bunny-boilers for decades to come, and, not incidentally, looked amazing in her pastel-colored polyester separates.
1. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
This is the real deal, and it doesn’t get any sexier than the quick-paced, innuendo-laced dialogue (penned by none other than Raymond Chandler) that flies between seductress Barbara Stanwyck, resplendent in a dressing gown and that honey of an anklet, and her oh-so-gullible mark, insurance salesman Fred MacMurray.