BY IRENE KARRAS
Erotic thrillers aren’t always kind to women. While they usually feature strong, gorgeous ladies with some seeming complexity, most films rely on the formula of the brilliant-but-crazy femme fatale or sexy-beyond-her-years teenager easily manipulating the dumb-and-horny-but-generally-nice lead male. With the release of Passion, an erotic thriller featuring two corporate gals out to one-up one another, we present our top five feminist erotic thrillers. There are no boiling bunnies or ice picks here, just strong women doing scary, sexy stuff on their own terms.
Body Heat (1981)
In the film that launched her career, Kathleen Turner has hot sex with a young William Hurt during a sweltering Florida heat wave while masterminding a scheme that leaves her queen of the hill. Turner is sexually confident and completely in control, making her Mattie much more compelling than a conventional plotting wife. Her chemistry with Hurt is legendary and has helped make the film a cult classic.
Sea of Love (1989)
Before the Internet, loners looking for love had to place ads in newspapers. Like online dating, this could be risky. When men placing ads start dying in NYC, veteran cop Al Pacino starts investigating and becomes attracted to his prime suspect, played by Ellen Barkin. Barkin is one of those women to whom the term “broad” applies in the best way possible. She’s sexy, tough and whip-smart, and her Helen Kruger is fierce. She and Pacino are hot together, and the screenplay’s smarter than most.
Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon play lovers who take on the mafia and show the world that they are smarter, tougher and more interesting than anyone ever gave them credit for. One of the original sex-positive feminists, Susie Bright, was brought in to consult on the film. The result is a funny, realistic (especially for its time) portrayal of a lesbian relationship, and a metaphorical look at how each of us is inclined to closet some part of ourselves.
Lust, Caution (2007)
Ang Lee directed this film, so it’s gorgeous and deeper than a typical sexual awakening story. Set in Japan-occupied Shanghai during World War 2, the story of naïve university student and resistance movement recruit Wong Chia-chi is sometimes hard to watch but always compelling. As she falls in love with her target, the sometimes brutal Mr. Yee, we are drawn into a complex and conflicted affair with an ending that couldn’t be more perfect for its realism.
Black Swan (2010)
Natalie Portman got all the glory but Mila Kunis gives an equally stellar performance as Portman’s ballet frenemy. Though some might argue this is more horror than erotic thriller, I include it here because the way it explores sexuality plays a big role. There’s a mystery underfoot; two strong, young female actresses carry the film, and because it’s a great metaphor for the pressure young women are feeling as they try to reconcile all the conflicting messages about what it means to be young and female in today’s society.
Irene Karras is a Calgary-based communications consultant and freelance writer with a fondness for 1950s Greek melodramas, 1980s coming of age movies, weird Canadian films, and, by necessity, PG movies. She blogs at misplacedmysassy.wordpress.com and tweets @irene_karras.