In 1999 the most significant American film movement
Throughout the 1990s the erotic thriller, a volatile mixture of danger and romance, quietly dominated late-night cable TV and the shelves of neighborhood video stores.
Unlike the grimy, realistic crime films of the 1970s, erotic thrillers were set in Malibu beach houses, pool-side resorts, and upscale Los Angeles night clubs. The world of the erotic thriller was an aspirational world of adult fantasy.
These films pushed boundaries and ignited protest by provocatively mixing voyeurism, sex, and violence into dark parables for mainstream society.
A few of these films -- Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Body of Evidence -- were Hollywood blockbusters.
Most were independently financed films that bypassed theaters and went straight to home video. These direct-to-video, or "DTV" erotic thrillers, far outnumbered the studio films.
The VHS tape, now unplayable in most homes, was for many the only official release.
Like noir films of the 1940s, the erotic thriller had a signature style, stock characters, and recurring themes that reflected the culture of its time. The old story tropes of the Great Depression -- organized crime, masculinity under duress, the fear of female independence -- were amplified in erotic thrillers by the conservative culture of the 80s and 90s, the looming threat of AIDS, and new technologies for surveillance and video recording in the home.
He was hired to watch.
Erotic thrillers also featured women in starring roles. Single or married, women in these films explored boundaries like men had been doing in film since the 1940s; and they clashed with men for power at work and in the bedroom!
She'll stop at nothing
Then cable TV expanded and diversified, the Internet arrived, and Blockbuster Video closed it doors.
Like footprints in the sand that suddenly disappear, many icons of the genre faded from public view.
The era of the sexy late-night thriller ended and it took a certain kind of story with it -- the kind of story that is difficult to find in this era of superheroes and giant robots.
For a long time the genre has been dormant. But within the past decade, a new audience for these films has begun to emerge, and the true size and importance of the genre is taking shape.
It has since been discovered that between 1985-2005, over 500 erotic thrillers were made for the direct-to-video market, making the genre easily comparable to film noir.
Yet today, like the legendary city Atlantis, most of these films are lost in time.
Combining interviews with major figures in the genre and writers from around the world who are now re-discovering these forgotten films, We Kill for Love is a journey into the lost world...
...of the erotic thriller!
Written for Vanity Fair in 2017 on the 25th anniversary of Basic Instinct (1992), Donald Liebenson's article marked the first time any major publication referenced a DTV erotic thriller like Night Eyes (1990) in the same breath as a lofty studio picture. We've interviewed several people quoted in this fantastic article.
Abbey Bender's article on this lost genre appeared in no less than the Sunday print edition of the Washington Post.