Basic Instinct (1992)

“What are you going to do, charge me with smoking?”

Andie’s Rating: I’ll never look at an ice pick the same way again

Andie’s Review: Okay, so Basic Instinct is one of the first really adult movies I ever saw. I was spending the week at my grandma’s house while my family was in Minnesota. One night, I’m getting ready for bed in the basement on the pull out couch and I flip on Showtime. Basic Instinct is starting in a few minutes. “Cool!” I think to my 12-year-old self, “This is supposed to be really scary, I’m going to watch it.” Over two hours later, I was so terrified that I wanted to run upstairs and sleep in the spare bedroom, but I couldn’t actually get off the couch because I was too afraid that someone would stab me to death with an ice pick as I ran from the couch to the stairs.

So that was my first experience with Basic Instinct. Not only was it my first truly scary movie, it was also my first major sex movie and first lesbian movie. Pretty heavy stuff for a 12-year-old, even one as cool and mature as me (ha ha). But after I got over being completely freaked out, I ended up really liking it. When I went back to watch it so I could review it for MRFH, I caught things I’d never even noticed before. I’ve also decided that getting to play Sharon Stone’s character would be the coolest thing ever. She is sexuality and dangerousness and intrigue all balled up in a slinky white dress.

The basic premise is that some hotshot guy is tied up during sex and stabbed to death with an ice pick. Michael Douglas plays Nick the detective in charge of investigating. Turns out the dead guy’s girlfriend Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is a writer and in one of her books a hotshot guy is killed in the exact same way. So that sort of implicates her and also sort of gives her an alibi. I’ll let you think that one over for a second… okay. So he starts to investigate her. The scene where they bring her in for questioning is one of the coolest scenes ever.

What this all boils down to is a very excellent erotic thriller. It has twists and turns all over the place and you’ll be wondering who the killer was long after the movie ends. It truly harkens back to the old 1940s detective stories. I think this plot (minus all the sex and violence) would’ve made a totally killer Bogart/Bacall movie. I’m a big fan of both of them and I think the only other person who could’ve done Catherine Tramell better than Sharon Stone would’ve been Lauren Bacall. So, if you’re looking for a night of sex and violence and a good plot to boot, Basic Instinct is definitely worth checking out.

Kyle’s Rating: I guess this was sort of erotic, back in the day

Kyle’s Review: I remember that my first major college girlfriend, when I brought up how much I was desperate to rent Tomorrow Never Dies when it was first available for rental, got a kind of faraway look in her eyes and responded in her husky voice: “Mmm, we should rent Basic Instinct, too. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that.” Her body language, tone, and personal choice of film to rent told me everything I needed to know in that situation, and things turned out wonderfully! Well, in the short-term, that is: in the long-term, things went really, really badly. So much so that she’s the only girlfriend whose letters and photographs I’ve completely thrown away. Bad times, bad times.

All of which, in a metaphorical and simultaneously symbolic way, reflects upon the effect Basic Instinct had on our world and our lives. At the time (for those of us old enough to remember watching the news and entertainment shows to see stories about the consequences of releasing Basic Instinct upon the masses) it seemed like super-important smut that had some kind of message. Whether it was the right sort of message or the wrong sort of message depended a lot upon your sexual orientation and ability to even see the movie in the first place. I was too young to see it in the theaters, but crafty enough to sneak my grandma’s pirated copy of it outside of her massive pirated movie closet and get it to my VCR in the basement. Those, as you might guess, were good times.

But even then, Basic Instinct wasn’t “all that and a bag of sexy chips.” I guess I’ve never had any kind of thing for Sharon Stone, even in my hormone-soaked teenage years, which is really saying something. I was more impressed that Michael Douglas was such a good actor (I really liked him in Romancing the Stone so I was in shock that he could play a fairly unlikeable character) and that the general story of the film was so convoluted that I had little to no idea about what was going on.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t greatly, GREATLY enjoy the nudity and impressive sex scenes. They were, and arguably still are, a whole lot of fun. Yes! But I think they kind of cast Basic Instinct in a light it doesn’t quite recover from: it gets thought of as this controversial smutty sex movie, when actually it tries (and largely succeeds) at being an intelligent erotic thriller that thrives upon, rather than apologizes for, its main characters’ sexual drives. That is, you can certainly rent this movie just looking for crazy sex scenes, and not be too disappointed, but you might be missing out upon a fairly polished suspenseful mystery film whose faltering at the end is paradoxically lessened by all that sex. So it all sort of falls flat, but it was great to look at all throughout and REALLY great to look at during certain parts (hey yo!), so you forgive it. You probably shouldn’t, but hey: it was the ’90s, and style over substance (especially in any film set in Los Angeles) was the name of the game.

I’m not entirely sure what sort of reputation Basic Instinct has ended up with, mostly because I don’t care and also because it’s sort of a taboo film to discuss: you can make fun of and laugh about stuff like the Emmanuelle films or weirdness like Liquid Sky, but the strange blend of sex, humor, violence, and poorly-explained confusing ending of Basic Instinct sort of sets it up as a wallflower not to be talked about or even looked at directly in polite company. Which might be for the best, maybe. But even in these seemingly puritanical times, it’s nice to know that there are movies like this one out there on the shelves, just in case someone wants to learn about, or rediscover, the fascinating world of sexually-charged kinky thrillers. Because, thankfully, there’s more to the “drama” and “mystery” film sections than meets the eye. Thank goodness for that!

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