Friday, April 12, 2024

24 Hours of Movies: '90s Thrillers!

by Patrick Bromley
Let's get sexy!
The 1990s was the decade of the thriller. Thanks to the success of movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Basic Instinct and the proliferation of both the DTV and made-for-late-night cable movie, studios were chasing the thriller dragon left and right. Many of them are great! Some are trashy fun. Others are forgettable junk, but even those have value in that they go down very easily. Hopefully all the different types are represented in our 24-hour lineup.

This marathon was suggested by our own Adam Riske. Love you, Adam!

10 am - Sleeping With the Enemy (1991, dir. Joseph Ruben)
The husband from Hell! It's hard to find a way to begin with a marathon like this, because most of these movies are better watched when it's dark out. Sleeping With the Enemy keeps the sleaze factor low, which is nice this early, even if there is still a lot of ickiness and domestic violence. Patrick Bergin plays a controlling psychotic married to Julia Roberts, who escapes to start a new life without him but he won't let her go. Julia Roberts was such a huge movie star in the wake of Pretty Woman that this was an inexplicably gigantic hit. It's not among my favorite '90s thrillers, but it feels like a good place to start.

12 pm - Raising Cain (1992, dir. Brian De Palma)
It's important in a thriller marathon to have Brian De Palma represented somewhere. He helped invent the contemporary thriller in the 1980s by building on Hitchcock and adding a healthy dose of sex and sleaze, but then kind of abandoned that formula in the 1990s to make big studio movies. Thankfully, he returned to form for this '90s thriller, which stars John Lithgow as a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder who snaps when he discovers his wife (Lolita Davidovich) having an affair. I still haven't seen the reedited version available on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray, so programming it into this marathon is a good excuse to finally watch it. 

1:30 pm - Jennifer 8 (1992, dir. Bruce Robinson)
I recently revisited this thriller I had forgotten since the '90s and realized it kicks ass. Andy Garcia is characteristically intense as a cop trying to protect a blind woman (Uma Thurman) from a serial killer. A great cast with a deep bench of amazing actors, moody cinematography, and a patient pace make this a standout in the sea of thrillers released during the decade. I'm hoping the new Shout! Factory Blu-ray brings the movie new attention because it's deserving.

3:45 - Unlawful Entry (1992, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)
The cop from Hell! Ray Liotta menaces married couple Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe because he starts to obsess over Stowe, and I guess what I'm saying is I get it. Director Jonathan Kaplan got his start in 1970s exploitation and I like when he lets his trash flag fly even in his later, more mainstream studio work. Like Single White Female, another movie that leans hard into sleaze and histrionics to the point that it almost becomes camp, there's very little that's restrained about Unlawful Entry. That's how I like my '90s thrillers. Ray Liotta is characteristically great but I almost think he and Kurt Russell should have switched parts because is anyone ever surprised when Liotta turns out to be a violent psycho?
5:45 - Malice (1993, dir. Harold Becker)
The doctor from Hell! It's late enough in the day for the movies to at least get a little horny. Malice is pretty horny. It's also totally great. Bill Pullman and Nicole Kidman are a married couple who have a medical emergency and wind up in the care of their new tenant, a never-cockier Alec Baldwin. Many complications and twists ensue. For a '90s thriller, Malice has an above-average pedigree: the cast is wall to wall titans (including early roles for Gwyneth Paltrow and Tobin Bell), the screenplay is by both Scott Frank and Aaron Sorkin, and it's directed by Harold Becker (The Black Marble, Sea of Love) doing what I think is his best work. This is going to be a high point in the marathon.

7:45 - Copycat (1995, dir. Jon Amiel)
The Bechdel Test from Hell! Just kidding. A surprisingly effective thriller pairs Sigourney Weaver's agoraphobic criminal psychologist and Holly Hunter as a cop consulting her expertise when a serial killer strikes. Solid direction, a couple of surprising developments, and the rare thriller that positions two strong women at the center make this one of the better thrillers of the decade. In my mind I always thought this movie got greenlit because of the success of Se7en but they came out the same year so there goes that theory. More likely it's the result of The Silence of the Lambs' success.

10 pm - Consenting Adults (1992, dir. Alan J. Pakula)
The neighbor from Hell! Part of programming a marathon sometimes means slotting in filler like this to let the bangers breathe. Consenting Adults is '90s thriller filler, noteworthy because it features good actors like Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio slumming in junk. In their defense, it's junk directed by Alan J. Pakula so they probably thought it would turn out better. Kline is a suburbanite who is offered by his neighbor (Kevin Spacey) the chance to swap wives. Wouldn't you know, Spacey's wife ends up dead and Kline has to clear his name. The movie's greatest failing is its lack of a real twist, because of course Kevin Spacey is a scumbag.

11:45 pm - Body of Evidence (1993, dir. Uli Edel)
Time to turn up the heat and get really nuts. The most ridiculous of the Basic Instinct imitators features Willem Dafoe as a lawyer defending Madonna as a murder suspect (she fucked a guy to death!). The performances range from embarrassed to embarrassing, the sex is ridiculous and incorporates everything from burning candle wax to broken glass. I appreciate that the filmmakers were trying to push the limits of sexuality on screen within a mainstream studio movie, but it's all inside a movie that's often comically overwrought. Madonna is a good actor but here seems to just want to shock us with her vagina.

1:30 am - Jade (1995, dir. William Friedkin)
In lieu of Italian insanity, let's program a mess from a master filmmaker. Jade represents a lot of things: William Friedkin's for-hire wilderness period in the '90s, Hollywood's desperation to recapture the formula that made Basic Instinct such a hit, David Caruso's failed career as a leading man, that period in time (albeit brief) when Linda Fiorentino was a major movie star. It's ridiculous and insane but Friedkin can't help but make it totally watchable and even good at times. 

3:30 am - Blown Away (1993, dir. Brenton Spencer)
I've gone totally mainstream for this marathon up until now, but since we're in the overnight section I can get a little freaky and program this straight-to-video erotic thriller starring Nicole Eggert (my childhood crush on Charles in Charge) showing her naughty side opposite the two Coreys. Haim is the guy seduced by Eggert, who may or may not have killed her father in an explosion, while Feldman is the brother that maybe can't be trusted. There's a real feeling of teen stars playing grownup and trying to shed their wholesome images here, which makes the movie feel even sleazier than it already is. I saw this on cable so many times in the '90s. I can't wait to revisit it.

5 am - The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992, dir. Curtis Hanson)
The nanny from Hell! Rebecca DeMornay goes to work as a nanny for a family as part of a...revenge scheme? I don't remember because I haven't seen it since theaters in 1992. This was the movie Adam had just watched when he suggested this theme, so I wanted to be sure I included it in the lineup. My appreciation for director Curtis Hanson has only grown and grown in the years since he made this one, so I have to believe it will play even better now than it did in the early '90s. 

7 am - Fatal Instinct (1993, dir. Carl Reiner)
We've watched enough thrillers in this marathon that by this point we should be able to get everything that director Carl Reiner is parodying in his 1993 erotic thriller spoof Fatal Instinct. Hollywood rarely got these kinds of joke-a-minute ZAZ-style comedies right in the '90s, though Fatal Instinct is probably one of the better ones. It's frustrating that Reiner isn't more focused on his target; instead of parodying just '90s thrillers, he just goes for all noir past and present, from Double Indemnity to Basic Instinct. Sean Young and Sherilyn Fenn are funny; Arman Assante seems miscast. If nothing else, a comedy will help give us a brief reprieve from the rest of the marathon, which is probably feeling repetitive by this point. Good thing we're almost done.

8:30 am  - Fear (1996, dir. James Foley)
The boyfriend from Hell! James Foley's teen movie classic finds good girl Reese Witherspoon seduced by a young Mark Wahlberg, who turns out to be a psycho. Famous mostly for a scene in which Reese gets fingerbanged on a roller coaster to a pretty cover of "Wild Horses," Fear scores points for being better acted and directed than others of this sort and for going bigger and crazier the longer it goes on until it totally breaks with reality. Truth be told, there's not really one '90s thriller that works best to end our marathon because they all kind of run together, so I thought it would be fun to wrap things up with a movie that goes this hard.


  1. This seems like a really hard genre to program for because most of these movies feel like they should be watched at 1am (although watching Fear at 8:30 in the morning after a day of not sleeping would be an interesting experience).

    I'd be curious at some point to see a marathon of movies starring actors who are usually character/supporting actor types who got chances to be the lead on rare occasions (like HDS in Lucky, or Dick Miller in A Bucket of Blood)

  2. I want to attend this marathon! The only one I've seen is Malice which is great and I watched on Fthismovie's recommendation.