ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Justice is the only illegitimate offspring born of a short-lived union between a frustrated English horror movie star and an American film festival groupie. His legacy, therefore, is to obsessively pursue a litany of ill-defined ambitions in the industry (editor, director, actor) while also falling hard and fast for anything with an accent and/or mutton chops. Fortunately, he’s pretty good at distilling his various fizzles, faux pas, and let-downs into uproariously absurd, snarky tales filled with wit, wisdom, and (sometimes) redemption.
Mike is also one of my favorite people and his top ten lists on Facebook deserve to be preserved as much as this digital website can preserve his words. I am so happy that he has allowed them to be reprinted here. You can follow Mike on Facebook.
10. Body of Evidence (1993): Nothing like 2022 to make one nostalgic for a more innocent era of sex, murder, courtrooms, and bondage. My TOP 10 FAVORITE TRASHY 90’s THRILLER marathon starts with Body of Evidence, a Basic Instinct ripoff starring Madonna as a Portland art gallery owner on trial for fucking people to death. Willem Defoe headlines opposite as her boy-toy lawyer who can’t resist her monotone charms. Julianne Moore co-stars as Defoe’s wife who we recognize as an authentic and tragic figure because she’s not blond. Even tacky thriller royalty Anne Archer turns up for a minute to snarl, “I wanted to keep my job—that didn’t include telling him his girlfriend was a coke-head slut!” Other choice lines of dramatic intrigue include: “It’s not a crime to be a great lay!” “Can you really screw someone to death?” and “She’s a killer, and the worst kind. A killer who disguised herself as a loving partner!”
9. Mother’s Boys (1993): A Hand That Rocks the Cradle-inspired “suspense shocker” starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a Betty Broderick-esque mother from hell who’ll stop at nothing to reunite with the family she stomped out on three years earlier (especially her creepy Edward Furlong-knockoff son who she’s got the hots for). Since nobody’s interested in reconnecting with her crazy ass, she settles for terrorizing them instead. Scheming, chain-smoking, frog stabbing, forehead slashing, Volvo spray painting, attempted dog murder, attempted Vanessa Redgrave murder, and incestuous bubble baths ensue. The New York Times denounced it as a “confusing, fifth-rate imitation of Fatal Attraction” but Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said it was “a handsome picture” that afforded Jamie Lee Curtis “the most bravura role of her big-screen career.” Mother’s Boys is a big, brassy breakfast scramble of family melodrama, abnormal psychology, bonkers dialogue, jump scares, and Peter Gallagher eyebrows. I love it.
8. The Temp (1994): An intentionally hilarious (?) corporate whodunit from the director of Fright Night and Child’s Play about a sketchy secretary (Lara Flynn Boyle) who infiltrates a struggling Portland cookie company and may or may not start bumping executives off using, among other weapons, a paper shredder. It’s one of two “femme fatale on the corporate ladder” thrillers to make my list, but it’s the only one to co-star Miss Faye Dunaway as a ball-busting CEO who stomps around in tennis whites while hissing lines like, “There’s nothing worse than a reformed whore!” and “I’ve had more knives stuck in me than Julius Caesar!” Miss Dunaway was reportedly VERY demanding while on location in Portland, Oregon—and, according to her biography, VERY disappointed in the way her character turned out after Paramount ordered reshoots to turn “a darkly humorous satire” into a more straightforward thriller. “Once again, I could see myself being thrown into playing the extreme,” Dunaway sighs. “The new ending wasn’t enough to salvage the film, though. By the final scene, it didn’t matter who was the killer, the film had been dead for an hour at least.” Indeed, Paramount’s meddling resulted in a film so tonally inconsistent—and with a conclusion so ill-conceived—that reviewers were still furious weeks afterward. The Los Angeles Times published an anatomy of its box office failure, calling out studios for ruining movies “by committee.” The Temp is still very worthwhile, though—just ignore the ending.
7. Color of Night (1994): A bombastic, overhyped $40M “psycho-sexual” melodrama fashioned entirely from hubris and cocaine that’s every bit as unhinged as the psychotics it portrays. More of a slashy, stabby Brian DePalma throwback than a nineties-style erotic thriller, the Body Double-esque plot concerns Bruce Willis as a traumatized Manhattan psychiatrist (!) who ventures out to LA to take over a therapy group for violent neurotics (played by an unholy assemblage of some of the hammiest character actors in Hollywood), all of whom have a real problem using their indoor voice. Murders, plot holes, and scenery destroying ensue—“Everyone’s a suspect!” Then Willis starts banging a dangerous mystery chick with multiple personalities and a wig fetish. Then he’s attacked by a Pontiac Firebird. Then Leslie Ann Warren is a nymphomaniac who can’t stop screaming at people. Reviews were less-than-kind (but thoroughly on-the-nose).
“Color of Night approaches badness from so many directions that one really must admire its imagination.” — Roger Ebert
“The enthusiastically nutty Color of Night has the single-mindedness of a bad dream, and about as much reliance on everyday logic.” — Janet Maslin, New York Times
“This wholly terrible movie is far more enjoyable and astonishing than many halfway good ones.”— Kim Newman, Sight & Sound
6. Diabolique (1996): Sharon Stone stars as a chain-smoking elementary school teacher in leopard-print lingerie who drowns her abusive lover in a bathtub. Then he comes back to life. Then Kathy Bates shows up as a detective with one breast. It’s (ostensibly) a remake of the elegantly perverse French classic Les Diaboliques (1955), only now it’s an eccentric neo-noir (set in Pittsburgh!) chock full of retro flourishes, campy costumes, and bitchy, hard boiled dialogue. If you take a shot every time Sharon Stone deadpans one of her trademark smart-ass one-liners, you’ll be dead by the 10 minute mark.
5. Jade (1995): Ever wonder what would happen if the director of The Exorcist teamed up with the writer of Showgirls to make an erotic action-thriller about a bored San Francisco socialite/clinical psychologist who moonlights for kicks as a blackmailing prostitute and might also be chopping up her johns with an antique hatchet? Well, this collaboration exists, and it’s called Jade. Entertainment website The Indiependent says, “Jade reads like it’s written by an A.I. robot that has watched 100 hours of erotic thriller movies and then produced a screenplay out of the jumble,” and it’s true. It’s a preposterous, ridiculously acted, aggressively mid-90’s hodgepodge of axe murders, alter egos, sleazy rich people, vehicular homicide, mysterious Asians, Dutch angles, Michael Biehn with a Joe Pantoliano mustache, a Loreena McKennitt theme song, and Linda Fiorentino, um, “making love” to a man with her high-heeled shoe. Another reviewer put it best when he said: “Every scene contains a beautiful or grotesque element, all of it incomprehensible. Whether it’s David Caruso’s portrait of dumb-ass rage as an assistant DA operating like Dirty Harry, to pubic hair collections and Giallo crime scenes, to a hit-and-run that viciously morphs into an insane car chase right out of Bullitt (1968). Jade somehow still has time for a steely-blue mansion climax that flows like Michael Mann in a stupor.” Although it was trashed by critics and bombed at the box office, William Friedkin maintains that JADE is his favorite out of everything he’s directed. Yes, he loves it more than The Exorcist, The French Connection, Cruising, To Live and Die In LA, Boys In the Band or his music video for the Barbra Streisand song, “Somewhere.”
4. Wild Things (1998): What TOP 10 FAVORITE TRASHY 90’s THRILLERS marathon would be complete without Wild Things (1998)? Called “The Ultimate 90’s Neo-Noir” (Slant Magazine), what begins as a humid sexploitation drama about two Florida high school vixens (Denise Richards, Neve Campbell) who accuse their guidance counsellor (Matt Dillon) of rape soon takes so many sweaty, sordid, wholly unpredictable turns that you’ll get whiplash. Extortion, blackmail, cat fights, threesomes, and murder ensue. Critics called it, “vulgar,” “demented,” and a “three-way collision between a soft-core sex film, a soap opera, and a B-grade noir”—and those were the POSITIVE reviews! Wild Things was to erotic thrillers what Scream (1996) was to slasher movies; a clever, self-aware, solidly entertaining throwback, more than happy to wallow in its own trashiness. Toss in some Kevin Bacon dick, some Theresa Russell camp as Denise Richards’ slutty mom, and Bill Murray (!!!) as a sleazy storefront defense attorney in a neck brace, and you’ve got one hot, steamy pile of entertainment.
3. Double Jeopardy (1999): Remember the one where Ashley Judd discovers her husband faked his death and framed her for his murder—so now she can kill him for real due to the “double jeopardy” procedural defense that states no one can be tried and convicted twice for the same crime? Oh, and Tommy Lee Jones is the dedicated parole officer/ex-law professor who’s chasing her? What a trashy-fun revenge thriller this is. Mystery, action, suspense, chills; it’s Deceived meets The Fugitive meets The Net—and it spent three weeks atop the U.S. box office during what was clearly a more innocent era. You wouldn’t think the guy who made Driving Miss Daisy (1989) would make such a great action director.
2. Disclosure (1994): Remember the one where Demi Moore is the new whiskey-voiced VP of a Seattle software firm who jumps Michael Douglas in her office, and then sues him for sexual harassment when he won’t bang her? Then he sues her back? Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, this Seattle-set techie-thriller starts off like a sleeker, more A-list version of The Temp (1993) but segues into a corporate conspiracy about defective CD-ROM manufacturing about halfway through. Along the way there’s backstabbing, sinister emails, clever dialogue, and Donald Sutherland in full reptilian mode as the smarmy CEO. Disclosure ticks all the boxes: power politics, courtroom battles, killer set design, colorful supporting characters, an Ennio Morricone score, and Michael Douglas being chased down a virtual reality corridor by Demi Moore’s avatar. Roger Ebert said watching Disclosure was like seeing “a Sharper Image catalog that walks and talks” and Gene Siskel called it, “Pure and simple trash masquerading as significance.” So?!
1. Malice (1993): Remember the one where Alec Baldwin plays a creepy-hot doctor with a God complex who moves to a New England college town and people start dying off? But that’s really not what it’s about? My favorite trashy thriller of the 1990’s is Malice. There are so many reasons why I love it, not the least of which is its completely bonkers script by Aaron Sorkin that serves almost as a proto-Wild Things (1998) in terms of how many plot twists can be crammed into one narrative. Furry surgeon Alec Baldwin rents a room from Nicole Kidman and her professor husband. When Nicole doubles over with abdominal pains, Alec rips out her ovaries. Fair enough, but now Nicole sues him for $20M and they both disappear. Then her dejected husband starts to uncover a labyrinthine conspiracy plot going back decades. “Malice is a medical thriller! No, it’s a courtroom drama! No, it’s a murder mystery!” Toss in a Jerry Goldsmith score, some warm, handsome Gordon Willis photography, and a surprise appearance by the late, great Anne Bancroft as a foul-mouthed, scotch-guzzling sociopath, and you’ve got what Roger Ebert called, “one of the busiest movies” he’d ever seen, and the only film he could recall “in which an entire subplot about a serial killer is thrown in simply for atmosphere.”