AMERICAN GIALLO: Sliver (1993)

Remember Joe Eszterhas? The writer who pretty much owned the theaters in the late 80’s and early 90’s with films like FlashdanceBasic InstinctJade and Showgirls?  In addition to Sliver, at least two of the films above — Basic Instinct and Jade — could qualify as giallo-style films. When reviewed through the lens of 2018, his films seem puerile at worst and silly at best, gradually becoming goofier the sexier they claim to be.

Directed by Phillip Noyce (Dead CalmThe Saint), based on a novel by Ira Levin (Rosemary’s BabyNo Time for SergeantsDeathtrapThe Stepford WivesThe Boys from Brazil…man, did Ira have his finger on the pulse of pop culture or what?) and produced by Robert Evans (Ever wonder who owns the IOU on my writing style? Wonder no longer, baby. Also, watch The Kid Stays in the Picture to learn how the producer of The Godfather and Rosemary’s Baby was often more interesting than the stars of his films), Sliver was originally rated NC 17 due to its sex scenes and some male frontal nudity. Also, there was an original ending — we’ll get to it in a bit — that audiences hated.

Carly Norris (Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct) is a book editor that never seems to go to her job. While she is there, she spends most of her time gossiping and bemoaning the fact that she never gets to have sex, despite being oh so fashionable and, you know, looking like Sharon Stone in 1993.

Somehow, she gets to immediately move into the best New York apartment ever, as the previous tenant (Naomi Singer, who looks exactly like Carly, which is a giallo staple if I’ve ever heard of one) has recently fallen to her death from her balcony.

Everyone in the building wants to get to know her, no one more than Zeke (William Baldwin, Flatliners). Within, oh let’s say a day or two, they’re having sex all over the place and talking about flying a plane into a volcano. He says that he designs “computer video games” and she’s just happy to have a younger man interested in her, despite the fact that she has a six-figure clothing budget (giallo fashion alert) and, you know, looks like Sharon Stone in 1993.

Carly also has another suitor, a writer named Jack (Tom Berenger, Major League) who is the most sexist character in the film, but certainly not in Eszterhaus’ oeuvre. As more neighbors begin to die, she begins to distrust both Zeke and Jack.

Oh yeah — there’s also Vida Warren, who is a model, but also a hooker, and also has the worst cocaine snorting scene in the history of film, treating it as a child would Pixie Stix.

At the close of the film, we learn that Jack killed Naomi, the original tenant because he was jealous of Zeke, who actually designed and owns the building. Zeke knew Jack killed her because of his network of security cameras, but he didn’t want his secret getting out.

Zeke invites Naomi to enjoy the cameras, but she eventually destroys his control room, telling him to get a life before she leaves both him and her home.

Joe Eszterhas’s original ending — where Zeke turns out to be the killer, revealed to a sympathetic Naomi as they fly over and perhaps into a volcano — was “incomprehensible to test audiences,” which led to Eszterhas writing five different endings. The re-shot ending, where actors Tom Berenger and Polly Walker wear S&M fashions, had to be filmed with body doubles as the actors did not agree to this in their contracts. Eszterhas hates the film, particularly the new ending and final line.

The sex scenes were a big deal when this came out. During the filming of them, Sharon Stone bit William Baldwin’s tongue “with such force that he couldn’t talk properly for days afterwards.” This may be why neither actor would speak to one another by the end of the filming. What remains on the screen is coupling that is at best robotic and at worse, ridiculous. It’s still not the worst sex scenes in an Eszterhaus film.

Sliver is filled with that trademark Eszterhaus wit. Witness dialogue like Carly saying, “You’ve been spending too much time with your vibrator.” Her friend’s reply? “I certainly have – I’ve been getting a plastic yeast infection!” By wit, I mean copious amounts of the kind of sex talk that CEO’s that have been removed thanks to modern thinking and the #MeToo movement would find humorous or normal.

Oh yeah! Martin Landau is in this and utterly wasted! There’s no reason for him to even be in this movie! He does absolutely nothing other than make you look at the screen and say, “Martin Landau is in this.”

The giallo themes that the film starts with — Carly being a dead ringer for a murdered woman, high fashion, the promise of kink — pretty much go nowhere. The film was a commercial, if not an artistic success. But it seems like there was so much promise that goes undelivered and the film begs for an Argento or even DePalma touch. Even a late in the movie knife murder reminds you that this film could be all masked faces and black leather gloves, but never goes all in.

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