Disclosure (1994) and the Exploration of the “Erotic Thrillers” of the ’90s

When the net meets sex . . . you’re screwed.
— the tagline that never was

While the “video nasty” was our analog-rental de rigueur in the ’80s, it was the titillation of the psuedo-Giallo* and faux noir plotting of the “erotic thriller” that was our fashionable, digital-rental in the ’90s — and their bastardized, low-budget “after dark” soft-core variants of ne’er-do-well successful surgeons, kinked detectives, and tool-literate, hunky-handyman drifters were our required Cinemax/Showtime cable-viewing. Call those ’90s eroticisms what you will: a sexed-up ’50s detective thriller, or an ersatz-porn or a non-psychosexual Giallo of the ’70s, but the genre captured the creative pens of Hollywood and the contractual clauses of A-List talent agents. The first leading man to answer the call to . . . ahem, for the sake of keeping this review clean, we’ll just say, “arms,” for modern Hollywood’s new take on the likes of Double Indemity (1944) was Michael Douglas.

Double Indemity (1944) vs. Basic Instinct (1992).

Can you hear Micheal Douglas salivating Fred MacMurray’s line, “That’s a honey of an anklet you got there, Ms. Dietrichson,” as a widowed Barbara Stanwyck gives him a hint a vagina? Or Fred MacMurray substituting the p-word in lieu of “anklet,” as Babs remembered the anklet, but forgot the undergarments? Ain’t no men in the ’90s gazing at any anklets, baby: the days of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo and Rob and Laura Petrie bunking down in nightstand-separate twins beds are long since over: bring on the WAP. For these are the days that it’s societal acceptable for Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion performing a pseudo-lesbian stripper show on national network TV to mass applause and cheers and for musical tributes to the vagina to rise up the charts to Grammy recognition and acclaim.

During that short-lived sex-noir genre of the early ’90s — that crossed Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) with Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, while adding a soupçon of the Golden Age of Porn’s Deep Throat (1972) and a smidgen of Argento (the faux-noir detective had to start his sex-spiral, somewhere) — the son of Kirk Douglas (Saturn 3) was the crowned king of the bare-bottom courtesy of the one-two box-office hip-thrust of (the lighter fare) Fatal Attraction (1987) (and the amped-up) Basic Instinct (1992). But while Adrian Lyne and James Dearden’s sex frolic was a hit, Glenn Close’s (Ol’ pop, with his Austin Powers-imitation anytime it cable replayed: “It’s a man, baby!” and “What man in is his right mind would cheat on Anne Archer with Glenn Close!”) Alexandra “Alex” Forrest was no match for Sharon’s Stone’s Catherine Tramell — courtesy of that notorious Eszterhas-cum-Verhoeven scene in the police interrogation room. And ol’ Cat was no rabbit-boiling wrist-silting shirking violet: Cat was a full-on Giallo bi-ice picker possessed with Lucio Fulci’s and Umberto Lenzi’s eyeball trauma fetishism.

Ladies and gentleman: we have our blue-print for the “erotic thriller” of the ’90s.

Art department fail: they should have ran an image of a binary bits and bytes curtain in those dead white spaces.

And the pants fell and the legs opened with one Eszterhas-clone after another: Sea of Love (1989) (Okay, that’s more of the Fatal Attraction-variety, but Pacino!), A Kiss Before Dying (1991) (Argh! Don’t sex-remake noir classics!), Poison Ivy (1992) (Eh, if you’re into Drew.), Single White Female (1992) (Standards-and-practices lesbian lore), Color of Night (1992) (Bruce Willis begins his career spiral.), Consenting Adults (1992) (Alan J. Pakula? Dude, you directed Klute and The Parallax View, not to mention scoring Oscar gold nods three times? Why did you do it?), Sliver (1993) (Oh, Sharon, it does not strike twice; the worst of the bunch.), Body of Evidence (1993) (Oh, Madonna! Why, Willem Dafoe. why?), Indecent Proposal (1993) (Robert Redford? Don’t worry, Demi’s returning. . . .), The Last Seduction (1994) (The most underrated of them all!), Jade (1995) (David Caruso quit NYPD Blue, for this?), Showgirls (1995) (Eszterhas and Verhoeven return for a match-made-in-box office-hell.), Wild Things (1998) (Denise Richards ain’t no Sharon Stone.), and The Bondage Master (1996) (the no-one-knows Japanese V-Cinema classic that gets it oh-so-right and is the requisite B&S About Movies “erotic thriller,” if we must pick one.).

It’s curtains for you, Mr. Sanders!

But for this latest installment of one of B&S About Movies’ patented theme weeks — this week, it’s “ancient future” — we picked the third film of Micheal Douglas’s sexual triumvirate — and, if you’re keeping track: tres for Demi with Indecent Proposal and ShowgirlsDisclosure.

Oh, Hollywood, your fascination with the erotic was only matched by your kid-in-the-Radio Shack tomfoolery when you told us the Internet — with a single keystroke — could do anything. You warned of a world were hacks were as easy as a car service or food delivery app-touch away. It would be a world where the introverted and the shut-in; the malcontent bookworm and the bullied brainiac, would lord over the extroverts, telecommuting over phone lines and cyberpunking us as they open their hearts and souls on cyberchats to their digital lovers and digitally-ordered pizzas while us mere analog fools had physical sex and called-in our pepperoni pies.

For it was a time when the thumb drive was not a yet a twinkle in your Commodore 64-eye; it was an epoch-prediction that computer discs would become the linchpin of our existence; when CD-ROMs were lucrative; a world were malevolent hackers were out to erase identities and steal lives, manufacture rap sheets, alter job records, or murder you by infiltrating airline software and crashing your plane. Those who understood Basic HTML and navigated mainframes would master your domain!

Welcome to the world of Disclosure: a world where the clumsy erotic collides with the cyber stupid.

Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) pines for a lucrative career promotion as the President of the CD-ROM division (which we now know: he’d be out of job, since you’d be hard-pressed these days to find a laptop with a drive), in lieu of his less-prestigious production line manager gig at DigiCom. Alas, when his company’s merger is about complete, everyone is shocked to learn that ready-to-retire founder Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) promoted-transferred the Malaysian-based Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) — Sanders’s old girlfriend — to the Seattle main office for the job. And, in a role reversal that would never make it through the studio development stages in our post-#MeToo environs: she sexually forces herself on him. And when Sanders rebuffs the advance, her hell-hath-a-woman scorned response for career damage control is to accuse him of sexual harassment. And with a scandal of that magnitude jeopardizing the merger, “to hell with friendship” says Bob Garvin: he sides with Meredith because, it’s always money over friendship. Always. The fact that she’s incompetent and used cheap Malaysian slave labor to jam chips-by-hand instead of by-robot-arm into motherboards, which slowed down the production line stats for Tom and caused him to be passed over, well . . . Meredith is hot and Sutherland, we think, got a “boink” in the deal.

Tom Sanders is screwed . . . or is he?

Thanks to ’90s computer technology, he’s not.

He has DigiCom’s new Virtual Reality Database at his disposal: DigiCom is about to give us a world where we need keyboards no more; monitors are passe; touch screen and wireless technology never was. For now, we simply slip on a wired visor and pair of gloves to enter a digital cathedral of vaulted ceilings and virtual-lit transepts; a digital diocese with narthex after narthex of chambered file rooms rife with VR-cabinets that open with the glance of an eye and, if you’re lost amid the bites and bytes, you can call on an “Angel” to help you glide through the binary codes to save your ass and burn your foes.

Welcome to computer technology and corporate espionage circa 1994: a digital realm where tech giant DigiCom got so much so wrong and so much of what they developed is out out-of-date. There are the clunky mobile phones. The awkward navigation of an in-house e-mail application bogged down with jumbo-sized icons, a spinning “E” screen saver, and giant, unfolding envelopes every time you open an email. The inability — of a cutting-edge tech company that developed a VR-cathedral file cabinet — to trace anonymous emails — mails with espionage Intel that can jeopardize the company’s merger. Oh, DigiCom. How can a company so “cutting edge” develop VR-cathedrals, yet not improve on the design of giant CRT monitors? All this from a tech giant with engineers that decided ditching a WYSIWYG click-and-drag mouse-interface for a visor and gloves to retrieve files made perfect sense. No thanks, DigiCom. It’s Doug Engelbart’s mouse over Tom Sanders’s cathedrals for the win: I’ll just stick to the ol’ Windows Explorer directory tree.

Imagine if Sandra Bullock had to go through all of this VR-catherdal hokum to order a pizza when that HMTL-world she mastered became ancient history future.

Wow, now I’m hungry! Time for me to slip on my brain-computer interface (from Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm**) and jam-a-chip into the back of my head (à la Circuitry Man**). I need to order food for my chess date with Hal. Oh, that reminds me: I better log onto the IBM terminal and invite Colossus over (from Colossus: The Forbin Project). Yeah, ol’ Cal already knows, it’s just a social (media) formality.

* We LOVE our Giallo at B&S About Movies, which we blew out in grand style with our “Exploring: Giallo” examination, rife with our reviews to over 70 films. We also discuss ol’ Hal and Colossus, and their “ancient future” brethren, with our “Drive-In Friday: Computers Take Over the World” featurette.

** We’re unpacking Brainstorm and Circuity Man this week.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.