Basic Instinct (1992)

You can call Basic Instinct a neo-noir or erotic thriller, the name that every film after it would use, including some by Italian masters.

But it’s a giallo.

Written by 13 days by Joe Esterhaus — who made $3 million from it before leaving the film because he thought the lesbian sex scene was exploitative — and starring a then-unknown Sharon Stone and a frightened Michael Douglas who wanted an A-List star up there to share the screen and blame, it was a huge success and had reviewers comparing it to Hitchcock.

Or, you know, giallo.

San Francisco homicide detective Nick Curran (Douglas, notching another film in his rule of king of the 90s scumbag heroes) is investigating the murder of rock star Johnny Noz, stabbed to death with an ice pick by a blonde he was in mid-horizontal dance with. That blonde seems to be his current love interest, crime novelist Catherine Tramell (Stone), who just so happens to have written a book with that very same crime. She does the cardinal sin of being rude to a room of male cops who interrogate her, even uncrossing her legs and revealing her sex to them. Stone would claim for years she was tricked into this by director Paul Verhoeven, even slapping him in the face at a test screening, while he says that she knew what was happening all along. She passes a lie detector test and goes free, but there’s that pesky matter of her being around so many murders, like her family annihilator friend Hazel Dopkins (Dorothy Malone, who was in the giallo Carnal Circuit) and girlfriend Roxy (Leilani Sarelle, Neon Maniacs), who killed both of her brothers in her teens.

Nick isn’t a hero himself, what with having shot two tourists while high on cocaine during an undercover assignment and oh yeah, his wife killed herself. He’s sleeping with the person who is supposed to be counseling him, police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and literally punishing her with brutal lovemaking. He also learns that Catherine’s next book is about him and she has his file, which she got from internal affairs officer Lieutenant Marty Nielsen (Daniel von Bargen), who is murdered soon after getting in a fracas with Nick. He thinks she’s the killer and gets put on leave as he’s obsessed with her case.

Of course, Nick and Catherine have to make violent love and of course Roxy tries to kill him and dies in the attempt. Where does this become a giallo? Well, when the plot twists get so twisted that it turns out that Catherine and Beth dated in college, one of their killed another professor just like the recent ice pick killing of Johnny Noz and both claim the other was obsessed. It also has an ending that at once ties it all up and leaves things open ended.

It’s missing the stranger in a strange land trying to solve a crime, the music and the fashion, but otherwise, the giallo has become the erotic thriller.

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