Basic Instinct (1992) Review – Does It Live Up to Its Reputation?

Basic Instinct is a classic. That’s what we’re led to believe anyway. I watched this film for the first time the a few days ago for movie night and it wasn’t even my recommendation although it totally would be something I would be into. Any film starring Michael ‘I was in Fatal Attraction and now I’m the number one choice for every erotic thriller’ Douglas guarantees my attention but this film does have a reputation for being one of few films that depicts a female serial killer and one that is seriously horny all the time.

More on that in a bit but for now, let’s have a look at the plot.

The film starts with a man, Johnny Boz (Bill Cable) and an unidentified woman going at it. She then stabs him to death with an ice pick. Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is on the scene and immediately suspects the Boz’s girlfriend, Catherine Tramell (Sharon ‘This film made me famous’ Stone) of killing him. His evidence? She’s an author and the exact manner of Boz’s death was laid out in one of her books. Whilst he’s trying to prove that she’s a murderer, he begins a sexual relationship with her and there’s a question mark hanging over the whole film as to whether Catherine is actually the murderer. Honestly, this whole film is a giant mind-fuck.

So, the film that I am most reminded of is ‘Fatal Attraction’ and I’m not just saying that because Michael Douglas is in it and there’s tons of sex in it. What I mean is that his character enters into a dangerous and impulsive relationship with a woman who has obvious serious mental issues when it comes to sex and relationships and this particular relationship could cost him everything.

Sound familiar?

The only difference really is Douglas’s character. He’s not a normal, everyday family man who strays for no apparent reason. Detective Curran already has a troubled past. Whilst working undercover, he accidentally shot and killed two tourists whilst high on cocaine. At the start of the film, he is ‘everything free’, no alcohol, no drugs and no smoking. He also had a sexual relationship with his psychologist, Dr Beth Garner who also works for the police department which I do have questions about. Such a relationship, considering that her input determines Curran’s future when it comes to Internal Affairs and all the other officers seem to know about their relationship might be seen as a conflict of interest. However, no one seems to care.

Let’s jump straight into it and talk about why this film is remembered. It’s got a crotch shot in it. The scene in question comes when Tramell is taken in for questioning by about four detectives and she starts messing with all of them, especially Curran by crossing her legs in a dress whilst not wearing any knickers, clearly exposing her… you know.

A stunt like this is part of Tramell’s character in that she’s an expert manipulator and this is part of the ‘cat and mouse’ type relationship that she constantly plays with Curran. She befriends murderers such as her girlfriend, Roxy (Leilani Sarelle) who killed her two brothers for no reason and Hazel Dobkins (Dorothy Malone) who killed her family for no reason and Catherine does this for inspiration for her books.

She then zeroes in on Curran because of his history with the shooting and uses him as inspiration for the main character of her new book which is about a detective who falls in love with the wrong woman and she kills him. Anyone paying attention has already heard that specific events that happen in her books end up coming true so now I’m expecting her to kill him in the end.

Catherine’s ability to manipulate is so good that it affects Curran with minimal exposure. In the times that he manages to resist Catherine’s various comments, Curran ends up in an encounter with Dr Beth where they start having sex but it’s a little bit too rough for Dr Beth’s liking. Even after this encounter, she still remains concerned for his worsening behavior and further decline into alcohol usage.

Catherine also seems to have significant insight into Curran’s past which leads to him believing that someone had access to his file and Curran’s sights are pointed to a detective from Internal Affairs, Lieutenant Marty Nielson (Daniel Von Bargen). Curran has an altercation with Nielson which wasn’t a great move since Nielson was looking for a reason to get rid of him but it doesn’t matter anyway because Nielson ends up dead. Did Catherine kill him? Again, it doesn’t matter because Curran continues to pursue and then eventually have sex with her.

The act itself is witnessed by Catherine’s girlfriend, Roxy and it could be the reason why she attempts to kill Curran but ends up getting killed in the process which further complicates Curran’s relationship with the police department but not with Catherine because again, he goes back to her although it is entirely possible that she manipulated Roxy into trying to kill Curran.

But what about the last mind fuck?

We all know that Catherine is bad news in some form but what about the other lady in Curran’s life, Dr Beth? It turns out that there have been a whole bunch of deaths around Catherine but there was a person whom she had a relationship with and she tells Curran that this person became obsessed with her and when he looks into it, that person was Beth. Both Beth and Catherine claim that the other one became obsessed with the other one and they’re both equally as plausible.

Curran reads a portion of Catherine’s completed book that sees the detective’s partner being killed and surely enough, Curran’s partner, Gus Moran (George Dzundza) is killed by an unseen assailant. Upon seeing Dr Beth at the scene for seemingly no reason, he shoots and kills her when she reaches into her pocket. In the aftermath, investigators discover a police coat, a blonde wig and an icepick through the door where she emerged. At her apartment, they find pictures of Catherine and her books. It looks like Catherine was right… or was she?

At the end, Curran and Catherine have sex in a scene that mirrors that first and just when we think that our own predictions are going to come true, she doesn’t stab him. Whilst they lie in bed and Curran is thinking out loud about their future, the camera pans down and there is an icepick under the bed.

What I don’t understand is that if Beth was the killer, how did she know to recreate the bit in Catherine’s recently written and therefore unpublished book where the partner is killed whilst getting out of the elevator? Beth being the killer does make sense given the victims but it’s clear that there was a lot of fuckery going on where Catherine could have easily been the killer to.

Nevertheless, Basic Instinct did well at the box office, taking in $352.9 Million against a $49 Million budget and the reviews were positive.

I do like this film; it is a thinker. Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone performed well, but does it live up to its reputation?

Having seen it, I think the reason that this film is remembered so fondly is because it’s an erotic thriller and there’s tons of sex in it, not just the crotch shot. Take all the sex out, then it’s just a bargain basement murder mystery which could have done well with the same cast but I think it did so well because it came off the back of ‘Fatal Attraction’. I’m not saying it’s trying to copy ‘Fatal Attraction’ because it obviously isn’t but those kind of films (erotic thrillers) were all the rage because of ‘Fatal Attraction’.

Having said that, I did enjoy ‘Basic Instinct’. It’s a bit long at just over 2 hours. They could have cut at least half an hour out and got their point across.

I surprised at this being a ‘Paul Verhoeven’ film.

There wasn’t this level of hormones in ‘Robocop’.

 

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