After the huge double whammy of both Robocop and Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven was free to do whatever he wanted, and after 2 films with almost no nudity, he chose to reinvent the erotic thriller by directing Basic Instinct, creating what was at the time the most sexually explicit Hollywood film ever made.
In Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas (Wall Street, Romancing The Stone) plays a cop who is drawn into the world of author Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone - Total Recall, Sliver) who may or may not have murdered a boyfriend in a manor that mirrored a scene from one of her books.
It's hard to believe that this in Verhoeven's only attempt at an erotic thriller, so synonymous is he with the genre. Of his Hollywood movies, only this and Showgirls weren't Sci-Fi movies, and Showgirls isn't as much a thriller as it is an erotic drama. Although his early Dutch movies have plenty of eroticism and nudity in them, they too are mostly dramas. The nearest he came to the erotic thriller was The 4th Man, yet despite being both erotic and a thriller, I still wouldn't describe as it as such as the sex scenes are quite minimal and there are supernatural elements to it. Verhoeven himself, however, does consider it as a sister piece to Basic Instinct.
Before watching Basic Instinct again for the first time in years, I was fully expecting to refer to how much the film has aged, yet was surprised to find that wasn't the case at all. Sure, some of the fashions are decidedly 90's but that is the period that the film is set in. I was also expecting to give the film average marks as my memory seemed to remember it as being quite corny, but while watching it again, I was surprised by just how good the film was. The direction is taut and ground breaking, with plenty of inspired moments. It's just that there is something about the film that stops you remembering how good it is. You forget about the intelligence that seeps into the film through the inspired direction because any flaws in the film are down to the story by Joe Eszterhas.
Having written such successful films as Flashdance and Jagged Edge, Eszterhas was hot property in Hollywood, and it was that heat which allowed him to charge a cool $3 Million for the Basic Instinct script, at the time making it the most expensive film script in Hollywood history. Despite this films success, he quickly followed it with the likes of forgettable misfires, Sliver and Jade, both of which helped his career stall. His other big post-Instinct film was another team up with Verhoeven, but unfortunately, that turned out to be Showgirls.
As both Jade and Sliver proved, it takes some clever directing skills to turn a Joe Eszterhas script into an intelligent and exciting movie going experience, so it was fortunate that Basic Instinct had Verhoeven behind the camera. In a lesser director's hands, the twists and turns of the plot could have come across as contrived and ridiculous, and the sex scenes could have come across as embarrassing, but Verhoeven always keeps you guessing and second guessing whether or not Sharon Stone is a cold blooded killer.
When directing this film, Verhoeven stated that he was heavily influenced by Hitchcock's Vertigo, and you can see that influence, not just in the San Francisco setting, but throughout the film in the camera angles and cinematography. There is a great car chase scene in the film that invokes vertigo and fear in the viewer, as Michael Douglas follows Sharon Stone, attempting to overtake on blind corners while driving along high cliffs and hills, leaving you feeling more than a little giddy.
Basic Instinct does have a lot of sex in it, and it's because of this sex that the film has become so infamous. The most famous moment from this film, if not Verhoeven's career, is the interrogation scene, with the now legendary upskirt shot of Sharon Stone. This scene has been parodied throughout cinema in countless spoof comedies and TV shows. Other sex scenes in the film are surprisingly long and extremely explicit for their time, yet despite looking stunning in Total Recall, Sharon Stone is considerably less sexy in this film and I'm not sure why. One of the reasons may be down to the surgical enhancements she had between the two films. Jeanne Tripplehorn (Mickey Blue Eyes, Waterworld), on the other hand, is stunning in this film, both with her looks and her performance. It's a shame that we don't see more of her.
Basic Instinct is a great film when you are watching it, but memory tricks you into thinking it is something lesser than it is. Maybe this is the reason IMDB currently gives it 6.9, but I'd give it a slightly higher 7.5