Basic Instinct (1992) dir. Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzunza, Jeanne Tripplehorn
In 1992, Paul Verhoeven shifted gears away from his previous two action films, “Robocop” and “Total Recall” to shoot a beguiling investigative slasher picture which was already famous for being the most expensive scripts ever sold in Hollywood. "Basic Instinct" is now a naughty and notorious classic. It’s b-movie material but with an ultra-slick gloss provided by the moody/serious Hitchcockian tone and Jan De Bont’s luscious cinematography. Now, arguably “Basic Instinct” is the quintessential erotic thriller.
Fans of Verhoeven’s work in Holland will instantly recognize thematic and genre similarities with his early Dutch film “The Fourth Man” (1983). Like “Basic Instinct”, the protagonist is a man who is seduced by a multiple-widowed sex-pot angling for another victim. Some of the action and violence is identically staged, specifically one sex scene where instead of an icepick Sharon Stone’s equivalent does her nasty work with a pair of scissors.
“The Fourth Man” is great practice for creating the erotic thriller to beat them all. Michael Douglas plays Nick Curran, a cop currently under investigation by internal affairs. He’s assigned to the case of a dead rock star who has been stabbed to death with an icepick. The chief suspect is Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) a paperback novelist with a degree in psychology, or as the police captain says, "a degree in fucking with people's heads". Catherine does just that, and seduces Nick with gradually increasing sexual teasing. As Nick gets closer to Catherine, the more he’s convinced she didn’t do it. Before long Nick is caught in a deadly web of death with him as the next intended victim.
Jan De Bont has a lot to do with the success of the film. He was one of Verhoeven's two favoured DOPs from his native land. His two action films were both lensed by Jost Vacano, who had a style completely wrong for this different kind of film. The erotic noir genre calls for a different skill set and Jan de Bont’s classic big screen Hollywood style was the right kind of gloss needed. Unfortunately it would de Bont’s second last feature as DOP. Of course, he would go on to direct some major blockbusters ("Twister" and "Speed"), but it’s a shame, because we’ve also missed on some great collaborations.
The late Jerry Goldsmith, one of the great music composers in Hollywood - ever - provides a wonderful swooning music score. He injects just the right amount of Bernard Herrman to compliment the Hitchcockian feel, without resorting to complete theft.
From the San Francisco locale, to the psychoanalytical themes, to the camera work, "Basic Instinct" is one of the best Hitchcock-influenced films, and perhaps a film Brian DePalma should have made - it even features an elevator-death climax. The DVD features a great commentary by Paul Verhoeven and Jan de Bont revealing all the Hitchcockisms they injected in the film. Rediscover this naughty 90's classic. Enjoy.