Color of Night, The Last Seduction, Disclosure

Year of the Buffalo Girl

The Softcore Anxieties of Disclosure, Color of Night,and The Last Seduction

“Sometimes women scare the hell out of me.”
-Michael Crichton, Disclosure, 1994

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The remote control sprays its infrared beam across the electromagnetic spectrum, and the black box of a television responds, popping from one channel to the next, its cathode tube thrusting a new stream of electrons across the screen, rearranging the blurs of red-green-blue pixels from one channel to the next, and the storm of dancing tri-colors coheres into an image: a small and sepia’d town at dusk in the Old West, bisected by a dirt road upon which men cross.

Above a lilting viola, a narrator’s voice intones: “…and yet, despite this western expansion, nighttime could be a lonely time in the American West, as women were few and far between in these outermost settlements. Urban legends and saddle-worn lore tell us that, as a result, male sex workers would disguise themselves as women in order to comfort lonely settlers for a price. These rumored prostitutes were nicknamed ‘buffalo girls’ by the locals, a term for gender shifting that became so popular that it was adopted into an American traditional song, ‘Buffalo Gals’ (also known as ‘Lubly Fan, Will You Cum Out To Night?’) by entertainer John Hodges in 1844. Hodges himself was no stranger to disguises, as he hid his own identity and performed the song as a blackface minstrel named Cool White—

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The station ID on the screen identifies the next channel as CNN, the date on the bottom right is October 11, 1991. A crescent of 14 pinkish-white faces sits behind a table, a half-moon gallery of sweaty brows and jowls, of sweat-darkened collars and flushed, frustrated faces; clump-haired fingers point from tree-knot knuckles, eyebrows arch disdainfully, smirks twist and peel back from well-capped teeth. In the foreground—the locus of their scrutiny, scorn, and fear—sits a woman named Anita Hill.

Anita Hill

She calmly listens as the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee interrogate, undermine, and otherwise “plumb the depths of her credibility,” in the words of one of the men, Delaware Senator Joe Biden. Hill, a law professor, is testifying during the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, President George H.W. Bush’s Associate Justice nominee for the Supreme Court. Hill, who worked with Thomas a decade earlier, states that he harassed her with graphic sexual overtures for years. Hill’s public testimony today will wrench the subject of sexual harassment to the fore of national consciousness; it also brings the subject before the incredulity of these 14 men, whose questioning reveals them to be alternately enraged and terrified that a woman could have the power to end a man’s career due to his sexual transgressions:

“—how reliable is your testimony in October of 1991 on events that occurred 8-10 years ago, how sure can you expect this committee to be on the accuracy of your statements—”

“—you testified this morning that the most embarrassing question involved, this is not too bad, ‘women’s large breasts,’ heh, that’s a word we use all the time—”

While it will create galvanic shifts within the culture, Professor Hill’s testimony does not—

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Skip a few channels ahead, a few months ahead, March 1992, landing on a late-night cable station to find a TV spot for the glossy erotic thriller, Basic Instinct. A deliriously libidinous fuck-noir murder mystery soaked through to the mattress with blood and cokesweat and cum, the film will go on to be a monolithic hit with horny audiences who vicariously thrill at the film’s transgressive sexuality. And yet its most-discussed scene takes place not in a bed, nor at a murder scene, but in an interrogation room:

A small crescent of five pinkish-white faces sits behind tables, a half-moon gallery of sweaty brows and jowls, of sweat-darkened collars and flushed, frustrated faces; men lean hard into zoom lens close-ups, eyebrows arch disdainfully, smirks twist and peel back from well-capped teeth. In the foreground—the locus of their scrutiny, scorn, fear, and confusion—sits a woman named Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone).

Basic Instinct (1992) | TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

She calmly listens as the all-male San Francisco PD Homicide Unit interrogate, leer, and otherwise “call her in for questioning,” in the words of one of the men, detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas). Trammell, a crime novelist, is here to answer questions concerning the recent unsolved murder of retired rock star Johnny Boz. A femme fatale who had been screwing Boz, she paints a lurid picture of an uninhibited, drug-dusted sexual relationship, one these men believe Trammell ended with murder. Her answers, and the wet dream murder mystery they herald, will wrench a rougher, more explicit kind of eroticism and wantonly aggressive female sexuality to the fore of mainstream entertainment; it also brings those subjects before these five men, her answers leaving them alternately enraged, aroused, and terrified that a woman could have the power to end a man’s life with her sexual games:

“—I liked having sex with him. He wasn’t afraid of experimenting. I like men like that—”

“—I liked Johnny to use his hands…You ever fucked on cocaine, Nick? It’s nice—”

Tramell will then briefly uncross her legs. Her short dress reveals her vagina to the sweating, shaky men tasked with bracing her, teasing them with the object of their obsession and fear, immediately robbing them of their traditionally-held authority. With that blink-or-you’ll-miss-it flash of full-frontal, the scene becomes Hollywood scandal and legend; within the world of Basic Instinct, however, it is something else entirely. When Tramell uncrosses her legs, she pulls the men through a passageway into a horrifying new world in which a woman can claim the masculine jurisdiction of the room, reducing these swinging dicks to shocked demurity—all of which is slyly jacketed as just another eroticized neo-noir, a moment of dizzying gender role reorganization buffalo girled as a simple exploitation thriller—

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Skip further ahead by a few channels and months, pausing for a moment on CSPAN. October 15, 1992, one year and four days after the Anita Hill testimony. President George H.W. Bush, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and H. Ross Perot debate who would make a better leader for America in the 1990s.

In addition to the typical cultural noise attached to a presidential race, this election year is freighted with deeper meaning—following Hill’s testimony, the fact that no female Senators were part of the Senate Judiciary Commission that questioned her is heavily scrutinized (in 1991, two out of America’s 100 Senators were women). As a result, more women run for Senate office in their respective states than ever before. In less than one month from now, a record-breaking four women will win Senate seats in the election, and a fifth will win re-election. This Hill-inspired step towards gender equality will earn 1992 the moniker “Year of the Woman,” and will herald a seismic shifts in sexual politics.

More and more women begin taking previously all-male positions of power, and men—including the most powerful man on Earth—take notice. During the debate, when asked if and when his party will nominate and elect a female candidate for president, Bush notes that “this is supposed to be the Year of the Woman in the Senate. Let’s see how they do. I hope a lot of them lose”—

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Surf the channels into the choppy, unpredictable waters of the premium cable network Cinemax. The 11 p.m. featured film is Night Eyes, a syrupy haze of awkwardly-staged action sequences and cheaply-lit softcore sex scenes. With its reconfiguration of a Double Indemnity-esque film noir plot into softcore fantasy, Eyes is a definitive erotic thriller.

It’s a genre with a rocketing ascent. As premium movie channels and family-friendly video stores have come to dominate the home entertainment market, so too has the need for these services to provide adult entertainment for concupiscent consumers hungry for sexual gratification through television. Skirting the controversy that hardcore pornography would bring, these providers sought material that wedded attractive actors performing simulated, non-hardcore sex to thrilling film noir tropes—slick and mysterious crime films consumed with obsession, violence, and murder. These “erotic thrillers” could then appeal to both male and female audiences with their binding of genres, and mask their lack of hardcore sex with the sense of danger and edge the noir storylines engendered—like the buffalo girls of the Old West, erotic thrillers are titillation shrouded by veils of secrecy and disguise, noir smuggled into erotica, and erotica smuggled into noir.

With a few exceptions (Body Heat, Fatal Attraction), though, the genre catered primarily to the cheap, straight-to-video and cable markets…until the release of Basic Instinct in March of 1992. Paul Verhoeven’s sex thriller bound together extraordinarily graphic sex, S&M, and full-frontal nudity to its noir-slicked murder mystery about a sexually insatiable femme fatale and her detective patsy, and it virtually exploded into theaters worldwide, an outrageous hit that shocked and aroused audiences, and goes on to become the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. The entertainment industry takes notice and, monetizing the trend, soon floods theaters, video stores, and cable-provided homes with titles like Body of Evidence, The Crush, Sliver, and franchises like the Night Eyes and Body Chemistry films.

It is the golden age of the erotic thriller, and in the massive glut of their newfound plenitude one can see reflected not just the sexual desires and kinks of their creators, but their sexual hang-ups and terrors as well. Like a pixelated hall of mirrors, the post-Year of Woman erotic thrillers use the visual and thematic glossary of Basic Instinct to stretch, heighten, twist, and expand upon the masculine anxieties concerning a changing world and shifting sexual landscape, one in which positions of power could be lost following a non-consensual grope, one in which territory that was once exclusively male was increasingly populated with female faces, one in which—

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Skip further down several months and channels to January of 1994. PBS. Two men sit on either side of a table stacked atop with a small mountain of hardback books. It’s the Charlie Rose show, and tonight’s guest is author, director, and doctor Michael Crichton. It’s been six months since the extraordinary success of Jurassic Park, the film based on his 1990 novel, and two years since the publication of his last book, Rising Sun, a virulently racist and stentorian rant disguised as an airport fiction thriller interrogating Japanese culture.

But it’s 1994 that’s set to be the Year of Crichton. His new TV series ER premieres in nine months, and he has a new novel, Disclosure, in which a female executive sexually harasses her male underling (who also happens to be her married ex-lover). Generated in response to the Hill-Thomas cultural conversation about sexual harassment and the subsequent Year of the Woman movement in the American workplace, the book already has a film adaptation in pre-production. Starring Demi Moore as executive Meredith Johnson, and erotic thriller avatar of the put-upon horny “straight man” (in both the literal and figurative definitions of the term) Michael Douglas as the harassed Tom Sanders, it will not be released for another 11 months, in December ‘94. And it will be another quarter-century until dozens of women come forward to accuse host Charlie Rose of sexual harassment and assault.

Disclosure is a startlingly angry and aggressively sexist novel, thoroughly aroused by women and yet seeped with a marrow-rooted resentment of their encroachment into male territory. It’s the kind of book in which women like Tom’s wife “always looked beautiful in the morning, right out of bed. She had the kind of fresh beauty that required no makeup,” while the villainous Meredith is described as “one of the great cocksuckers” with “perfect breasts” who, within their tech company, “didn’t really have any deep knowledge, but she didn’t need to. She was good-looking, sexy, and smart, and she had a kind of uncanny self-possession that carried her through awkward moments.”

A small-minded, terror-stricken response to the cultural sea change that began with Anita Hill’s 1992 testimony that’s disguised in the clothing of a techno-industrial thriller, Disclosure responds to the Year of the Woman movement, essentially, with a 497-page “well, what about when women do it?” screed. Defending men as helpless beneath the boots of their own hormones that run in direct opposition to PC culture, the novel transposes the expected gender roles, with Meredith a “masculine” and sexually-threatening aggressor and Tom as her effete and confused victim; doing so shows both a woman’s ability to be just as evil as a man when given power, but—even more importantly but almost surely unintentionally—highlights a panic that sprang forth from men like Crichton in the aftermath of the Year of the Woman: women were capable of not just dethroning men, but of replacing men, taking not just their long-held positions of power, but even their stereotyped dickswagger and aggression. In his interview with Rose, Crichton defended his decision to write such a story as a gracious act of social necessity:

ROSE: You don’t believe there has been a real, genuine dialogue about the question of harassment in America?

CRICHTON: No, I think men have been silent.

ROSE: Men have been silent?…What is it men should be saying? That we should not be characterized or stereotyped because of our chromosomes?

CRICHTON: That’s certainly part of it, yes. I mean, this notion that we are the testosterone-poisoned sex—

ROSE: Always the aggressor, and never the victim…

CRICHTON: Yes. Always on the sexual lookout, always predatory, always violent, always insensitive, always withdrawn, I think is a remarkable stereotype. And you cannot make a similar stereotype about women, although women will make it about themselves, they’ll say that they’re nurturing and cooperative and so on, and that’s part of the current ideology in some feminist groups.

ROSE: [laughing and teasing Crichton for his frankness] Alright, let me draw you out on this, come on…

CRICHTON: [laughing] Oh, let’s commit suicide!

ROSE: Let’s do it together here! [both laugh]

The ball-tightening trepidity of this alarmingly vicious and aggrieved sex anxiety was not unique to Crichton. Twenty-five years later, one can see that it suffused American pop culture of the day, perhaps most explicitly in the popular sex cinema of 1994: the erotic thriller. The triad of Hollywood’s mainstream softcore films in ‘94 (Disclosure, Color of Night, and The Last Seduction) are each, in their own way, gripped with masculine fears concerning established sex and gender roles and the women who refuse to conform to them, who in guises of manhood manage to buffalo girl themselves into male stations of power and butt-pat the men to positions previously relegated to femininity. Using the newly-popular cinematic vocabulary of Basic Instinct—a language slurred with stylized sex and heavily accented with film noir tropes, specifically the femme fatale and the clueless sap she victimizes—these male-written, male-directed films tapped into the dread of marginalization that the Year of the Woman midwifed into the lives of insecure men, and gave that dread a shape and a voice. The shape was an hourglass figure, the voice was the erotic thriller.

It’s fitting that the most commercially successful of the three films, Disclosure, is as tied to the subject of sexual harassment as the movement its source material was a reaction against. While the most egregious examples of Crichton’s sexist lecturing were wisely tucked away (by screenwriter Paul Attanasio and director Barry Levinson) amidst the film’s techno-industrial espionage plotting and erotic thriller scaffolding, the embers of the novel’s misguided response to the Year of the Woman remain, and their glow still simmers through to the film’s surface. From the Disclosure’s opening moments, Douglas (in his third outing—following Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct—as a hapless, horny guy undone by a femme fatale with the corrupted temerity to take advantage of his red-blooded and natural thirsts) is henpecked by women, from the daughter who won’t listen to the careerist wife who demands he prep the kids for school while she gets ready for work. All the while, Tom remains rooted in the performance autopilot Douglas essentially created, the Affably Reptilian Upper-Class White Guy Whose Day Is About To Become Worse.

Disclosure (1994) | Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

And worse it becomes. When Tom arrives at his Seattle tech firm DigiCom that morning, humming with excitement for his expected promotion to VP of the CD-ROM division following a massive corporate merger, he finds that not only are the revolutionary CD-ROMs he developed malfunctioning, but that he was passed over for promotion. The new VP? It’s that former lover from his youth, Meredith. Somehow even more of a vicious sociopath than Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct killer (who at least seemed capable of expressing human emotion beyond bemused contempt), Meredith is a brash, life-destroyingly cold fuckmonster, an unqualified woman with impossible beauty who happily steals the job Tom felt entitled to, all because a female VP makes for better PR with all the attention the new merger is bringing.

Disclosure wastes little time getting to the centerpiece “sex scene” that drove its ludicrous marketing campaign, in which Meredith forces herself on Tom after hours, plying him with wine, huskily oozing such predatory phraseology as “Just lie back and let me take you…I could’ve had anybody and I picked you…Just lie back and let me be the boss.” Tom repeatedly says “no, no, no, no…” to the assault as she kisses, fondles, and performs oral sex on him, with the film positioning both characters as the buffalo girls of this story—both have traversed expected gender lines, with Tom in the guise of the expected female victim, and Meredith recast as the boozy hound dog chasing an underling. When Tom escapes Meredith’s clutches, each accuses the other of sexual assault the next day, and the already wildly misconceived film becomes a series of astonishingly dull table-bound depositions that allow the characters to shrilly poke holes into the nature of post-Hill/Thomas gender relations in America. Though it tones down Crichton’s Dudehood Sure Is Tough In The ‘90s horseshit, the film is still a how-did-this-get-greenlit? misfire of bored plotting and offensive stereotypes, an alarm bell warning us of an unwed and sexually-active career ballcutter slouching towards America to be born, who destroys all she touches when given a man’s power.

In the film’s pricelessly outdated and deeply sexually-confused climax that doubles down on the previous two hours’ barely-contained insipidity, Tom defeats Meredith…in a battle inside a VR filing system that reveals Meredith ruined the precious CD-ROMs; Meredith gets fired; Tom has a sex dream in which his boss (Donald Sutherland) tries to French kiss him; Tom is once again passed over for promotion, but this time it’s by a quiet, demure, and hardworking older woman who knows her place, and so Tom is less upset when she takes what he believes is his, because he’s still the castrato ‘90s everyman, remember, his own kind of buffa—

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Skip from Charlie Rose to a number of months and channels forward, where a TV spot for a new erotic thriller, Color of Night, airs. Coincidentally, it stars Bruce Willis, the then-husband of Disclosure star Demi Moore, each half of this high-profile marriage splitting off in 1994 with a different erotic thriller like a Valley key party couple in the ‘70s.

If Disclosure is 1994’s mainstream softcore at its worst and an unrepentantly sexist reaction to the Year of the Woman, then the bizarre Color of Night is the genre’s reaction to that cultural gearshift at its most utterly bewildered (and bewildering). It’s the kind of movie that opens with a woman painting her teeth red with lipstick before erotically fellating a pistol, apparently her normal pre-visit prep before seeing her psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Capa (Willis), from whose high-rise window she then takes a suicidal dive during their session. The sight of her lying on a New York City sidewalk in a pool of technicolor blood is enough to traumatize the poor Dr. Bill into psychosomatic color blindness—he can no longer see the color red. It’s the kind of movie where Dr. Bill then flies to Los Angeles to heal and immediately meets a beautiful young woman named Rose (Jane March); when Rose first kisses him next to a cab stand and then playfully runs away, Dr. Bill cannot follow, as he must hide his khaki’d erection behind a pillar and, instead, he romantically monologues to his own boner: “Whatever happened to quicksilver and light as air? She floats away on her sweet young legs. Waves to him once. Drives away without a backward glance.”

The film is studded with such baroquely odd, straight-faced eccentricities, split-diopter sequences, and multiple hall-of-mirror shots in which one is never certain when you’re witnessing a person or a reflection or a reflection of a reflection, and whatever the case may be, whoever you’re seeing is usually athletically and improbably fucking (most egregiously in a swimming pool sequence that must have been conceived by someone who’s never had sex, had a pool, or had sex in a pool). Color of Night plays as if Brian De Palma downed a handful of Viagra with a bottle of Nyquil and proceeded to shoot a script lustily whispered into his ear by Tommy Wiseau. It also has a theme song.

Color of Night (1994) | Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

Dr. Bill crashes in L.A. with his therapist friend, Dr. Bob (Scott Bakula), and for reasons never made clear, Dr. Bob invites Dr. Bill to sit in on his group therapy session, which, for even more reasons never made clear, is comprised of every cliché of mental illness in cinema, from the Nymphomaniac Sex Machine to the Masochistic But Tortured And Sensitive Artist to the Stuttering And Troubled Transsexual Teen Boy, Richie. Richie is clearly played by Jane March, as the actress’ heavy-lidded stare and outsized overbite make her preposterously easy to identify, though the cast of Night does their pitiable best to portray characters somehow stupid enough not to notice (though Dr. Bill has an excuse: because Ritchie is really Rose, and roses are red, and he can’t see red…get it?). Taking the theme of Disclosure to zany extremity, Color of Night posits its femme fatale as a dangerously sexy woman capable of literally taking a man’s place in the world, with Rose-as-Richie slathered in heavy makeup prosthetics and a dubbed voice to appear—to the strange denizens of Night—as a man, and potentially a killer.

For when Dr. Bob is mysteriously/hilariously stabbed to death over 30 times, Dr. Bill suspects a murderer is stalking the group. He launches a private investigation when not lost in the strange, protracted sprawl of the film’s neverending sex scenes that go on for so long between he and Rose that at one point they actually stop mid-screwing so he can don an evening suit and she can, still-naked, cook him a steak dinner before they go back again to the sex, all while the apotheosis of movie sex-sax jazz tantrically squalls on the soundtrack; Night works in overdrive to show us that these two are at their best and most sexually healthy/energetic when occupying the standard roles of heterosexual Man and Woman, with no gender role criss-crossery to mar their chemistry.

A series of convolutions eventually reveals that Rose/Ritchie isn’t the suspected killer after all—it was her psycho brother Dale, who works in a metal fabrication plant called PARADOX IRON ERECTIONS (really). Dale and Rose once had a brother, Richie, who killed himself; Dale then abused and brainwashed Rose into “becoming” Richie. Pushed into manhood by a madman bent on normalizing his own aberrant worldview, Rose’s grip on reality frays, as well as her ability to know who she truly is. It’s as if gender roles have become so complicated that she no longer knows how to function (a storyline that would likely make Crichton proud). However, when Rose suicidally leaps from the top of PARADOX IRON ERECTIONS—quite literally, she tries to escape a building named for confoundingly unnatural cock—Dr. Bill manages to grab her hand, saving her. As he pulls her back to the roof and holds her in the pouring rain, his colorblindness resolves: he can see red, and see Rose as a woman. As can this extraordinarily campy film, which closes on a note of re-establishment of norms: Rose is now Rose again, a woman. In this final scene she morphs from a buffalo girl femme fatale posing as a man to a damsel in distress. Though far more conflicted and muddied about its gender anxieties than Disclosure, by positioning Rose as a “traditional” women without agency and in need of rescue, Color of Night also reasserts Dr. Bill as a “man” and a typical Willis-ian hero in his rescue of—

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Stop at HBO and settle for some late night softcore, some T&A schlocker likely to star a Rubik’s cubed combination of Shannon Tweed and Andrew Stevens or Tanya Roberts and Jan-Michael Vincent. With a name like The Last Seduction, it’s got to be at least as cheap-kinked and trashy fun as Body of Evidence.

Except that it isn’t. Whereas Disclosure used the femme fatale trope from film noir by-way-of erotic thrillers to malignantly indict strong women in general and female advancement at the workplace in specific, and Color of Night used the character archetype to reveal the psychosexual disturbances that recent cultural changes could cause, The Last Seduction is a gleeful, nihilistically comic and caustic celebration of this new buffalo fatale. And unlike nearly every other gauzy fuck-film that passes itself off as noir to avoid accusations of pornography, The Last Seduction is the reverse: pure film noir masquerading as softcore porn in order to get made for cable television. The film itself is the buffalo gal that hides its true nature while still getting its customer off.

Directed by skilled neo-noir journeyman John Dahl (Kill Me Again, Red Rock West), The Last Seduction (original title: Buffalo Girls) is the story of Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino), a cold-blooded New York City schemer who skips town with $700,000 of drug money her doctor-in-training husband, Clay (Bill Pullman) owes to a loan shark. Laying low while Bill tries to track her down, Bridget rents a house in a small suburb of Buffalo. There she meets Mike (Peter Berg). Reeling from a wild time in Buffalo in which he married a stranger named Trish (“one of those sudden horny things”), he has returned to his podunk hometown to find everything in Bridget he’s ever wanted in a woman—strength, intelligence, worldliness…everything except humanity. When she takes him to fuck in a jeep outside, he admits “I’m trying to decide whether you’re a total bitch or not.” Her response is to cackle and victoriously pound the roof of the jeep, screaming “I’m a total…fucking…bitch!,” all while riding Mike in the reverse cowgirl position, unwilling to even make eye contact as she grinds him into the seat as a submissive piece of meat.

The Last Seduction (1994) | October Films
October Films

Fiorentino presents Bridget as an agent of chaos, a brilliant sociopath in a land of idiocy—manipulating, fucking, and otherwise using men for equal parts disdainful amusement and material gain. While the original femme fatales of the 1940s and 1950s had to weaponize their Hayes Coded sexuality to trap patsies into giving them that which the world and mid-century social norms would not, Bridget is a woman of the 1990s—while by no means free of sexism, there are far more opportunities for a brilliant woman such as herself than there were for the Barbara Stanwycks and Lana Turners of the ‘40s. But Bridget simply does not care—when asked why they risk their lives to reach a summit, mountain climbers will answer with “because it’s there”; one suspects Bridget would have a similar—if not verbatim—response when asked why she chooses to simply destroy men such as her husband for their money. One could almost read her character as a sexist caricature straight out of MRA fantasy (or a Michael Crichton novel), were it not for the fact that, unlike most films noir/erotic thrillers, the film is framed from her point-of-view, not her patsy’s. Further, it’s made repeatedly, obviously clear that she’s the smartest character in the film, and that every man she encounters (there are almost no female speaking roles aside from hers) are fucking idiots, both literally and figuratively.

And while Bridget remains firmly rooted in the character of femme fatale, like Meredith in Disclosure she behaves with traditionally “male” and aggressive behavior, always keeping Mike at arm’s length, using him only for sex as he whines and pleads for quality time, conversation, anything other than just emotionless sex, all with a shrillness typically reserved for cinematic stereotypes of passive aggressive femininity. Again, like the role reversal in Disclosure, Mike is forced into a cliché of womanhood, a thankless nag desperate for commitment amidst steamy, shadow-flit music video-esque sex scenes.

The sex scenes in The Last Seduction are certainly obligatory, but unlike the softcore sex of traditional erotic thrillers, which are laced into a film to arouse viewers, the sex scenes shot by Dahl were meant to appease another group entirely—the producers. To get the film made, according to screenwriter Steve Barancik, it was pitched to ITC Entertainment as “standard skin-e-max type stuff” with an “under-the-radar intention to make a good movie without letting the executives know about it.” Effectively, the cast and crew had to pretend to be making standard, sexist softcore—at one point, a furious producer briefly shut down production and furiously asked “Are we making an art movie?!”—while secretly smuggling in a soon-to-be classic of comic noir.

And in keeping with classic noir villains, Bridget knows to close all loopholes. She begins with a detective sent by Clay. As the PI forces her to drive them both back to the city, Bridget seduces him into removing his seatbelt so as to show her the size of his penis…only to then drive the car into a pole, throwing the detective from the car and killing him. Later, she attempts to kill two birds with one stone by convincing the lovelorn Mike to murder Clay, leaving her free to claim innocence and accuse Mike of murder. When Mike doesn’t fall for the trap, Bridget kills Clay herself, before revealing to Mike that she did some digging into his quickie marriage—it turns out that “Trish” (as Mike discovered after their first night of sex together) was really a man. Here the film descends into a psychosexual hell of incurvating gender roles, with Bridget teasing “we all have our Buffalo girls, Mike,” enflaming his shame, his masculinity, and his insecurities about his own sexuality. She demands they play one of her sex games and he refuses, growing furiously unstable as she becomes more and more feminine and demure, begging him to partake in a rape fantasy. When she demands that he imagine her as “Trish,” he loses control and enacts the fantasy, wholly unaware that she has called 9-1-1, and the listening operator believes she is hearing a genuine sexual assault. The film ends with Mike in prison for rape and murder, while Bridget casually rides a limo through New York City.

Somehow using so many of the same genre devices popularized by Basic Instinct yet which hobbled Disclosure and, at the very least, confused the hell out of Color of Night, The Last Seduction transmuted the same masculine panic about female strength, sexuality, and the sexual assault that drowned those films into a genuinely gripping, artful slice of both high and low art. Unlike Disclosure, it managed to be sexy without being sexist; unlike Color of Night, it managed to be intentionally convoluted and hilarious. And unlike both of those films, The Last Seduction successfully interrogated modern gender roles in a post-Year of the Woman world by playfully mixing and matching accepted norms, rather than angrily lamenting the prospect of their loss. It allowed for a femme fatale to decimate and take advantage of toxic weaknesses and fears (rather than act as a justification for them), it created a darkly screwball world of neo-noir capers and fall guys and dirty detectives, and it inserted racy and provocative sex scenes with an ease that both satisfied the requirements of the erotic thriller and yet remained integral to the plot and character development. As such, The Last Seduction is not only one of the best erotic thrillers ever made, but in this, the year of 1994, the Year of the Buffalo Girl, it is one of the best films, period.

The credits roll and jazz begins to—

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