10 underground erotic 1990s movies

These are sinister and sexy movies that you need to make time for.

by Douglas Greenwood
|
11 August 2021, 1:16pm

Images from Young Soul Rebels; Showgirls; Erotic Ghost Story

In the pantheon of American popular culture, the 1990s erotic movie seldom appears. There are a few reasons for that. For one, as much as sex drives so much of our lives, art about it (and yes, that includes pornography) rarely enters the everyday conversation, because we’re prudish people. The second is simple: most of them just aren’t very good. But if we conflate critical acclaim with audience enjoyment all the time, we miss out on so many movies — particularly the shlocky, sexy kind — that benefit from you switching your mind off for a bit.

And so, from America and further afield, here are 10 forgotten erotic movies from the 1990s that aren’t Basic Instinct. Strap in, you’re in for a truly wild ride.

1. Invasion of Privacy (1996)

A crass 1990s American movie is maybe not the art you imagined to grapple with reproductive rights and body autonomy, but Invasion of Privacy manages to do just that. It tells the story of a lovestruck couple falling hard for each other, so much so that the woman involved is blind to her male partner’s near insanity. By the time she’s fallen pregnant, she realises who the man really is, and plans to abort their child. This momentarily erotic love story soon takes a denser turn as it transforms into an abduction thriller, and then a courtroom drama, starring none other than our queen Naomi Campbell. A masterpiece? Of course not. Deranged and starring a fashion legend? That we can guarantee. 

2. Showgirls (1995)

After making waves with Basic Instinct, legendary director Paul Verhoeven segued into the Las Vegas world of erotic topless dancers with a widely panned box office bomb. 25 years on, it’s now considered a cult masterpiece. Showgirls, about a young woman desperate to make it big in the Las Vegas live show scene, has had a renaissance recently, with some critics and fans reclaiming it as a queer-friendly satire of a super stuck up world. It ruined the careers of many of its stars, but we’re calling bullshit on this being an objectively bad movie. It’s lurid, dazzling and wildly progressive — despite the uncountable number of breasts on screen. 

3. Exotica (1994)

What lengths would you go to reach the roots of your neuroses? In Atom Egoyan’s sleeper indie Exotica, a down-and-out tax accountant seeks an escape from the outside world in an upscale strip club where the city’s most expensive dancers perform. Every night, he asks for Christina, who dances for him in a schoolgirl get-up, while the club’s MC and owner watch on, out of sight. What this winds up being is less of a movie about sex or seduction, and more about human relationships and happiness. A lot of movies on this list were misunderstood or panned upon release, but Exotica was — and still is — seen as a masterpiece.

4. Erotic Ghost Story (1990)

A semi-pornographic, slapstick version of Witches of Eastwick filmed in Hong Kong. That’s the best way to describe this salacious, but still beautiful movie from director Lam Ngai Kai, who you may know better for his bloodbath cult classic Story of Ricky. Here though, three fox spirits in human form take centre stage. Together, they start to develop lustful thoughts for a professor they meet traipsing through the woods one day, unaware that he’s far more evil than his exterior suggests. The plot is very simple; much of the movie is made up of naked imagery and sex scenes. 

5. The Last Seduction (1994)

The semantics of what audiences want from an on-screen heroine are complex, but what the 1990s offered in abundance was the powerful and dangerous femme fatale. The Last Seduction took that concept and spun it into an actually interesting movie, directed by 90s neo-noir filmmaker John Dahl. In it, a woman named Bridget Gregory escapes from her husband and starts a new life with a new moniker in a different American state. She uses men for sexual gratification (legend) and connives them into committing crimes for her (as she should), twisting them around her little finger. Lead actor Linda Fiorentino was so good in this that she got a BAFTA nomination for her work, and would have got an Oscar if HBO had put it into movie theatres rather than a TV run. 

6. Doppelganger (1993)

About a decade after E.T. and another decade before Donnie Darko, Drew Barrymore made an underseen movie called Doppelganger, about a young woman escaping her past but being stalked by an evil twin. After a murder case she’s tied to spirals her life out of control, Holly Gooding crosses from east coast to west to start a new life. But as she starts to build it, her actions become increasingly untoward to those around her, and before long, whether people are speaking to Holly or her doppelganger becomes an increasingly more toxic game. 

7. The Lover (1992)

Now this is an outlier in this rundown of films, because its version of ‘erotic’ is immoral and twisted, much in the same way Vladimir Nabokov formed Lolita. A movie built around nameless characters in the neighbourhoods of Saigon, The Lover follows The Young Girl, a teenager who falls for a far older man known as The Chinaman. Together, they engage in an illicit affair that would shock anyone who came to know of it. This is a film about lust and attraction, but one designed to teach you about the ways in which such feelings don’t always lead to care-free ecstasy. 

8. Love Crimes (1992)

Love Crimes is a movie by trailblazer Lizzie Borden, known best for Born in Flames. In this, a studio-supported project, a district attorney and a police officer band together to entrap a sexual offender causing havoc in their city. His tactics are dangerously convincing, so much so that, when the district attorney goes undercover and tries to catch him out, the officer assisting her fears she too has fallen under his narcotising spell. Lizzie Borden has since distanced herself from this film, which Weinstein successfully botched, forcing Borden to steer from her original script.  

9. Dry Cleaning (1997)

Dubbed “kinky” and “hypnotic” by critics, Anne Fontaine’s queer 90s outing is an unlikely story of a couple stuck in their ways, shaped by a long marriage and a dry cleaning business that pretty much limits their opportunity to let loose. But when they take a moment for themselves and head to a drag club, it catalyses an encounter with a gay man who they both feel strangely drawn to. Before long, the man has inserted himself into their lives, and a brilliant infatuation takes hold of them all. This French drama was a big hit at the Venice Film Festival, winning the prize for Best Screenplay.

10. Young Soul Rebels (1991)

Another queer movie, this time set in London, Young Soul Rebels is often described as a gay erotic thriller — a subgenre you could fit the sublime Stranger By the Lake into. It follows two young gay DJs in 1977, shortly before the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Their lives on the pirate radio scene are interrupted when a mutual friend of theirs is murdered while cruising. As racism in the city is rampant, fingers are pointed towards the pro-white National Front group, but just as many suspect it’s a crime committed by someone within the community. This is by turns a movie about violence against queer people and the carnal energy that binds them together.

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